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ROHN TAKES A MID-DAY SIESTA
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RUDI ENTERTAINS FIELD WORKERS
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ROHN BORROWS A SUN HAT
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WE ENTER PORTUGAL AT ELVAS
“O.K.” I answered timidly. Rudi had said we ought
to try to see how much speed we could get out of the Vespa 150.
There was this steep grade coming up on the highway and it would be a
good testing ground.
Well, the answer is not something you sit around and debate about. It’s
something you’re supposed to answer an automatic “Yes”,
like “Wanna another beer?” At least with guys our age. And
I guess it’s the same with girls. But our culture allows girls some
leeway. I mean girls wouldn’t automatically say “yes”
to something daring, usually. At least not the ones I’ve known.
But not for guys. It stamps ‘sissy’ on your forehead if you
say, “Wait, let’s stop and think about this.” That’s
what I would’ve liked to say. Here we were in the middle of open
country in Spain, on a lonely highway, not a soul around, except the railroad
train we heard now and them somewhere in the valley or mountains we were
traveling though. Not a bird or a donkey, could’ve heard me, and
I could’ve said anything, and no one would’ve heard me. But
Rudi has been putting me in situations like this recently and I guess
this was one of them. I’d didn’t want to hear again, “You
Americans are all alike.”
He looked at me again. “Let’s try ‘er out!”
But I knew he was asking a question, not telling me. I think he wanted
to put some of the blame on me in case we crashed and got all banged up.
“Sure!” I said, like you’re supposed to.
Rudi gave it full gas and we sped down the mountain grade. Now I should
mention that in Spain at that time the gasoline service was not always
what you would hope it to be, and at the previous gas station we had suspected
the attendant of not adding the full amount of oil to the gasoline-oil
mixture or even forgetting to add the oil to the mixture. If this happens
there is the chance that the piston will not be properly lubricated, and
it will freeze in the cylinder chamber. This causes the rear wheel to
So there we were, speeding down that hill at 80 miles per hour. I don’t
know how fast we were really going. The speedometer only goes up to 50.
I remember back in high school my classmate, Marion Baker, had his dad’s
car and he and Bob Fletcher and Bobbie Campbell were also in it. We were
on our way to a Saturday night dance at a roadhouse outside of Salisbury
and Marion got this notion that he ought to see how fast his dad’s
new truck could go and he told us “Watch this.” He just got
it in his head that he was going to test out his dad’s truck.
think it was a Studebaker one of those new pickup trucks after WWII. Pretty
soon we realized he was giving it a test run like they do in the movies.
I was watching the speedometer and it got up to 83. So I know what it
feels like to go 83 m.p.h. None of us said a word. But we all left the
car knowing we weren’t virgins anymore when it came to going really
About a year after that, Bobby Campbell was doing the same thing with
the car he had bought when he got his new job. He was alone, or drunk
or something and he ran into a tree in Taylorsville right across from
Betty Anne McAliister’s house, and got killed. Every time I went
by that tree I thought about Bobby. I was thinking about him now.
Well, as you’re probably thinking, something’s going to happen
with that Vespa motor. It sure as hell happened.
We were going down that hill at eighty miles per hour,
the rear wheel of the Vespa suddenly braked, it just didn’t move
anymore. It was stuck. I could smell rubber, I think. The scooter began
fishtailing. Rudi swerved to the left, and then counter-steered to the
right, then when we slid to the left Rudi countered again, correcting
the direction of the scooter before it reached the point where we could’ve
toppled over and splattered onto the road. I gripped Rudi, shouting wild
sounds of encouragement, but expected to go sprawling into the roadbed
any moment with our heads bouncing like soccer balls. Neither of us were
wearing crash helmets. And I just imagined two crosses being erected alongside
that lonely Spanish road the next day.
This all happened in a matter of a few seconds, and if Rudi hadn’t
been the quick thinker that he is, we probably would have had just that
fate. As it was, he thought to pull in the clutch, which released the
drive shaft from the frozen cylinder and allowed us to free-wheel the
rest of the way down the hill. The reality of what had happened didn’t
strike us ‘til a few moments after it was all over, and we pulled
to the side of the road and took a good long rest.
