Bob said, "Great! Yeah! Okay! I could do that!"
We went through Texas, saw downtown New Orleans, and hitchhiked through the South until we got over into Florida. It was too soon to go home and we wanted to keep going so we flipped a coin: Europe or South America. Europe won.
We really weren't sure what we were going to do, but I thought, Well, maybe we can get a job on a boat or something. At that time, in 1963, we knew of no commercial traffic to Europe from the Florida ports so we went looking.
We got stuck in Olar, South Carolina for three days. Olar wasn't much bigger than a hiccup, and that made us turn around and go to the main town, Bamberg. From there we hitchhiked north on a main road until we got to Norfolk, Virginia, a huge seaport.
We went from boat to boat asking the captains if they needed workers. Finally we got to a Norwegian coal freighter that looked something like this:
We walked over to this one and the captain listened to our story and told us, "Okay, I'll give you a job. You'll work on the boat and I'll feed you and dump you out in Rotterdam, Holland. It will take about two weeks."
We were ecstatic. We went back down the gangplank and as we were walking on down the dock, another young man was standing there. He called out to us, "Well, did you guys have any luck?"
I told him, "Yeah, actually we did. The captain says he will hire us. He's gonna let us work for our passage."
He griped, "That's disgusting! I've been walking up and down these docks for three weeks and I haven't even gotten an offer." The guy told us his name was Dutch Vandervort. He was the ripe old age of 26.
Dutch looked at us with some calculation in his eye. "Ya know," he said, "Maybe I can ask you guys. I have all my papers. I've got my passport and everything's in order. Do you think you could stow me away on that freighter?
I glanced at my friend Bob, then I looked this guy over more carefully. He seemed like a nice guy. I shrugged and agreed, "Sure, why not?"
We didn't have a lot of time so we decided we had to hustle. Dutch looked a bit like me and we had worn these funny rain ponchos with hoods on them to our interview with the captain. None of the crew had gotten a good look at us. They had never seen us before and they did not kow who we were.
When it was time, Bob and I boarded the ship wearing the ponchos again. The stevedores were loading the coal onto the ship. All the guys who worked on the boat were going up and down the gangplank like crazy and there were people walking all over in the organized chaos.
Bob and I sniffed around all over the ship looking for a place to hide our new friend. The whole front of the ship was coal bins being filled with the coal. The people places -- sleeping quarters and eating places -- were behind the coal bins. The bridge was up above and the engine was in the bottom.
We went to the upper deck and by the smokestack, at the very top above the bridge, there was a big pile of old pallets and weird boards and things like that. Behind them, between the smokestack and the boards was a little cubbyhole. It looked perfect.
I made sure I said hello to several of the crew as I made my way back down the gangplank to fetch Dutch. When I got to the bottom, I told Dutch about the cubbyhole between the smokestack and the boards and we switched outfits. Dutch put on my poncho and went right up the gangplank confidently. He walked across the ship to the very top and then crawled into the cubbyhole where he hid.
Since Bob and I were the guys who actually had work-away passages, I didn't even care about getting stopped on my way back onto the ship. I walked on-board again. Even though I had no poncho, everybody just assumed I was me, and I was me so there was no problem.
One of the crew showed us our little cabin right above the ship's propeller, which was the lowest of the low. All night long you could hear the turning of this massive screw underneath our little bunks. The bunks shook with the vibrations.
We set sail. It was evening time and when it got dark, Bob and I set off around the ship to discover a better place for Dutch to hide.
The ship was four stories high and it was mostly just giant coal bins. There were four big hatches down the deck and there was a small hatch on the foc'sle in the front of the big hatches. It had a screw-down top. Bob and I unscrewed the small hatch on the foc'sle and looked down inside.
There was a ladder. We climbed in and went down the ladder with our trusty, never-ready flashlights. We just kept going down and down and down to the bottom of the boat until we found ourselves in a room in the bow.
We looked around. Up above the room was a deck -- like a balcony -- where they stored extra lines and klieg lights so people could see down into the holds when they were loading to check how full it was and what was going on. It had thee giant, round pillars, about four feet thick, that were holding up everything. We thought it was perfect.
