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Out of Morocco with Tex
As I mentioned in an earlier Musings, I lived in Casablanca, Morocco my last two years of high school. As my senior year was drawing to a close I was talking with a friend, a fellow named William Hughes, but who went by the name “Tex”. Now that we have a few years on us I think he has reverted to William. But to me, he will always be Tex.
Anyway, Tex and I were talking and he asked,
“What are you going to do this summer?”
I thought I would snow him and I replied,
“Well, I think I’ll hitchhike through Europe.”
I had never given it a serious thought til then.
“Really! That’s what I want to do too. Lets go together!”
“OK. Gotta clear it with my folks though.”
I knew that would put the kibosh on it and I could save face. So, when I got home and saw my mother, our conversation went like this:
“Mom, guess what Tex Hughes and I are going to do this summer.”
“We’re going to hitchhike through Europe.”
“When are you leaving?”
Huh! When are you leaving!?! Give me a break. I had no plans to hitchhike through europe but that is what seemed to be unfolding.
So Tex and I got to planning. We had very little money between us. I had $75 and figured we would need to stay within $2 a day, the equivalent of $20 today. Early on we had been told that we might be able to ride by train from Casablanca to Tangier. Someone was to ship their horse north and we could ride in the boxcar with the animal.
This led to our first adventure.
Tex and I went down to the train yard. I don’t recall what happened. I just know it didn’t work out and we did not take the train. But while we were there we decided to go to the Seamen’s Club and have a beer. Most ports have Seamen’s Clubs, bars really, that serve Merchant Marine sailors.
The place was essentially empty. At the bar sat a grotesquely fat man, sort of resembling Jabba the Hut. He was by himself drinking a beer.
Tex and I sat at a table away from him, a little giddy at the prospect of having a beer.
Suddenly his voice booms out,
“You guys Americans? You’re speak’n English?”
We agreed we were.
“Well come over here so I can buy you a beer. Haven’t had anyone to talk to in days.”
Well, things were looking up. Another beer! Free! We joined him at the bar and got a conversation going. As time went by he bought us another beer. That made three. And, we were not used to having beer. Believe me!
“Hey, you guys want to go to Rabat? I know a great whorehouse and the madame likes me. We will have a good time! I got a car parked outside.”
“Ah, no. No. We don’t want to go.”
“Well, alright, but tell you what. The madame likes chocolate. I always take her chocolate. If you know where I can get chocolate and take me there, I’ll give you a ride home.”
Well that didn’t sound bad. The beer was about to put me to sleep and I did know of a chocolate shop not far away and I liked the idea of getting a ride home. It was hot outside. So we agreed to take him to the chocolate shop.
As we got in the car, I asked,
“How many beers did you have before we got there?”
I sat in the middle. Tex was on the door. We drove down along the port. The road was busy and narrow. On one side was the harbor and on the other, the Medina, a section of the city with very narrow winding streets full of stalls and shops where goods were for sale. I was sort of in a daze from the heat and the beer when I realized we had passed the street on which we should have turned.
“Oh, That was our turn!”
“I’ll turn around.”
“No, We can take the next one”
But he had already started to turn. The road was too narrow for a u-turn. It had to be a three point turn. The car came to a stop diagonally blocking the road. He prepared to put it into reverse. I was looking down the road when I saw a man bearing down on us on a motorbike going at high speed. At the time, it seemed like slow motion. I saw him come straight toward us. I saw him collide with the front bumper of our car. I saw him leave his motorbike and sail over our car, landing on his head. He stood up, staggering, with blood flowing from his eyes.
The Medina erupted like an ant hill stirred with a stick. Tex and I got out of the car, standing there looking. Our “friend” attempted to move the car because it was blocking the road. In Morocco it is against the law to move a vehicle after an accident before the authorities have released it. The mob of people thought he was trying to leave and they were angry. They ran toward the car screaming in rage.
This was not a good scene. Americans were resented by many. As they swarmed the car, I realized they did not know Tex and I had been in the car. We both were frightened, but I said to Tex,
And we walked into the crowd flowing past us and into the Medina, through the labyrinth of narrow streets and out the other side where there were municipal buses. We took one home, being certain to get off many blocks from where I lived in case we were followed. So ended our first adventure.
As an aside, a couple of months later we saw Jabba the Hut at the officers club, so we know they did not kill him.
Second adventure, “Even your President Kennedy can’t help you!”
At the start of our trip we took the ferry out of Tangier to Spain, disembarking at the border town, La Línea. This is the border between Spain and Gibraltar. At the time it was an unhappy border. Spain wanted the British to leave and for the Spanish to regain control of the rock. In order to make life less pleasant for the British, Spain imposed a regulation prohibiting anyone other than the Spaniards who worked in Gibraltar from crossing the border more than three times in a quarter of a year. Tex and I had been over the border a month or so earlier when our class took its Senior Trip to Torremolinos.
So, we were in La Línea. We found a pensión for 50¢, stashed our stuff and crossed over the border into Gibraltar to have dinner. Along with us was an Aussie we met at the pensión. We had a great meal and good conversation, after which the three of us headed back.
Our new friend passed through the border station, but the guard stopped Tex. His passport had three stamps at this border in the quarter of the year. We pleaded and argued but the guard was firm. No crossing the border.
The British counterparts on their side of the border just laughed.
“Even your President Kennedy can’t help you!”
Now this was a real mess. First of all we had to get a hotel in Gibraltar which was an unanticipated expense. Then the next day we would have to take a ferry to the nearest town at additional expense and make our way back to La Línea to get our gear, if it was still there. Damn!. There went the budget.
The hotel cost $4. Two days worth of our money! The only good thing about it was that it came with a full English breakfast. At breakfast, Tex sat studying his passport and ruminating,
“I don’t understand this. I have not been over this border three times this year.”
And then it clicked into place! This year ! One of the stamps was in the previous year. Same quarter but previous year. Hot damn, problem solved.
We hot footed it down to the border and discovered the same guard on duty! What kind of shifts they pulled, I do not know, but this was well over twelve hours.
We showed him the date and after examining every stamp in both our passports for what seemed like an age he finally passed us through. Budget shot we were on our way.
The post cards
Before we left my mother instructed me to call home every Thursday so she would know where we were and that we were well. The first such Thursday we were in Madrid. I went to a hotel and in the phone booth started the process of placing a collect call to Morocco.
“Collect call? No. It is not possible to make a collect call. You must pay for your call.”
When I learned the call would cost about $4, I decided there had to be another way to reassure my folks. Post cards. I decided that every Thursday I would mail home a post card chronicling our journey. I did so every week.
The first card arrived home about six weeks after we were back.
During our time away rumors started. Rumors that we had been hurt and that we had been arrested. Tex was the son of an Air Force Colonel and my dad was a high ranking civilian. We learned later that the Air Force Police spent time checking the jails in the area we were travelling.
The last night of our trip I called home to let my family know we were on our way. We had just enough money left to buy a bus ticket home from Tangier.
The first words my mother spoke to me were,
“Are you in jail?”
It was a great time. We went up through Spain, into France, over to Switzerland, back down the Riviera and the Costa del sol. We slept in youth hostels and pensiones. We even slept in a farmer’s field, with his permission. And when it was all done we went off to college.
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