“People Make the Places”

In our interview (to be posted shortly), I asked Mike about traveling; his favorite country, the most accessible for the visually impaired, etc..  He then referred me to and article he had written about a decade ago entitled, “People Make the Places”.  Here’s the article:

People Make the Places

Amazing how much can happen in a short amount of time, My Dad died Wednesday and Thursday morning I was on a flight to Europe after almost canceling the trip. All that time flying and I have had lots of thoughts although I don’t think I have come to grips with his death yet. I have felt a strong pull and appreciation for family and friends and a deep gratitude for being so alive.

When I am asked which are my favorite places to travel, I always say it is the people, which define the places, and there are interesting people everywhere. As I ride to Heath Row airport, winding our way through the streets of London, I thought I would reflect on the people I have met so far to give you a flavor of those people who define these places. Josh isn’t with me so I do not have him as an icebreaker.

Pete was my driver from Davis to SF. I heard him singing under his breath and he had a great voice so we talked music. He was very nice when I discovered at the SF airport that I had left my passport in Davis. Jennifer was understanding, left work and drove it down to me.

The flight to Munich was half full so one-flight attendant was particularly attentive, Helena. She has recently moved to Israel but has lived in Hungry, Germany and Croatia. We exchanged email addresses after having some good conversations over the course of the 11-hour flight.

The gal who met me at the Munich airport with a wheel chair was a bit taken aback when I burst out laughing at the notion of her pushing me through the airport in a chair. It drives me nuts that they automatically provide special services at European airports and there is no way to shake these folks.

They insisted on a special bus for me at the gate to go to the plane. They had already arranged it and the young lady who was my driver sounded so disappointed that I couldn’t turn her down. I ran out of patience when the flight attendant on the leg to Geneva carried on about opening the plastic with my cutlery when I didn’t even want lunch. When she told me to wait until the other passengers got off before leaving the plane in Geneva, I said fat chance.

I was met by another special services car at the planeside in Geneva. Estelle had such a nice French accent that I was softened and allowed myself to be escorted yet one more time. I wish they would just let me fly in first class and forget all this coddling.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Fiona met me in the airport. Her parents joined us for lunch.

Douglas is a quasi Nobel Prize physicist. He carried on about mad cow disease. Good thing I wasn’t having British beef for lunch.

Irma has a wonderful Scottish accent despite living in Geneva for 45 years. This is a lady who told me years ago when I was deciding about ending a relationship with her daughter, “Michael, it is possible to stay in love with more than one person.”

The weekend in the mountains an hour outside Geneva with Fiona and her husband Cass was good for the sole. They cooked wonderful meals and served special wines and liquors there in a cozy traditional log chalet. We stacked firewood one day and hiked the next. It was a 5-hour hike round trip. We trudged to the top of the mountain for brunch in a restaurant with a 360-degree view of 200 miles. Lake Geneva and Neu Chatel gleamed below us and Mont Blanc and the Madihorn bounded the distance. There were wild flowers I had never heard of. The weather was incredible for the end of October.

Madam Guye was an 80 year-old woman we went to the Saturday market with. She spoke no English but I learned from Fiona that Madam Guye had lost a child at 12 days old who was born blind. She gave me a bottle of her homemade grapa and a jam from one of those wild flowers.

James joined us for dinner, one of the few Brits in the hamlet of Le Ras. He was 60, impeccably dressed and talked passionately about organizing relief efforts in Kosovo.

I was never too interested in getting acquainted with Cass but on this trip we really hit it off. Maybe he was previously a bit intimidated by my past relationship with his wife. Good guy.

Kuzo was my Croatian Swiss German host in Zurich. He could be a big part of Sendero business in the next year as our manufacturer. Very intense guy and I am struggling with whether I should fully trust him or not. He told me a goulash story about how his older brother died at age 3 after drinking Bleach.

I ended up having dinner by myself when Kuzo was called out of town unexpectedly. It was so smoky in the restaurant that I opened the window next to me and ate half hanging out the window.

Monica was my server. She didn’t speak a word of English. She was struggling to tell me something when she brought my meal. Finally it dawned on me and I said, “bon apetite” and that was it.

Whenever I go to the UK, I have this feeling that I am in the set for a Monte Python movie. I can’t believe people really talk this way on a day to day basis. It sounds ridiculous.

The one memorable person from 24 hours in London was my taxi driver from Gatwick to the hotel. He talked non-stop for 90 minutes. I was surprised to learn that London taxi drivers have to pass a rigorous test before becoming a driver. There are advanced courses and high end “Black Taxi” levels too. I learned about the small towns we passed through and we discussed life. I learned the Minister of Education in England is blind.

At dinner that evening at Depa Tanduri, I couldn’t help overhearing a young woman across from me. Her date had his back to me and mumbled so it sounded like she was talking on the telephone. One statement stands out in particular; “I am frustrated intellectually, educationally, emotionally and (in a quieter voice) sexually.” I did hear him quickly change the subject.

My escort at Heath Row was a Spanish guy named Tadro. It was interesting to me that he was more diplomatic about forcing the airlines escort service on me than the German and British agents. Our birthdays are the same so we clicked right from the passport exchange at the ticket counter.

My seatmate from London n to Dusseldorf was Antonia, not an Italian as you might imagine but a German who had lived in Dusseldorf all her life. Her sisters are Sarah and Elena. She is engaged to a clothing storeowner in Cardiff Whales. Her rent is 300 dollars a month, which her parents pay while she goes to school to become a clinical psychologist. Most German accents are not very attractive but her’s sure was. It amused me because Tadro told me I had a row to myself in the plane and I said “how about sending me a beautiful woman?” I believe he did.

So, there you have a snapshot of the people I have met so far, nothing deep but a lot considering these conversations started out of the blue. I conclude this contemplation while sipping beer at a local brewery in Dusseldorf. I have been thinking over memories of my father from childhood to the present in preparation for the service on Sunday. It’s all so final! It is a lot easier to stay immersed in the people I meet but it is good to finally deal with issues of death as well as life. It has been so nice to have a small portfolio of family pictures with me on this trip. I have shown them to many of these people I have met and I can’t wait to get home to them.

(Courtesy of Mike May at http://www.senderogroup.com/mm/mike.htm)


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