I was the first to talk. “You’ve got to have
respect for the machine,” I said after a while, recalling my own
accident a few days ago.
“You can’t have respect for any machine!” Rudi scolded
me. “If you do, and you start fearing a machine, it’ll sure
as hell be the death of you. Machines aren’t responsible. You’ve
got to make yourself master of them. The only thing you’ve got to
have respect for when you’re driving this scooter is yourself!”
He took the posture of a professor or friendly doctor. He usually raised
his jawbone and looked downward at me when he was in his lecturing mode.
I didn’t mind feeling like a lowly student. He was right. And, I
was alive. That’s what counted. This was one of the several times
on our trip we almost met destruction.
I could tell Rudi had also been frightened by the near accident. But he
wasn’t going to let the scooter get the best of him. He was right,
you have to be the undisputed master of machines; if not, you become their
slave. It gave me encouragement to realize this, and it began to dispel
my fear that I had been starting to get of driving the scooter.
The next couple of days we mostly spent camping out. It was like we were
exhausted trying to talk with the peasants who were poorer than we were
and could hardly share a piece of bread with us. We soon passed over the
border and were in the country of Portugal. No problem at the border customs.
We were finished seeing posters with Franco’s face on it. No Guardias
with rifles slung over their shoulders. But we were to find out the political
freedom that I’ve been talking about was pretty much missing in
Portugal too. Salazar, he was the big boss in this country and he ruled
it just as strong as Franco. We knew we had to be on our good behavior
And the people? Well, at least the folks out in the countryside that we
encountered seemed to accept us more readily that the Spanish peasants
people did. They would cheerfully wave to us in a fashion that indicated
they agreed with our way of traveling. One farmer, for example was wheeling
a wheelbarrow along the side of the road, took the time to put his wheelbarrow
down when he saw us coming, and vigorously waved to us smiling as we passed.
Another man, in a general store, offered us bandages for my swollen hand.
That was a surprise. He offered to fill our canteen with water. Nice guy.
And the language. I thought the Spanish we had learned would get us through.
No chance. Portuguese was a new language for us entirely, and at farmsteads
we had to finger talk most of the way, pointing to pictures or making
But the really nice thing was that our "lodging system"
worked just as well in rural Portugal as it did elsewhere along our way.
We would ask for lodging in a stable or barn. Get accepted. Get out our
guitars and practice our songs. The children would gather around to listen.
And then the adults and elders. And then Rudi and I would hear that favorite
sentence, “Supper’s on the table, why don’t you come
in and join us?” Later in the evening, the word would spread to
neighbors and they would arrive on bicycles or donkeys for an evening
of song. Some farmers would bring their own instruments. And all this
without even speaking their language. We felt that despite the warnings
of others that our “lodging system” would not work when we
crossed over into Africa, we sensed it just might.
By the time we reached Lisbon we had decided we like
the people of Portugal. It was early evening when we entered the capital
and from a distance we could see the city lights flickering in the Lisbon
harbor. It looked a lot like a post card for San Francisco.
It was a mid-summer evening, almost sundown, “There’s the
city out there!” I shouted to Rudi. “Any place special you’d
like to stay tonight?”
“It’s Saturday night! Let’s see if we can’t find
some activity going on in town. Maybe there’s a German ship in the
harbor.” Rudi was always looking for German ships. I think he considered
them floating islands of bock beer, sauerkraut, and a good night’s
sleep on a soft mattress. Heck, I didn’t want to spend the weekend
on a German ship. We were in a new city. I wanted to see what Lisbon was
We were used to driving on lonely country roads in Spain so here we were
dodging city traffic and pedestrians. We drove down avenues of statues
and gardens and ornamented buildings with glazed tiles, and finally reached
the Praca do Comercio, a plaza called “Black Horse Square.”
