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Jack Smith

Back From 'Vacation'--in a Wheelchair

November 09, 1987|Jack Smith

My wife and I have returned from

30 days in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

It's taken me a week to recover from exhaustion.

If anyone happened to see me being pushed through International Airport in a wheelchair, I want to explain. I am not an invalid. I do not claim the status of handicapped. I can walk.

The wheelchair was my wife's idea. It was a symbol of her guilt for having dragged me through every castle and church in the Iberian peninsula and every casbah in Morocco.

It was indeed a fascinating and memorable tour. Spain and Portugal were enchanting. The people were polite and charming. The countryside was lovely. The hotels were palatial. The service was excellent. Everywhere the children were adorable. The food was good. The wine was delightful. It rained, but generally the weather was benign.

There were some pitfalls. We rented a car in Madrid and I drove it through Spain and Portugal for 17 days. It was a fine little car. It gave me no trouble. But the day I turned it in at Torremolinos, on the Costa del Sol, was among the happiest of my life.

Every city has an old town at its core. That means it was built in medieval times for men and donkeys. It was never intended for Fiats, Renaults and Ford Escorts. The streets are one-way and labyrinthine. No street runs perpendicular to any other street. Hardly any streets go through. Sometimes the turns are too narrow to negotiate. Sometimes the streets are blocked: You have to back up--so does everyone behind you. The sense of claustrophobia is profound. These maneuvers are accompanied by a din of beeping horns and curses.

Meanwhile, you are not poking along. You're going at least 40 miles an hour, missing motorcycles and baby buggies by fractions of an inch and blowing your own horn out of desperation. Once you're in the trap, nothing will get you out but centrifugal force or divine assistance.

There is a Spanish saying, "If God wants to help me, he knows where I am." I had many occasions in Spain to suspect that either God did not know where I was or he didn't want to help me.

So I was relieved when I surrendered the car at Torremolinos, and after a day of blessed rest watching the topless bathers on the Mediterranean shore, we were picked up by a Pullmantur motor coach for our Moroccan tour.

Morocco's old cities (medinas) have even narrower streets than those in Spain and Portugal. In some of them a man can touch both walls. We had to get out and walk through these mazes, trudging up dark, cavernous alleys teeming with Moroccans, donkeys and tourists.

After five days of this we rose on the last day at 5:30 a.m. and were driven to our ferry at Tangier for the 2 1/2-hour crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar, arriving back at our hotel on the Costa del Sol at 8 o'clock that night.

That last day did me in. I woke up the next day with a sore throat and a fever. It was Saturday--a day of rest. We were to depart on Sunday for the short flight from Malaga to Madrid, and then, non-stop on Iberia from Madrid to Los Angeles.

My wife got some antibiotics from a pharmacist and I stayed in bed.

The next morning I was sweaty, weak and disoriented. I couldn't even button my shirt. But I decided I'd rather die at home than in Spain.

At the airport we sat down to wait. "I'm going to get you a wheelchair," my wife said.

I protested. In a while a woman came up and said, "You need a wheelchair?"

I told her it was my wife's idea. I told her I was sick but I could walk.

"I do have some nerve damage in my right leg," I admitted, beginning to like the idea of not having to walk and carry my luggage.

A man came with a wheelchair. Just before the plane was to leave, he wheeled me aboard. When the plane landed at Madrid, another man was there with another wheelchair. He hoisted me into a van that took me across the airport to Iberia's international operations. Just before takeoff another man wheeled me aboard.

A man with a wheelchair was waiting in Los Angeles. He wheeled me through customs and then to my son's waiting car.

The headline in that day's International Herald Tribune had been: "World Markets End Worst Week Ever on Note of Exhaustion."

I was right up there with the economy.

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