Coming of Age in the Age of Oil
Off the keyboard of RE
Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner
In what seems to me at times like another life entirely, I reflect back on my years growing up in the Age of Oil. I wrote some about this in Pump Up the Volume and more about a later period in my life as an Over the Road Trucker. Still to come at some future date the Pigman Years on Wall Street, the School Teaching Years and so forth, and I still have more Chapters to write on the Over the Road years.
For today though, I am going to review experiences I had travelling around Europe in the summer after my HS Graduation. I graduated HS at the age of 16, On the Edge of 17. Skipped a couple of years through the period, moving back from Brazil I was placed up a year enrolling in the NY Shity Public School system, then in Junior High I went into the 2 Year “Special Progress” program they had which allowed you to do the normal 3 Years of JHS in 2 years.
Besides being chronologically pretty young on HS graduation, I also was physiologically pretty young. I looked probably about age 13-14 when I was travelling around Europe with a Backpack on the Interrail system. I shaved about once a week at the time to give you a clue as to where my morphology was at the time.
Anyhow, in the 2 years prior to HS graduation I took on summer jobs to save money for my Journey and also for the Hewlett Packard HP-35 Scientific Calculator I coveted to replace my Trusty Slide Rule. Actually ended up with an HP-45, which came out JIT for my Freshman Year of College at Columbia. Cost about half my Summer Earnings, and really I would have done fine with just a Slide Rule, but just HAD to have that cool piece of technology.
In the Summer after my Sophomore Year I worked in a Shower Curtain Factory in the Garment District of NYC, before all this shit was moved over to China. I was actually an Illegal Child Laborer that summer, because I was not old enough for Working Papers until the end of the summer on my Birthday. Nice Irony that the Son of a Chase Manhattan Pigman Bankster would be a Sweatshop Worker, at least for one summer, eh? LOL.
Anyhow, this was a Mom & Pop “Factory” which really just took up one floor of an old Warehouse, employed about 4 Hispanic and Chinese ladies Sewing the Curtains and ME putting the Grommet Holes and Grommets into the top of the Shower curtain. I worked at an entirely mechanical station where I would depress a floor pedal with my foot to cut the holes, then put Grommets into them and use another mechanical machine to squish the grommet halves together, the final completion of the Shower Curtain before Shipment out.
Needless to say, this was EXCEEDINGLY boring work, and by the end of the second week I was about ready to blow my brains out, except at the time I did not own a Gun. LOL. HTF anyone works these sort of Factory Assembly Line Job for a LIFETIME is beyond me. Over in China today, Foxconn Workers commit Seppuku on a Daily Basis, and I am not surprised in the least by that one.
Fortunately I had a friend from HS who had not been able to land a Summer Job, and I handed this job off to him and became the Shipping Clerk. This was WAY more interesting, I got to not only Fold the Shower Curtains Neatly, but also Tape the Package Closed, Label and Address it and Stamp it with the appropriate postage for its weight. Numerous tasks of a High Level of RESPONSIBILITY! LOL. Joking of course, but compared to stomping your foot over and over again making holes in the top of a Shower Curtain, this was positively INTERESTING stuff. LOL. Plus I was earning like $3/hr Minimum Wage and tucking it away in my savings account for my Journey and the Cool Calculator I wanted.
Despite the excruciating BOREDOM of this Summer of Work (my first experience in the “working” world), I somehow made it through without committing Seppuku and at the end had a few hundred DOLLARS in my Bank Account. My OWN MONEY!
The next Summer, I got my first Job on Wall Street, age 15. Courtesy of Dad the Pigman and his friend who was CEO of Merrill Lynch at the time. I was dropped into the Accounts Receivable Department at a Desk with an Adding Machine, and each morning a Pile of Checks would be dropped on my desk, and my Job was to punch them all into the Adding Machine and run a Tape to tally them up. You had to do this at least Twice and come up with the same result both times; if the results were different you had to go back through the tape to find the error, even if it was just 1 Penny. Then you had to run a new tape and get it all RIGHT. If you made a mistake on this one, Rinse and Repeat. Before you could turn in your work you had to have 2 perfectly clean tapes with exactly the same result on them.
