Responding to questions about why he spends so many weekends at Trump-branded properties, our president explained he did so because, “That White House is a real dump.” President Harry Truman held the same opinion. He complained that ghosts roaming throughout the building interrupted his sleep. What he heard was moaning and creaking from sagging floors and unreinforced walls.
After a week at Canada’s centennial celebration, Expo 67, immersed in the sixties’ version of the future, I rode the Greyhound to New York City. My seatmate was a lady who said she was escaping from Montreal after a summer of tourist congestion. She also complained about the fair’s cost to the city.
The Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan was impressive with its several stories of ramps with buses arriving and departing. I found the bus to Staten Island and a couple hours later knocked on the front door of the home of my father’s World War II, fellow B-29 crewmember. His family put me up for the night. He, along with his teenage son, took me on a brief tour of the city, the highlight being Nathan’s Famous at Coney Island. A hot dog was a dime, a beer was a nickel – consumed standing up outside – and the drinking age at that time in New York was eighteen.
I met up with Vince the next day. We rented a room at the Sloane House Y.M.C.A. on 34th street, near Pennsylvania Station. A room with two beds, bath down the hall and towels included, was $5.20 a night.. We visited a saloon, sat at the bar, feeling sophisticated with our drinks and a complimentary bowl of pretzels in front of us. One visit and one drink was our financial limit. Pushcart hot dogs provided our daily sustenance.
My father’s buddy worked as a cameraman for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He arranged tickets for Vince and me a couple days later. My one regret of that trip has stayed with me. Martha and the Vandellas were headlining at the Apollo Theater. People convinced us that two white boys would not be safe in Harlem after dark. Newark and Detroit had suffered rioting earlier that summer. Harlem had its violence three years before, in 1964. I will never know if we did the right thing; Martha and the Vandellas at the Apollo would have been memorable, though, I am sure.
We spent much of our time in Greenwich Village. Music clubs there admitted all ages, no alcohol served. Admission to a name act was $2.50 plus a one-drink minimum. A soft drink cost $1.50, an inconceivable amount. For the buck-and-a-half one was brought a vat of Coke.
The Bitter End featured a British singer who had recently left a popular band and as a solo performer had a hit record that summer: “Brown Eyed Girl.” Vince and I and maybe two-dozen others were entertained by Van Morrison, accompanying himself with guitar and backed by a bass-guitar player and a drummer. During one number with an extended “psychedelic” instrumental break, several in the audience left.
Another night we visited the Café Au Go Go, where the Blues Project gave what was announced as their final performance. The opening act was a folk duo, the Times Square Two, whose lead singer repeatedly told us he didn’t give a rat’s ass whether we liked them or not. For some reason, they never made it big. During the Blues Project’s set, they announced that a couple of its members were forming a new band, rock ‘n’ roll with horns. Al Kooper and Steve Katz went on to found Blood Sweat & Tears.
We also took the Circle Line boat tour around Manhattan Island. The tour guide addressed the perception that New York in the sixties was not safe. He opined that yes there were places best avoided at certain times, but a good rule to follow is “Stay where the people are.” That principle has served me well in the decades since.
We were given seats, not together, on our flight home with a stop in Chicago. The gate agent reminded us we were flying standby, the flights were full and do not get off the plane in Chicago; we could lose our seats. We didn’t and made it back home in time to resume college life.
As winter transitioned to spring during my first year at Gonzaga University, a dormitory neighbor who knew about everything that was cool, told me about a music festival planned for Monterey California that summer. The lineup of performers convinced me I needed to go. First I needed to find where was Monterey and how to get there. Reality interfered with my plans, however.
The Monterey Pop Festival took place in the middle of June, too soon to earn enough from a summer job to pay for the trip and accumulate some money for the fall semester. Also, the chances a summer employer would hire me and agree to my taking a week off right away were pretty close to – if not exactly – zero. I decided my best plan would be to use the summer’s earnings to buy a car. That plan lasted until I heard about Expo 67 in Montreal, commemorating Canada’s centennial. And why not visit New York City, too? It’s right on the way. Well, sort of.
I put aside $300 from my summer job for the trip. Airlines at that time, attempting to build lifetime customer loyalty with baby boomers, offered half-price stand-by fares for travelers between ages twelve and twenty-one. Round-trip Portland to New York City cost $150, leaving $150 for food, lodging and entertainment. Vince Chiotti (pronounced Quixote), a friend since grade school, said it sounded like fun.
We made the standby flight to Kennedy airport with no problem. We accepted an offer to share a cab with a couple. They got off at their destination, paid their fare, and we continued on our way. We became concerned and then worried as we watched the taxi’s meter spin. The driver graciously let us out near a subway stop. As we tried to figure out how to navigate the subway, we also realized the taxi driver had not reset the meter when the first passengers got out, thus collecting twice for the first part of the trip.
