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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 16

A few days later Joey dropped me off at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

Since Dad was once again at the height of his spring rush, he didn’t really have the time to drop me off, and Mom was busy with some crisis at her work, too. Joey wasn’t doing anything and offered to drive me straight to O’Hare. That at least cut down the public emotional farewell I expected from my folks, especially Mom. As it was, she was out of the house before I got up.

Not surprisingly, she’d spent a considerable amount of time over the past few days trying to get me to take more stuff than I wanted to carry – much more. She couldn’t believe that I was planning to go to Europe, of all places, with one medium-sized backpack. She kept suggesting things or adding things behind my back, and I kept on ignoring her and taking the stuff back out of my “to-go” pile. The only way I ever got my way was that she was at work before Joey and I left the house, and I did a last minute re-packing to get my load back down to what I considered acceptable.

Needless to say, Joey and I didn’t have quite the emotional goodbye I would have expected with Mom and Dad, especially Mom. “Have fun, Sis,” he said as he pulled to a stop in front of the terminal. “Don’t do anything I’d do.”

“You take care, Joey, and keep your head down,” I told him by way of reply. “I suppose we’ll see each other when you get back from basic training, so you can tell me how it went.” Actually, remembering the schedule from when I had been Joe, if Cat and I stayed in Europe as late as we really planned, I probably wouldn’t see him until around Christmas, but once again it was something I couldn’t tell him.

We had a quick front-seat hug, then I got out of the car and pulled my backpack from the back seat, slung it over my shoulders, and after giving him a quick wave watched him drive away. I couldn’t know for sure, but I suspected that I might not see very much of him again, at least not very soon. When his car was out of sight, I turned and walked into the terminal.

Because Cat lived quite a ways away from me, we had worked out long before that she would get to the terminal on her own. Taking a bus had been a possibility, but at the last minute her father sprang for an airline ticket on the old North Central Airlines to O’Hare. I was early enough that I could greet her, so I was standing in the waiting area when she came off the plane, carrying her own backpack. It was a relief to see her; there had been some worry all along that her mother would get her way at the last minute, but it obviously hadn’t happened.

“This is it,” I said by way of greeting. “There’s no turning back now.”

“Yeah, thank goodness,” she agreed. “I had a heck of a time getting on that plane, but that’s over with now.”

“Look on the bright side. This will get her used to it. That will make it easier when we tell her we’re planning a driving trip out west next summer.”

It was a long walk from the North Central terminal area to the check-in desk for American Airlines, where we had reservations that would take us to Kennedy Airport in New York. We had a little time to kill, but we made it to the waiting area well before they were ready to board.

I didn’t tell Cat, but this would be the first time I would be on an airplane as Joan. As Joe, I had made several trips about this time while I had been in the Army, but hardly ever after that, so in a way I had more experience with it than her.

The flight to Kennedy took about an hour and a half on a jet, and we were both pretty excited. We had managed it after all, and now we were going to be off on what for us was a huge adventure.

We had a longer walk and a longer wait to get to the Icelandic Airlines counter in Kennedy. Back in those days Icelandic was the cheap way for kids like us to get to Europe. We actually were on a pretty tight budget, and I was in better shape financially than Cat was, since her Dad was springing for the trip but on the basis of a much shorter stay. She was going to have to watch her budget and I had agreed I would help her out if we actually decided to extend our trip, but she said she’d pay me back somehow.

There were several reasons that Icelandic was cheaper than its competitors, and one of them was that it used older airplanes. In those days most air travel to Europe was on jets, but Icelandic still flew old propeller planes, DC-6Bs, we were told. It would be going in the right direction, even though it took us longer to get there. Due to some quirk we had to buy two separate tickets, one from New York to Iceland, and the other from Iceland to Scotland. We were supposed to have a layover in Iceland, but in fact it was only a couple of hours.

It was probably just as well, because we were told that the plane could only make it across the Atlantic nonstop if the weather conditions were just right – it just didn’t have the range of the jets. In fact, we made a brief refueling stop sometime after dark in Newfoundland, but the sun was up when we landed in Iceland. In fact, it was up most of the time that time of the year since it was so close to the Arctic Circle.

It was getting along in the day before we finally landed at Prestwick. The DC-6 flew lower than the jets, and having propellers, it was noisier, so we were both pretty tired. With the help of our trusty Europe On $5 A Day, we got a bus ride into Glasgow, and a room for the night at a small but cheap hotel that also had several other kids on a European grand tour like we were making. Only some of them were American, and there was one Scottish guy who was on his way to London who got us off on the right foot.

I might as well say that on that trip we were near the end of an era. The vast majority of the American kids we met taking the summer tour of Europe were clean, upscale kids. Most of them were on summer breaks from college, like us, and most of them had more money to work with than we had. Grass and drugs among us were all but unknown. We hadn’t even heard the word “hippie” in those days, and it may not have even been invented yet. In any case, we were certainly not hippies, not in the summer of 1966.