"God, we could put ole Dutch up here on this balcony thing and nobody would ever find him. This is deep!" (We were absolute novices who knew absolutely nothing.) We decided that was our new plan.
We went to the smokestack in the middle of the night and dug out our friend Dutch. We told him about this place down in the hold and took him to the foc'sle. We cranked up the lid and Dutch disappeared down into the hole, down the ladder. We went to our cabin and the next day we were put to work on the deck chipping rusty paint.
We ate our meals with the crew. They were professional seamen from all over. There were Swedes and Norwegians, of course, but all different kinds of crew were on this boat, including a couple of Spaniards. There were about 30 seamen.
It got dark again and the day had gone by. We had no chance to see what Dutch was up to. We went down after dark to check on him. I cranked open the door on the foc'sle and I hollered, "Dutch, are you down there?"
A little voice down at the bottom answered, "Yeah, I'm down here."
I said, "How's it going?"
"Great," he said. "I set up a hammock and tied it up. I'm staying in that, swinging between two of these big pillars."
I told him, "Hey, you know, we can go into the galley and make some food, so I'll go and make you some sandwiches and I'll throw them down. When I holler, you light a lighter down there or some other light so I can see where to drop them. I'll just drop them over the side. They'll squish a little, but, hey, food's food."
Dutch thought that was a great idea. For the next four days, whenever we got a chance, Bob and I would make up more sandwiches, crank open the lid and drop them down to Dutch.
Every night on the boat, they had a movie for the crew. Most of the movies were in Norwegian or something foreign and they weren't that interesting to Bob and me. We just bowed out, which was reasonable to everybody else, and went to the kitchen to make food.
On the fourth day, we brought Dutch up for a shower. We sneaked him into our little cabin. He got cleaned up and told us how it was going down in the hole. The hard part, he said, was shitting and pissing in a bag. We kept sailing.
On the fifth day out, we hit a hurricane. It was massive. It was burying the bow of the boat under these incredible waves like I'd never seen before. They were washing over the entire deck of the freighter and slamming into the base of the wheelhouse. The officers let us up onto the bridge because they knew we were tourist-y guys and the captain liked us anyway.
This is what it looked like:
On the sixth day the storm subsided. The crew then decided it was time to store their extra hawsers and all the paraphernalia they had on deck from the beginning. They cranked open the foc'sle hatch and lowered down gigantic kleig lights so they could store all of these things in exactly the place where Dutch had his little hammock hanging.
As they lowered all of this stuff down there Dutch had no time to hide. All of a sudden he was caught by these monstrous lights like stadium lights focused so the crew could see what they were doing. They came down right behind the lights.
Dutch was just there in his hammock and one of the crew walked over and said, "What in the world are you?"
Dutch said he squinted up into the lights and replied, "I...am a stowaway."
Our buddy Dutch was busted. At first Bob and I were panicking. We were out on the deck with our little hammers pecking on the rust so, of course, we saw this whole thing going down. Bob and I were both thinking, Oh, my goodness, what have we done.
Up out of the hole came all of the crew with Dutch in tow. As they marched Dutch off to see the captain he mumbled at me as he went by, "Jig's up!"
I laughed at that and I realized, There's no way they can prove we did this. This guy could be an independent stowaway. He could be anything, so we're probably okay, but we don't know what is going to happen to him.
The men took Dutch up to the captain who raised Holy Ned. "I want you to get $10,000 to pay the fines!" he demanded. Then it was $5,000, and then it was $1,000. But Dutch didn't have the equivalent of food stamps. Still, his papers were all in order.
The captain knew that but he blustered on dramatically. As a grand finale, he pulled out his rifle and laid it across his desk. Dutch, the scalawag, walked up to it, picked up the rifle right off the captain's desk, whipped back the bolt and checked out the bore, snapped everything back together and said, "Nice rifle."
The captain was nonplussed at this point. So he took a deep breath and finally sighed, "Okay, well, you are in trouble. You are going to have to work with the other work-aways." He added Dutch as a worker on the manifest.
The next thing we knew our buddy Dutch was down on the deck chipping paint with us. We were a week out of Rotterdam. Because he was the only other American working on the boat, it made perfect sense that we became immediately sound friends.
