This is the third part of a three-part series. Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.

HE SAYS:

In early August, we left our employment since we had made plans to spend about a week in Paris.  We had made arrangements in London to pick up a pre-paid rental car in Ostend, Belgium with the intent to drive into Paris and stay in youth hostels since we were on a very tight budget.    On August 11th we took the train from Victoria Station to Folkestone where we boarded the ferry for the 3 ½ hour ride to Ostend, Belgium.   When we went to pick up the car, the attendant claimed that we had not paid for the rental even though we had a receipt.  Since we could not speak the language very well and the attendant refused to speak English, we sought the help of a policeman who was at the ferry station.   He talked to the attendant and then turned to us and abruptly said “in Belgique speak Belgique” and walked away leaving us at the mercy of the attendant.   We had no choice but to pay for the rental again leaving us with almost no money.

On the way to the French border we picked up two hitchhikers who turned out to be German medical students who were on their way to Paris for a visit.   They spoke French and English pretty well and proved to be very helpful.   When we reached the French border, the Border Police somehow got the idea that the car was stolen and our new German friends were instrumental in convincing them otherwise.   It was late, so after crossing the border, we spent the night parked near a farm.  One of the German students was able to secure some beer and wine from nearby and we spent the evening drinking and talking.   In the morning, we drove into Paris and dropped off our two hitchhikers.

August 11 trip log

We realized that we did not have enough money for even a youth hostel so the decision was made to live out of the car.   This proved to be very challenging, particularly, when you need a public bathroom or a place to freshen up which was not an adequate substitute for a real bath so we were quite ripe by the end of our stay.   The other problem was every night we would park in what we thought was a secluded area of Paris only to find the Police rapping on the roof of our car at 6AM to make us move along.   We lived on Vin Ordinaire which is cheap no name red wine and French bread with a crepe once in a while if we felt like splurging.   We actually did go to a real restaurant one night to sample true Coq au vin (chicken with wine).

August 13 trip log

August 14-15 trip log

August 14-15 trip log

One advantage was that we looked so shabby that we were rarely hassled at the tourist attractions since we looked like local street people not worth the trouble of being rude to or taken advantage of like a real tourist.   We did get to see all of the major tourist spots and even drove to Versailles and hooked up with a tour as well as seeing the gritty underbelly of Paris.  Years later when Annemarie and I took our children to Paris, I was gratified that I could afford to stay in a very nice apartment and experience Paris in style looking from the top down instead of looking from the bottom up so to speak.

When we returned to London, we only had a short time left so we decided to finally do some sightseeing.   I regret now that I did not have a camera and took no pictures and that I have only about 15 minutes of grainy film from a small 8MM movie camera that I brought with me.   I only became an avid photographer who documented our trips with hundreds of photographs and who took the time to plan each trip with great detail after we started traveling with the children.   I guess children do change everything.

There are so many small but memorable incidents that stand out in my memory.  There was our visit to the Prospect of Whitby, the oldest active pub in the Docklands area of London where we spent the evening of my birthday drinking and singing dirty limericks with a packed house, or the interesting and distinguished older gentleman that looked liked “Commander Whitehead” who bought me several wines at a wine bar before I realized he wanted me to go home with him, or the woman who flirted with us in a record store who we guessed was 35 years old or so and way too old for us to flirt back, or the ‘underground’ Jamaican bar that a friend brought us to and that was like nothing we had ever experienced before.

July 11 trip log

August 2 trip log

August 2 trip log

August 22 trip log

August 25 trip log

There are simply too many people that we met and so many things that we did to describe them all.   Glenn and I had enough experiences that summer to last us a lifetime.   The friends that we made and the conversations that we had with the many different people we met left us with a better understanding of the world and, perhaps, brought us to a higher level of self-awareness.

When we returned home it was back to college for Glenn and me and our real lives.   I can’t say that I felt somehow profoundly changed by the whole experience but even then I knew that the summer of 1969 was something special that I would always remember.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

This is the second part of a three-part series. Click here to read Part 1.

