By Chester Campbell
Where do you get your ideas, people are always asking writers. I got to thinking about this and realized at my age it’s a matter of which ones do you keep and which ones do you toss out. If you follow the old dictum of write what you know, that boils down to what have you experienced?
I haven’t done everything, of course. I never climbed Mt. Everest or swam the English Channel. Somehow those never got on my to-do list. Heck, I never even ballooned across the Straits of Gibraltar or parasailed in Paraguay (just threw that one in for the sake of alliteration).
I wish I could remember more about all the places I’ve been and seen. My Dad liked to maneuver cars over bumpy roads back when that was about all we had. When I was quite small, we drove to places like New York and Chicago, where my mother had siblings. All I remember of New York was the bed that pulled out of the wall in my aunt’s flat and getting scared out of my gourd on the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building. You could walk right out and gaze down from the railing in those days.
All I recall from one trip to Chicago was getting bonked in the nose by a baseball while playing with cousins who spoke a strange language called Yankee. I have only vague recollections of attending the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934. I was eight at the time. Looking at photos on the website, I saw one at the Enchanted Island on the Midway that could have been my mother bending down talking to me.
It’s funny how you remember little snapshots of the distant past. I recall a ceramic washbasin and water pitcher in a tourist cabin on U.S. 41 somewhere north of Nashville. They had strips of flypaper hanging around to trap the flitting varmints.
The memories become more vivid as I aged a bit. On one trip to Florida to visit a great uncle who had a farm near St. Augustine, I had another frightening experience as a result of fog on the road leading into the town. Due to conditions resembling a whiteout, Dad missed a turn and we wound up at the edge of the Atlantic, with the surf slurping around the tires.
I have since traveled around most areas of the U.S. and in several foreign lands. My first trip to the Far East, and my first shipboard venture, came in 1952 courtesy of Uncle Sam and a bit of unpleasantness called the Korean War. I have a 16-page letter I wrote to my wife during the voyage over aboard the USNS Gen. W. F. Hase. Today I read all the way through it for the first time since I wrote it. In it I mentioned working on a mystery story, but I have no idea what happened to it. I haven’t run across it in the last 56 years.
My first overseas junket since Korea came in 1984 when my wife and I embarked on an almost three-week grand tour of Europe. Traveling with a group from Nashville, we landed in Amsterdam. Our bus took us to Cologne, then we cruised the Rhine to north of Heidelberg, driving on to Munich where we took a side trip to the Concentration Camp at Dachau (it was a gray, dreary day that set the mood for the horrors experienced there). From southern Germany we traveled to Lucerne, then Innsbruck, and through the striking Brenner Pass to Venice.
After doing the mandatory gondola ride and touring St. Mark’s Square, we headed on to Florence, climbed the Leaning Tower in Pisa, and drove to Rome. This was one of our three-day stops to make time for the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Catacombs, and a side trip to the Tivoli Gardens. Then it was up the coastal highway to the French Riviera, Monte Carlo and Nice. After hitting the major spots in Paris, we traveled to Calais, boarded a hovercraft to Dover, and wound up in London. We had another three-day stop to see such sights as Westminster, the Tower of London, the Changing of the Guard, and a cruise on the Thames. We made a day trip to Bath and Stonehenge, then headed back to Atlanta.
As an association executive, I attended annual conventions all over the U.S., including Hawaii, plus Acapulco and Toronto, taking side tours in the process. In 1987, as I mentioned in last week’s blog, we spent a month touring the Far East with my son, who was in Army Special Forces, and daughter-in-law.
We began at Travis Air Force Base in the San Francisco Bay area. Since I’m an Air Force retiree, my wife and I flew from there to Tokyo aboard a C-5 for $10 each. From Tokyo, we flew to Korea on a C-117. It was my first visit to Seoul, where I was stationed in 1952-3, since the war. What a change. We also toured Okinawa and Singapore, including the Tiger Balm Gardens (now called Haw Par Villa). In Thailand, we visited a plethora (I don't use that word in books) of Buddhist temples in Bangkok, crossed the Bridge over the River Kwai, and flew north to the mountain town of Chiang Mai (I understand the city has grown considerably since my visit). While there we shopped at a village where they made colorful umbrellas of all sizes and watched elephants haul logs at an Elephant Nature Park.
From Thailand we headed to Hong Kong. We visited a friend’s daughter’s high-rise condo that looked over what was then a British colony, dined at an interesting Chinese restaurant (what else), shopped the Kowloon malls among hordes of Orientals, and enjoyed speedily crossing the bay on the Star Ferry. Our tour ended in Manila, where we bused out to the Subic Bay Naval Base in hopes of getting a space-available flight back to the States. After a day at the Cubi Point Air Station, it became obvious we’d have a long wait, so we returned to Manila and flew home on Northwest.
Shortly after my wife died early in 1998, I took a 14-day Holy Land tour with my brother’s Sunday School class. We flew into Amman, Jordan, visited the striking stone-carved facades in Petra, then moved on to Israel. We hit most of the main biblical sites from the Old and New Testaments. Some of the more striking were Masada, the Dead Sea, the Mount of Olives, the Temple Mount, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, and the Golan Heights. We wound up touring Haifa, Tel Aviv, and the ancient port city of Jaffa.
My last major foreign fling took place in August of 2000 after Sarah and I were married. We did a tour of France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. We saw more of Paris than on my 1984 trip, visiting the Louvre and Eiffel Tower among others. We also visited General Patton’s grave in Luxembourg. Most of our time was spent touring Austria and Switzerland. We took the cog railway from Zermatt up to a perch above 10,000 feet, looking across at the majestic Matterhorn. We visited the cheese town of Gruyere, Zurich, Berne, took a boat ride on Lake Geneva, covered much of Austria, including Vienna.
I took my first non-military cruise last fall with my high school alumni group. We sailed out of Mobile on Carnival's smallest ship, making ports of call at Cozumel and Progreso on the Yucatan Peninsula. Unfortunately, Sarah has an inner ear problem, and the Gulf of Mexico was not kind to the small ship or to her. I enjoyed the trip, though I can't say that was the case for Sarah.
So, the question is, has all this traveling experience made it into my books? Not as much as it should have, probably. But my first published mystery, Secret of the Scroll, is based on my trip to the Holy Land. Some of my earlier novels yet to see the likes of a typesetter involve several of my travels. One takes place in Korea, another has portions in Hong Kong.
I haven’t given up on using lots more, however. Stay tuned.