University of Oregon: Eugene, 1972-1974
When I returned to the US from Panama, I flew to Alabama to meet my eldest brother Dave, who was then working in Mobile, but he planned to move back to California. I wanted to see some of the US, so we decided to drive from the Southeast to the Northwest rather than fly. But when we checked the road conditions, we discovered major traffic delays, due to construction, all along the I-10. Since time was a constraint—I had to be in Eugene by a specific date, and Dave had a job interview in Southern California—we worked out an alternative route. We would take the I-10 from Mobile to New Orleans, then detour north on the I-59 to Meridian, Mississippi. There, we would catch the I-20 west.
On the first leg of the trip, we spent the night in New Orleans to visit family, and since the I-59 took us through Hattiesburg, Mississippi, we stayed the second night there to visit more family. Our next overnight stop was Shreveport, Louisiana. The following day we motored through downtown Dallas during rush-hour traffic. Texas is a large state, and the drive seemed endless as we sped west to Abilene, where we stopped for the night. We could have covered more miles, but I didn’t drive (no license at the time), so the burden fell to my brother to do all of the driving. The next day, we motored through the desolate Midland-Odessa area, reconnected with the I-10 (no construction along this stretch), and headed into El Paso, Texas. In Mesilla, New Mexico, we treated ourselves to a day-long break and a night off before we crossed into Arizona.
Late the next afternoon, we checked into our hotel in Casa Grande, Arizona, and enjoyed a relaxing swim in the pool and a good dinner, rising at dawn to jump onto the I-8. August in the Southwest can be brutal, so often lunch meant ice cream at a local Dairy Queen instead of food. I was quite taken with the desert Southwest, and something told me I would return one day. Early in the evening, we crossed the Arizona-California border and drove through the scenic Cleveland National Forest, our sights set on San Diego for another day-long rest to walk the beachfront and feast on some good seafood, before we tooled north. Dave, who years prior had been stationed in San Diego while in the navy, knew California well and had set aside four days for sightseeing as we motored from San Diego to Sacramento.
Right on schedule, on the last day of our trip, we entered Oregon. When we came over the hill and into the Willamette Valley, I fell in love with Eugene at first sight. I settled into campus life, and my junior year in college went well. I enjoyed journalism school and loved living in Eugene. Everyone I knew owned a bike, and everyone cycled everywhere despite a great bus system, so I bought my first ten-speed, a purple Peugeot, one of the best toys I’ve ever owned.
No one would accuse me of striving to achieve good grades. I saw college as an extension of high school, something I had to get through because my parents wanted me to have a college education. I loved most of my journalism classes and looked forward to my English writing courses, but the rest of the curriculum was simply a requirement for graduation. I did luck out and took a year of South African and Liberian history and a year of political science, which centered on international affairs. Familiar with most of the course content from having lived overseas, I breezed through those classes with good to excellent grades. As my first year at the U of O wound to a close and summer neared, my thoughts turned to vacation. At the time, my parents had been transferred to Swakopmund. After some consideration, I decided to attend summer school rather than make the long journey to South-West Africa (now Namibia).
In March 1974, I graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism-advertising. In early April of the same year, I caught a flight from Eugene to LAX. From there, I flew to Miami International, then boarded a flight to Rio de Janeiro. After a six-hour layover in Rio, I settled into my seat on South African Airways and slept through most of the flight across the Atlantic to Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. Flight weary, I flew from Johannesburg to Windhoek, South-West Africa, arriving there minutes before my puddle jumper departed for Swakopmund.
Next week: Swakopmund, South-West Africa