- Written by Kay Martin
05 Oct 2012
FIRST PERSON - At midnight on the Wednesday before Christmas all hell broke loose. I knew it was coming but did not know when. Troops pummeled Panama and the dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. We had been shuttling troops in and out of Panama for a year calculated to confuse but on Saturday the US Marine officer Lt Robert Paz was killed by the Panamanian forces. This prompted President Bush to give Colin Powell marching orders to go for it.
I had a ring side seat because that was how I led my life. I remember the age of 3 being dragged onto the Chicago El, age 5 the Staten Island Ferry, and at the age 6 it was the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe heading from the Midwest to Los Angeles.
At age 18 I met my wife Joan at a party. She invited me to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner and I had never seen so much food. I remembered that I didn’t eat because I didn’t know what to do. Needless to say we ended up getting married 7 months later. This didn’t stop my wanderings however. It prompted them. We raised our 4 kids and it took 10 years to graduate college because I was always shuttling in and out of the country.
I worked in and we visited over 200 countries. I am always asked which impressed me the most. Each country has something different to offer. There are many we wouldn’t dream of visiting today. We once spent a few days in Karachi, Pakistan because Pan Am stopped there flying from Germany to New Delhi. Joan and I went into a tea shop and were completely ignored – not even eye contact. Next morning I returned and got service with a smile. We looked around and did not see any females whatsoever. Needless to say we left Pakistan as soon as possible. During our stay Joan did not leave the hotel. On our exit flight she explained why. The first morning she walked past a dude who looked sick on the sidewalk. The next day she passed him again and by then he was dead. People just kept walking around him.
A particularly fascinating city is Hong Kong which I bill as gateway to the Orient. Even the slums of the city are on roof tops because there is no other space. I have always referred to Honolulu as the gateway to the states from the Pacific and the Orient. I had to spend a year there and found that once you get out of Waikiki and the North Shore the state is at war within itself. There are 50 different ethnic groups and they are all at war with each other. The Samoan people are also huge. Many of them are playing football with the Mormons in Utah and BYU.
In Europe once we lived in a small village and one day Joan was in the tea shop. She said two “Frenchmen” approached her and asked whether she was Ms Martin. They then asked what I did. She said she doesn’t know and they pressured her before leaving. I was very busy at the time and thought nothing of it. Now I reflect on whether they were actually “French” or whether they were our people.
In Australia I was in a Northern Territory pub frequented by aborigines. I was talking with a young educated aborigine on his was back to the outback. The aborigines in the pub were outcast from their people and the other Australians. One approached me and asked for money. I said “go to hell”. Then I left and sat across the street on a dead tree. Immediately about 20 outcasts poured out of the pub. I said to myself “feet don’t fail me now”. But it was a false alarm. A dispute had broken out in the pub that was spilling into the street.
Once I had been working 7 days a week about 16 hours a day for 2 years. When the task was completed my people told me to take some time off. I went up to LAX and bought 2 Pan Am around the world tickets. Next day our son took us to the airport but we were flying stand-by and the flight from LA to London had a waiting line. Next day we returned and the same people were in line so instead I changed our flight from LA to Seattle then on to London. We enjoyed Seattle and while there took the ferry ride over to Bremerton to visit the ship mates.
I remember being in Europe and having a mental block when asked from my social security number. This was one of the strangest things that ever occurred to me. We were preparing to send the US Air Force out of Mendenhall and Lakenheath in the UK to drop our calling cards on Khadafy in Libya. (By the way we had to refuel over the Pacific then enter the Med south of Gibraltar because France, Spain, and Italy would not grant privileges to fly through their air space. They sure granted privileges when we landed on Normandy to save their butts.) Anyway because of this mental lapse I found myself back in the states undergoing a polygraph test and some other stuff to determine why I couldn’t remember my social security number that one time. It was determined that it was simply a mental lapse.
In Russia and the former USSR countries all our people always carried fancy attaché cases. You can guess about the heavy armor these cases contained. Just ask yourself “why does anyone carry an attaché case to dinner at 8 pm”.
Once I returned from the Pacific and received a phone call from back east wanting to know how soon I could get over to Europe. I had one packed suit case at home here in LA. I told them it would take me an hour to ride the bus home and get my luggage then about an hour to get to LAX. The response was “dummy, we mean how many weeks will it take you”.
Anyway you can enjoy all this stuff in my new book “Along for the Ride” by Dorrance Publishing. It is available through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and all the book stores.
I think of so much stuff that was left out such as sharing a cup of cow’s blood with Masai warriors, being on the receiving end of a look that could kill from Roberto Duran “Manos de Piedra” in Panama, enjoying a bottle of Rheingold beer in the 70s in Harlem, sleeping in an open air rooftop hotel in India for 10 cents. Maybe I will prepare an updated edition perhaps doubling its content.
I have always kept notes and written letters because I spent my entire life is many distant places. The book is a result of these notes. I think you will enjoy the book. Meantime stay safe.
(Kay Martin is an author and a CityWatch contributor. His new book, Along for the Ride, is now available.)
Vol 10 Issue 80
Pub: Oct 5, 2012