Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Me and Miss Ohio

When I think back to my travelling days in the ‘60s, I sometimes wonder where all the money came from. Not where it went. I know where it went, pretty much.

There must have been more in the kitty than I remember, when I boarded the boat in Brisbane. Bob and I got the cheapest cabin available (“down near the plug-hole”, in his words), sharing with two strangers. Right from the start, we all watched our pennies, saving everything for the big experience to come.

We both had good steady auditing jobs lined up in London; David from New Zealand had an introduction to a firm of Lloyd’s brokers, though in the end he chose to be a parking-lot attendant instead. We three planned to live in London the following winter (“We could share a flat.” “Sure, let’s keep in touch.”), and backpack our separate ways around Britain & Europe before and after.

Louie had been born on the ship taking his parents to Australia from Greece after The War, and was on his way “back home” to meet his relatives. It had been a Greek ship, so technically he had been born Greek. On his return he was immediately drafted into the Greek Army, and his relatives had to buy his way out. Just as well he had watched his pennies on the boat, really.

We three did share a flat in London, with three others, and lived the good life in Kangaroo Valley. Money was always tight. When my dad was dying, I had to borrow 200 pounds from David for the flight home. Yet, a few months later I was off in Hamburg buying a VW Beetle. How was that possible? I must have had a reserve fund in Oz, that I now transferred to England. My Grandma Hancock had left me some money, years before; maybe that was the reserve fund.

The Beetle was a retired Police car, black and white like all Hamburg City Police cars. I begged, but the yard wouldn’t let me keep the colours, and painted it all white (for free). David & I met up in Berlin, and took a week or two to wend our way back to London.

For the life of me I can’t recall how much the car cost. 300 pounds? 600? Whichever, there was enough cash remaining to tide me through the next twelve months of travel down to Shiraz and back, in Iran. Did Linda pay for half the petrol, etc? Maybe. Probably.

Back in London, I drove my Mum around Britain, at her expense – me in Youth Hostels, her in bed-and-breakfasts. The car – bashed and battered, left-hand drive – went for a song. Mum had to lend me the cost of an air ticket to Toronto, where Linda had found me a room for seven dollars a week. Not a great room, but we were watching our pennies again.

Then Linda gave up on me for a while and flew home, and I had to persuade her to come back and get married. “Put it in writing”, she said; “Oh, and send me the fare.” Sigh. What can you do?

We left Canada in 1967 with $3400 between us, headed for a job in Jamaica. Instead, we stopped in Nassau, and settled down to save some serious money for the first time in years. First, though, we spent $2600 on a brand-new TR-3 and drove around with the canvas top folded down. Me and Miss Ohio...!

There’s a gentle bluegrass song by Gillian Welch, that’s mildly mocking of a young woman showing off in a convertible –
Oh me oh my oh, would you look at Miss Ohio,
She's runnin' around with the rag-top down.  
She says I want to do right, but not right now. 

My son has inherited my casual attitude to money and “success”. We believe that everybody should at some point take time out to be running around with the rag-top down, literally or figuratively, before it’s too late.