This week I reminisce for my younger friends. I congratulate and am stimulated by those whose blogs I read. I appreciate those who read mine even though we have such a difference in age. And for all those who might stumble on this but have not yet started their careers or family, I say “it will never be the same later.”
Congressman James F. Battin from Montana told his top assistant in 1966 to fill a vacant job in the office with a “starving law student.” The timing was perfect. I was broke and needed a job. In the end, the job became the basis for my entire career in Washington.
A year later, however, I still needed to borrow $2300 for tuition (Remember, the numbers in this post are 1967 dollars). Instead I borrowed $3000.
Timorously, I went in to see this generous man who helped a broke student to say I wanted to take six weeks off in the summer to hitchhike in Europe.
“Yes, certainly,” he replied. “Go now. It will never be the same later.”
I bought a round-trip ticket on Icelandic Air, the last airline flying propeller planes to Europe. My buddy Erhard hitchhiked a thousand miles from Graz, Austria to meet my plane in Luxembourg arriving at five in the morning.
Together we hitch-hiked through Germany and Austria. We stayed in youth hostels where we also could get a cheap breakfast and dinner. We bought bread, cheese and occasionally meat in the local markets for lunch. We visited free attractions and took advantage of student discounts.
I left Erhard in Graz and continued down through Italy. Finally, down to forty dollars, I spent twenty-five to get a second-class ticket on an overnight train from Rome to Paris. Even in 1966 dollars, fifteen was not much for three days in Paris, but I was there.
I came back with a lifetime of memories. There are too many highlights to mention them all in this post but here are a few: having a glass of wine in a castle cafe above the Rhine River; seeing fireworks streaming from a bridge and castle in Heidelberg; hearing a world famous opera singer in Vienna; climbing an Austrian mountain with a group of students; crossing the border into Communist Yugoslavia for a cheap steak dinner; sharing breakfast with two lovely Canadian girls sitting above the 1960 Olympic pool in Rome; talking to a sculptor in a shed on the grounds of the Circus Maximus; and almost bumping into Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s.
Battin, who was an outstanding man in many ways, told me I would never see it this way again. He knew I was facing the draft, would likely get married and have career and children. These would be some of the last moments I would be free of responsibilities to anyone but myself.
But the same message applies to us all at every stage of our life: whatever opportunities come our way, “it will never be the same later.” Places will change. Opportunities will change. We will change. Take advantage of what you can — now!