25 Aug, 2010 | Posted by: psnotes
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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 freeze up.
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.
I 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 fast.
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 here too.
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 drawings.
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 like.
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.”
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