Fresh from the City of Sin and Laughter (Harrismith, Free State, South Africa – you didn’t know?), where I’d spent my first seventeen years, I arrived in New York with Great Expectations.
I was READY – more than ready! – to see the big wide world. After landing we – the gang of Southern African Rotary Exchange students -were bused to a hotel in Queens. Someone – a Rotarian, I guess? – checked us in and then left us to go to bed for the night. Early the next morning we’d be boarding different planes to the various states we’d been assigned to.
Go to bed?! Fuhgeddaboudit!
But most did! I was horrified. “Excuse me, no WAY I’m going to bed. I’m in New York, the city that never sleeps!”. Even in Harrismith, Free State, South Africa I would not have wanted to go to bed in case the Holiday Inn was still open! Only one other guy – was he Gary or was he heading to Gary, Indiana, it’s so long ago now? – joined me and we went to the night porter. “Right! Where can we go for a night on the town, sir? We want to go for a walk, which way shall we head?”
Oh, I wouldn’t advise you did that, he drawled, I’ll get the hotel bus to take you someplace.
So off we went, noses plastered against the windows, fascinated. Our personal chauffeur dropped us off at a brightly-lit truck stop and asked when we wanted to be fetched. “Three Ay Emm” we said, pushing our luck. Check, he said without blinking. So we sat and watched a New York night go by drinking beer and slowly eating a burger n fries till he fetched us as arranged. So on our first night in wildest New York in a dodgy area we’d been warned about . . nothing happened.
After three hours sleep, we were taken back to JFK where we split up. Some of us boarded that huge NY Airways Sikorsky helicopter in the pic for the hop over to La Guardia airport from where I’d be going on to Chicago’s O’Hare airport and thence to Oklahoma City – and adventure! My late night truckstop friend was headed for Indiana – that’s him bustling to the chopper in the top picture.
In Oklahoma my nearby exchange student colleagues were Evelyn Woodhouse from Durban, hosted by Fort Cobb, Helen Worswick from Marondellas in Zimbabwe, Jenny Carter from Bromley in Zimbabwe. They were in Mountain View and Carnegie. All bustling metropoli like Apache!
Also Jonathan Kneebone from Australia. And then there was the delightful Dotty Moffett from Ardmore in Oklahoma, who had been to Cape Town, South Africa with Rotary the year before.
We all met at a festive gathering of Rotary students in Oklahoma and then visited each other’s towns whenever we could.