Well, this also is Mind-Numbingly BORING stuff, and at the time I wasn’t all that great on a 10-Key Pad. So first off I was SLOW compared all the pro clerks whose fingers just FLEW over the 10-Key. Second, I generally sucked at this and made mistakes, and the typical Clerk in that sea of desks (no Cubicles at that time) could run 10 Tapes in the time it took me to run 1. However, I was put there by the CEO, so nobody complained how bad I was, and they were paying me just slightly over the minimum wage by $1. This however was better than Shower Curtain salary, and I found it marginally COOL at this time to put on a Collar Shirt and Tie each morning for something other than Church or a Wedding.
So in two summers of real “Work”, I managed to save somewhere in the negihborhood of $1500-2000 or so, including Birthday Money and Christmas Money and so forth. $350 1970s dollars of this went to buy my HP-45 Calculator, the rest I earmarked for my Big Trip to Europe! A similar Calculator to that HP can now be purchased for around $50 2012 dollars at Walmart.
First deal was to get over there as CHEAP as possible, and at the time a Brit by the name of Freddie Laker started Laker Airlines, run on the same principles of Greyhound Bus Lines, no Reservations you bought your Ticket at the Door and hopped on the Plane. The price of this ticket I recall was around $150 at the time.
Second Big Expense was the Railpass. I could have bought a 2nd Class Eurail Pass similar to the Interrail Pass the Eurotrash had access to, but I was advised to buy the 1st Class one, because you generally got several seats empty and could stretch out to sleep lifting up the armrests. This was a good Investment and worth the extra $200 or so I paid for a 6-week Railpass. Total cost I recall was $350 or so.
So all in all, the travel cost to get there and the cost of the railpass knocked off about $500 from the Savings, leaving me slightly over $1000 for 8 weeks in Europe. My Plan was to spend the First and Last Weeks in Jolly Old England around London so I didn’t need the Railpass for that. So Weekly Budget was around $125, about $18/day. If I spent $10 on a Hostel bed for the night, that left $8 to Eat with. However, while the Railpass was Active, I took mainly Night Trains and slept aboard the trains, saving money on Hostels this way. Also, when in the South of France and in Spain, I slept on the Beaches periodically with other wandering Eurotrash Teens and some Amerikan ones also. So actual Budget was probably closer to $25/day on days I did not buy a Hostel bed.
By the standards of the Eurotrash Teens Interrailing, I was positively LOADED with money, many of them had NO MONEY with them and just played their Guitars on the Streets to get Daily Change to eat with. Many of the girls would sleep with you just for a meal and a few bottles of beer.
The first girl I got involved with I did NOT get to sleep with, she was an “Older Woman” Brit Girl around 25. I met her on a London Bus 2 days after I got to London and she invited me to stay at her “Flat”. She was kind of Motherly and was surprised to see what looked to her like a 13 year old boy travelling around with a Backpack. She heard my “Amerikan Accent” talking to the Fare Collector on the Bus and started a conversation with me. Anyhow, she saved me several days of Hostels even though she refused my overtures for Nookie. LOL.
From there at the end of the Week I Activated my Railpass and got on a Hovercraft over to France, also covered with the First Class Eurail Pass. It also covered Ferries to Greece and Ireland, it was an incredible Bargain.
Arriving in Paris I walked around for a while navigating with a Map I picked up at the train station and a little Book I had which listed all the Hostels, restaurants etc that Students could go to on the cheap. However, the first two Hostels I hit were DUMPS, plus the Desk people in both places were RUDE beyond belief, and that is coming from a New York Shity boy quite used to Rude People. LOL. I stayed one night in Paris and headed for the Train Station in the morning, Destination SCANDINAVIA!
Like most 16 year old boys, the Numero Uno thing on my mind was SEX! I wasn’t travelling around Europe to absorb the Culture or eat Foreign Cuisine, I wanted to GET LAID! LOL. A few years before I headed to Europe the film “I am Curious, Yellow” had been released in the FSoA, it was a Swedish Produced X-Rated Film, the first such film I ever saw. Produced in 1967, but I don’t think it made it to the FSoA until the early 70s. At least I didn’t see it until the 70s, I am sure I was at least 13 or 14 when I saw it. The film convinced me Swedish Girls would jump into the sack at the drop of a hat. LOL.
