One of the most common questions people ask, particularly travelers, is “Where are you from?”
Conversations between strangers often happen by finding common ground on a topic to discuss. Religion and politics and issues can be controversial starter topics.
Places are safe to talk about as an ice breaker for words.
Hotel travel for me is really a way to hang out in cities and leave again with no strings attached.
I started this piece over two months ago on the drive home from Colorado Springs to Monterey, California following the May 2013 Boarding Area conference for travel bloggers. Then I decided it was too Wonder Years for publishing. Then again, knowing my history might help regular readers understand where I am coming from. This piece can then be filed away on the About page of Loyalty Traveler.
I lived in many places growing up as a child. As a traveler I often find a connection with people I meet by talking about the places I have been, the places they have been and hopefully finding places we have both been to share stories on common grounds.
Of course, we can always talk about where we are.
So here is my wonder years answer to the traveler question:
“Where are you from?”
I am from Monterey, California.
However, I did not live in the Monterey area from the ages of 3 to 15 (1963-75) and 25 to 41 (1985-2001). And during the years when I was 17 to 25, I regularly left California to travel around the U.S.
I lived in Florida, Hawaii, Nevada and Vermont for a period of weeks to more than a year between 1977 and 1981. I have lived in ten different states, although the majority of my life has been lived in four different areas of California: 22 years around Monterey on the Central Coast, 9 years in Eureka-Arcata on the north coast of California in Humboldt County, 5 years in Davis in California’s Central Valley while attending UC Davis and working in Sacramento, about 3 years in Covina in extended-stay bursts of a week to a year in Los Angeles County as a child with many trips over the decades since to see family, although most of my relatives are gone from the area now. Aside from five years in one apartment in Davis, California, most of the time in Monterey and Eureka was broken up by months and years living and working in some other state and then returning to California.
To this day I have never lived in a city of more than 50,000 people. Monterey, California is 28,246 residents according to Wikipedia. That is down by 1,000 to 2,000 people based on the old Monterey City limits road signs around town. I have even lived a few years of my life in several towns of less than 2,000 residents. Everyone might not know your name, but rest assured they know your business.
Major impressions shaping my outlook on life were developed through the places I lived and experiences there.
- New Mexico
- *Germany – I also lived and attended American school for three years in West Germany in 1969-70 and 1974-75.
The Wonder Years
Fort Ord Army Base is where I was born in 1960, five miles from Monterey, California. My father, born in San Francisco, enlisted in the U.S. Army as an NCO, non-commissioned officer. An NCO is like a working class military soldier.
Fort Ord is now a National Monument and the backcountry of Fort Ord preserves a wild landscape in many ways similar to what coastal California would have looked like centuries ago.
My father was active military from the time I was born in 1960 and up to near year-end 1975. Then, for the next 20 years he was military civil service at Fort Ord.
Our family consisted of my older sister (by 4 years) and younger sister (by 5 years). The first three years of my life were around Fort Ord and the towns of the Monterey Peninsula and fields of Salinas, California. Then my father went to Vietnam in 1963 for his first of three tours.
From 1963 to 1975 we moved at some point in every calendar year to a different house, and usually to a different city and state. In 1975 my father retired after 20 years military service. I was 15 years, 10 months old when we moved to Marina, California, ten miles north of Monterey, California.
Dad’s from San Francisco
My father was born and raised in San Francisco, California. I was 31 years old before I learned his father was a citizen of the Philippines until 1946 and his mother was a Mexican citizen until 1958. As a child I knew my paternal grandparents were born outside the USA. I was unaware they were not U.S. naturalized Americans until they were in their 40s; information I learned as we cleaned out the San Francisco house to sell after my grandmother died.
The family oral tradition is passed down from my mother’s side. They were the storytellers. My father’s side of the family is much more of a mystery, even today.
My memory of my paternal grandparents is primarily centered on the house in San Francisco where my father grew up. When my grandmother died in 1991, the house was sold.
The house in San Francisco always kind of freaked me out with a metal gate between the house porch and front door. I told myself as a child that I never wanted to live in a place where I felt the need for metal gates to lock me safe indoors and keep people out.
Our family house for 60 years in St. Mary’s Park, San Francisco.