HE SAYS:

We had found a modestly priced flat or studio apartment which was one large room with two beds and sparse furnishings.  The apartment was in a house with two other flats and we all shared a bathroom and kitchen.  You needed to use coins to feed gas to the stove and to get hot water for a bath.   The house was located at 53 Bassett Road in Ladbroke Grove (North Kensington), London W10.  We purposely choose to live in a residential area far from the tourist areas since we wanted to immerse ourselves into the daily fabric of London and not just be tourists.

Our jobs at Marks & Spencer were not glamorous but paid enough to keep us comfortable as well as entertained and proved to be a great addition to our adventure.   Glenn worked in maintenance and had to go in at 6AM but was able to leave by 3PM.   I was assigned to the sub-basement where they bailed all of the trash that was accumulated in the store to be picked up twice a week for recycling.   I went in at 9AM and worked until 6PM or 8PM on Thursdays and on some Saturdays.

June 26 trip log

We were the only Americans in a store of about 200 employees, so we quickly became a main topic of conversation and soon many of our co-workers were seeking us out to join them for a drink and even providing invitations to their homes.   Since London was and still is a very diverse city with people from all over the world due to England’s once far flung empire, we were meeting and becoming friends with people from all walks of life and from many different countries.   We were probably getting a better education than if this had been a study abroad program.

Even Mr. Brown, the manager of the store and who the employees deferentially called the “governor” sought me out in the sub-basement to personally welcome the college student from America.  Glenn and I were struck by the fact that our co-workers were more accepting of class distinctions than we were and it seemed that they took notice of and were impressed by the fact that the “governor” was willing to seek us out and talk to us as an equal.  This status, the fact that we were somewhat of a curiosity and our efforts to make friends with our co-workers all seemed to help increase our popularity.   I can’t say that we took advantage of this popularity but we certainly did not suffer from loneliness.

As our co-workers got to know us better, it was not unusual for the bins that they used to wheel the trash down to the sub-basement to contain pastries and other treats that had been “inadvertently” left in the packing boxes.  In addition to these treats during the day, Marks & Spencer provided subsidized lunches and snacks so we usually had our main meal at work.  Even though working the bailer could be quite grueling, I usually looked forward to going to work since it was also a great social outlet both by spending my lunch time engaged in stimulating conversations with various co-workers and because of the many social opportunities that became available to us after work.

Glenn and I had a great experience working at Marks & Spencer and only had one bit of trouble when we had gone to Brighton, a seaside resort on the English channel, for a weekend in July and called in sick on Monday, July 21st after having stayed up all night watching the first moon landing with the other guests at our bed and breakfast.   We were surprised that we got in trouble for this since; previously, we had been admonished in a humorous way when we did not take the 4th of July off with some of the employees whistling “Yankee Doodle Dandy” as their way of teasing us.

July 19-21 trip log

July 19-21 trip log

We did our share of socializing and went to several great concerts; however, we also spent many evenings in our local pub The Prince Arthur playing darts and having heated conversations with the other local patrons.  In one such heated debate about the Vietnam War I blurted out a comment to the effect that we had saved their butts when we bailed them out of WWII.   This created quite a firestorm among some of the older patrons and it took several pints of bitters to calm everyone down.

We never did meet the Stones; however, we often went to the Marquee Club on Wardour Street in London, where they had gained much of their early popularity and became fans of several local groups one of which had a brief brush with fame, King Crimson.   On July 3, 1969, Brian Jones, founder of the Rolling Stones, was found dead in his pool.   On July 5th, the Rolling Stones gave a free tribute concert in Hyde Park for over half a million people including Glenn and me.  It was our answer to Woodstock which took place that same summer.

We also saw the Who and Chuck Berry on the same bill at the Royal Albert Hall as well as Yes, Deep Purple, the Moody Blues and many other lesser known groups.  One of our favorite things to do was to go to the all night music sessions at the Lyceum Ballroom, once a grand theater on the Strand.   You spent the night listening to great rock music as you roamed the various rooms of this elaborate old building and in the morning there were free doughnuts and pastries for those who had the munchies which, of course, was just about everyone.

July 5 trip log

July 5 trip log

July 18 trip log

August 3 trip log

August 3 trip log

London was our home and our playground during that summer of 1969.

