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By Robert Pimm
Financial Times, May 9, 2003
I’m picking up the kids from school here in Berlin when a teacher accosts me. “Started being a house-husband yet?” he says. “How do you like ironing all those shirts?”
“Pamela was never a housewife,” I say. Am I being too defensive? “And she never ironed my shirts.”
“How about the vacuum-cleaning?” He has that look in his eye. Does not compute.
“Nope. Mostly, it’s looking after the kids. And I cook.”
“Why not get an au pair? Find yourself a job?”
“The whole point is that I’m with the children. So Pamela can go back to work knowing it’s me looking after them.”
Standing there in the corridor, with kids swarming around him like ants, the teacher shakes his head. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
In the garden in Berlin, 2003
What I’m doing is this: in October 2002 (more…)
How a convicted murderer (“‘Killed a man with a pool cue. Judge said it wasn’t premeditated… Just kinda happened”) introduced me to his girlfriend – who despised him. What I thought about love and sex as a student. The lawyer who took me back to his office in Brooklyn. Running out of gas in a Ford Pinto on the New Jersey Turnpike. Soviet statues in Washington DC. Being charmed by Mexican con artists on the Redwood Highway in Northern California.
Welcome to “The Americans”. Who are they? What can they teach us in the 21st Century?
On this page, all five previously-published episodes of “The Americans” are brought together. This is a work in progress.
The first thing I saw were his big butcher’s arms: broad and sheened with sweat. Next, I saw tattoos and a square jaw, thick with stubble, set in a sullen half-smile. A broken six-pack of Schlitz was wedged between his thighs on the driver’s seat.
Schlitz – the beer that made Milwaukee famous. What made Milwaukee famous made a loser out of me.
Heading west on I-40, 1979
Was it dangerous to enter the cab of the old Ford pick-up? Standing by the roadside outside Durango in the cooling evening, I had the usual split second to decide. I weighed contradictory feelings: fear and an urge to keep moving.
‘Where are you heading?’ I asked. (more…)
When I climb into an Uber driven by Jonathan (not his real name) in San Diego, he is playing reggae. Rashly, I comment on this. He tells me, silencing the music as he does so, that he likes reggae because the music speaks for the downtrodden and left behind of the earth. The world would be better, he said, if we could get rid of money.
Unfortunately, the credit card payment has already gone through.
San Diego has many beautiful features. This is the beach at La Jolla
Visiting California in 2019 for the first time in 40 years, I am struck that people’s certainty about everything, together with their openness, friendliness and confidence that it is reasonable to explain their views, their religious beliefs, their financial situation, their relationships and their medical history to total strangers has not changed one iota from my 1979 hitchhiking trip around the United States (bold italics are links to other posts on this blog).
In 1979, too, I heard many confident and confidential explanations of how the world really worked from people I met hitch-hiking. One young man in Seattle of profoundly liberal views, including on the legalisation of narcotics, argued passionately that numerous events which I regarded as historic facts had not in fact taken place. A truck-driver with whom I shared a ride in Arizona regaled me and others in the vehicle with an account of his miraculous escape when the driver of the vehicle in which he had been riding had been impaled on girders projecting from the trailer of another vehicle. He told us of his subsequent stranding in the desert; his wandering in the wilderness; and his eventual escape to be with us on the ride. (more…)
Previous posts in my series The Americans have included The Americans: prologue; The Americans: leaving New York; The Americans: Avenue of the Heroes; and The Americans: Valley of the Rogue. Feedback welcome. This is how the story begins.
Fast Trip to London
The first stage of my journey to Candy McCarthy, Cortez and beyond began in Manchester. That’s Manchester, England.
I left home at 3.30 Tuesday June 26thwith my usual red rucksack and fairly light load, my diary opens. Fast trip to London, as always.
January 1979, Isle of Mull
On the third of May 1979, seven weeks before I wrote that diary entry, Margaret Thatcher had been elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This event is not recorded anywhere in my journals.
I did note the fact of my attending a “Final Selection Board” for the British Civil Service in London on 11 April, 3 weeks before the election. The first question from the intimidating, all-male panel, sitting in the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall, was: (more…)
Josef had long dark curly hair and a roguish smile. He stood aside from the tiller. ‘Fancy a go?’ he said. We were speaking Russian.
‘I’ve never sailed a yacht before,’ I said. The sea off Russki Island stretched endlessly around us.
‘Go for it,’ Josef said. ‘Keep your eye on a point on the horizon, and head for that.’
I seized the tiller and, under the watchful gaze of Josef, his business partner Pavel and their girlfriends Olga and Galina, began to chart a path through the waves.
Olga and Galina on the yacht
I’d met Josef and Pavel months earlier, on Daydream Island in Australia. They were young, confident and had plenty of money. They were there to buy a yacht, they said, and (more…)
In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States.
What does the US of 1979 tell us about America today? What can I learn about about myself? How have I changed, and should I seek to reconnect with that carefree 21 year-old?
My page The Americans gathers together several episodes of my US odyssey. Enjoy the ride.
The changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, July 1979
On 6 July 1979 I visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C.
Avenue of the Heroes
The cemetery was the other side of the bridge.
As I set off to cross the water, two metal statues flanked the road. Each featured a huge, muscular, nude, bearded man on a huge, muscular horse.
Each was accompanied by a naked woman.
The women were both on foot.
One of the men clutched a child. Looking at pictures now, I am reminded of the statue of a Soviet soldier unveiled at Treptow, in Berlin, in 1949.
Also sculpted in metal on a titanic scale, the Soviet hero holds a child in one hand and an improbably large sword in the other.
The children which the men in Berlin and Washington are holding look eerily similar. Perhaps this is not surprisingly, as they are of the same era. In fact the Washington statues, designed in 1929 and erected in 1951, predates the Soviet statue, designed and erected between 1945 and 1949. (more…)
In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States. What became of the carefree, relaxed young 21 year-old of these pages? Can I reconnect with those qualities, forty years later?
What about America itself? Was it better then, or worse?
Perhaps the US needs to reconnect, too.
You can read more episodes from this journey on my page, The Americans.
Here is how I set off from New York on my first day of travelling, on 3 July 1979. Pictures below!
Leaving New York
On Tuesday morning, Harold and Dorothy drove me from their house in Ardsley to the Major Deegan Expressway, heading south for Washington, D.C. The road stretched out ahead. First target was to reach the New Jersey Turnpike.
How was I not terrified?
Dorothy Berkowitz seeing me off on the Major Deegan Expressway
Aged 21, my primary emotion was excitement.
Looking back, I think: “how can I reclaim that boldness, that clarity of purpose, that focus on the present, that carefree calm?”
Things I was not worried about:
– my career. It had not yet started. I had nothing to screw up;
– money. I had all my cash, for seven weeks in the US, in traveller’s cheques on my person;
– other people. During my trip, I wrote several letters and postcards home. I tried to make one phone call, reversing the charges because I had no coins, to Harold in Ardsley – I can’t remember why. On the line, I heard him telling the operator he refused to accept it;
– information about the rest of the world. The Internet did not exist. I do not remember buying a newspaper. I had a tiny transistor radio (thanks, Harold) but mostly listened to music;
– death, injury or other cataclysm. Sure, hitch-hiking posed risks. But what would life be like if it consisted mainly of avoiding risk?
Things I was worried about:
– how quickly will I catch a ride?
If living in the moment had been invented, I would have been doing it. (more…)