Darkness in Good Guy Land

This is another first-draft segment from the forthcoming memoir: Fire Bone! When complete, the book will cover some of Bob’s adventures in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the U.S. Three other snippets appear just below this one. (Comments entered below on this blog are welcome, and all will be acknowledged.)

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© 2013, 2014 by Robert W. Bone

Everyone still alive who was residing in New York City that day has a story about the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965.

There was another power failure in 2003, which was a very different experience. But on November 9, 1965, the effect on New Yorkers was stronger. The lights failed during rush hour, just before 5:30 p.m. At that hour during the winter, the northeastern section of the U.S. is totally dependent on electric light.

Native New Yorkers especially felt that inconveniences affecting less fortunate parts of the country could not take place in their modern metropolis. Tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and power failures — these would not be tolerated within the Five Boroughs.

This collective hubris probably does not exist today. But in 1965 the blackout was a major shock to the psyche of a city of more than 6 million. Many – perhaps most – thought that such a thing could not take place in New York simply because it had never occurred before.

As it happened, I had a grandstand view of the island of Manhattan from the 32nd floor of the Time & Life Building at 50th Street and Sixth Avenue. The normal work hours of the Time-Life Book Division, where I was a junior editor, were 9:30 to 5:30, so nearly all were still at their desks.

I first heard researcher John Hochman say, “The lights are dimming all over New York!” So I stepped over to look through the windows in a large corner area where John’s desk was among those of a half dozen other researchers. Everything looked normal at first. Then I was rewarded with what appeared to be a blanket of total darkness suddenly thrown over the entire island of Manhattan.

There was complete silence for a second or two – no talking, no clatter of electric typewriters. Then one young woman’s voice bordered on panic: “I don’t like it! I don’t like it!” she repeated.

After a few minutes, someone found a transistor radio, and that nascent feeling of dread was compounded when only static was heard. Then a far-away station sputtered to life, its announcer reporting nothing more enlightening than what we could see — or not see — for ourselves.

We learned later that in the blacked out area of 80,000 square miles, and populated by about 30 million people, some were helped by a bright full moon. But here amid the looming dark skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan, the blackness was penetrated only by the lights of vehicles on the streets far below us, now all jockeying with each other at intersections for which there were no traffic signals.

On the 32nd floor, some uneasy good humor began to return. Bottom desk drawers were being opened and alcohol began making appearances as editors, writers, researchers, artists, and others began trying to take it all in stride, joking nervously while passing around paper cups of whiskey, Cokes, and whatever snacks could be found and shared.

Elevators did not work, and for the first half hour or so, everyone on our floor seemed to believe that there was no reason to take the staircases to join the chaotic scene down on the street. Some local radio stations began returning to the air on emergency power, and we found we were not alone, with reports of outages coming from as far away as eastern Canada.

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A Manhattan snack bar with a lantern, 1965.

We were encouraged to see that across the Hudson River some lights were glowing in New Jersey. And after an hour or so, some of us gave up waiting and began the trek to the street via the emergency stairs. I think that tiring descent took me almost an hour.

I couldn’t contact Sara, who was at work at BIDO, the British Industrial Development Office on Third Avenue. But almost everyone had already left that office except Sara and one lone Englishman who had just arrived that afternoon from London.

The Englishman had never before set foot in the United States. Sara said that he seemed to believe that perhaps this sort of thing happens frequently in foreign cities like New York and maybe New Delhi.

In any case, the gentleman had no idea how to find his hotel in this dark foreign city. So Sara invited him to dinner, as long as he was willing to walk with her to reach our apartment on West 21st St. About the same time, I began my own trek south from West 50th street. I don’t believe I had ever walked about 30 New York blocks or so before. I was surprised at how relatively painless it was as compared with descending the stairs at the Time-Life Building.

As Sara and the Englishman made their way to the West side, they heard WMCA’s “Top 40″ disk jockey Dan Daniel’s cheerful voice coming from a radio in a bar:

“Yes, folks, the lights are still out. The lights are out all over Good Guy Land!”