There were serious suspicions, of course. The captain interrogated my friend Bob and me. We completely denied everything. "We don't know. We never saw this guy before. He's a stowaway. We've got nothing to do with this," we protested. The captain really couldn't prove anything different.
He tried to extort a little bit of money out of us, but we didn't have any money either. "Why would we pay for a stranger anyway?" we asked him./
It so happened that on this vessel there was a reporter for the Norfolk Times who was riding along and doing research for a story. We had gotten to know him some since we were the only other Americans onboard. He wasn't much older than we were.
Later the reporter told us that if the captain reported Dutch as a stowaway when the ship got to Rotterdam, the port authorities would impound the ship in customs until they straightened the whole thing out. Basically, it was $1,000 a day out of the captain's pocket for every day he was tied up. After we heard that, we knew we were okay.
The ship sailed on and we got to Rotterdam. It was an amazingly busy harbor. From 1962 to 1986, Rotterdam was the world's busiest port. (It has since been overshadowed by Asian ports like Singapore and Shanghai.) We were forced to anchor out to wait for a ship to unload the freighter.
Once we were released from duty, off we went in a little ship-to-shore boat to party with our crew of Norwegians and Swedes who are pretty notorious drinkers. Bob and I had made it to Holland!
The crew took us to the seamen's pubs where they kept pouring more and more alcohol into us. It was my first introduction to Heineken's and other European beer. Everybody got as drunk as lords -- us most of all. By the time we got back to the little shelter to wait for the shuttle the seamen were really drunk. My friend Bob and I passed out cold on the benches.
The next thing I knew I was being hoisted up off my bench by my armpits. I looked around and saw that the Dutch police had us. They were arresting us for "drunk and disorderly" because the seamen had gotten carried away and started kicking the hell out of this little building.
Off we went to the hoosegow. Bob and I weren't officially in the country yet and we were already in jail....
The next day the company representative came down to get the seamen out of jail, us included. He was livid. He sputtered, "I can't believe you guys would....you know, two workaways and a stowaway...and I'm risking my boat, impoundment, and horrendous fines!"
He promised, "I am going to take you guys back and dump you out in Norfolk, Virginia! I am not going to put up with this!" He went on, "The Dutch government says they refuse to let you into Europe. You are more trouble than you are worth and you haven't even been checked in through customs yet!"
He hauled us down to Immigration to get our papers sorted out. The guy at Immigration said, "No way. I am not letting you guys in. This is ridiculous, you know. You are a problem, frankly."
Bob and I were thinking: Awww, man! We got all the way to Europe and we're going to have to turn around and go back to Norfolk, Virginia?
Dutch, who wanted to meet his girlfriend in Ibiza, which, at that point was just a deserted little island with some fishermen and guys playing dominoes, was equally disappointed.
We went outside, totally depressed. As we were sitting across the street, we saw the Dutch customs official walk out the door, obviously going to lunch. We all looked at each other. Dutch pointed out, "I bet he didn't tell whoever is in charge during lunch hour about this whole scenario."
We waited until the customs official disappeared around the corner. All three of us marched back into the Immigration office with our crispy, new, clean passports. We laid them on the desk and said, "Here we are! Sign us up! We've made it! We're ready to be in Europe!"
The guy, sure enough, knew absolutely nothing about our recent trouble. He took our passports, checked to see that our papers were in order and he stamped us into Holland. Bam! Bam! Bam! Three legal immigrants on our tourist visas!
We were all squealing inside. We made it! But, we had to get out of the place before the other guy came back from lunch because he was going to be furious and we knew it. We took our stamped passports and raced for the bus station as fast as we could. We hopped on the first bus to Belgium.
Four hours later we were in Antwerp. We had checked out of Holland and were now legally in Europe. Our European journey lasted more than a year. Afterwards I went back to the house where all of this had begun. My friends were still sitting on the couch, still watching t.v. Some of the partners had changed places. I never went back there again.
At the end of our big first journey, Bob went back to Bob-world and I never saw him again. I asked. Nobody knew what happened to him.
Four years after reading ON THE ROAD, the model for the hero of the book, "Dean Moriarty" (in reality, Neal Cassady) was staying at my house in Mexico City and I was riding shotgun with him through the street.