The next morning we boarded a Greyhound for Montreal. We arrived late afternoon with no idea about where to find inexpensive – make that cheap – lodging in the last week of August in the city hosting a world’s fair. We wandered about, asking strangers for suggestions. We were seriously considering spending the night in a nearby park, when someone suggested we check out an old convent/school that had been converted to a hostel.
Rooms rented for six dollars a night. For a dollar, a male person could have a bed on the fourth floor. The top floor of the building was filled with bunk beds constructed of unfinished lumber. We paid for two nights. Very shortly after claiming our beds, we determined that there was no system to keep track of who was there and who had paid. We stayed a week. Several Canadians tried to convince us that Toronto was a good place for draft-age Americans to move to.
There were no showers on the fourth floor. Dormitory guests went down to the second floor – no elevator – to bathe. For a fifty-cent fee, plus a twenty-five-cent deposit, a person could rent a towel. We kept our eyes out for towels discarded by other guests, presumably wealthy guests, by our standards anyway. We redeemed enough towels to recoup our lodging expense.
Expo 67’s theme was “Man and His World,” probably not a slogan that would be used today. The United States and Russia competed for the most grandiose pavilion and chest-pounding exhibits. The U.S. drew Vietnam War protesters, The U.S.S.R. celebrated fifty years since overthrowing the czars. While waiting in line for one exhibit, I munched on a candy bar. I walked over to deposit the wrapper into a trash receptacle and returned to the line. A young worker, carrying a broom and long-handled dustpan, came up and told me not to do that. If people threw their rubbish into the container instead of the floor, he said there would be no job for him.
Most everything was posted in English and French. Wandering around in a Franco-dominated neighborhood, we saw no English, giving me the opportunity to test my high-school French. We also saw “Vive le Quebec libre” graffiti.
Expo 67 was endlessly interesting and offered enough food from carts for penurious young tourists more interested in cheap than healthy eating. The fair’s amusement-park section, La Ronde, is today a Six Flags park. Our tour of the Canadian pavilion ended at the British Columbia exhibit. Somehow they had brought in pine trees with scents reminding us of home in the Pacific Northwest.
We split up leaving Montreal, Vince to Ithaca to visit an uncle, me to Staten Island where a WWII friend of my father lived. Before boarding, the passengers carried their luggage to a baggage handler. When I made it to the front of the line, he reached around me and my duffel to take other passenger’s bags. I realized the others had the bag in one hand and a quarter in the other. I dug into my pocket was on my way to New York City. Vince and I would meet up in a couple days.
It’s vacation season. Millions of us are hitting the highways, to visit relatives, or Disney World or exploring the two-lane roads. The automobile is an American icon, a symbol of our freedom. From Duncan Hines to the A.A.A., travel guides have helped vacationers and business travelers on their journeys. For some Americans, though, mainstream publications were not very helpful.
African-Americans on the road found challenges in finding a bed for the night or a decent meal or a rest room. Jim Crow was enforced by law or by custom in many areas. Some cities had Sunset Laws, prohibiting non-whites from being in town after dark.
Victor Hugo Green first published his travel guide in 1936. The Negro Motorist Green Book listed businesses that welcomed black patrons. Green, a veteran of World War I, a New York City mail carrier and later a travel agent, published his book “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable.” Green’s book initially focused on the New York area. Subsequent editions, with the help of correspondents and readers, expanded the territory, eventually covering the U.S. and parts of Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregation and discrimination in public accommodations and lessened the need for the “Green Book.” It ceased publishing in 1967.
You can view a pdf version of the 1949 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book here.
Portland’s version of the World Naked Bike Ride took to the streets a recent evening. Ten-thousand riders wearing shoes and helmets gathered at Fernhill Park in northeast Portland, two blocks from where I grew up to begin the procession.
You may or may not believe Seattle’s claim that the World Naked Bike Ride was inspired by the Fremont Solstice Naked Bike Ride. Unclothed bike riders have long been a featured attraction of the annual solstice parade in the Fremont neighborhood. The event has morphed into the Fremont Solstice Parade and Painted Bike Ride. Most participants are naked or painted or both.
Portland’s bike-sharing Biketown (sponsored by the swoosh people) offered free use of their bicycles for the event with disposable seat covers included.
The spectacle’s purported purpose is “a protest against dependency on fossil fuels and for bike safety and body positivity.” The latter recalls the Russian River Blues Festival at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville California. The festival was for many years a sibling bonding experience for my sister and me. Before transforming itself a few years ago into a more upscale “Jazz & Blues” fest in September, the festival took place in mid-June, usually very warm, even hot. The cynical part of me suggested there be color-coded wrist bands for the event, the color indicating how much skin a person would be allowed to expose… for the sake of other attendees, “body positivity” doesn’t have to mean uncovered.
If you can stand it, click here for uncensored photos from this year’s Naked Bike ride.