I am not going to try to tell you everywhere we went or everything we did because it would take a while and it is already taking me longer to tell this story than I had planned, but I’ll try to give you a brief overview.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Scotland. After a good night’s sleep, we spent a day just looking around the city and getting used to being there. After that, our Scottish friend joined us on the train to London – it was a cheap ticket, and eventually we pulled into Euston Station.

Our trusty guidebook managed to lead us to a number of small hotels not far from there, and the one we picked was to be our base of operation for the next several days.

In those days London seemed like the center of the newly evolving world. We were very familiar with the Beatles and other “British Invasion” rock groups, but there was more, much more. Beatle pants, bell bottoms with checks, stripes, patterns, especially on the young working men were worn all over, as well as long haircuts on the guys.

This was the period when Twiggy was taking the British fashion world by storm with her thin body, designer clothes, short hair, and evocative eyelashes. The miniskirt was a big thing in those days, and there was nowhere it was a bigger deal than on the much-ballyhooed Carnaby Street in the West End. It was one of the first places we headed after landing in London, and found it to be something of a dump, proving that ballyhoo wasn’t all it was made up to be.

Cat was much more of a fashion hound than I was in those days, and her tongue was almost hanging out as we visited some of those tiny famous and now long-forgotten boutiques on and around Carnaby Street. We didn’t buy anything, though; we couldn’t afford it and didn’t want to have to carry it in our backpacks.

We did take photos, lots and lots of photos. Cat and I knew right from the beginning we wanted to get a few snapshots and we had both considered buying Kodak Instamatic cameras, which were new on the market at the time. However, Ed talked us out of it when he pointed out that the oddball film format might not be available everywhere in Europe. On his suggestion, we both wound up buying Fuji half-frame cameras. These were a little heavier than the Instamatics, but we could get 72 shots or more on a roll of 35-mm film. The photos weren’t of great quality but better than we could have expected from the Instamatics, which we saw travelers like us frequently carried – and frequently whined about the difficulty of getting film.

We did many of the better-known tourist sites around London – the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and so on. For three days an American soldier who was taking a bit of leave before heading home accompanied us, and he treated us to almost everything. It had been nearly two years since he’d talked to an American girl, and it seemed like squiring us around was as big a treat for him as it was for us. It was especially nice since he understood the British money system, the old pound/shilling/pence affair that confused almost everyone except the British. It turned out that he was stationed in Germany, at the same base where Joe had been/would be stationed, and where Joey didn’t know he would be spending a year and a half. He was glad to be getting out of the Army in less than a month; he had considered re-enlisting, but realized that it would be a ticket straight to Vietnam, which, like I said before, was really starting to heat up in those days.

After he left to go back to Germany, and ultimately to the States, Cat and I sat down to reassess our plans. We knew we hadn’t seen all there was of London, but we felt we’d hit some of the high spots and it was probably time to move on. While we had plans to spend the whole summer wandering around Europe, we knew our funds were limited, so that, or something else, might cause us to have to cut the trip short. Before it was over with, we wanted to at least get to Paris in our “official” time frame, just in case, and still maybe go someplace else – we weren’t sure where yet.

Again with our guidebook and the help of some other kids we met, we decided to get cheap train tickets to Paris, and one morning a couple of days later we got on a train at Victoria Station. This was long before the days of the channel tunnel, so we got off the train at Folkestone, and took a ferry to Calais, all part of our original ticket, and got on another train for Paris, the city of light, the city of our dreams.

Paris was fun, although in my opinion not quite all it was cracked up to be. We hadn’t arranged for a hotel, figuring that we could find something with the help of Europe On $5 A Day, but the best leads were already full. With the help of a couple of American kids we met, we wound up in a grubby youth hostel on the Left Bank.

The youth hostels were the real key to our being able to do the trip on a tight budget. These were not hotel rooms, but ran more toward bunkrooms with a place to sleep and a bathroom, which was about all we really needed. The price was very cheap, usually under a dollar a day in American money, although the price varied a bit from place to place. They provided a bed and blankets, but you had to provide your own sheet sleeping bag to keep the blankets relatively clean. Knowing this would be the case, we had managed to buy some at a store in London.

The neat thing about the hostels was that they were very international. We met kids from all over the world. Americans were there, of course, but a relative minority compared to the rest. I can’t even say how many countries were represented because we didn’t always have a language in common, but in general we hung out with the Americans, British, and not-infrequent Australians and New Zealanders.

Cat and I did have some advantage in that we spoke a little French, thanks to our year of Mr. Reynaud and his chain smoking, and we discovered that we had learned more than we thought. We tried to use the language whenever possible in order to get more comfortable with it, and although I’m sure we were murdering the language, I hoped people were picking up on the fact that we were at least trying. Still, there was often someone around who spoke English better than we spoke French almost everywhere we went, so we managed to get along.