At a stop light we drove up side by side to a young Portuguese man and
a girl riding together on a Vespa motor scooter. It was the same kind
we had except it was nice and clean. He looked like a young businessman
and the way she was snuggled up against him it looked like they were pretty
good friends. .
“Where are you going?” the guy shouted in
French over the sounds of the city. I guess he recognized us as traveling
troubadours. French was the international language at that time in Europe.
“On our way to Africa!” I shouted as Rudi wheeled the scooter
closer to them so that we could hear.
“This time of night?” the young girl asked.
“Oh, no. We just arrived in town. We don’t know where we’re
going. Just thought we’d look around.”
“Where you from?”
“Rudi’s from Germany and I’m American.”
The light changed and we had to finish our conversation at the next street
“And now you’re on your way to Africa?” the young man
“We’re on our way around the world!”
“On one motor scooter?”
“Wonderful!” the girl shouted, and the young
man broke in, “Why don’t you come with us. We’re going
to a Vespa club party at our clubroom.”
“Sounds good!” I said, “We’ll follow you.”
We wove in and out of cars, following the couple until they parked their
Vespa on a steep side street, beside several other scooters.
“Lisbon is really built on a lot of hills!” I said as we went
over to greet them. “This is a lot like our city of San Francisco
“Is that where you’re from?” he said.
“No, I’m from the other side, Maryland.” I introduced
Rudi and myself.
“We’re Carlos and Lavinia Da Silva.”
He was in his late twenties, a slender man with a well-shaven look to
his delicate, almost Semitic face. The girl was a bit buxom, but not too
much, just pleasantly. She had auburn hair, and a cute, round face with
green eyes that danced as she spoke. It turned out they were married.
“Just call us Carlos and Lavinia,” he said.
“Is this your club building?” I looked up at the large apartment
building in front of us. It was about a mile from downtown.
“Yes, we occupy one of the apartments in the building,” he
said and, pointed to a row of lighted windows on the third floor. We went
into the apartment to find a dozen young men and women mingling around,
looking at brochures and catalogs, sipping wine and stuff like that. When
they saw us, two strangers, grubby and one with an arm in a messy sling
lopped over his shoulder, me, well, it caught them all by surprise.
They saw our two guitars. That kinda softened our entrance.
This class of people we hadn’t seen since Madrid. Guys with ties
on and polished shoes and sleek-lookin’ girls with dark hair, heels,
and tanned bodies and fancy dresses. I had almost forgotten what beautiful
women looked like. Well, not really, but being with the peasants so long,
it somehow dulls your appreciation of downright beauty.
“Our club president isn’t here right now,” Carlos said,
helping me remove my jacket, “But I’ll introduce you around
to some of the other folks.”
As I removed my coat, Lavinia noticed my arm in the sling and saw my hand
was all bandaged up. So did some others in the room and some turned their
backs away. I guess such a sight didn’t belong in an elegant place
like this. The bandage hadn’t been changed in a few days and I could
see Lavinia was concerned. It was mostly brown with dried blood all over
“What happened to your hand, Rohn? It’s all swollen!”
A little embarrassed at the unsightly dressing, I answered, “Oh
it’s nothing; just a small scrape we had in Spain. I ran into a
She winced. “You’ll have to let me take a look at that later
on. Do you have a first-aid kit on your scooter?”
“Yes, but we ran out of gauze and bandages. I wanted to get some
when we arrived in Lisbon.”
“You go and meet our friends, and I’ll see if I can round
up some supplies,” she said, as Carlos took us into the main living
room to introduce us.
“Folks! I would like you to meet Rohn and Rudi, who are traveling
the world on Vespa,” he said, as he turned down the volume on the
phonograph playing in the corner.
Some of the people walked up to us. Others stayed away and I’m sure
because of the way we smelled. We hadn’t had a real bath in a week.
I brought out my logbook diary to show them some of the places we had
been and pictures of people we had met. Most of them spoke French really
well, better than me. Carlos brought Rudi and me a glass of local Portuguese
wine and we settled down to talk about our trip through Europe, and our
Lavinia came into the room with a package under her arm. She had gone
out of the apartment. I saw her leave. She motioned for me to follow her
into the kitchen. She wasn’t able to find any fist-aid supplies
in the apartment and had gone out to buy some.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Lavinia. I could’ve waited
‘til tomorrow,” I said.