“My goodness,” her companion said, his fears apparently confirmed. “Where is Good Guy Land?”

Sara’s brother, Ian, also showed up at our place, with his own reports. He said he had observed a drunk directing traffic at a major intersection, and that the drivers of all vehicles were paying strict attention and following his directions.

Since we lived on the ground floor, there was no elevator problem at home. And Sara managed to cobble together some sort of a hot meal on our gas stove. We lit a candle and some light leaked into our place, perhaps from battery-operated bulbs on the 20th street fire house across our back garden, and maybe a little bit of that full moon after all.

After power was restored in the morning, it was discovered that the city’s crime statistics took a nose dive during the blackout. Apparently just about all New Yorkers, rapists and muggers included, had been sufficiently awed by this heretofore unthinkable event in the “Greatest City in the World.”

But, of course, that was then. Nearly a half century ago.

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This was the Army

This is another draft segment from the forthcoming memoir: Fire Bone! When complete, the book will cover some of Bob’s adventures in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Two other snippets appear just below this one. (Comments are welcome and will be acknowledged.)

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Second Lieutenant Bone Officer of the Day, 1956.

Returning to Fort Knox after that brief halcyon experience attached to the Navy, I discovered that life could indeed be worse than my previous assignment there. This time I was assigned to an Armor training unit — I, an Infantry lieutenant supervising troops dealing with what seemed to me to be dirty and greasy tanks from dawn to dusk.

My new company commander was a First Lieutenant, while I was still just a Second Louie – just one rank below him. In my mind, he seemed a tyrant – so bad, I thought, that I suspected he would trip up eventually – and when he did I would know what to do.

Among my many extra duties, I was appointed Red Cross officer. When it came time to solicit donations from the troops, this CO told me that since his own regimental commander wanted 100% participation, our company would certainly comply.

“I want you to make it clear to the men, Bone, that if they don’t have enough money to contribute to the Red Cross, they don’t have enough money to go on pass!”

I protested that that kind of coercion was illegal and that while I would serve as the company’s Red Cross officer, I would not pass on that specific command. This refusal just brought on still more extra duties for me and a repetition that his order to me must indeed be carried out.

So drawing on my expertise at writing military-style letters at Fort Benning, I reported my CO to the IG – the Inspector General’s office. At the same time I also suggested that there must be an assignment for me at Fort Knox that would take advantage of my journalism experience and training.

One possibility, I thought, might be the Fort Knox Public Information Office. I had met a few PIOs there briefly, including Lieutenant Gay Talese. Talese had been a copy boy for the New York Times, and it was thought already that he might be headed for eventual greatness. (Indeed, in later years he would become a Times reporter and subsequently a successful author of several books.)

I don’t know exactly what happened after my IG report, except that someone involved in the inspector process later quoted my company commander as saying: “I don’t care what you do with him. Just get the sonofabitch out of my company!”

First thing you know, with perhaps eight months remaining on my active duty requirement, I suddenly received orders to report for duty at the Training Literature and Reproduction Department of the Armor School. There at TL&R, I became the assistant editor working on military lesson plans and instruction manuals.

My new boss was a major who occupied the desk next to mine. The man was a genuine expert in the use of the English language – a grammarian who could take the most screwed-up lesson plan, often written by high ranking officers, and make it complete and clear to anyone. For the next six months I received some expert on-the-job training in a field that I thought that I already knew a lot about.

Not that I agreed with the major on everything. He was definitely from an older Army – one who still believed, for example, that a commissioned officer should never carry a package. He also disapproved that even a lowly lieutenant like me would socialize with the enlisted ranks — privates, corporals, and sergeants. He did acknowledge, however, that these practices were beginning to break down now in the mid-1950s.

In due course, I was promoted to First Lieutenant, and even received some kind of commendation. My duty hours at the office were now from 8:30 to 4:30, Monday through Friday, and I wore Class A uniform every day. (No boots and fatigues except for a rare occasions when I had to renew my proficiency on the rifle range.) On top of all that, a non-com or a civilian secretary often brought coffee and doughnuts to my desk in the morning.