Anyhow, arriving in Stockholm with a Roll of Quarters in my Pants (LOL), I was disappointed to find out that there weren’t too many Swedish girls running around Naked and besides that Stockholm was ridiculously EXPENSIVE. Even the Hostel was expensive and the restaurants were ridiculous. So once again I spent one night in Stockholm, then headed back to take the train to…AMSTERDAM!
Amsterdam was (and still is I think) famous for its Red Light District, where State Sanctioned Prostitution is Legal. Also plenty of DRUGS floating around Amsterdam at that time, it was the Hashish Capital of Northern Europe I think. There was also VERY cheap Hostelling available in Amsterdam, I stayed on a Barge in a Canal that charged $5/night. It was so cheap and entertaining I stayed in Amsterdam a whole Week, going to Dance Clubs, Smoking Hash at night on the Barge with the Eurotrash and even wandering the Red Light District to Buy some SEX. I never did though because first off the $50 the Pros were charging was Outta Budget, and second they just did not seem very appealing to me sitting in their Windows in Garter Belts and so forth.
I DID finally get laid in Amsterdam though, but NOT by Eurotrash, Dutch Prostitutes or Swedish Girls, but by another Amerikan! Met her in a Club, invited her back to my dive on the Barge and did the horizontal bop after Bonging several bowls of Hash with her! However, she ditched me after 2 days for somebody else. She was in Europe to do the same thing I was, collect Notches on her Gunbelt, without having her “reputation” sullied at home.
I did learn in Amsterdam though that the best ACTION was down in the South in Spain, Italy and Greece and that’s where all the Hot Topless Girls were to be found on the beaches also! So after getting Ditched by the Yank Slut it was off for the long Train Ride down south, and I elected to go to Greece first since I was nearing Midway in the Adventure. This was the furthest to get to and required a Ferry Ride from Brindisi in Italy over to Igoumenitsa in Greece as I recall.
Greece was really cool from the traditional Tourista viewpoint, checking out the Acropolis and Parthenon and so forth, the Food was cheap and great also but I didn’t meet any GIRLS there. Also, apparently the best places to Vacation in Greece were on the Greek Islands, and to get to them you had to have a Yacht for the most part. I went down to one of the Yacht Clubs to see about hooking on as Crew since I know how to Sail, and a Kraut dude with a really NICE 50′ Beneteau Yacht was agreeable to my crewing for him. Just when he made a pass at me after a few drinks I got the picture on that one and elected not to go for that cruise. Turned out to be a good choice since had I taken that cruise I would have missed meeting Ingrid later in Nice.
So I did not see much of Greece on this trip, it wasn’t until a cupla years later when I leased a Yacht with some friends that I got to Cruise the Greek Islands, which really were marvelous in those days and might still even be. The Plumbing was Crude to non-existent and many of the Tavernas cooked over open flame BBQs, but all the fish, feta cheese, olives, lamb chops and produce were Local so in theory they could still be OK. 35 years later though much has changed, so probably not.
So, it was back to the Port at Igoumenitsa to catch the Ferry back to Brindisi, where I met a Finnish couple, a Guy & Girl travelling together, quite common also of course. I’ll change some names here to maintain Anon some, call them Jensen and Janna. I met Jensen first, I was playing Chess against myself waiting for the Ferry and he asked me if I would like to Play some with him. This before the days you had laptop computers or I-Pads to play against of course. I had a little Pocket Magnetic Set I played on with me, and it was a pretty good conversation starter on all the Plane Rides and Train Rides I took. Almost always found a Chess Player in Europe.
Jensen was pretty good too, and he was funny in a Dour sort of way as well. We were playing for about an hour when Janna showed up, and OMFG she was STUNNING. I was IN LOVE with her the minute I saw her. Jesse’s Girl though. I was DETERMINED though I would get into Janna’s Pants, and after three days travelling with them I did. Unfortunately by day 5 Jensen figured this out, we got in a Fistfight, Janna was crying and pleading with Jensen telling him she was SORRY and I felt like a complete ASSHOLE, which of course I WAS! So I split off from Janna and Jensen in Italy after about 5 days of the Adventure of trying to STEAL another guy’s Girlfriend.
