Coming of Age, 1972: Episode #1

Friday, September 16, 2022

Fifty years ago, today, I boarded a flight in Los Angeles and flew to Luton, just north of London, UK. Thus began the great coming-of-age adventure of my life. My mother and my then girlfriend (Vicki, who has now been my wife for 49 years) saw me off at the airport. In flight, I remember the Rocky Mountains covered with a layer of golden-yellow Aspen trees, ice chunks floating in Hudson Bay, an hour in a duty-free shop beside a snow-cleared runway in Iceland, and the first rays of daylight as we took off from Edinburgh. I was 22, and—unlike today—I had been able to work my way through UCLA with no debts, and graduate with $1,000 in the bank.

I did not walk in the graduation ceremonies. Skipping those expenses gave me another hundred dollars for my voyage. Instead, I walked from my last final exam to a student travel agency and bought my one-way ticket to Europe. The other choice had been Japan, which interested me more, but five years of French would serve me better than my three quarters of Japanese. It was my plan to sojourn for a year in Paris. I would work on making my French useful, and write on the novel from which I had already shown Vicki portions over a year earlier. My last quarter at UCLA had been exhausting. During registration, a counselor pointed out that I had accrued 207 units, and once I went over 208 without graduating, I would not be allowed to register for another quarter. I had transferred in from community college with more than the usual totals, and then decided to add a kinesiology minor and creative writing classes to my history major. I also, wanting to explore what eventually became my career, took the ‘Education of the Mexican-American Child’ class in which I met Vicki. The gist of it was, to complete all my graduation requirements, I needed to take and pass 28 units my final quarter. I may have set the all-time UCLA record for most units to earn a BA. As I returned to campus after buying my ticket, I looked out on the sea of peers who were practicing for the ceremony. Was there even one person I needed to say 'goodbye' to? Vicki came to mind. Our almost-two-year relationship had been friendly, but not romantic, and I did not see much chance that I could find her in the crowd. I did see her roommate, who promised she would pass along my goodbye. My main activity for the summer would be two volunteer sessions as a camp counselor, one with teen diabetics and the second for kids who came largely from Los Angeles Chinatown, where I had been tutoring English during my time at UCLA. One preparatory task for that was interviewing the families for each camper. One of those families spoke only Spanish. I had not yet begun the Spanish which would later serve as my almost-competent second language, so I called Vicki and asked if she would translate for me. On a Saturday morning I picked her up and we drove to Chinatown, but the family was not at home. I knew there was an Asian-American culture fair going on that weekend at nearby Echo Park, so we went there to kill some time. The family still wasn’t home, so we drove to USC, where Vicki would be taking classes for a teaching credential. We did a lot of talking. By the time I got her home in the late afternoon (unbeknownst to me, she had a date she needed to get ready for), I had begun to rethink our relationship. We had a wild summer. By the time Vicki and my Mom dropped me off at LAX, I was much less sure that I wanted to be gone for the full year. As we parted, I whispered, “I’ll be home for Christmas.”


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