“You men just don’t know how to take care of yourselves,”
she said. And as though she didn’t hear my objection, she carefully
removed the bandage from my hand, squirming her face as she did.
“This is going to hurt.”
“Ouch!” I pulled my hand away.
She took it again and wiped the pus and blood mixture that had formed
around the infection. There was a red ring around the wound, and large
red streaks ran up the inside of my arm toward my elbow. “Does that
hurt?” she said, pressing on a muscle in my forearm.
“A little bit,” I answered, biting my lip.
“Did you visit a doctor?” she asked, cleaning the wound with
cotton and hydrogen peroxide.
“We didn’t have time,” I answered; really meaning we
didn’t have the money. “Besides, Rudi was my doctor.”
“It doesn’t look like he didn’t do a very good job,”
“I wondered about that,” I said, sitting down in a kitchen
chair as she placed my arm across the enameled table. “Rudi said
after I cleaned the wound that I should air it out as we drove along and
let the healing rays of the sun hit it.”
“That was just about the worst thing you could do!”
she admonished. “The air is polluted with germs, and besides, you
have no skin on your hand; it’s almost the same as a third degree
burn. You were exposing a burned hand of sensitive tissues to the hot
sun! Didn’t it pain you?”
“Well, I thought the pain was part of the healing process.”
She laughed and asked me to bend my arm. “Does your elbow hurt very
“Yes, but it feels much better than my hand.”
“No wonder, your elbow wasn’t exposed to the sun or air inside
your jacket. Next time you have a scrape like that, be sure to stop the
bleeding first, then clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide, or boiled
water and soap, and then cover it with a sterile gauze bandage. If you
have a handkerchief or piece of cloth, cover the gauze with that to prevent
the bandage from getting too dirty, or the air seeping in,” she
sounded like the infirmary nurse at school.
Hey! This was fun having a good-looking woman fondling my hand and arm
first thing coming in to Lisbon. I wished for a moment there that I had
damaged my other hand and arm!
Then I said, “Well, we did one thing right at least, we cleaned
the wound with alcohol. I bet that killed a lot of germs,” I said
She laughed again, I loved the way those green eyes opened wide when she
laughed. “I guess it did kill some germs, but it also burned nerve
endings which probably resulted in your hand becoming so infected!”
“I just can’t win!” I said.
“I only hope the infection hasn’t gone too far.” She
was getting serious now. Her lips made a kind of a pucker as she became
quiet and somber as she examined the redness of my arm. “We’ll
take a look at it tomorrow, and if it doesn’t look better, we’ll
go around to visit the doctor.”
Carlos entered the kitchen. “How are you all doing in here?”
Carlos had another glass of wine for us. “This looks like an emergency
“And I’ve got a sick patient,” Lavinia said, tying the
knot on the sling she had made out of a tea towel for my arm.
We returned to the living room, and I met others and the club president
who had arrived in the meantime. He was a guy that looked like he would
be the president not only of the Vespa club but the parent/teachers association,
as well, and a neighborhood soccer club. Roberto was his name. I didn’t
catch his last name. I gotta get better at that.
They almost wore out that phonograph. Several people brought records and
they danced ‘til midnight or so. It was embarrassing, I mean the
way we smelled. So I asked Carlos. “Is there a shower in this place.?
“Sure! Wanna use it.?
Rudi followed suit. We took a shower and put on some clean clothes from
our saddlebag. I even washed out a couple of my t-shirts and shorts while
I was in there, thinking we might never have another chance while we were
Rudi said “Good idea!” and did the same.
Near the end of the party, Carlos asked, “Where are you staying
“We really don’t have a place to stay,” Rudi said.
Carlos said, “We’re all going down to Trafaria to spend the
night in Ricardo Almeida’s beach house. Why don’t you both
come along? It’ll be a lot of fun.”