In Italy the first city I hit to check out after the split was Rome, and I did the Tourist thing checking out the Vatican and Michaelangelo’s artwork and so forth. I wasn’t looking for Nookie for a couple of days there, the experience with Janna and Jensen had made me feel very GUILTY and STUPID. But of course, being On the Edge of Seventeen and all by day 3 I was once again HUNTING for BABES! That is how it GOES when you are a Male On the Edge of Seventeen. Everybody Knows.
Nothing real good turned up in Rome, so it was back on the Interrail to head for Nice in the South of France this time, where I had been told the Beaches were PACKED with Topless Girls, which in fact was TRUE! On one of those Beaches I AT LAST met my Swedish Girl, again for anonymity purposes I will change the name here to Ingrid. I invited her to come with me to Venice, where I promised a Swell Hotel Room and she AGREED to come! She was with her Sister Ilsa though who had promised Parents back in Sweden to watch out for her, so she hadda come also. I was playing the part of Filthy Rich Amerikan Boy and really had done pretty well conserving my money for the first few weeks in Europe, so I felt I could AFFORD to buy a Swell Hotel Room for a few days.
On the train to Venice is where we met Torsten, the Danish Dude I spoke about in Jason Happenstall’s thread about Denmark. I visited with Torsten a few years later on another trip and got to see the Immaculate City of Copenhagen. Torsten and Ilsa Hit it Off, so now we were nicely Coupled Up by the time we arrived in Venice.
Upon arrival in Venice, we went a-walking around to find a Hotel Room, and came upon a Bed & Breakfast down an Alley that was pretty non-descript from the front, with an Old Italian Lady who managed it. She gave us a big bright SMILE when we came in, and asked how long we would like to stay. I said a Week, and her Smile got even BIGGER. LOL. It was $50/night, but $300 for the Week. She took us upstairs to the second floor and showed us the room. It was all OLD furniture, I mean REALLY OLD. The Bed where all the Banging went on was a four poster that probably was 100 years old at least. Lord Only Knows how many people Banged on that Bed over the Decades/Centuries. LOL. Despite the Age, it was all IMMACULATE. It had one Window which was Floor to Ceiling, and openning it it was right over a Main Canal with a FABULOUS view of this part of Venice. Had a tiny Balcony as well, though not really big enough to do anything but stand on.
Anyhow, I sure wish I could have stayed in that Bed & Breakfast FOREVER with Ingrid, but sadly I did not have an endless Deep Pocket plus I also had to start working my way back to Jolly Old England because my Railpass only had 6 weeks on it, and I already had used up about 4-5 of them. So sadly with tears in my eyes, I bid adieu to my Swedish Amour and began my journey back to England, with my Stash of Cash now seriously Depleted. In fact, I had barely more than the cost of the $150 Ticket on Freddie Laker’s Air Bus necessary to make it back to the FSofA after this adventure. I spent FREELY buying us great dinners in Venice and plenty of nice bottles of Italian Wine as well, so there was just about nothing left for me to eat on for the trip back. Weeks of work in the Shower Curtain Factory and pounding the 10-Key at Merrill Lynch were spent in that one wonderful week. I bought Baguettes and Cheese at Grocery Stores, slept on the trains and in the train stations for the 3-4 days it took me to get back to London. I lived on the approximately $2/day the typical 3rd Worlder lives on now, except in 1970s Dollars which bought substantially more then. I also had the Pre-Paid Railpass as well of course.
I had hoped to be able to crash again with the Brit Mommy type who befriended me when I arrived in London, but she apparently was not in town or busy when I got back. I called her twice the first day and never got an answer, this in the days before Answering Machines and Voicemail. She probably was on Vacation or just not home.
The REASON I called her was this:
All the Students and other Cheap Travellers who had come over to Eurotrashland through the Summer all converged on London at the end of the summer in the last week before the Colleges reopenned for the Fall Semester here in the FSoA. Freddie was only running a few planes, and they could not handle so many passengers all at once. The rest of the Airline Tickets were double or triple his price. So THE BIG QUEUE formed along the Thames river, hundreds if not thousands of young Amerikans seeking to get BACK to the FSoA all at once on the cheap flights of Freddie Laker. It took DAYS of waiting in this Queue, which was very informal really, Freddy did not organize it, we did.
