Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Life On Re-Runs

By Pat Browning

In Vienna there was a huge statue of a Russian soldier left over from Cold War days. According to my taxi driver, that statue was “the only Russian soldier who never stole a watch.”

My life seems like a re-run. First it was Buzz Aldrin, one-time moonwalker stalking through the cha-cha on “Dancing With The Stars.” Then it was a TV special on the Pacific battles of World War II. Now we have START (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty), signed in Prague by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The bigwigs always go to Eastern Europe because of Russia. For many years after World War II all of Eastern Europe – except Austria – was the property of the Soviet Union. Austria slipped from its grasp, and Vienna was divided into three zones, American, British and Russian. Sad, scary times. Remember the movie “The Third Man”?

It was a big deal in 1979 when U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet Communist Party Chief, showed up in Vienna to sign the SALT II treaty. And guess who else was in Vienna? The timing wasn’t planned, but there I was.

Vienna just happened to be a stop on my TWA Getaway Tour “The Dalmatian.” I remember the thrill of looking out the window as our plane touched down and taxied past Air Force One – a big beautiful bird with the words United States of America stretched along the side.

Our tour hotel was the Hilton, and the world’s movers and shakers were staying there. I actually walked up to the pressroom on the mezzanine and looked over the handouts. Alas, my brush with the famous consisted of chatting with a woman who rode in the elevator with Tom Brokaw. It was like the old song “I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.”

Vienna remains one of my favorite cities, although I’ve only been back once. I remember it as elegant and historic, with the world’s best coffee and pastries. Its history goes back to the Roman Empire, when it was Rome’s eastern outpost. Its glory days were during the Hapsburg reign. It has a long and tangled history, a subject for another time.

The Europe edition of Time magazine that I bought has somehow survived. Only the back page got ripped off during one of my many moves. The world was a different place in 1979. One of these days I’ll sit down and read the magazine front to back, to remind myself what was going on, what we were reading, the clothes we wore, the music we listened to.

But not tonight.
1) Cover of Time magazine, Europe edition, 25 June 1979.
2) Air Force One, SAM 27000, second of 2 Boeing VC-137C USAF aircraft, customized version of a Boeing 707; entered service in 1972, retired in 2001; on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California; photo from
3) Vienna photo from


Mark W. Danielson said...

The best thing about growing older is having the ability to draw on fabulous memories while still forging new ones.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree, Mark. Pat, how fortunate that your travel agent job took you to such historic sites.

Anonymous said...

Mark, I'm finally getting tired of this stroll down memory lane, but history keeps repeating itself! Pat

Anonymous said...


Doors kept opening. My first 3 or 4visits to Europe were as a travel agent, but once a reporter, always a reporter. I started sending in reports to TravelAge West, a trade journal published in San Francisco, and ended up as a correspondent, and that's when my real travel began.

Those were the days! All the people I worked for and with at TA-West have moved on, and the last time I saw a copy of the magazine it was strictly a canned product.

Believe it or not, in those glory days they paid me 60 cents per printed page for my stuff. The real pay was in top-of-the-line travel, courtesy of airlines, cruise companies and tour operators.


Chester Campbell said...

I know what you mean, Pat. For about a year starting in 1959, I free-lanced for national magazines. Never could make The Saturday Evening Post but had articles in Pageant, The American Legion Magazine, and others. The most fun was a story I picked up while with 5th Air Force in Korea. It involved a clandestine mission to recover a Soviet MiG-15 from an island off the North Korean coast. I had seen the American agent who led the raid at 5th AF Headquarters in Seoul. I interviewed the colonel who was Director of Intelligence at the time, meeting him at Scott AFB. I had to have the story cleared by the Air Force as the agent was still active.

Interesting days to remember.