Mom’s a Southern California Valley Girl
My mother is old school ‘Valley Girl’. Her family and extended family moved from Arkansas to the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County during World War II when she was a child.
My vision was Beverly Hillbillies style relocation with an old Ford truck loaded with household possessions and Granny in the rocking chair on the back. My exposure to multi-channel TV of L.A. in the early 60s skewed my view. Mom says she arrived in Los Angeles in the 1940s by train and not Route 66. Although she says her family took Route 66 in the 1940s and 50s for summer road trips back to Arkansas.
Mom says the movie American Graffiti depicting California’s Central Valley town life in the early 1960s reminds her of being a teenager in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles in the early 1950s when there were still more orchard trees than houses. I remember when the last strawberry fields near my grandparents’ home in Covina were paved over for a shopping center.
“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” – Joni Mitchell Big Yellow Taxi (1970).
My mother is the spider in the center of the family web. She is the matriarch of an extended family that connects lives, relatives and places.
The Wonder Years
Salinas and Marina, California 1960-62.
I had a childhood memory in my grade school years of pine forests as I moved around the US and Europe. In 1973, at the age of 13 and the beginning of 8th grade, my mother drove my sisters and I from southern California to Monterey on a road trip to take my older sister to University of California Santa Cruz. This was the first time in a decade I returned to Monterey, California. I realized then my childhood memory of living in a forest was actually the Monterey Pine forests of the Monterey Peninsula where I was born. I currently live in the city of Monterey surrounded by pines and oaks and views of the Pacific Ocean in Monterey Bay.
1963-64 Covina, California with my mother’s parents while my father was in Vietnam for his first tour of duty in Vietnam. There were times when seven or more of us lived in a two bedroom house with one toilet. On Sundays my southern country grandmother cooked all morning and typically 10 to 20 family members and friends would stop by the small house to eat and talk with a view of Mt. Baldy on days clear enough to see the mountains. San Gabriel Valley was pretty damn smoggy in the 60s and 70s. Fortunately, there was a large backyard to spread out and play around the place.
Lawton, Oklahoma 1964
My dad was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma after he returned from Vietnam. We lived in a trailer and then my father was sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama for flight school. Alone with two kids, my mom freaked out when a tornado came around and destroyed Wichita Falls, TX. She packed up our stuff in a couple of days and drove my sister and I to Alabama. About 70 miles from Fort Rucker the radio blasted a tornado alert and she cursed herself for not going back to her parents house in southern California where the weather is seldom life-threatening.
Fort Rucker Alabama 1964.
My only memory of living in the deep south was deciding one day that I could navigate my way home along the street I lived with my eyes closed. I felt my way along the dirt road touching the white picket fences and walked into my house and through the living room and into the bathroom to tell my mom how I could see with my eyes closed. Turns out that when I opened my eyes, the woman in the shower was not my mom and when I walked into the living room, the man on the couch was not my dad. I walked right out of the house without either of the adults talking to me and continued to walk back to my house with my eyes open.
My mother’s stories of segregated communities of that time are serious history. When she drove my older sister and I to Alabama to live with my father, she worried we would all be shot since she was driving through Mississippi and Alabama in a car with California license plates during the 1964 civil rights conflicts in Alabama.
Fort Sill, Oklahoma 1965-66 for kindergarten. My primary memory is learning to ride a bicycle.
Covina, California 1966-67 for 1st grade while my father served a second tour of duty in Vietnam. We lived in an apartment complex with an outdoor swimming pool. I was a strong swimmer as a kid.
Fort Sill and Lawton,Oklahoma 1967-69. 2nd and 3rd grade. One of the strongest impressions of this time was seeing Fort Sill Indian School, a place surrounded by high wire fences. I also learned the apache warrior Geronimo died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
About the Boarding School Experience:
In the late 1800s, policy makers assumed the Indians would change if they were kept away from their traditional ways. Reformers believed that with the proper education and treatment, Indians could become just like other citizens. They convinced the leaders of Congress that education could change at least some of the Indian population into patriotic and productive members of society. For the government, it was a possible solution to the so-called “Indian problem.”
