When I was 26, and living in Maryland, USA, I made a wanderlust
trip through Europe, Africa, USA, Mexico and Central America that lasted
over 35 months, almost three years. That was in 1957-60. When I returned
home I began writing a memoir during 1960 and ’61. When I finished,
I put it away in a closet and forgot it. I really didn’t forget
it. I just didn’t think I should publish it because there were so
many episodes and descriptions in there that would prove awkward to people
like my relatives and my friends along the way. So I left it all alone.
It’s now 2010, almost 40 years later and my family and me are living
on a farm in western Wisconsin. I’ll dust off the manuscript and
publish it here for the first time. –RE
After the first leg
of my voyage through Europe and Africa, I sold my photos and story to
the Saturday Evening Post, a popular magazine in 1958.
This taught me that maybe I was cut out for a career photojournalism.
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BRINGING IN THE HAY
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RUDI WASHES UP FOR THE DAY AHEAD
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I opened my eyes just before dawn to a thumping feeling
between my ears and in the dim light I tried to recount just how I landed
in a hayloft in a Dutch barn with horses shuffling down below and pigeons
in the ceiling cooing and fluttering from rafter to rafter, flapping their
wings and dropping white splatterings, the kind you like to avoid on the
sidewalk when you’re taking a stroll in a big city park. One hit
me on the ear and I think that’s what woke me up. Shit! I grumbled
as I searched for the bandanna that I must’ve lost in the melee
from the night before.
And then there was my mouth. Stale beer taste. And my head. The sound
of kettledrums were beating in there. I tried to go to sleep. And I did.
When I woke the next time the kettledrums were gone. I could hear someone
below with the horses swashing water buckets and feeding them grain.
Rudi was already up, folding his sleeping bag. “You sleep O.K.,
Engh?” He asked.
I grumbled, “Yeah.”
“Hey you guys! You gonna sleep forever?”
The bartender shouted up to us in what the Dutch people call ‘platt
deutsch.’ It’s sorta like German with some other dialects
mixed in there like Danish and Flemish and even some Creole or whatever
that language is that they speak in the back bayous of Louisiana. Anyway,
back in Wuerzburg it was the same thing about languages; you really didn’t
have straight German to speak if you wanted to talk with the people. Some
had a Bavarian accent, especially out in the country, and others in the
city had an accent they called hochdeutsch, or somesuch, the kind you
heard radio announcers speaking.
It was pretty much the same as when I was growing up on the Eastern Shore
of Maryland, out in the country; we all spoke with a different accent
than the city people that came down from Baltimore and Washington. I had
to be careful when I would talk with ‘city people’ over there
in Ocean City when I had my summer job at the hotel during school summer
vacation time. I tried to sound like the voices I heard on the radio otherwise
they would think of me as a “hick” as city people called us
from the Eastern Shore. I guess it was the same with the black people
who worked in the kitchen with me when they talked amongst each other
but when the boss lady came back with us they would snap up into real
English even that I could understand.
Anyway all this got me prepared for my journey. I didn’t
mind it. In fact I kinda liked it, learning new foreign words all the
time and as I look back on it now, the people I was speaking with appreciated
that I was interested enough if their language to try to learn it which
meant they knew I appreciated them and their country as well.
“How did you ever get from Hamburg to Calcutta on only ten
dollars?” I asked Rudi as I was rolling up my sleeping
bag. He was staring at me. Sizing me up, I thought. Here was someone who
had accomplished something that I was setting out to do. Could I do it?
I already knew my limitations. What did he possess that I didn’t?
“To Calcutta?,” he said, reaching for his guitar and holding
it up in the air, “This fellow here. That’s what got me everywhere.”
He tossed it
back on the straw. It was covered with scratches and souvenir stickers
of countries and cities he’d been through and a few signatures of
people he had met. It lay there, as if it were a pet animal, like a dog
that tagged along with you wherever you went, as long as you had a morsel
of food to toss it now and then.
