David Bruce: Travel Anecdotes

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Dr. Samuel Johnson at Work: A Portrait by Joshua Reynolds (Public Domain)

James Boswell once said about a well-known tourist destination that the pleasure of seeing it wasn’t worth even half a guinea. His friend Samuel Johnson replied, “But, sir, there is half a guinea’s worth of inferiority to other people in not having seen it.”

Peggy Fleming’s career as a skater and TV announcer took her all over the world, separating her from her young son, Todd. So Todd wouldn’t feel left out, and so he would feel as if a part of him were with her, Ms. Fleming took one of his shoes along on her trips. Todd’s shoe has been photographed in such places as in front of the Eiffel Tower, on a street crowded with Bulgarians, and on a frozen canal in Russia. The shoe was even interviewed by ABC announcer Jim McKay at the Edmonton World Championships. During the interview, Mr. McKay said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have brought you many unforgettable moments over the years but truly nothing quite like this one. To my knowledge this is the first time that any commentator has had the opportunity to interview the shoe of Todd Jenkins, son of Olympic champion Peggy Fleming. How does it feel to be here today?” The shoe made no comment.

Charles Darwin made a famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, during which he gathered evidence that supported the theory of evolution. However, he very nearly did not make the voyage. The ship’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, was looking for a companion during the long voyage, and he set up a meeting with Mr. Darwin to determine if he would be a suitable companion. During the meeting, he looked carefully at Mr. Darwin’s nose, because he thought that noses revealed a great deal about a man’s character. Mr. Darwin’s nose was wide and flat, and Captain FitzRoy thought that his nose revealed that he would be a bad companion on a long voyage. However, Mr. Darwin’s conversation was interesting, and Captain FitzRoy took him along during the voyage despite the shape of his nose.

Jerry Clower used to tell funny stories at meetings at which he sold fertilizer. At one meeting, someone in the audience taped him, then sent the tape to MCA Records. The people at MCA telephoned Mr. Clower and told him that the next time he was in the vicinity of Los Angeles to come in and talk with them about recording for them. Mr. Clower replied, “I ain’t never gonna be in that vicinity. Fellow, you don’t leave Yazoo City, Mississippi, and just drop by Los Angeles.” However, Mr. Clower kept talking, and he discovered that MCA Records had contracts with country singers Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe, Jeannie Pruett, Ernest Tubb, and Conway Twitty, so he signed a five-year contract, and 30 days later he had his first gold record.

“Shoeless Joe” Jackson played baseball in South Carolina, and he was good enough to be signed by Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, who sent a man to escort “Shoeless Joe” up north. Unfortunately, Shoeless Joe was a country boy who was afraid to go up north, and when the train stopped in Charlotte, North Carolina, “Shoeless Joe” made a dash for freedom, jumped from the train, eluded his escort, and went back home. He was right to worry about going up north. He was illiterate, and when he did go to Philadelphia, his teammates made fun of his confusion in a restaurant when he was given a menu. “Shoeless Joe” didn’t demonstrate just how good of a baseball player he was until he started playing for Cleveland.

Australian Theresa McCracken once traveled thousands of miles through Africa, riding on a barge down the Congo River. During one memorable stop, a male immigration official went through her luggage, where he found several tampons. He had never seen tampons before, so he asked what they were. Ms. McCracken was loathe to tell him, but fortunately her friend and fellow traveler Susan solved the problem. She tied several tampons to her hat and told the immigration official that they were used in Australia to keep away flies. Afterward, Theresa bought Susan a beer and told her, “If you wear that hat back in Australia, you’ll keep away more than just the flies.”

In 1928, when Amelia Earhart became the first woman passenger to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, the reception the airplane got when it touched down off the coast of Burry Point, Wales, was surprising. Although the plane was tied to a buoy a half mile from shore, no one came out in a boat to greet them and give them a ride to shore. Ms. Earhart even tried waving a white handkerchief, but a man on shore simply took off his coat and waved it back at her. Finally, a boat came and gave them a lift to dry land.

When Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, wished to sail to the Cannibal Islands, he also wished to take his family, including his aged mother, Maggie, with him. Concerned for his mother’s safety, Mr. Stevenson asked the ship’s captain, A.H. Otis, what he would do if Maggie fell overboard. The sea captain replied, “Put it in the log.”

In the old days, traveling alone was very dangerous. Jews believed that if an unidentified corpse was found on a road between two cities that the citizens of the two cities needed to meet and say, “Our hands did not spill this blood. It was not because we allowed this traveler to leave our city unaccompanied that he died.”

In the late 1700s, roads in the United States were poor. Often, ruts were so bad that the drivers of stagecoaches would tell passengers to lean left or right in order to keep the stagecoach from tipping over. When the driver asked, “Now, Gentlemen, to the right,” the passengers would lean to the right with half their bodies out of the stagecoach.

Amy Lowell intensely disliked the members of the Cabot family. Once, she was about to sail to Europe, but she suddenly disembarked, saying, “There are 16 Cabots aboard that ship and God is unlikely to forego such a wonderful opportunity.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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