The European kids we met in those days were dressed a bit more conservatively than the kids in England, or at least they were a little different. Sandals of all kinds for both men and women were popular. We were a little surprised to discover that few of the girls shaved their legs, and we let it go ourselves, since it was one less thing to have to deal with. Tennis shoes and blue jeans were worn frequently by both sexes. Really, about the only things that didn’t follow American styles were Bermuda shorts, although we saw girls wearing short ones now and then. We mostly wore jeans ourselves, mostly because we only had one pair each. We each had lightweight miniskirts to wear if the situation demanded or our jeans were drying out from hand washing, but we didn’t put them on very often.

We discovered a lot of anti-American feeling among the kids of various countries we hung out with, mostly because of the American involvement in Vietnam. But it was by no means universal, and we tended to avoid the kids who had heavy political opinions, always a good idea in any time and place. At that we were lucky; if we had been there two years later we would have discovered Paris to be alive with political protests and riots, but things were relatively quiet when we were there.

But I digress. We were there to see the sights, not wallow in revolutionary fervor. Paris has a lot of sights to see, and we hit the high spots. Being climbers, we had to take the stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and it was a lot of steps that wore us out even though we were used to going up steep places. But the view from the top was worth it.

I think the Louvre was my favorite spot. We had only figured on taking a couple of hours there and it wound up taking us a couple of days. I had never been to a real art museum either as Joe or as Joan, so if there had to be a first one, the Louvre was really the place to start! A lot of the paintings left me cold – the Mona Lisa was one, since I couldn’t figure out what all the shouting was about – but there were others that just drew me in and held my attention until Cat had to drag me away. I could have easily spent more time there.

But Paris in the spring! All right, it was more early summer, but it was a different world than I had been used to in either timeline. There were sidewalk cafés where you could sit and sip on a glass of wine for hours while watching the passing parade, the confusion of people and the even more incredible confusion of traffic. It was a wonderful place, a crazy place, and it was hard to realize that we had to move on.

It was Paris where we dropped the first bomb on our parents. We had been sending postcards or the occasional letter home every few days, but it was getting to be time where we couldn’t put off telling them our plans any longer. We decided to spend some of our limited funds on a call home to make sure they got the message. This was a big investment, since Trans-Atlantic calls in those days were not cheap.

We decided that I had better be the one to call home first, since we felt my folks were more likely to not give us problems about our “new” plans; with their approval, Cat would have a selling point to use on her parents. We had to wait until late in the evening to make the call, to be sure the folks would be home in their busy summer season.

“Joanie, is everything all right?” Mom said as soon as she heard my voice. “Is anything the matter?”

“No Mom, everything is fine and we’re having a great time. Look, I can’t talk long since this call is really expensive. Our money is holding out a lot better than we expected, so we talked it over and decided that since our return date is still open, we’re going to stay a little longer.”

“How much longer?”

“Two or three weeks, maybe. Nothing is firm yet. We’re planning on heading down to the Alps and Switzerland next. We’re really looking forward to it.”

“Well, have fun and stay safe,” she sighed. “Somehow I expected this to happen. Let us know how things are going for you.”

“I’ll do that,” I replied. I figured I could waste a little money on news from home, so I asked, “How is Joey getting along?” I knew he was in basic training at Ft. Knox, and not having an easy time of it, but again, that was Joe knowledge that I couldn’t share.

“We don’t know,” Mom replied. “We were told that he wouldn’t have much time to write home. We do know he’s at Ft. Knox, that’s in Kentucky, but we don’t know much more than that. It seems really lonely here with both of you kids gone. We’ve been busy, or I think it would be a lot lonelier.”

“Hey, without us kids around, maybe you and Dad ought to take a little time for yourselves, maybe in the winter after Dad’s work slows down.”

“We’ve been thinking about it, maybe going to Florida. It’s still up in the air.”

“Keep thinking about it,” I told her. “Look, I’ve got to run, I’m running out of change and can’t figure out this French funny money. See you when I get home.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing your pictures and stories. Have fun and stay safe.”

Our goodbyes took a little while longer before I hung up the phone. Cat, of course, was standing right next to me. “They bought it, I take it?” she asked.

“Easily,” I smiled. “I don’t know if they’re more worried about Joey or me, but I guess they’re getting used to it.”

I stood back thinking while Cat called home. While I had no serious plans for after college, at that point it was a good bet that I wouldn’t be at home much more in the years to come; in fact, I wanted to avoid it since there was still the problem of my not being the “real” Joanie. Staying away from home meant that there was less chance of things getting out of hand. I knew that Joey wouldn’t be home much for the next three years, but would move back in with the folks after he got out of the Army and would pretty much live at home for several years to come while he drove trucks for the local freight line. It wouldn’t be until he started getting serious with Cindy that he would find a place for himself.

While I was thinking about that, Cat was talking with her parents. From what I heard her say she was having a tougher time selling the extension of the trip to her mother, but as we had expected the fact that my folks had bought off on it made it a little easier for her.

Finally she hung up the phone. “Well, they bought it,” she said. “They aren’t happy, but there isn’t much they can do about it, either.”

“That’s pretty much what we figured would happen. Let’s go back to the hostel, get some sleep, and see what we can do about getting out of this place in the morning.”

“That sounds good to me. Next stop, the Alps!”

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To be continued . . .

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