With all that new free time, and despite my major’s avuncular disapproval, I joined the Fort Knox Little Theater Group, and began helping build sets, learn speaking parts, and generally socializing with other amateur theater buffs, and developing some friends who were civilians and enlisted men.

And there I met Maggy – the daughter of one of the highest ranking officers on the post. It was soon apparent that besides our common love of amateur theater, we also shared a strong interest in sex.

Maggy might have been the same age or a year or so older than I. But in this field of expertise, she was imbued with the wisdom of the ages. I supposed it was partly a heritage of living for 20 years or so in many parts of the modern and ancient world – an “army brat,” as they say. In any case, there was much for me to learn, and Maggy would teach me a lot.

“You’re really very conventional, aren’t you?” she smiled sweetly. This was a quote I remember vividly. “Come on. Let’s try some other stuff!”

I liked her a lot, even with her clothes on. We frequently enjoyed drinking Gibsons and dining on filet mignon at the Fort Knox Officer’s Club. And, of course the theater work gave us a common intellectual outlet.

Not that I didn’t make mistakes. Once I complimented her on her appearance when she herself thought she was unattractive and dressed very informally. Wow, did she get mad. I never made that mistake again – with her or any other woman.

My worst tactical error, however, took place about three weeks into the relationship. I confessed to her that although I had run the bases with college women, she had been my first home run. Sure enough, that led soon to the dreaded it’s-not-you-it’s-me speech.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know that shouldn’t make any difference. But I have to tell myself that the guy should…well…you know.”

Have been around the block a few more times, I guess she meant.

So I had indeed made the ultimate fatal faux pas. Less than a week later Maggy chose a different companion from the Fort Knox Players. Frankly, I thought that he seemed more like a virgin than I did. But in any case, he was a nice guy, and I was a bit exhausted. He later confessed to me privately that Maggie had “saved” him from suffering through a miserable Army career.

I was ultimately satisfied with my own crash course in the military Kama Sutra despite its sudden cessation. I filed it away mentally in pretty much the same logical terms that I was using while editing all those lesson plans and field manuals at the TL&R Department.

I didn’t like the Army very much, but as a learning experience, it was invaluable. Some of it, anyway.

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107 Thompson Street, Greenwich Village

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Bob Bone decanting beer, 1962. (Photo by Hunter S. Thompson.)

( Another draft segment from the forthcoming memoir: Fire Bone! When complete, it will cover some of Bob’s adventures in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. )

© 2013, 2014 by Robert W. Bone

It was during this 1960-1962 period that I felt I had really become a New Yorker. In particular, I loved Greenwich Village, occasionally drinking at the White Horse Tavern, which was favored by Dylan Thomas at a still earlier time. Many friends might have been described as “beatniks,” although I didn’t qualify for that description since I, at least, had a full-time job on a popular magazine.

After Hunter and Sandy moved out, the small apartment at 107 Thompson St. came under my control and remained that way for the next four years, even if I was not always in residence. It was often the scene of various dramatic events in our bachelor lives. Sometimes I shared the place with others, and other times I had all three rooms to myself.

The apartment was in a group of similar buildings sometimes known as the “McKinley tenements,” built in the nineteenth century to house immigrants settling in Manhattan. Number 107 was a block and a half south of Houston Street, which meant it was closer to being a part of “Little Italy,” and not strictly speaking in Greenwich Village. There was indeed a large number of Italian-Americans living on the street.

Nevertheless, those of us who were single and lived in this neighborhood thought of ourselves as Villagers. We 20 and 30 somethings were acquainted with each other more often than did neighbors elsewhere. (On my floor, Pete Swann had a piano in his place, and the hallway was often swelling with a chorus from a musical he was writing.)

There was once a city plan to extend Fifth Avenue through Washington Square, replacing Thompson St., and calling it Fifth Avenue South. Thankfully that never came to pass. But a long time after I and my beatnik contemporaries left this the area for good, it was dubbed “Soho,” (from SOuth of HOuston Street, and also inspired by London’s Soho neighborhood). It then was totally revamped into a chic neighborhood of art galleries, trendy boutiques, coffee shops, etc.

