Impediments, Interested and Disinterested
By the time I returned to New York, Al’s apartment looked like a warehouse. Where the thick carpets had been and where the colored lights once glowed, now crates and cartons and boxes were piled to the ceiling Where the palm trees once stood, now fishing poles and archery bows and my three-foot key to Manawa leaned against the walls. A striped awning stretched between the couch and the loaded-rocking chair. There wasn’t a seat in the place left for sitting, and when I went to hang my coat in the jam-packed closet, I got hit with forty-four pairs of Thom McAn’s-maybe even the brake shoes.
Al was busy in his living room testing out the Poptent and repacking the first aid kit. Thermos bottles floated in the bathtub beside the neglected palm trees. Lampettes were plugged into all the light sockets, and the shortwave set was picking up belly dance music from Baghdad. When I asked Al for a cup of coffee, he told me to use the gasoline stove he was testing in the bedroom. “Then come back here when you’re finished,” he said. “I want to try these inflatable splints on you.” All through this, the doorbell and phone never stopped ringing-sponsors; press agents, newspapermen, and people who wanted to join the expedition.
The building superintendent barged in without knocking and bore down on me. “You’ve blocked the entrance with that damn Jeep and that damn big whatever it is,” he said.
“Yes, yes, I was just going to move it.”
“And tell Mr. Podell that he’s blocked the incinerator chute again.”
When I got back from moving the car and camper, Sandy Krinski was climbing over a mound of boxes into the apartment. Krinski is a comedy writer and an old friend of Al’s, and when Al told him he was planning to drive around the world, he said it was the funniest thing he had ever heard all year. He rushed over to talk him out of it.
“Tell me,” he asked, “is Al really serious about this trip?”
“Why shouldn’t he be?”
“But you can’t go around the world.” “Magellan did it 400 years ago.”
“Yeah, and he died, didn’t he? Besides, look at this ridiculous itinerary of yours. How are you going to cross all those deserts? You’ll fry up. And what about the monsoons and snowstorms?”
I explained to Krinski that we’d taken all that into consideration, that by sailing at the end of March we should be through the Pyrenees as soon as the snows melted in the mountain passes, and across the deserts of Africa in early May before they got too hot, and through India just before the monsoon hit in June.
But Krinski was not convinced. “Listen, Al,” he said, “I’ve known you since we were kids. Don’t do it. You can’t drive around the world these days, and I’m too busy to attend a funeral in Lower Slobbovia.”
“That’s surprising; you always look like you’re dressed for one.”
”I’ll bet you never make it.”
“How about two steak dinners?” Al asked.
“OK. But if you guys try this, I’ll never collect.” “I know you won’t,” Al said. “We will.”
Two busy days passed before we saw Krinski again. He came into the apartment waving a sheet of paper and beaming victoriously. ”Ah ha!” he said, pointing to the bows in the corner. “A lot of good those will do you. You’ll need machine guns. A company of Marines! The whole U.S. Army! Just listen to this news.”
He tossed his coat over a carton of bug spray and unfolded his paper. “Yesterday there were big riots in Morocco, 25 killed and hundreds injured. Algeria has begun a new propaganda campaign against the United States. The rest of the Arab world is the worst since the Suez crisis. Why? Germany has announced plans to recognize Israel and everybody’s in an uproar. There were riots in Damascus, Yemen, Cairo, all over. Farther east, Pakistan’s president-remember, our old ally?-is now in Peking, making some sort of deal with the Reds. And Vietnam-shall I take the dinner now or go on?”
“Go on,” we said.
“Okay. Vietnam. We’ve already got 23,000 military advisers there. Another 3,000 shipping out this month. And there’s talk it may become a full-scale war. A lot of good your bow and arrows will do you. And Indonesia. Forget about wearing those straw hats on Bali-did you know that yesterday mobs in Jakarta sacked our embassy and broke into our ambassador’s house? And they burned the USIS library. At the same time Sukarno stepped up his campaign against Malaysia. You’re supposed to drive from Bangkok to Singapore? Well, Sukarno’s got guerrillas all over that road, blowing up bridges and shooting up cars.
“One of the papers totaled it all up. There’s open warfare in 35 countries in the world right now and 38 million men under arms. And, what’s more important, there are major disturbances in 29 of the 34 countries along your route. I’d like my steaks well-done.”
”And we’ll take ours rare, Sandy.”
Sandy Krinski wasn’t the only one who thought we’d never make it. When Al approached the photographers who worked for him at Argosy, looking for someone to join the expedition to take photos for our sponsors and magazine articles, none of them were willing to risk it.
We could be our own photographers, but to capture the real essence of the expedition, we needed someone whose only function would be to take pictures. On my trip across Russia, I’d picked up an energetic-alma t rambunctious-Swiss photographer, Willy Mettler. I knew Willy was now footloose in Madrid, and I knew he’d be interested in our expedition, so after weighing and balancing the alternatives, I cabled him. Three days later he accepted.
We had two weeks left. It was time to attend to one of the most important items on our list, and one we had deliberately left for last, obtaining visas. With the exception of the European countries, nearly every nation on our route required visas. Most of them have expiration dates, so if one gets them too far in advance they can expire before he ever reaches his destination. On the other hand, I knew that it was risky to wait until we were next to a country before applying, because neighboring nations were often enemies, and there might be no visa office in the country in which we found ourselves that represented the one to which we wanted to go.
Al, who is Jewish, was worried about getting visas for the Arab nations since the more fanatic ones absolutely forbid Jews to enter. He applied to the Arab consulates on Ash Wednesday, a smudge of charcoal prominent on his forehead. Not only did he get all his visas, but later that evening I found him at his apartment cuddled on the couch with the receptionist from the Jordanian legation.
The phone was ringing as I entered. It was Woodrow Keck, a reporter at a small Mid-Western paper. Two weeks before he’d driven through a snowstorm from Illinois to Washington to ask me if he could join the expedition. I’d told him then I didn’t really think we needed an extra man. He persisted. Though he didn’t look like the adventurous type, he was so sincere and eager that I’d agreed to let him call me later in New York to see if we had any openings. I hadn’t quite forgotten about him, for I had come to realize that with another person to handle the minor details we would have more freedom for our own duties. Despite a few misgivings, when I saw that he was still eager, I told him he could join the expedition.
“I only hope you know what you’re getting into,” I said.
He assured me he did, and agreed to join us in New York the day before departure.