When I was a child, my family took only one vacation. We drove a hundred miles south to see the reconstructed fort at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. We left at seven in the morning, right after milking, and got back by five in the afternoon.
That’s how it is on a dairy farm. I left Oklahoma for Michigan when I went to college, but that wasn’t a vacation. That was an escape. By the time I got married, I was ready to do some traveling.
Travel was cheap in the U.S. in the seventies. Gas was seventeen cents a gallon and the old car usually ran. We slept in a pup tent and cooked on a camp stove. We crisscrossed the western two-thirds of America and visited nearly every National Park. Eventually however, as I continued doing more writing than selling, the car got old and times got lean. Then I started teaching and a few years later, with a mostly healed up bank account, we toured the Atlantic states. That trip gave me the start on a new novel (see 55. Voices in the Wall and Serial for February and March of 2016).
By 1987 we had saved enough money to tour Europe. Perhaps tour is not the right word. In those days you could get cheap air fares if you paid months in advance. Eurail passes cost quite a bit, but they took care of all your travel costs once you were in Europe. That left just food and lodging.
We were following the advice of Rick Steves but planned to outdo him on cheapness. We bought a tent and a pair of rucksacks. A set of clothing on our backs and another pair of jeans and shirt in the backpack, and we were ready to go.
We were 30 years old that year and planning to travel like teenagers – minus the hitchhiking. We had very little money, but we had lots of time. Seventy days, in fact. Being a school teacher is a real pain sometimes, but it gives you summers off.
As we waited for our flight out of San Francisco that spring, the gate attendant announced that they were overbooked, and offered a pass for future flights to anyone who would volunteer to wait for a later departure. We volunteered, and then watched our flight leave without us. It was logical; the pass was worth almost as much as we had paid months earlier, and it would only mean a short delay. Still, after waiting a lifetime to see Europe, it hurt to see our plane go on without us.
It felt good when it returned twenty minutes later. They had had engine trouble, but the problem was quickly resolved. Meanwhile, we found out that the flight had not actually been overbooked. It was a computer error. We took off about forty minutes later, on the same plane, with passes in our pockets to cover a future plane flight. All the way to Europe in 1987, we planned for our second trip in 1988. more tomorrow