Along the Thames River, hundreds of Shanty shacks were set up by Students with No Tents with them. They were constructed from Plastic, Pallets, Scrap Wood, old newspapers and Boxes from Grocery stores. The average wait was 2-3 days in the queue. I have Googled to find Pictures of this time, but apparently either nobody ever put them up or else Google won’t find them. The Entrepreneurs walked the line Hawking T-shirts which read “Better Laker than Never” and “‘Sooner or Laker“. Not a lot different than an OWS encampment, just not as nice with commercially produced Tents and Tarps.
Unlike my less well prepped neighbors, I DID have a Tent, and an Air Matress too! This made me a VERY popular guy amongst the Ladies, even more Popular than the guys who had some Hash to smoke. So the 3 Days I spent on the Big Queue on the Thames River were actually a lot of FUN and I would have stayed longer except I was 100% OUT OF CASH even for Food so I hadda get home. Besides, Freshman Orientation at Columbia was starting in around 2 or 3 days.
Now, in a conversation a while back with Diner Karpatok, I mentioned that I was “Serially Monogamous” and did not Indiscriminately Bang a lot of Coeds in College. This story of course belies that claim, but the Eurail Adventure was an anomaly and only represents 8 weeks out of my whole life. In total during that 2 months I think I banged 5 different girls, which was more than in all my years of College. That was what all the Teens and 20s Interrailing were DOING! It was the whole reason for making these Journeys. It represented a form of Coming of Age in the Age of Oil over in Europe.
Is there anything else which makes this Article “Peak Oil” and “Collapse” related? Not on the surface of course, it’s just more Autobio off my keyboard so the readers get a better Picture of the guy who writes all the DOOM on the pages of the Doomstead Diner. But in subtext there is much related to these themes.
First off, the Cheap Airfare which got me over to Europe in the first place is among the first thing that is going to dissappear here, and horny HS Graduates here who want to go traipsing around Europe looking for I Am Curious Yellow Swedish Girls will not be doing this much longer. The Swedish Girls themselves won’t be travelling around doing this either in Spain and Greece, where they are likely to get caught up in a Riot. Many people all travelling around willy-nilly being “Tourists” is going the way of the Dinosaur here, and will not return anytime too soon.
The next relationship is the Eurail system itself, probably the most comprehensive Inter-City Mass Transit system anywhere in the entire world. Because of it, if any neighborhood can survive to maintain an Industrialized lifestyle for a while WITHOUT Carz, it is in Europe. Only though for as long as they can keep those Trains running, and the Rail system in Eurotrashland has ALWAYS been Goobermint Subsidized, never paid for itself in any way. It’s pretty hard to imagine how the Greek and Spanish Goobermints are going to be able to afford to subsidize their portions of the Network here pretty soon. Not to mention the Tres Gran Vitesse.
Beyond the Financial problem of running that rail system is the Energy problem. Even though they mostly do not use Oil or Gas like Carz do for their energy input, its going to become harder and harder for all these countries to get enough Coal and/or Nat Gas to provide enough Electricity to keep them running. Its unlikely anyone will build anymore Nukes there for Electricity Generation, and you can’t push Big Trains around with Windmills. So even though the Rail System might run a few more years than the Carz/Trucks system, its longer term sustainability likelihood is equally small. Besides, without Touristas zipping around on these Trains to Gawk at Old Buildings, eat in 5-Star Restaurants or Bang Swedish Girls, such Inter-City transport does not have a whole lot of Utility. The main thing the rail system might be used for as long as it can be maintained would be to move FOOD around Europe and keep the population somewhat fed.. Except probem there would be that each Country doesn’t really have much Surplus Food to ship to any other country, particularly not once the Tractors run Outta Gas.
The Europeans were the first to Industrialize with the Steam Engine used at first mainly to pump water out of Coal Mines so more Coal could be Mined to provide Energy for said Steam Engines, in a “Virtuous Economic Cycle” for so long as there was Plenty-o-Cheap Coal to mine anyhow. In Fitting Irony here, it also appears the Europeans are going to be the First of the major Industrialized societies to fall off this Energy and Economic Cliff, and we can continue here to watch them as the Canary in the Coal Mine for what will eventually Cross the Pond and come down here as well.
How LONG will it take for this to Cross the Pond? This remains an unanswered question, but it doesn’t seem to me like it will be all that long here. It seems to me that this Journey, the Journey to the End of the Age of Oil is…wait for it…
…Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You.