In my day, 107 Thompson had genuine character, and it was a gathering place for many friends. If it were still unchanged in the present era, it would be called a dump – maybe a slum.

Rental apartments of the type were often advertised in the Times classifieds using the term “tub in kitch,” meaning the bathtub was in the kitchen. A large heavy white enameled metal cover topped this fixture. Piles of dirty dishes would have to be washed and put away before anyone could lift off the heavy cover and take a bath.

The kitchen was the center of the three rooms of the apartment, which left a windowless bedroom on one end and a living room on the other. The living room was next to the pair of small windows which featured a less than stunning view of the fire escape and the brick wall of the adjoining building.

On the second floor of a six-story building, the flat seemed dark during the day. But one winter morning I woke up to find the room flooded with light. After rubbing my eyes, I discovered the reason: The fire escape was covered with snow!

A short time later, I made a project out of painting that portion of the fire escape white. This increased the daytime gemütlichkeit of the place considerably — especially around noon, when the sun shone unfettered in the chasm between our building and the one behind on Sullivan Street.

Hunter and I removed a portion of the wall between kitchen and living room and constructed a rather nice bar or counter between them. On the living room side I built bookshelves. We signed and dated the construction for the benefit of future generations who might someday admire this clever refurbishment.

The bedroom was also unique. The walls were white, and various artistic women who visited the place felt compelled to draw images alongside the double bed which barely fit into the room. They similarly decorated the refrigerator in the kitchen.

One thing everyone seemed to agree on. There was to be no television in the apartment. One day, I found a discarded TV set on the street and decided to bring it home. It turned out to produce sound but no picture.

That was just fine. I set it on the floor and placed some kind of material over it and positioned a lamp on top. Once in a great while I turned it on to listen to TV news or something that didn’t need a picture to get the gist of a program. Every now and then a visitor would ask if he/she could watch the Dick Van Dyke Show, or the like.

“You can listen to it, but you can’t watch it,” I said. Eventually, when more space was needed to store beer bottles, or something, we put the thing back out on the street again.

When the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy occurred, I camped out for two or three days across the street in a basement apartment with Bahky Haak, a former girlfriend, who had a working TV.

For a time in 1961 and 62, my kitchen also served as a sort of beer factory. This was started by Sandy Conklin and myself, but was carried on with others later. The mysterious brown mixture was usually contained in a five-gallon jug which stood atop the refrigerator. A small hose from the system led into a 7-up bottle or something similar which contained water. As the beer fermented, its readiness for bottling could be estimated, by counting the number of bubbles per minute (bpm)in the small bottle.

If the beer was bottled too soon, there was a danger that it would explode. If it was bottled too late, it would end up being flat and tasteless. Of course mistakes were often made. And it should be noted that some of our furniture in the apartment was made of bottles of home-made beer.

A stack of beer cases might have a piece of plywood on it, and topped off with a lamp or a vase. Visitors to the apartment sometimes were unaware of these things until a sudden explosion would occur, sometimes in the middle of the night, scaring the bejeezus out of an unsuspecting guest. This was especially annoying when the bottle was one of those stored under the bed.

The beer was cheap. It cost us about ten cents a quart to make. John Wilcock came over and pronounced it pretty good. He wrote one of his columns in the Village Voice on making home-made beer.

An added complication to our beer operation was that in order to be tolerated, the beer needed be carefully decanted before drinking. We would pour it slowly along the side of a large pitcher, then toss away the sediment. This residue was highly laxative, and try as we might, we could never quite get rid of it all.

This was no problem except when the apartment was crowded during a party and we braumeisters sometimes lost control of the situation. Then we would hear a voice shouting from the other room, “Hey, don’t pour that stuff down the sink! Let me have it!”

I haven’t yet mentioned that our toilet room, while a private one, was nevertheless located “down the hall.” On party nights, a line formed outside the apartment and along the corridor toward the toilet door. Some party-goers would just give up and go home – which was a good thing, since we were usually overcrowded anyway.

