I spent the summer of 1969 with my friend, Glenn, living and working in London. This proved to be quite an adventure for two young guys with very limited financial resources and who, up to that point in our lives, had never traveled beyond the Northeastern part of America let alone to Europe.
I became friends with Glenn in High School and we continued our friendship into college even though he went to Cortland State and I was at Syracuse. We did not see much of each other during the school year but spent a good deal of time together during the summer of 1968. We were both big fans of the Rolling Stones and it was while listening to the Stones that the subject of London first came up. We both agreed that it would be fun if we could go to London and find the Stones on their home turf. From this bit of whimsy, the plan to spend the next summer in London was born.
I went back to Syracuse in the Fall of 1968 determined to make our plan to go to London a reality. I found a student run travel service on campus that helped students arrange for trips abroad and by working with them I was able to find a program that, for a fee, would find you a summer job in London after a three day orientation at a hotel. This seemed perfect since there was no way that we could afford to spend the summer in London unless we could pay our way by working. I was not aware of the existence of formal study abroad programs nor would that have been an option for us.
This was before the era when parents micro-managed and participated in every facet of their children’s lives. Our parents never became involved to any great extent in the planning or details of this trip except to make it clear that we would need to figure out how to take care of things like getting a passport and booking our flights. Most importantly, it was very clear that we would need to find a way to pay for it all without any help from our parents.
By the Spring of 1969, we had put all of the pieces together and we were eager to spend close to three months in London. After paying the job placement fee and for our flights, we had enough money left to cover about two weeks of our anticipated living expenses. We figured that should be plenty since we would have a job soon after we arrived in London or, so we thought.
In early June, a few days before our flight to London, we packed our bags, took a bus to New York City and then a commuter train to Long Island to stay with Glenn’s girlfriend. She would drive us to the airport on the morning of our flight. There was no parental escort to the airport, no safety lectures or long goodbyes, just a ride to the bus station. The entire time we were in Europe, we never had any contact with our parents except for a few letters and postcards that I mailed home over the course of that summer.
We flew out of JFK on Saturn Airlines an airline that I never heard of before or since. I never gave it a second thought as I did not become anxious about flying until much later after I got married and started having children. At that point in my life, I was carefree, felt invincible and was convinced of my immortality. We arrived in London and as promised we were taken to our hotel for our three day orientation. The hotel was the Queens Hotel south of London and was nicer than I had expected. We were off to a great start as we made some new friends, went to a party or two and became acclimated to the taste of strong warm beer. I know the name of the hotel and other details of that summer because I kept a log of sorts of our trip with some sketchy notes, written mostly by me, but sometimes by Glenn. I still have that log and portions of it are incorporated into this story.
Everything was going according to plan until it became obvious that there was no job waiting for us and that we would soon be cut loose with only the small amount of money we brought with us. When we were unceremoniously discharged from the hotel, we made our way into London and decided to check into the London YMCA to save money until we could figure out what to do next. There was never any thought of reaching out to our parents for help or aborting the trip and going home. It was a matter of pride and a statement of youthful independence that we were determined to find our own way to survive until our return flight at the end of August, job or no job.
Once in London, we spent most of the next week trying to find a job. It was a frustrating endeavor since we found ourselves caught up in the classic “catch 22″ trap in that we could not get a temporary work permit without a job and no one would hire us without the permit. Finally, I could not take any more of this futile search for a job and decided to storm the office of the British Student Travel Center. They had sponsored the job program we had paid for through the Syracuse student travel service. This bit of acting out paid off as it turned out they decided that the best way to get rid of me was to find us a job on the spot. After a few calls, we secured jobs at Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street. Marks & Spencer is a large department store with a number of locations in London.
Now, with a job and a recently secured flat, we were ready to take on London.