Wacky Travel Tales


For the last couple of months I’ve been blogging about the wild time I had on my first trip to Europe, which would have lived on only in a cardboard box had it not been for a writing contest back in the 1990s. The challenge was to write about “our wackiest travel adventure.”  I immediately riveted back to my ignorant youth when I traveled the world naively believing that the universe would take care of me.  Twenty years later that challenge evolved into THE GRADUATION PRESENT (on Amazon now). Of course it’s impossible to remember everything that happened 40 years ago so this book is primarily fiction. However, there are a few real life incidents that I just couldn’t help adding.

My Uncle Bob (who I stayed with in Europe) read the first drafts of the book and said:

“I don’t remember any of these things happening, Jan.”


To which I  said “That’s because it’s a work of fiction!”

He looked at me oddly.  “But Gunthersblum is real and Worms is real and I’m real!”

“Okay, there’s a little real even in fantasies.”

Still dissatisfied  he went on to ferret out the real.  He couldn’t.  Forty years is a long time.  This particular scene which he vehemently denies ever happening actually did:

“Did you see all those young lieutenants at the bar?” Uncle Bob asked as we waited for our meal.

“Yeah,” I lied. I couldn’t tell a lieutenant from a general.

“Well, I figure that they’d all love to take a pretty American girl out to dinner.”


“I was thinking, why should I be the one who has to feed you when there are all those young studs who’d gladly …”

“Uncle Bob!”

“You know, you’ve gotta learn to use what you have while you still have it. Think of it as the law of supply and demand. You’ve got the supply and they’ve got the demand,” he said, taking a chomp out of a breadstick.

Whereas the following scene is complete fiction, although the character of Lou was loosely based on Uncle Bob’s boss at the time:

Outside it was dark. The rain had stopped. “She sleeps!” The Moroccan shouted again. Lou appeared a few minutes later in the door. I could only see him in silhouette but I could tell he was livid. His aura was bright red.

“Where have you guys been?” I asked innocently.

“I was investigating your kidnapping!” he snorted.

“My what?”

“YOUR KIDNAPPING!” he yelled, stomping his foot like an enraged Rumpelstiltskin.

The following bit of musing was inspired by listening to my uncle’s friends who were WWII vets talk about their experiences:

 I thought of those young kids from small-town America, about to jump from a rattletrap plane into the unknown, for that one last moment believing Hollywood crap of fame and glory, then dropping with fewer chances than a duck in a shooting arcade into an alien land, a land they’d been assured would include cheering crowds and willing women, which they would never see because they would splat like frogs into marshes filled with dung or float to earth full of bullet holes.  And they were the lucky ones.

I wish some things in the book hadn’t really happened but they did, such as:

Unfortunately Uncle Bob was wrong. Not every moron on the planet can pass the army typing test and I’m living proof of that fact.

Army Life
Army Life

I made army history by flunking the idiot-proof army test three times.

So a bit of truth and a whole lot of imagination went into the writing of the book as I imagine is the case with most novels.

Next time I’ll post the first chapter of the book.  Oh, the drawings on this page are doodles drawn by the cartoonist for Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper, as we sat drinking Heinekens in the bar of the Officer’s Club in Worms Germany.  Alas, I’ve forgotten his name. If anyone out there recognizes the work, please let me know.

8 thoughts on “Wacky Travel Tales

  1. Jan, I thought The Graduation Present wasn’t coming out till the 21st. I’ll be ordering it and writing a review as soon as I can.
    About Wacky travel tales – some great comments on military life. Somehow I don’t think Obama will be hiring you to promote the armed forces as a career.

  2. I enjoyed reading this and wondered how much might be true. I wrote a book that is “almost all fiction” nothing is “all fiction”) and everyone reads between the lines. People saw themselves in my characters (one seems to have taken offense). My brother was sure that he recognized almost every character and said “I can’t figure out who Carolyn (our sister) is” or he would ask “but who is Carmen?” ….:{
    I can understand how Uncle Bob might not be taken with his portrayal….;)

  3. Thanks Cinda. It’s hard not to base characters on people you know. They may take umbrage at first but hopefully in the end they know you did it out of love.

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