“By playing on street corners?” I asked. “With a tin
cup, asking for money?”
“Hell, no” he said, looking at me as if I were a child.
“How then?” I asked, hoping he had some magic secret.
“Hey! You guys
coming down? The bartender shouted up to us.
“Be right there.” We both shouted back.
to see you both had a good sleep,” the bartender brinned at us as
we entered the back door of the tavern. He introduced himself as Hermann
“You own this tavern,?” Rudi asked.
“It’s all mine,” he said proudly. And then introduced
us to his wife, who was in the kitchen preparing breakfast.
“C’mon out here in the back and wash up,” she said,
as she poured us each a hot basin of water. “Why are you limping
young man?” she looked at me with concern.
“He was playing Tarzan last night in the barn, laughed Rudi.
“It’s all right,” I said, “I only turned my ankle.”
“Boys! Have some breakfast with us,” Herr Van Dohlen shouted
from the tavern.
“Thanks, we answered in unison.
“Thank you, for that fine entertainment last night.” He returned.
After breakfast with
the Van Dohlens, Rudi and I walked out to the stone steps leading up to
the tavern. Horse-drawn wagons paraded by, people on foot, boys on bicycles,
men with push carts passed.
secret magic for traveling all the way to India on ten dollars?
As it turns out there
was no magic secret. His answer was as old as the ages. Like the circus
of ancient days, people love to be entertained and a good way to entertain
them was with some kind of musical instrument.
I remembered from last night, he had a beautiful baritone voice. It didn’t
always stay in tune, much like his guitar, but he proved that didn’t
matter so long as you could offer them “theater.”
He hadn’t thought
this all out, I could tell, but what I could tell is that he discovered
as a youngster back when he was working in the coal mines, he could strum
a chord on his guitar it would get attention and it would change the atmosphere.
If he added his singing voice it would raise the level of “theater”.
Soon he was on his way out of the coalmines to travel into the world he
had seen only in the movies. He would get to the edge of town on his bicycle
and keep going. I sensed he had the same feeling I had, that nothing could
hold him back.
I suppose that his friends and family told him too, that he was running
away from a promising future and he’d probably fall prey to the
evils of the world. I knew he was a lot like me in that we both were stubborn
about changing the way our lives were going and wanted to see what else
was out there before we settled down.
As I look back, it
turned out that when we each started out, neither of us sat down and figured
out an action plan or something like that. We didn’t realize there
was some kind of magnet out there that was drawing each of us from our
standard existence. It turned out that we were doing something right,
-something normal, actually.
We both knew that
people love to be entertained and escape from their boring normal ordinary
existence. It takes their mind off things. Even if it was a good life.
Sometimes they don’t even know they’re tired and weary and
need to clear out their mind a little bit. They look to find ay to make
all those things disappear. Music can do this. Everyone is transported.
It’s nice to be able to help people in that way.
tourist doesn’t experience this. When music is your language,
even religious and cultural differences disappear. You wouldn’t
think you could reduce all the ills of the world to this. But on a one-to-one
basis you really can. You really, definitely can. I was beginning to realize
all this stuff, but you really can. Rudi already knew it.
I asked him, “But how did you get through nine months of travel
on ten dollars?”
No one had ever asked him such a question. He thought for a while.
“For one thing,” he said, “When you travel like this,
almost like gypsies, you get to be friends with people pretty quick and
pretty soon they want to know more about you and what you’re doing
in their town and where you’ve been and where you’re going
and what you’ve seen. And they want to know about you and your family,
-basic things like that. He put his shoes up on one of the wrought iron
“Once I’ve told them the places I’ve driven my bicycle,
Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, places like that, they feel as they
know me better.