My guess is that 107 Thompson St. looks very different today. I do know that some years ago, when I was just a visitor to the city, I had a look at the front door, which always used to be open. Now it was locked and boasted some kind of security system. I didn’t see inside, but I’ll bet that there are no longer four small apartments on a single floor, with one of them assigned to a hallway toilet. My guess is only two apartments each, and probably both with pretty nice bathrooms – and with no “tub in kitch.”

Pekin Becomes Politically Correct

(A segment or chapter from the forthcoming memoir: Fire Bone!)

© 2013, 2014 by Robert W. Bone

Most of my childhood was spent in the small city of Pekin, Illinois, which included the first two years at Pekin Community High School. Had my parents not moved me away, I would have been graduated with all my Pekin friends in the class of 1950.

Bob Bone, aged about 15

Bob Bone, aged about 15.


It may seem strange today that our school basketball and football teams were then known and accepted by everyone throughout central Illinois as the “Pekin Chinks.”

Right off the bat, I can assure you that no one in our town meant any disrespect to the Chinese or any Orientals. Pekin was about as WASP a town as they come. It was hard to believe that anyone in town had ever seen anyone of the Asian persuasion in Pekin, let alone harbor any animosity toward them.

I also never saw any blacks in Pekin, except perhaps for one old gentleman named Jim who lived in a shack down by the river. I was not even aware of Jews or Catholics, although there must have been some walking among us. Incredibly, I don’t believe I was ever told that there were such folks. I guess I naïvely believed we were a homogeneous society.

Pekin already had played an honorable role in the defense of human rights. Back in 1841, none other than the young lawyer Abraham Lincoln had successfully argued a case in Pekin freeing a woman known as “Black Nance” who had been kept as a slave.

Local historians were fond of saying that she was the very first slave that Lincoln freed.

The chosen sports team name had to do with the way the town got its name in the first place. Many years before my time, back when the town was founded, the wife of an early settler named it. She was of the opinion that the Chinese capital of Peking (often then spelled Pekín, and now known as Beijing) was our town’s antipode. That is, if one could bore a hole from Pekin straight through the center of earth he would come up for air again somewhere in the neighborhood of the Forbidden City.

(Nota bene: No city in the mainland United States has an antipode other than a point somewhere in the Indian Ocean.)

Pekin was proudly named in honor of that supposed geographical anomaly. Moreover, there were various places around town which were architecturally inspired by this local tradition.

Our first-run movie house, the Pekin Theater, next to the town square, was handsomely decorated inside and out as an elaborate Chinese temple.

Further, the polished floor of the high school basketball court was painted with a beautiful Chinese dragon, a motif which was also repeated on posters, stationery, and other items related to the high school.

I always felt there was an apparent egalitarian spirit to the school by the 1940s, as evidenced in the opening lines of its fight song:

Dear old Pekin High School, we’re all the same;

Winning or losing, we’re always game.

Furthermore, the engraved-in-stone “Girls Entrance” and “Boys Entrance” signs were largely ignored by our iconoclastic student body.

Now some remember that before the beginning of a basketball game, a boy cheerleader and a girl cheerleader would go to the center of the floor and bow respectfully to the cheerleaders of the opposing team. Wearing costumes topped off with coolie hats, the pair of Pekin representatives were known as “Chink and Chinklet.”

At football games, there was a mascot who did some kind of a costumed Chinese dance on the sidelines. Among his duties, too, was to strike some kind of a Oriental brass gong when a touchdown was scored.

George Beres, a writer who was in the class just behind mine, also wrote of a cheer with a somewhat Chinese flavor. It was designed to spur on the football team when it was behind or the game was dragging a bit:

“Ahh, phooey; chop suey. Come on Pekin, hop to-ey!”

pekindragonThis sort of thing was innocently carried on unnoticed by the wider world until the mid 1970s. By that time I was working at the morning newspaper in Honolulu, which closely followed things Oriental.

