THE NOMAD PERIOD – PART ONE
“Many a false step is made by standing still”
When I left the Navy, I was bound and determined to catch up on the traveling and fun life that I had missed while serving (not that we didn’t travel in “The Teams,” of course) and to complete my university education, however long it took. This is a period that I sometimes refer to as the “nomad period.” I had no responsibilities, relationships, jobs or cares. I was footloose and fancy-free. Free as a bird, in fact. What follows is a “heavily censored” account of my adventures.
Fresh out of the Navy and with the confidence of a man who didn’t know just how much he didn’t know, I decided I wanted to grow my hair long and become a commercial pilot. In retrospect, the two goals don’t seem related at all. At the time, however, they made perfect sense. And why not? I was young, strong and bullets “bounced off my chest” or so I thought. Thanks to the GI. Bill benefits for veterans, I enrolled in a commercial flying school in Florida with the goal of getting a job with an airline once my training was completed.
I managed to get my private pilot’s license and was working on my commercial and instrument licenses when my dream went up in smoke. My flight instructor told me hundreds if not thousands of jet pilots were being released from the military now that the Vietnam War was winding down. The cold hard truth hit me like a freight train – I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell against these “jet jockeys” with thousands of flight hours under their belt. On to plan B.
Plan B was not much of a plan at all. It consisted of partying with all the college students that came to Florida for spring break every year. The truth is, I didn’t have any long-range plans at all. Once the partying was done, I needed to get serious. My roommate at the time had a Corvette and wanderlust as large as mine. After much discussion, we decided to head for the west coast, more specifically, California. No jobs, no friends, no places to live and very little money between us. But that sounded like a great plan at the time. Little did we realize just how much gas his Corvette required to keep us cruising down the road, but we would soon find out.
We set off with just a few changes of clothes (probably all we had) and a full tank of gas. We only stopped for gas if the station had a cheap diner nearby. We were not paying for accommodations on this epic journey. We decided as we rolled through one state after another that we would stop and put down roots at the point where we had $50 left apiece.
As we crossed into Arizona, we realized that Phoenix would be the place. We heard advertisements on the radio for people to work at a 48-hour rock concert at a place called “Big Surf.” Big Surf in the middle of the desert – WTF? It turned out to be a huge swimming area with artificial waves pumped out every 30 seconds or so.
We signed up, worked all weekend with just a few hours of shuteye and now had the money for a deposit on an apartment. We found a cheap place and started looking for work. The problem was that no one wanted to hire long-haired hippies. My friend met a girl who helped us get jobs in a clothing store selling jeans. Lady Luck was smiling on us. Or was she?
My roommate fell in love with her, and she moved in with us. Two’s company and three’s a crowd, so I needed to move out. I didn’t want a relationship at that time (or maybe no girl in her right mind would have me). Can’t remember for sure but I prefer the former version to the latter even though the latter was most likely true.
I still had veteran benefits left so I registered for university again. I dropped out in 1965 to join the Navy. I was scared shitless to start school again because it had been so long and I had zero study habits. I was positive that everyone was smarter than me. I hit it off with a guy I sat next to in a sociology class who was tired of his roommate. We found a place to share and life went back to partying, studying, weekend adventuring and more partying.
We hiked the Grand Canyon twice and went river-rafting and skiing whenever we could. I met a girl while camping at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, who invited me to spend the summer with her in Lake Tahoe, California, a winter and summer resort area high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I got a job as a diver checking moorings, boat bottoms and piers. I violated every diving regulation known to man by diving alone and diving at altitude without having taken an altitude-diving course. Hey, I was a rough, tough frogman and knew all there was to know. Life was good (but cold as hell).
For some reason, I brought this girl back to Arizona with me (still not sure why, but there must have been a good reason) to live with my roommate and me. I studied harder and harder without cutting down on the partying (go figure) and eventually won a full academic scholarship to Arizona State University. After a spring break in Mexico that was fueled by copious quantities of alcohol and numerous “mind-expanding” substances, the girl I brought back from California and I split up, much to my roommate’s delight.
I was doing super well in school, but the gypsy in me was getting restless again. No adrenalin was synonymous with no fun in my book. I needed to get back on the road again. Luckily, so did my roommate. We decided to take a “gap year” and head for Europe. It was only then that he told me his dad was born in Sweden and that he had loads of family there. We found a study exchange program at Stockholm University, applied and were accepted. We just had to figure out how to get there ($$$$).
The cheapest way was to drive my car back to Florida and hitchhike from there to New York. Easier said than done. No one wanted to pick up a couple of guys who probably looked like drug-crazed hippies who would rob them in a nanosecond to get their next fix. That wasn’t the case, of course, but that’s probably how it seemed to others. The Highway Patrol would pick us up every night at sunset (another day without a ride) and take us to the nearest Greyhound bus station, reminding us to make sure we were in the next state by morning.
This ritual was repeated for several days until we finally reached New York to catch our flight. With nowhere to stay and wanting to conserve our money, we went to a bar and found friendly local females who would put us up until our flight left in a couple of days. We had fun but didn’t particularly care for the New Yorkers, who thought their city was the greatest on the planet. We thought if you had to give the planet an enema, you’d put the tube in New York. Anyway, next stop – Europe!
We boarded our flight reeling from the effects of far too many rum and cokes to celebrate our impending journey. I’m sure the airline would not have boarded us today. By the time we landed in Reykjavik, Iceland, we were suffering from horrible hangovers. Although we were supposed to continue to Copenhagen, we decided to “jump ship” in Iceland to recover. We spent a few days there sightseeing and partying with the locals (yes, we had recovered). (To be continued in Part Two.)