They like to put themselves
in my stories and it’s fun for them. Of course not all of them,
but a lot of them. With them you talk about things you wouldn’t
normally talk about to the people back home , with people you see every
day. And pretty soon they ask if you’ve had a meal, and pretty soon
you’re sitting in their home in the kitchen and having a meal, and
then it’s getting dark, and they say they have an extra bed and
you’re welcome to it – it’s actually their own bed -
and they sleep somewhere else, and then before you know it you’re
having breakfast with them and they are packing you a lunch to take along
with you and giving you a hug and a strong handshake and sometimes a kiss
and wishing you a good trip and you’re on your way.”
I was getting
to see the whole picture. He didn’t see the world the same
way most people did. He saw the world more as prospects or more accurately
as candidates for his services.
Now I don’t mean it in a way that he was like a preacher seeing
people as his eventual flock but more like a carnival barker who sees
people as prospects or like a Madison Avenue ad agency director who truly
believes in his product and wants to convince people that they’ll
be better off if they react positively to what he is selling them.
As I look
back on it now, his technique had a flow to it, almost a rhythm
you had to admire, like the car salesman who is the student of human nature,
who has learned a formula for dealing with people. Rudi wasn’t going
around trying to sell people stuff; it just came to him naturally. I don’t
think he would be happy being a salesman. He was just happy having figured
out how to get people to react the way he wanted them to. And his method
I myself didn’t
have this talent. Rejection was devastating to me. But I needed to sell
myself to people if I wanted to learn about them and their way of life.
Rudi was going to be the perfect compliment to me on my voyage.
Most people might think of Rudi as being aggressive. But he didn’t
see himself that way. If his “family of man” as Edward Steichen
called them, is out there waiting his arrival, you don’t spend time
on protocol. It was like his family was expecting him. Why stand on ceremony,
just go for it.
He bent over to tie his shoes. They were half-boots made out of leather
that he had probably bought at an Army surplus store back in Hamburg before
he started his journey. They had taken him over deserts and cobblestones.
And they had probably been worn ten years earlier by a German soldier
somewhere on the Russian front.
My mind wandered like
this all the time. I should get away from my habit of trying to figure
out how all that I encountered fit into some kind of describable pattern.
I interrupted him,
“But the money. You need some money to send a postcard back home.
Or for the rainy days when you don’t meet any friendly people that’s
hospitable like that.” I said.
those people need some repairs around the house, or a farmer needs a fence
gate fixed and you tell them you’ve got the time, you’re in
no rush to get anywhere, and you can do the job. And then they find another
job for you and sometimes you realize you’ve been there several
days, and you’ve got to get on your way, and you find they pay you
a little extra than what you expected and you may acquire even five or
ten dollars. Now you’ve got a little extra cash for those rainy
days. It all works out. Not to worry about that.”
I could tell Rudi
wasn’t out to see and learn the same things I was, but he was out
to do the same things. That was what I needed. It would be a good combination
if we could take this journey together. He was aggressive.
That was something I didn’t have. I mean aggressive in the sense
if he had a particular goal that day, he was going to do it or get it
done. I wondered if this was his regular character or if it was something
he had developed to be able to survive on his trip. I think it came naturally
Rudi continued, “If people enjoy your company they like to do things
for you . You can repay them with song. They didn’t have TV or record
players or transistor radios, It’s live entertainment in their home.
It had never come into their homes before. It is a memorable experience
for them that they’ll never forget.”
I broke in, “It
gives you a chance to see how people are living from the inside. It’s
not like they knew you were coming and prepared for your visit.”
“Naaw,” he said. “ I haven’t stayed in a hotel
on the whole trip. You can’t learn anything about the world staying
in hotels,” he said.
“I guess so,” I said. “Bellboys in Paris are no different
than those in Cairo.”
Last night, I had suggested we make the trip together. I
wondered. Could he put up with me? ..and me with him? Was he a guy just
wandering around because he had nothing better to do? Did he have any
purpose in life? Was he on a mission to find himself? What was he doing,
riding a bicycle all the way to India- and farther if he hadn’t
gotten it stolen from him?. But then, again, he could’ve bought
another bike or stolen one himself and continued on. Or was he giving
up his trip and coming back to Europe, satisfied he’d had enough?