Stories began to be carried by the Associated Press about how a small city on the Illinois River was being challenged by some determined folks who insisted that by using the name Chinks, the school and the town itself, intentionally or not, were perpetuating a tradition which insulted a large and well-respected minority of the American population.

Some Pekinites expressed resentment that other sports teams continued to adopt another ethnic group, Native Americans, as Indians, Braves, Redskins, etc., and still managed to keep those names in modern times. In fact, they pointed out that most in that particular minority had generally expressed pride in the names.

Although there is evidence that one community college on reservation land in Arizona did change its name to the Scottsdale Fighting Artichokes.

I recently told this story to my good friend and fellow writer, Bob Hollis. He grew up near San Francisco, where the population has long been keenly sensitive to this kind of thing. He expressed horror at the thought of “Chinks” being vocally cheered on to victory by an otherwise polite society.

“That’s really beyond the pale!” said Bob.

It was apparently a big fight for a few years among students, school officials and the city fathers. Some believed that political correctness had simply gotten out of hand and was being carried to ridiculous extremes. I was certainly glad I was not there to witness the emotional bloodshed.

But in the end, sense and sensibility won out in Pekin when the high school administration finally declared an end to it all in about 1980. Eschewing the usual animal and bird names, Pekin High chose the relatively hum-drum but more politically correct “Pekin Dragons,” and that name has remained to this day.

The temple-like Pekin Theater was torn down a few years later. But considering the new name, at least the high school did not have to immediately remove the Chinese dragon artwork from the floor of the basket ball court. I don’t know for sure since thankfully, I wasn’t there for the metamorphosis.

Decades later I attended the Class of 1950 reunion in 2000. The Pekin Times ran a photo and story about me and my guidebooks, etc. noting this would have been my class had I remained in Pekin long enough to have been graduated there.

As part of that reunion, we loyal alumni did go to a football game. There Jerry Hodgson, Roger Heim, and some others of my erstwhile classmates, wore faded “Pekin Chinks” shirts and similar outdated regalia while in the stands.

Some in genuine good humor shouted cheers such as “Yay Chinks,” no doubt confusing many others who after that considerable length of time had absolutely no knowledge of the good old days at Dear Old Pekin High School.

Exploring a Pacific Island Battleground

Text and photos by Robert W. Bone

PELELIU, Palau — We fought our way up a difficult jungle rise, grabbing at wet tropical foliage that seemed to grab back at us, slapping at bare legs and faces as we tried to move forward.

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Guide Tangie Hesus inspects the World War II remains of a Japanese Zero. (Click to enlarge.)

The day was unusually dark. It had been raining off and on, and now it was on again. But Tangie Hesus, our diminutive and indefatigable Palauan guide, urged our little group onward, explaining there would be shelter ahead.

Our uphill struggle was nothing compared to the travails of Americans and Japanese more than a half-century earlier. We were exploring the South Pacific island of Peleliu, the scene of one of the bloodiest and perhaps most useless battles of World War II.

The tiny island of Peleliu is today one of the states of Palau, a recently independent nation of islands in the Caroline group. Palau is largely unknown to Americans today, except for avid scuba divers. For them, it offers perhaps the clearest and cleanest waters and the richest collection of colorful ocean fish in the world.

But the atmosphere at Peleliu, a 20-minute light plane ride from Palau’s capital of Koror, is different. Here, thousands died violently or miserably between Sept. 15 and Nov. 25, 1944. Estimates put the toll at nearly 2,000 American soldiers and Marines plus 11,000 of the island’s Japanese defenders.

As we grappled our own way up the hill, I thought about the stories I had read: Allied commanders, flushed with recent victories, thought Peleliu would be a two-day cakewalk. They also thought the island would be flat.

Advance intelligence had failed to discover that it was full of rugged hills and ridges into which the Japanese had bored an elaborate system of virtually impenetrable caves and tunnels. At this stage in the war, they were no longer trying to beat back Allied forces on the beaches. Instead, they now relied on heavy firepower from camouflaged and well-protected interior positions.

Moreover, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill had just met and decided that the assault on the Philippines was to begin immediately, and further island conquests en route were unnecessary. But the wheels of fate were already in motion. The Peleliu operation was not turned back.

