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Taken For Granted: Talking to my neighbors abroad

April 28, 2011|By Pat Grant

Snippets of interesting conversation are the special dividends of travel. They result from the surprising openness, almost intimacy, of sojourners confined to the metal bubble of a plane, boat, cab or train.

A flight to Miami, stops in Florida to see friends and a train ride up the East Coast to New York, last November, refreshed my sense of the human diversity that so enriches our great country. The focus of the trip was a reunion of the Navy junior officers I served with during the Vietnam War. The following are brief “outtakes” from conversations with those I met along the way.

My seatmate on the plane was coincidentally a Vietnam War Army vet headed to a reunion of his old helicopter crew. He confided that his limp was the result of a recent surgery to remove a piece of shrapnel he had taken home from Nam as a “souvenir” some 40 years ago. It had remained dormant all those years, finally working its way down his foot and causing him great pain.

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At the reunion I observed that the comrades of my youth had all aged noticeably, while I alone retained my youthful good looks, if you squint and ignore my lack of hair, wrinkles, 40-pound overhang and limp. The oft-repeated “sea stories” have become more extravagant and thrilling with each retelling. As our ranks have thinned, we make a valiant effort to recapture the enthusiasm of those shipmates who first told the tale but are no longer with us.

A cab ride to the train station had a talkative cabbie describing the generosity and friendliness of Yankee and Phillies players he had transported during spring training in St Petersburg. Another late-night cab ride with a bunch of strangers resulted in a chat with a young woman who had done production and editing work on a couple of Ann Rice vampire movies.

A train stop in Charleston and a ferry ride out to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired 150 years ago, provided an exchange with an avid fan of UConn’s great women’s basketball team. He expressed pessimism as to the team’s fortunes this season because they had lost five starting seniors. He was right. They did not repeat as national champions.

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