Those were things I was wondering about.
Rudi, it seemed, was
the kind of person that reveals his whole life, past, present and future
to the stranger at first meeting. But only like on a job resume. The resume
tells you all you need to know for the purpose it’s intended for.
It stops there. I learned all the specifics of what he had done but nothing
of what he had observed. But what did that matter, I thought?
Yes, maybe this would make the ideal combination. The wanderer and the
wonderer making a trip together. Maybe we could compliment each other?
A couple of opposites. I would have ideas. He would make sure they got
done. Sounded promising.
He reached in his
saddlebag and pulled out a can. “This is butter,” he said,
holding up the small can for me to read the label. “It comes all
the way from Goa, in Portuguese India, where I was last month. An Army
Captain gave it to me as a going away present! Do you like pumpernickel?”
He asked, bringing out a hunting knife.
“Good. Then we’re going to have a treat.” He cut thick
slices of the black bread. We each spread them with the unsalted butter
and continued our conversation.
we’re set for a real expedition!” Rudi continued,
munching on his bread. “You with your brand new motor scooter and
me with my supply of bread and butter.”
“Would you really
like to team up?” I asked earnestly.
“We could try
and see if it works out.” He answered.” We both have guitars
and we both look like we have practically the same road ahead of us. But
I don’t have much to contribute…”
I interrupted him.
“But your experience is invaluable.”
“Yeah, I’ve learned a lot in the last nine months. I’m
ready to go again. I told the folks back home I was going to see the world.
If I returned home right now, they’d all laugh at me. As far as
money goes, I only have three dollars. But you can see from all the places
I’ve been, we won’t need much money.
That sounded wonderful
to me and I immediately thought of my camera. “I had some bad luck
the other day. I lost my camera. If you really don’t think we’ll
need much money, I’d like to buy another one. I plan on writing
about my journey when I get back to Baltimore.”
I could see by his
reaction that it didn’t matter one way or the other to Rudi. Having
lived in post-war Germany all his life, publicity about his journey was
far from what he considered important. Having a warm meal and a place
to sleep was what mattered.
But Rudi said, “Right!
First chance we get, we’ll stop in a camera store and see what kind
of bargain we c’n get.”
“How ‘bout visas?” I asked.
able to apply for Africa ‘til I got my passport back in Germany.
But then it was too late. I’m thinking of going to the American
Consulate and apply in Paris.”
worry about it. Rudi chortled. “If you’re right on
the border of the country you want to get into, you can usually get them
immediately. If it doesn’t go your way, well, welcome to a new experience!
This whole trip has been nothing but new experiences for me. I never let
things like visas worry me.
That was relief to me. I hoped it was true. I had imagined being delayed
in Europe ‘til my visa came through.
“By the way, do you speak French.?” Rudi asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Good! That means we’ve got three languages between
us. I can speak Dutch and German. That’s it. You’re
going to have to teach me English.
That looked like a challenge. I could speak French, what with my six months
of training at the Army Language School in Monterey. But translating French
into German all the time! Would I ever get a chance to speak English?
He cut off another chunk of pumpernickel. “Where have you been sleeping
“Usually at camping parks.”
“What?!” They cost money don’t they?”
“Yes,” I answered. About 25 cents a night.
“We’ll have to change that!” He laughed. “You
just wait to see where we’ll sleep tonight.”
“Where’s that?” He had me thinking.
“I don’t know but it’s not going to cost any money you
can bet on that. And besides were going to get a big meal and sleep in
a regular bed! I bet you haven’t done that for awhile.”
This was like Christmas. It didn’t sound legal. I didn’t say
anything. I thought I’d just wait and see. I didn’t know how
long Rudi and I would remain together, but I was being entertained by
his initiative in the meantime.
THE NEW WAY