Thunder was echoing off the hills. The rain came down harder, and I remembered reading that GIs had come across similar weather a few days into the invasion. Then I moved over a last muddy rise and suddenly found myself staring into the mouth of one of the meanest, greenest, heavy gun barrels I had ever seen, its rifling still apparent after more than 50 years. Except for the moss on its metal surface, it looked ready to fire.

With the accompanying thunder, lightning, and the torrential downpour, the sight was one of the most startling experiences I had had since we began exploring the island. Sure enough, we found shelter behind the gun, which was mounted at the mouth of one of the thousands of caves still present on the island.

We explored a few tunnels, and after the rain let up, we made our way past the old cannon and down the hill to return to Tangie’s van. He took us to other remnants of war — ruins of burned-out block houses, wrecks of tanks and planes, the painfully sharp coral-strewn invasion beaches, and to various lonely shrines erected by Americans and Japanese in the years following the war.

Finally we went to a one-room museum where Tangie had gathered a collection of war’s detritus — hand grenades, bayonets, Coke and sake bottles, and some poignant reminders of the personal nature of war.

There was an optimistic letter from an American private on Peleliu to his sister, telling her he was in fine health and “not to worry about me,” four days before he was killed. And there was a Japanese flag with hand-scrawled characters on it. Tangie translated them for us: “We’re just a bunch of boys who know we’re going to die, and we miss our mothers.”

As we returned to the airstrip, Tangie apologized because the bad weather had kept us from some of the more elaborate caves and tunnels. These included one that had housed more than 1,000 Japanese, until they were finally killed by a new and more powerful flame thrower that had just entered into the war.

We were glad we came, and the rain certainly suited the mood of the place. But we were also glad to leave Peleliu and fly back to Koror and the cheerful and sunny Palau of today.

San Francisco’s “Weekend Wanderlust”

SAN FRANCISCO – Three accomplished and well-recognized travel writers recently were tossing around an idea: How good travel writing might employ a new medium here in the Bay Area – personal readings before a live audience. In the words of Lavinia Spalding, “Weekday Wanderlust is the result of many champagne-fueled lunches shared by Kimberley Lovato, Don George and me.”

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Under the charcoal eyes of Edgar Allan Poe, and with his face eerily lit by his iPad, SF Chronicle travel editor Spud Hilton reads from his adventure searching for the grave of Charles Lindbergh on Maui.

All three are prize-winning travel authors and editors, and all three came to the conclusion that well-crafted words about travel that normally appear silently in print or on the web, are simply not enough. They should be spoken aloud, preferably by their authors, in person, and before an appreciative segment of San Franciscans. If they built it, perhaps an audience would come.

I saw this opinion validated in spades on a Monday in September, 2012. With little advance notice, an enthusiastic audience of about 75 showed up in the Salon room of the venerable Rex Hotel, a Sutter Street institution long favored by the literati. The Salon room is decorated by charcoal caricatures of several famous authors. Light refreshments and a cash bar also helped during a get-acquainted period before the program.

Ambitiously enough, it was announced that the Weekday Wanderlust will henceforth be held on a weekday evening every month, probably at the Rex. Organizer Lovato said the project would now be “a reading series that included not only the great writers in our region, but new budding writers who are looking for a safe and supportive environment.”

The first evening’s readers, however, were a quartet of well-known editors, and all four strived to set a high editorial standard with their firm command of experiential travel writing. They were Julia Cosgrove, editor of AFAR, the SF-headquartered national travel magazine, Spud Hilton, travel editor of the SF Chronicle, Don George, Global Travel editor for Lonely Planet Publications, and Larry Habegger, Executive Editor of Travelers’ Tales Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of Triporati, an on-line travel planning company.

Writers, readers, and listeners can keep track of this inspiring new project through its Facebook page, “Weekday Wanderlust” and Twitter handle @sfwanderlusters. Let’s hope this feature will continue indefinitely.