“The early boarding school era was not pleasurable by any means for the first American Indian students who experienced it,” said Phyllis Wahahrockah-Tasi, CNMCC Executive Director. “Students had their hair cut short and their traditional clothing was replaced with daily uniforms. They were also made to participate in mandatory military-style marching drills,” Wahahrockah-Tasi said. The children were immediately taught English and were forced to speak their new language at all times. Use of native language was strictly forbidden and harsh punishment often ensued for those who broke the rules. In some cases, students were whipped for being disobedient. This type of punishment was foreign to the students for Indian parents never struck their children. Indians considered whipping a disgrace and believed it broke a child’s proud spirit.
“The boarding school experience helped shaped our American Indian people into what we have become today. Just about every Indian in southwest Oklahoma has some tie to Fort Sill Indian School. Our ancestors endured a lot. This exhibit pays tribute them and every other FSIS student who rose from the unpleasantness to make the school into a proud institution of learning for American Indians from all across the country.” Wahahrockah-Tasi said.
Cowboys and Indians
The outdoors of Oklahoma were my play places. I recall playing with dinosaur bones we found in the fields. In reality they were bones from cattle that had died over the years of cattle drives across the Oklahoma lands.
1969 Astronauts reach the moon.
July 1969 my father and I were returning from San Francisco to my grandparents house in southern California. Dad pulled off the highway and took me into a bar to watch the moon landing. My mother asked me about that a couple months back thinking my dad was telling her senile stories about me and the moon landing. This was in the days long before bars were mommy and daddy stroller-friendly and it was highly unusual for children to be in a California bar. The moon landing was a special once-in-a-lifetime TV event. Rules were broken that day to let me watch history.
Covina, California Fall 1969. I attended two months of 4th grade during the time my father was stationed at a small air base outside Stuttgart, Germany waiting for family housing to become available.
Learning to Fly
In October 1969 my mother flew with me, my 14-year old sister and 4-year old sister from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. Up to that time in my life I had probably been on a couple of short flights, but I don’t really remember air travel. I had spent thousands of miles in the backseat of a car traveling the desert southwest, Texas and Oklahoma.
Philadelphia was my first time seeing an east coast city. My impression as a 9-year old walking the streets of Philadelphia was an old and dirty place compared to California.
First International Flight
I spent my first night sleeping on an airport floor waiting for a military transit flight to Germany. (I have spent a few more nights sleeping on airport floors since then.)
Nellingen, Germany (outside Stuttgart, Germany) 1969-70. Part of 4th grade and 5th grade.
Germany was intense as a kid finding myself in a different culture. My exposure to German life was a segregated one as a child in an American school on a small American Army air base in the countryside outside Stuttgart. Life seemed to be lived mostly in our small American community or traveling to other military bases in the area for sports games and shopping. We traveled to some areas of Germany, but not a significant amount of travel.
On New Year’s Eve the American radio station on the base played a U.S. broadcast of the top 100 songs of the 60s. Hey Jude by the Beatles was #1 song of the decade.
Our family took a road trip to Florence, Italy in summer 1970. We stayed in a luxury hotel in Parma, Italy for $14 per night where I first experienced a motion sensor sink and learned about a bidet. Pax Americana was cracking by 1974 when we returned to Germany for two years. Hotels had become much more expensive in Europe and camping became our modus operandi.
As well as the little alterations of living in a European country in turbulent 1969 and 1970, (ever seen Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers?), I recall when there was a revolution on the military base and all residents were ordered to stay inside with our curtains closed. I peaked outside at times to see military vehicles with mounted machine guns patrolling the streets.
In August 1968 one of the most significant mutinies of the Vietnam War took place at Ft. Hood, Texas. On August 23, 100 Black soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division met to discuss racism and the use of troops against civilians-43 GIs then publicly announced that if called they would refuse to go to Chicago for riot duty during the Democratic Party National Convention. Over half of the Ft. Hood 43 were Vietnam combat veterans. Technically guilty of mutiny, which is a capital offense in the U.S. military, the 43 were arrested. But given the political atmosphere in the military and U.S. society generally at that time, the brass decided to hush up the mutiny as much as possible and to give out light sentences and transfers to the 43.
