There are some things we just cannot prepare for. Why? Because people — you, me, everyone — are “experts” as long as we stay home, but when we travel? Sorry!
Does that mean we shouldn’t travel? No. It just means we have to apply the Boy Scout motto with a slight twist.
Be Prepared — To Be Unprepared.
I traveled a lot between 1951 and 1973, over 95,000 miles, and I saw more countries than you’d care to hear about. The first one — Iceland — wasn’t much. I suppose the Icelanders love it, but if you ask me it should be called Rockland, because that’s pretty much all there is.
If you’ve seen one rock, you’ve seen them all, so I stayed on base and out of trouble most of the time. However, I did manage to fit in one nicely unprepared moment. I decided to visit the capital city, Reykjavik, expecting nothing very exciting, but I no sooner got off the bus than a giant-size Icelander spotted me across the road, ran through the traffic yelling at the top of his lungs, caught up with me, and waved a Bowie knife around me like the High Boobah at a witch doctor’s convention, all the while screaming in completely unintelligible Icelandic.
Why? Get this! The Icelandic cops later told me that I looked “Norse.” So the nut with the knife — a hard core Communist — seeing me in a U.S. uniform was outraged that a fellow Icelander had joined the Capitalist Pigs.
The same Icelandic cops who dragged the kook away warned me that since I looked VERY Norse it wasn’t a good idea for me to be seen in town in a uniform. Well, the Air Force wouldn’t let me go to town dressed any other way, so that rather limited my time off base.
What’s that, Johnny?
Oh. Was I scared while the kook was doing his Bowie knife routine?
Not a bit. You have to understand what the hell is going on to be scared, and that takes preparation of some kind, some kind of foreknowledge, but nothing had prepared me for that crazy, arm-waving, motor-mouth Icelander. I guess “amazed” comes closest to how I felt. I just stood there grinning in awed wonder. In fact, the whole thing struck me as funny.
Say what, Johnny? No sense, no feeling?
My first night driving the two-lane country road in Pakistan to the military airbase to meet an aircraft taught me something about being prepared. There are some things you can’t be prepared for even when you’re doing something familiar. And this time I was scared! There I was, tootling along on a pitch black night when a behemoth of a truck appeared out of nowhere, coming at me head-on at 50 miles an hour — with its lights out!
Was I prepared for that? Are you kidding? Or was I prepared for the explanation Hasan, my assistant, gave me?
“Oh, Sahib,” he said, “that is quite proper. The road is poorly traveled so they drive at night with their lights off to save electricity.”
You know how many times I had to make that nighttime drive out to the airbase between 1959 and 1961? Ugh!
Then there was the night the men slowed down to a crawl while we were uploading cargo we had stacked outside that day. It was a rush job and I had never seen the men so slow about picking up crates and boxes. When I asked Hasan about it, he said, “There is not enough light, Sahib.”
The field was well lighted. “Looks like enough light to me.”
“Not to see the kraits, Sahib.”
“What’s a krait?”
He pointed at a little dust-colored snake the size of a fat noodle that was wriggling off. “They are sometimes found under a box,” he told me.
I sighed. “OK, let Abdul drive the forklift and I’ll lift the bottom boxes.”
Well that sped things up all right, but a week later I was sitting in my Jeep on a hot sunny day waiting for an incoming aircraft when a coolie who was cutting grass by the runway suddenly threw his sickle in the air and did something I was definitely not prepared for.
“Ah-h-h-h-h!” he screamed as he ran a hundred feet, and dropped dead.
My men went running to the place where he had dropped. When they came back I asked Hasan what had happened.
“A krait bit him Sahib.”
I lifted no more boxes at night, Johnny. Neither did my men. That, I could prepare for!