Blogging in the Aegean Sea

The Aegean Odyssey

 

As a travel writer and a veteran of dozens of ocean cruises, I usually don’t get overly excited about another one. But this cruise was different.

The Aegean Odyssey, the only ship operated by a three-year-old company called Voyages to Antiquity, is a relatively small vessel, and that’s part of its charm. It carries a maximum of about 340 guests, in contrast to the industry trend which keeps launching massive ships carrying thousands.

The ship began life as a ferry back in the 70s. It has been successfully converted to a modern though modest cruise ship catering especially to us history nuts who find ourselves living in the 21st century, whether we like it or not.

(Read the rest of the story on the All Things Cruise website by clicking here.)

Or read the complete day-to-day blog, in correct chronological order, by clicking here.

Nervous on a cruise ship?

Far left: Odysseus’ dilemma crossing the Strait of Messina. Left: Cruisers on the Nieuw Amsterdam in the strait take it all in stride.

 
 

Friends know that Sara and I often travel on and write about cruise ships, and occasionally we’re asked if we are at all nervous while doing this job.

For three days on the Queen Elizabeth 2 in the fall of 1986, we probably should have been concerned. Instead, we rolled with the punches as that mighty vessel fought through a gale and heavy seas with a broken stabilizer. That’s another story — and probably a good one for a later edition of BoneVoyage.us (this blog).

Last year, I might have been a little apprehensive as my ship, the 86,000-ton Nieuw Amsterdam aproached the Strait of Messina. That’s the narrow strip of water between the toe of Italy’s boot and the large Mafia-legendary island of Sicily.

That narrow gap was where Odysseus, that ancient mariner of the Mediterranean, was forced to navigate carefully between Scylla and Charybdis. If you remember your Odyssey, Scylla was a six-headed creature who occupied a cliff on one side of the two-mile-wide channel and Charybdis was a monstrous whirlpool stirring up trouble along the opposite bank.

According to Homer, Odysseus’ ship managed to skirt Charybdis and then scoot through the channel intact.  Never mind that he lost a half-dozen members of his crew in the process — one sailor each to feed the six mouths of Scylla.

Our own passage through the strait was smooth and uneventful. No monster appeared, and although there is indeed a large whirlpool still indicated on modern sea charts, the stately flagship of the Holland-America Line was up to the task.

All of our 2000 passengers and 1000 crew members, and the beautiful, black-hulled ship itself, survived intact.

January 2012: Hawaiian Memories

Waimea Falls (Photo by Bone)

From 1971 until 2008 my family and I made our home in Hawaii. While living in Honolulu, I visited and revisited all the islands of the state many times, and turned out hundreds of travel articles for newspapers and magazines, many of them on Hawaiian subjects.

I also wrote four travel books including the award-winning Maverick Guide to Hawaii. The book was first published in 1977 and then revised annually for 25 years.The last edition was in 2002, after which it finally succumbed to the juggernaut of the internet.

This month I’m making a return visit to Honolulu in an effort to keep up on tourism-related changes, research a couple of brand new stories, and to visit many good friends.

The gradually expanding links here on this post will  reprise a former column on the Islands. It will consist of several short articles about the Aloha State.

1: Downtown Honolulu

2: The Park of Fire

3: Maui Captures the Sun

4: Kauai, a Place Apart

Give me Liberty

Cruisers returning to the ship at Cozumel

Monday, Dec. 5 – I am enjoying life aboard the Carnival cruise ship Liberty, which docked this morning for a few hours at the popular Mexican island of Cozumel.

Cruise ships are sometimes criticized for fostering the impression among their guests that they are still in the U.S., and not in some foreign land where the language, food, money, laws, and customs are different than at home. Here on the Liberty, most of us feel as “free” we do at home.

Waiting in the breakfast line on the Lido deck, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was traveling with her father: “My husband is at home,” she said. “He works for the Federal government, so he can’t be here.

“He’s forbidden to set foot in Mexico,” she said.

It was a surprise to me, and now I wonder how many Americans are not free to visit certain countries – even countries with which we have diplomatic relations.

Even on a ship  named Liberty

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