Meanwhile in West Germany, where many commentators say “racial tensions” were the sharpest inside the military at that time, important developments also occurred. On July 4, 1970 nearly 1,000 GIs of all nationalities met at Heidelberg University for a conference called by Black GIs to discuss U.S. military and economic activities in Vietnam and around the globe as well as racism in the military.
A little over two months later, at the U.S. Nellingen base in West Germany, following months of rising tensions, Black and white GIs threatened to blow up the entire base.
According to one account: “Their warnings were not idle threats, for two firebombs had already gone off in the early morning at an MP station near the base gate. Frightened commanders responded by mobilizing truckloads of MPs and imposing a 6:30 p.m. curfew. At about 9 p.m. that evening, however, approximately 100 GIs deliberately broke the curfew and marched through the base shouting ‘Revolution’ and ‘Join us’ to fellow GIs.”
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico 1971-72 where I attended part of 5th and 6th grade. Las Cruces, New Mexico was the nearest city 27 miles west over the mountains on US Route 70. El Paso, Texas, 51 miles south across the flat desert, for shopping and services not on WSMR. Dad was back in Vietnam for the third tour, Mom was driving 90+mph in a big 454 horsepower station wagon across the deserts, the American landscape culture was changing through activist and hippie history where some people were demanding change in American policies and lifestyles, while others were dropping out of American traditional society, and I would wander with my young friends up mountain trails to hike the nice days away from the housing area and swimming pools on the missile range base in the valley. There was a cool mountain stream for swimming in pools under the trees.
White Sands Missile Range is where the Atomic Age started in 1945. I spent one year in New Mexico focused on exploring the desert landscape. I never encountered a rattlesnake walking desert trails with my friends. One time hiking with two friends, I believed they were playing a prank on me once again when they said a tarantula was crawling up my leg. They had fooled me so many times that I refused to react until I saw tears in Earl’s eyes. Then I looked down at my legs to see a large hairy tarantula crawling on my pants above my knee. I knocked it off and we killed the unfortunate creature.
I wonder to this day how much radioactivity I was exposed to hiking and camping in the desert of White Sands Missile Range? Seems like the families sent out to the desert were some kind of test subjects in an X-Files kind of way.
I read many National Geographic magazines about global pollution that year while sitting in a mostly pristine looking high desert environment that had been poisoned in many nearby locations by radiation.
To this day I wonder why there are not more people concerned about the environment? In 1971 my first ecology poster went on the wall. Or more likely it was my older sister’s wall first.
Who remembers this symbol?
I purchased my first record album in El Paso, Texas – James Gang Thirds. I was listening to Joe Walsh years before he joined the Eagles.
Some tough kid gave me a Rolling Stones album for my 10th birthday in Germany, but I preferred James Gang. My two LP-record start for an album collection that grew to over 1,000 titles by the time I landed a record store job in a two-guy shop in Marina, California in 1979. In 1980 I was offered a radio show on KAZU in Pacific Grove, my dream job. I already had made plans to move to Vermont. But I am getting ahead of myself in the wonder years. 1979 is part of my ‘Wander Years’.
1972-73 Newport News and Fort Eustis, Virgina.
Living in Newport News, Virginia was the first time I was personally conscious of institutionalized racism. My family lived on the city’s segregation line for blacks and whites. My older sister and I were the only non-blacks who rode the public school busses to our schools. The first social event I attended at a classmate’s house was in a neighborhood where Asians, Hispanics and Blacks were not allowed to swim in the community pool. My classmates thought I was a Native American from New Mexico due to the dark color of my sun-baked skin after 13 months in the desert. My nickname for two years was ‘Mohawk’. I never went swimming in that segregated residential community pool even though I hung out there frequently courting the ‘white’ girls. The military base pool where I swam on Fort Eustis was not segregated.
At this time the TV show Kung Fu aired with actor David Carradine. My travel dream was to walk around the country with my only possessions in a small bag I could carry as I rambled the world. Today we are a household with two iPhones, mini iPad, iPad and laptop. They all fit in one backpack.
We road tripped and camped in Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and England over the two years we lived in Germany.
My family always felt John Hughes’ screenplay for the European Vacation movie was based on our travel experiences a decade earlier.
There are some funny stories to share from our years living in Germany.
Stories for another Story Saturday.
Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.