I have always had a knack for seeking out unique experiences when I travel.
This may go back to the earliest days of my international travels when I was still in high school. Back then, I was obsessed with politics. I’d go on school trips to Austin and manage to grab a casual photo with Ann Richards.
When I was in Warsaw in 1989, I was obsessed with Lech Walesa who then was just a Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader still a year away from the Polish Presidency. Poland was still a Communist country. Bush was coming to visit at the same time as I found out – the first visit from a US President in over a decade. Bush and Solidarity – what better combination could there be?
So of course the rational thing to do was to wake up in the middle of the night to be in front of the crowds to try to see President Bush (George Herbert Walker Bush) when he was scheduled to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We were joined by hundreds of Poles waving American flags and singing patriotic songs. It was beautiful. There we were on one side of the barricades at the very front. And on the other side, dozens of Polish soldiers.
Suddenly there was a push as the Presidential motorcade entered. And I was suddenly stuck, pushed by the crowd into the metal barricade. I scrambled for my camera. And as I was straining to keep my balance, suddenly one of the soldiers grabbed me and lifted me up so I could get a better view.
I didn’t see this photo for several more weeks until I came home and developed dozens of rolls of film.
Its funny now. My photo is certainly of George Herbert Walker Bush. But my memories are not of Bush and Solidarity.
My memories are of the kindness of a Communist soldier that day, one who later came back to smile and wave American flags with my small group of friends. My memories are of the feeling I had as a naïve 17 year old that perhaps there was a world after Communism in Eastern Europe. And my memories are of the realization that human kindness can sometimes span geopolitical boundaries.
Yes, I have always had a knack for seeking out unique experiences when I travel.