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There's Something About Travel That Inspires the Romantic in Us

May 15, 1988|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

Shipboard romances aren't limited to ships. They happen on trains, tour buses and probably any other vehicle anybody ever used for travel.

It's the pairing of the singles. It's watching people "falling in like" and then maybe even "falling in love." It's to a tour group what salt is to soup.

There were two such romances on one of our recent trips. When the tour started, one girl got on the bus alone. She was a very brooding young woman from New Jersey and seemed to have little interest in anything.

He was a thin, pale, blond young man with thick glasses who was constantly taking them off to use his camera.

On the second day he dropped them and she picked them up. By the fourth day they were sitting together on a regular basis. Eyes that had seemed listless were now bright and sparkling. She had turned into a giggler and it was hard to imagine how she had ever seemed to be brooding.

Who Needs the Tour?

He'd forgotten his camera altogether and about half the time his glasses were on his forehead. He didn't need them for seeing up close and the deeper we got into the tour, the less time either of them spent looking out the window.

The second couple bothered some of the other tourists. Cynthia was a teacher in her late 20s or early 30s, traveling alone. Howard was graying, slightly overweight, looked a little shy of 50 and was also traveling alone.

The "romance" started when he asked about a book she was reading. Before long she wasn't reading anymore. The two of them were walking together and holding hands.

"It's disgusting," the woman behind us whispered to her husband. "He's old enough to be her father."

"But he's not," her husband whispered back. "It's not a marriage. It's a simple flirtation."

"Well, why doesn't he act his age? And she's a teacher. She should show a little more decorum."

"To whom?" her husband asked. "It's a shipboard romance, at most. It happens to everyone and there's nothing wrong with it. Now, leave it alone, please."

Romantic Experience

The argument stopped. After a few seconds Joyce leaned over and asked if it had ever happened to me.

I shook my head. "Can't say that it has," I said, pointing out a barn we were passing. "Picturesque."

It had happened to me. Pearl Harbor had been bombed and I was taking a train from the Midwest back home to Los Angeles.

I hadn't done a whole lot of traveling alone, so after being dropped off at the station, in Topeka, Kan., I kind of attached myself to a group of older boys. There were about six of them, a mixture of farm and city boys and they were as excited as I was about the trip.

We killed the last few minutes before departure by standing around on the platform, looking for pretty girls among the boarding passengers. There weren't many and lots of them were "old," mostly in their late 20s and early 30s.

There was really only one who looked like anything. One of the boys spoke to her, but she kind of put on this snooty attitude and didn't answer.

Respect for the Navy

The conductor made room for all of us at one end of a day car. Then he told us that he knew we were all going to Long Beach and San Diego to enlist in the Navy, which was a surprise to me. He went on to say that he respected us for it, but that there would be no shenanigans on his train. He asked if we understood. Everyone nodded.

The conductor stopped and looked at me before he left. "You look a little young. You sure you know what you're doing?"

"Yes, sir," I said. I wasn't going to sign up for anything. I was just going home, but the snooty girl was watching, so I let the conductor think what he wanted and hoped she'd think I was older than I was.

The train left the station 15 minutes late. An elderly passenger remarked on it, but one of the boys said it wasn't true because "this was yesterday's train." Most people laughed, including the snooty girl. The conductor didn't seem to think it was funny.

As the hours passed, the camaraderie grew. We sang patriotic songs till it began to show that almost none of us knew enough of the words to make it work.

Big Talkers

There was some big talk about "the babes in Long Beach and San Diego and how they really went for guys in uniform."

It gradually became more apparent that some of the boys were playing to the girl. She raised her chin and looked out the window, acting like she wasn't really listening but you could tell that she was.

One of the bolder boys said his name was Danny and asked her name. She teased a bit first but then said, not that it was anyone's business but her name was Patricia Mae, though people called her Patty.

She caught me staring at her and gave me a dazzling smile, but it only lasted for a second before she went back to her conversation with Danny.

I stayed silent for fear of betraying my age. I didn't figure it mattered; my youth, my teen-age complexion and having a build like a rake kept me pretty well out of the running anyway.

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