Look for “The Summer of ’69, Part 3” on Friday.  

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

I spent the summer of 1969 with my friend, Glenn, living and working in London.   This proved to be quite an adventure for two young guys with very limited financial resources and who, up to that point in our lives, had never traveled beyond the Northeastern part of America let alone to Europe.

I became friends with Glenn in High School and we continued our friendship into college even though he went to Cortland State and I was at Syracuse.   We did not see much of each other during the school year but spent a good deal of time together during the summer of 1968.   We were both big fans of the Rolling Stones and it was while listening to the Stones that the subject of London first came up.   We both agreed that it would be fun if we could go to London and find the Stones on their home turf.   From this bit of whimsy, the plan to spend the next summer in London was born.

I went back to Syracuse in the Fall of 1968 determined to make our plan to go to London a reality.   I found a student run travel service on campus that helped students arrange for trips abroad and by working with them I was able to find a program that, for a fee, would find you a summer job in London after a three day orientation at a hotel.   This seemed perfect since there was no way that we could afford to spend the summer in London unless we could pay our way by working.   I was not aware of the existence of formal study abroad programs nor would that have been an option for us.

This was before the era when parents micro-managed and participated in every facet of their children’s lives.  Our parents never became involved to any great extent in the planning or details of this trip except to make it clear that we would need to figure out how to take care of things like getting a passport and booking our flights and, most importantly, it was very clear that we would need to find a way to pay for it all without any help from our parents.

My passport photo

My passport photo

By the Spring of 1969, we had indeed put all of the pieces together and we were eager to spend close to three months in London.   After paying the job placement fee and for our flights, we had enough money left to cover about two weeks of our anticipated living expenses which we figured should be plenty since we would have a job soon after we arrived in London or so we thought.

In early June, a few days before our flight to London, we packed our bags, took a bus to New York City and then a commuter train to Long Island to stay with Glenn’s girlfriend who would drive us to the airport on the morning of our flight.   There was no parental escort to the airport, no safety lectures or long goodbyes, just a ride to the bus station.   The entire time we were in Europe, we never had any contact with our parents except for a few letters and postcards that I mailed home over the course of that summer.

We flew out of JFK on Saturn Airlines an airline that I never heard of before or since.   I never gave it a second thought as I did not become anxious about flying until much later after I got married and started having children.   At that point in my life, I was carefree, felt invincible and was convinced of my immortality.   We arrived in London and as promised we were taken to our hotel for our three day orientation.   The hotel was the Queens Hotel south of London and was nicer than I had expected.   We were off to a great start as we made some new friends, went to a party or two and became acclimated to the taste of strong warm beer.  I know the name of the hotel because I kept a log of sorts with some sketchy notes, written mostly by me but sometimes by Glenn, of our trip which I still have.

Everything was going according to plan until it became obvious that there was no job waiting for us and that we would soon be cut loose with only the small amount of money we brought with us.   When we were unceremoniously discharged from the hotel, we made our way into London and decided to check into the London YMCA to save money until we could figure out what to do next.   There was never any thought of reaching out to our parents for help or aborting the trip and going home.   It was a matter of pride and a statement of youthful independence that we were determined to find our own way to survive until our return flight at the end of August, job or no job.

June 13 trip log

June 14-16 trip log

June 14-16 trip log

Once in London, we spent most of the next week trying to find a job.  It was a frustrating endeavor since we found ourselves caught up in the classic “catch 22″ trap in that we could not get a temporary work permit without a job and no one would hire us without the permit.  Finally, I could not take any more of this futile search for a job and decided to storm the office of the British Student Travel Center since they had sponsored the job program we had paid for through the Syracuse student travel service.   This bit of acting out paid off as it turned out they decided that the best way to get rid of me was to find us a job on the spot.   After a few calls, we secured jobs at Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street.  Marks & Spencer is a large department store with a number of locations in London.

June 24 trip log

Now, with a job and a recently secured flat, we were ready to take on London.

Look for “The Summer of ’69, Part 2” on Wednesday. 

WHAT DO YOU SAY?