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The Wide Wide World

How long can you live, how far can you travel, on $400? From 1971 to 1972 the answers for Rick were two years and halfway around the world.

First a hitchhike to NY City and a flight on Air Icelandic to Luxembourg, the hippies' gateway to Europe. Then a bad day hitchhiking in France followed by the purchase of a Mobylette (moped) which was driven, 100 freezing cold and snowy miles a day, to sunny Barcelona. A seven day boat trip to the Canary Islands, an abandoned stone house on the beach, a field of constantly ripening tomatoes, a Swedish girl whose single payer health care system sent her on an all expenses paid 'recuperation' trip for some healthy sunshine every year, total bliss for four months.

A flight to Marrakesh, some successful kief purchasing and daily central plaza excitement including a man having his tooth pulled out with a pair of pliers. Then the money ran out. Hitchhike to Amsterdam – total time seven days, total cost one dollar. Discovering no one had miraculously sent money to him at American Express Rick pursued gainful employment, in a certain sense the first time he ever had a real job, assuming you don't count delivering newspapers, baling hay, painting a junior high school (while his co-workers – all teachers on summer break – played poker), and churning out soft serve at the Dairy Queen for 75 cents an hour (and one 'small' treat daily).

A few weeks in the back room of an auto parts store, then three months sweeping the streets of Den Hague, right in front of Parliament, the Queen's Palace, and the American Embassy (back before they were hunkered down fortresses). His free flowing appearance actually made him a tourist photo op.

In the fall – hitchhike to Israel, where work without pay was readily available on the kibbutzes. But they did give you all the wretched wine you could drink (Sabbath night only) and all the even more wretched cigarettes you could smoke (Nadiv – never smoke a Nadiv, even if it's your only cigarette). Rick picked oranges, dug potatoes, shoveled cow manure, pruned pear trees and regularly cavorted with the short stuff – students on a group trip who only stayed for a week or two (and wanted a clandestine adventure not to tell their parents about when they got back to Brazil, or Germany, or Canada).

Eventually it was time to leave and the pace quickened. Picked up a new passport in Cyprus to get rid of the dreaded Israeli stamp. Flew to Lebanon, tried to sell blood but wasn't healthy enough. Up into the hills of Bsharri, birthplace of Khalil Gibran and home of the Cedars of Lebanon, to regenerate, made friends with a draft dodger and his two girlfriends and two local Arab boys/kids/people Rick's age. The whole gang took a side trip to Baalbek, for the 'see a ton of hashish – a real ton' experience, then to Syria.

Rick was sequestered by Palestinians for being an Israeli spy, released and given a cup of tea, then kept on moving down to Jordan, where he was able to cross back into Israel, but did get arrested for spending the night in no man's land, and again for being friends with the American, who had a hash pipe. Two jailbreaks later he was back in Amman.

A hitch to Baghdad, a hitch to Kuwait to sell blood for ten Kuwaiti Dinars, a smugglers' boat across the Persian Gulf to Iran (Q. How many shirts can you wear at one time? A. Dozens, if it prevents you from being arrested by customs control). Hitch to Tehran, bus to Afghanistan, where Rick picked up amoebic dysentery that stuck with him (perhaps that's not the appropriate phrase) for five months and eventually trimmed him to a svelte 125 pounds.

A glorious month in Afghanistan, capped by standing on top of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan, notable for being destroyed by the Taliban 30 years later. All the while enjoying freshly hand pressed black Afghan hash, probably the best in the world at the time (rumor has it the kids scoff at it now). And huge juicy mangoes, bread baked in sunken clay cylinders while you waited, dirt and noise and rubble and always a sense of trouble to be had if you wanted it. Reading 'Be Here Now.'

Finally India – on his 21st birthday. Sleeping inside the Golden Temple, having his flip flops stolen at the Taj Mahal, being drugged in his hotel room by scam artists, riding the trains without tickets, getting put in a train's prison car, and a rifle pointed at him when he tried to cross the border into Nepal after hours.

A month in Nepal – the nadir of his life – smoking temple ganja all day long and not doing much else. Let's be blunt – not doing anything else. Then a return to India and voila! enlightenment, or a western version of it. Hepatitis, meditating in Haridwar, picking a gunny sack of flowers every morning, bathing in the Ganges, amoeba beasts tamed if not eliminated by his first herbal cure. Ayurvedic, one presumes.

Then a flight home to Iowa for Christmas, but first being robbed at three knife points on the way to the airport and an extra week in Delhi recovering his passport from the judge who wanted to hold it 'as evidence' in case the thieves were miraculously apprehended sometime in the indeterminable future. Scoffing at that theory when it was first presented, in front of a courtroom of Indian lawyers who were momentarily all ears and no tongues, was not the smartest thing Rick ever did. Getting down on his knees in the same courtroom a week later and begging the same judge in front of the same pack of lawyers listening just as intently … unfeigned humility can definitely be liberating.

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