“Thanks!” We both knew it would be more than just
a lot fun. It would be lodging for us for the night!
At two o’clock, we left the party early with Carlos and Lavinia
and a dozen fellows and girls and drove the now quiet city streets of
Lisbon down to the harbor, where we boarded a ferryboat that chugged across
the bay for about a half hour to the ocean side of Trafaria. It was directly
on the ocean side and a place of small wooden beach houses strewn along
the ocean surfside. Ricardo’s house was jammed right in with the
rest of the houses.
It had a couple of wide rooms and a kitchen and no second floor just like
the rest of the beach houses. It was perfect for a gathering of a dozen
young people like us. Rudi got out the guitar and sang a few operatic
type of German tunes in the dark, while Ricardo’s girlfriend lighted
candles in the main big room.
We passed around some jugs of wine. Carlos, Lavinia and I sat in one corner
talking alone. They were a well-matched couple, curious about the outside
world, and eager to hear about our trip and the people we had met. We
talked long after the others had fallen asleep on the mattresses and bedsprings,
that were strewn about the floors of the beach house. I woke up twice
during the night and thought I heard thunder but I guess it was something
else going on.
In the morning, everyone went for a swim. It was one of those nude beaches
I had heard about they had at the Mediterranean in France. Back in Wuerzburg,
my army buddy, Rick Tolman told me how he and some weekend downhill ski
partners would go to a place in Austria where they had saunas at the hotel
they liked and all the guys and girls took a steaming hot sauna naked
together after a day on the slopes. This was sorta one of those places.
Some of the public was wearing bathing suits. Carlos, Lavinia, and I didn’t
but Rudi chose to borrow one from one of the guys. Into the Atlantic,
all of us plunged.
I think the Gulf Stream passes by Portugal so the water was pretty warm.
They even had palm trees growing along the beach. I tippy-toed into the
surf up to my knees.
“C’mon, Rohn!” Ricardo shouted from the splashing low
tide. “You can go in up to your waist! C’mon in farther!”
“Naw, I think I’ll keep my arm dry.” I said.
After the swim everyone laid around the sandy beach. I went back to the
beach house, got dressed and I took a walk up the beach to see what was
up there. As I looked over my shoulder to the west, it hit me as I looked
out onto the Atlantic. All my friends and family were over there somewhere
on the other side at that moment in Ocean City. Here I was on the other
side, in Portugal. They probably never heard of this place.
When I returned to the beach house, everybody was seated around the living
room floor and out on the terrace, eating eggs and bacon from pans and
lids. “Have some breakfast!” Carlos shouted.
Boy! Was that bacon good! It came from a kind of pig they have in Portugal
that mainly is fed acorns. Can you imagine? Eating acorns all day?
In the afternoon we took a walk into the Costa de Caparica Park near the
beach. “There’s a first aid station here, Rohn,” Lavinia
said, “Let’s take a look inside.”
I didn’t mind her suggestion, my arm was now throbbing and I didn’t
feel like taking any more chances with it.
“There’s always a danger of a secondary infection
from a wound like this.” The young intern in a white smock
said as he removed Lavinia’s good bandage. He scrubbed away the
pus that had formed around the swelling. “Something like this could
result in blood poisoning or tetanus. Without immediate treatment, death
could result. Have you had any fever or chills since the accident?”
he asked, looking up at me.
“I couldn’t sleep too well last night.”
He took me over to a fluoroscope and placed my hand under the machine.
“Does that hurt?” he said, placing his finger on the back
of my hand near the wrist.
“Ouch!” I answered.
“Can you bend your wrist?”
“Yes,” I grimaced. My wrist seemed to bend with a little pain.
He was looking at the screen on the fluoroscope again. “You’ve
fractured a few bones in your hand. But they appear to be in good shape.
Give them time, and your hand a lot of rest, and you’ll have no
trouble. For the next few days, take it mighty easy. Where are you staying
here in Lisbon?”
NEXT: We look for a way to make some money in Lisbon