Ernie van Biljon wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I got to go to America as a Rotary exchange student back in 1973.
What a lovely man.
Rotary held their interview and selection sessions at Greystones outside Estcourt (where I had attended a Veld & Vlei leadership course earlier that year):
Which three countries would you like to go to?
America, America, America – and I want to go to a small town, not a big city.
“OK, Smartass” they thought, and dispatched me to Apache, Oklahoma.
“There are two strict rules” they told us: “No falling in love, and strictly no driving while you’re there”. “Of course not . . . ” Well, I got none out of two right but it was just infatuation and the owner of the Chev Camaro covered for me in Apache and the owner of the VW Beetle covered for me in Canada.
Harrismith was not richly endowed with pubs. It had kroegs, but pubs, not so much. So before the Holiday Inn brought mid-West America to the Vrystaat vlaktes, we were forced to drink and drive.
In those days the Road Safety slogan was Friends Don’t Tell Friends They Can’t Drive Because They’re Drunk Because Then Friends Will SHOW Friends How They Actually Drive Very Well When They’re Drunk.
Not as snappy as Speed Kills but nevertheless a very valid slogan.
Favoured watering holes were Little Switzerland on the Oliviershoek Pass and, because after a skinful you want to actually negotiate a whole mountain pass, the Royal Natal National Park Hotel.
One legend of Harrismith District Mobile Imbibing was Rob, whose surname will remain a secret because he might have become sensitive to this well-deserved reputation earned during his lengthy youth later when he was probably telling his own kids to BEHAVE themselves. And Speed Kills, and Wipe Your Feet, and Two Drinks is Enough, and Abstain until you’re Married, you young ‘uns, and other things that would have raised a knowing grin on the faces of his old friends if they had overheard this theoretical speech.
I mean, his rollovers (how many?) culminated in his lying on his neck on the roof of Steph’s white VW Beetle and when Steph said “Rob! Are you OK?!” he murmured “Shh! My favourite tune is playing” as he adjusted the radio tuner which had gone off a touch as the vehicle bollamakissied.
Speaking of pubs, booze, cars and road safety:
The Catholics have it all wrong when they appoint Saints.
I mean NOT ONE of the barmen who put up with our shit has been nominated as far as I know – and they should be. They really deserve sainthood. Like the Little Switzerland barkeep who watched as we emptied the fine display of pampas grass in the foyer, stuck the stalks up our naked rears, set fire to the fronds and ran around the hotel corridors where innocent paying guests were slumbering, yelling “Flaming A’s! Call the Fire Brigade!” A pram was commandeered in the mock fire-fighting response – enough said, a grown man in a pram going Whee! Whaa!Whee! Whaa! – A fiasco.
Also a sainthood for Mother Mary, who loaned me her grey 1970 Ford Cortina to take an Aussie Exchange student there one night.
On the way back I thought I heard faint snoring and a swish-swish-swish sound from far away. I woke up to find I was going along at a fair rate with tamboekie grass hitting the windscreen, Yabsley the Oz asleep on the seat next to me. I slammed on the anchors and got out to look. I didn’t have a clue if I’d gone off on the right or the left of the road, but following our track back through the long grass we found the road above the pass, reversed and wound our way home much soberer. Had I killed Michael Yabsley I’d have changed the course of Aussie politics, as he went on to become an MP and the Aussie Liberal Party’s federal treasurer.
There should have been a law against drinking and driving.
I do tell my kids to BEHAVE themselves, but I have a hard time keeping a straight face.
I found a 1963 video of Royal Natal National Park.
Fresh from the City of Sin and Laughter, OFS, 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 South African Rotary Exchange students -were bussed 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”. Only one other guy (was he Gary or was he heading to Gary, Indiana?) 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 eating burgers n fries till he fetched us as arranged.
After three hours sleep, we were taken back to JFK where we split up. Some of us boarded a HUGE helicopter for the hop over to La Guardia airport from where I would be going on to Oklahoma, OFS – uh, USA.