The Travel Bug

Of all the bugs I’ve known from ants to aphids or fleas to fruit flies, I like my travel bug the best.

I think I was bitten by my mother’s personal travel bug she was the carrier. Although working two jobs created a struggle for free time, anytime my mom could put a few days together, off we went. Adventure was always just around the corner.

After college, when I absolutely couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life, I fell back on my relationship with the travel bug – and became a stewardess. For someone who loved to go, go, go and do, do, do, it was the perfect solution. To this day I realize how very lucky I was to see a lot of this country and sizable chunks of many others. I never took it for granted.

I left American Airlines to have my second child but if I’d known then what I know now, I never would have left after twelve years. The following year American created life-long passes to employees of over fifteen years tenure. Had I known, NOTHING would have kept me away those last three years. No day-care bills, no 500 mile commutes, nothing would have prevented my pursuit of lifelong travel for me AND my family? Be still my heart. I gulped long and hard when I read that announcement.

These days I don’t get to go as often or as far as I’d like, but the travel bug still lives with me . . . and he’s making reservations. Just today I was talking to a well-traveled friend about this, sharing some plans and experiences. We both agreed that as much as we love to travel for the sights, the food, the fun – that it’s truly the people that really make travel worthwhile, many of them forever now in my memory bank.

Tall, slim, Lt. Commander Peter Lynley, Royal Navy, was the captain of Her Majesty’s Submarine Artful. We met Peter and his rapscallion crew in a brewery in Copenhagen, having tagged onto their English-speaking tour. Commander Lynley, who had left all his officers back on the sub, had his hands full controlling the jokesters, mimics and genuine characters within his boat’s crew. By the time we got to the tasting room they were beyond rowdy. Soon after the first beer they were dancing on the tables, mimicking the brewmeister and generally raising hell with the buxom waitresses. When the head of the brewery threw the entire crew out, he included us . . . as co-conspirators. Peter merely shrugged just another day with his hilarious bad boys. But he felt so bad he invited us to join them back on his old diesel sub which was docked next to a Russian warship in Copenhagen harbor. Today, when I smell diesel exhaust it takes me back to the tiny officers’ wardroom packed tightly with Cecil, Nigel, Antony and James toasting us with copious glasses of Cherry Heering liqueur and the three separate tours of the stinking torpedo room that followed.

As luck would have it, everywhere we went the next six days we bumped into the bawdy bunch of uniformed sailors. My husband was a Navy officer at the time and we fell in with their jokes, references and ribald banter.

After sharing a week of amusement park rides, gambling, drinks, dinner and jazz joints with those blokes, they were the last group I expected to find in the Anglican Church on Sunday. Peter led them down the aisle, all brushed and polished almost angelic. But when the ringleader, the loudest, funniest, rudest of the bunch, who had been drunk as a lord every night for a week, went to the pulpit to read the first lesson, I lost it. I laughed so hard and couldn’t stop that we had to finally leave. I calmed down in a nearby coffee shop in time to say our many goodbye’s to them after church. To this day I laugh out loud thinking of their hi-jinks and wonder what they’re like as old men.

Another Pete this one spelled Pietr – was a travel agent we met over coffee in an Istanbul hotel. Well-traveled and charming, his entertaining stories flowing easily, his command of English good despite his humble disclaimers. Pietr, who had been to the states a few times, told us how fervently he loved America. I remember asking him if he’d ever considered emigrating and his answer still lives with me “Oh yes, I’ve been on the list for over eleven years. The Turkish quota is small and I will have to wait my turn.” Through the years as I’ve read about Cuban or Haitian boat people or the influx of so many Latin Americans crossing our borders, I think of Pietr, bright and accomplished, waiting patiently by the Bosphorus. I hope he made it. And I often think of how much the people we meet in our travels color our world view, our values, our perspectives on humanity.

The round, pink-faced shopkeeper in Cornwall, England pushed us into a political discussion. “We were 54 million sheep farmers who ruled the world,” he said. “and now it’s all on your shoulders, Yank. How do YOU think America is going to handle the responsibility of absolute power?” It was 1967. The ensuing discussion was fervid . . . and fascinating . . . and forced us to think about our understanding of international relations, our history and eventually our personal hopes and plans. It’s the people you meet who make travel worthwhile and for me, unforgettable.

Mrs. Magee was a white-haired professor of Gaelic at Trinity College in Dublin. We were watching the evening news on the telly in the boarding house we were staying in for a few nights. Maggy Magee, her ill-fitting dentures clacking loudly, told us she had lived there for forty years. Her sentences ran together in her rapid-fire brogue – as thick as shepherd’s pie. I was beginning to catch an occasional word, watching to see if her choppers were going to stay in her fast-moving mouth when she said something like: “. . . andyouarefromBoston? ‘Tisright? AndIknowsooooomanypeopleinBoston. ‘Tistrue. Andyouwenttocollegethere? ‘Tisright, yes? Anddoyouworktheretoo? Yes? Oh,andyou’resuchgrandlookingyoungpeople” . . . and with that she jammed her thumb up under my upper lip and asked, “and are those teeeeeth your very own?” She was lucky I didn’t bite her thumb off. But she was so flattering, so earnestly nice, that we tried hard not to laugh out loud and just about burst a blood vessel holding it in. We all talked into the wee hours about the “troubles” in Ireland, the economy and the Irish poets. It was amazing how clear her brogue was after a wee dram or two of Irish whisky . . . on our part. I think Maggy was into the gin. We never forgot her either and her generation of the Irish who prized good teeth above all worldly possessions.

The little vignettes, the stories of truly warm, interesting people have been the joy of travel for me. I know there are many who prefer to stay at home, who visit far-flung places from their easy chairs. But they only “see” the sights. They don’t get to break bread or laugh or dance or trade stories with the fascinating people of our wonderful world.

I guess the travel bug doesn’t bite everyone just us lucky ones and the most recent bite is taking shape. I’ll let you know how we scratch the itch to go . . . and I’m looking forward to the characters that will join the dozens, (maybe a hundred?) of the memorable people that travel has added to my life. ‘Tis grand!