Topic: Ray’s Pizza Pantry in Tehran March 17, 1972
Ray’s Pizza Pantry in Tehran March 17, 1972
Few people were fortunate enough to travel the hippie trail in the 60s and 70s. (If you are reading this, you are probably one of them). Today, of course, it’s impossible. Those who did the trail, back in the day, may have trouble remembering what they did day by day. After all, someone said, “Those who remember the 60s weren’t part of them.” However I can recall most of what happened March 17, 1972, on the hippie trail, the day I ate pizza at Ray’s Pizza in Tehran -- thanks to my journal, a letter home, and a bill from American Express to prove it! But alas not a single photo. BTW, I never heard the term ‘hippie trail’ when I travelled mostly overland from Bangkok to Istanbul in 1971-1972.
March 11, 1972 -- First arrival in Tehran. First the background. I joined a band of travelers going to Europe on a Safaris Overland bus named ‘King Kong’ in Kabul on Feb 22, 1972. We should have reached our destination by now,
according to a poster in Kabul. But, because of numerous breakdowns and other delays, we were only in Tehran. The first time we arrived in Tehran was March 11 around 8 PM. The next day there was a meeting and a wedding in my hotel room, which I shared with one, or both, of the bus drivers (Harvey and John).
March 12, 1972 -- Rebellion in Tehran. A minor passenger rebellion was brewing over the itinerary. Nancy was almost seven months pregnant and wanted to take a short cut to Istanbul. Other passengers were running out of money and sided with her. Two nurses and I wanted to take the advertised, but longer, ‘scenic’ route thru Damascus. Harvey, the trip leader, compromised: we would take the advertised route, but not deviate for sightseeing. This would turn out just fine for me, because the bus would break down so many times that we had more than enough time for sightseeing!
March 12-- Wedding in Tehran. Nancy and Brendan realized they might not get home to Massachusetts in time to plan a wedding before their baby was born. So they wanted to get married in Tehran. But who would conduct the wedding? I volunteered. I explained that in 1967, to avoid the Vietnam draft, I paid $10 to join a church where every member became a minister and thusly couldn’t be drafted. Two nurses, who were seeing the world after being discharged from the US Navy in Taiwan, looked at each other and burst out laughing. (Yeah, they hurt my ego a little). Fortunately Luke, who also avoided the draft by actually attending seminary, conducted the ceremony by reading passages from Kahlil Gibran. I have a movie of him kissing the groom on the forehead. He might have kissed the bride too. But it is not on my camera. I told the newlyweds they were the only smart ones on the bus—by the time the bus gets to its destination, everyone else would be too old to start a family. Then we went to the White Cap restaurant to celebrate the wedding. Someone took a photo. The newlyweds are at the head of the table. The nurses are sitting to their right and Sunshine and Harvey are to their left. I’m standing behind the nurses between Darlene and John. I don’t remember who is standing behind me. Luke, who married the couple, is standing behind Nancy. To his left is Tony from the Philippines and to his right is, I think another Roger, from Bangladesh. I don’t know why some people on the bus are missing from the photo. But some people on the bus were not ‘part’ of the bus. I never learned their names. I kinda remember one guy who was always high on something, who could not let go of the fact that back in school, an upperclassman and I, unsuccessfully tried to build a laser. He kept on saying, “this bus can do anything”.
March 16 -- Second arrival in Tehran. It took five days to repair the bus, and we left Tehran at 8:10 PM. Two hours out of town the bus again broke down. One of the nurses said, “You never get to know a place until you leave it twice.” She had previously said that when we returned to Kabul, and again when we returned to Bojnurd after similar breakdowns. And this would not be the last time she said it. We got back to Tehran after midnight, and everyone slept on the bus.
March 17, 1972 – Tony Wheeler and the Lonely Planet. I left the bus when it got lighter to find something to eat. When I returned, the bus was gone! At the nearby Amir Kabir (or AK) Hotel, friends from the bus explained the bus was being repaired, and we would be on our way. The AK was near the hotel we had checked out of yesterday (see map), and is, what Tony Wheeler (who was not on our bus) calls, a ‘bottleneck', because (like the ‘Pudding Shop’) everyone eventually arrives there. (As a side note, four months from now, in July, 1972, Tony and Maureen Wheeler would leave London on an overland trip to India and beyond. (At that time I was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro).
By October 1973, the Wheelers would publish a guidebook about their overland adventures titled Across Asia on the Cheap. It would become the first Lonely Planet book, and they would eventually become multimillionaires! At that time, October 1973, I had become an international field engineer and was working in France on the first, of many, foreign installations. For eight years, GE would send me from country to country to install the equipment GE exported. GE hired me, without a personal interview, when they learned I had travelled around the world with a backpack -- as long as I successfully completed a half-year crash course on the equipment I would install. I still can’t believe GE was having trouble finding engineers to work in foreign countries! The founder of Lonely Planet and I had things in common. We were both born in 1946, were both engineers, travelling on a ‘leave of absence’ from our employer. And most important-neither of us returned to our previous line of work. You could say, travelling the hippie trail was a life changing experience. Anyway, I hung around the AK and finished reading a book by Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano -- a dystopia loosely based on my previous employer in Schenectady, NY).
March 17 -- Ray’s Pizza Pantry in Tehran. Later we learned the bus would not be repaired today. So I left the AK with a Canadian (Bruce Fink), and the two US nurses (Louise and Diane) to get something to eat at Ray’s Pizza. (Ray? Was there really a Persian named Ray? Probably not. But I later learned Tehran (also spelled Teheran) was once called ‘Ray’. It could be a clever word play). Ray’s Pizza even had beer to wash down the pizza! Todd, who was travelling with his Afghan fighting dog, later joined our party.
March 17 -- The letter. After the pizza and first round of beer were consumed, we ordered a second round, and I begin to write a birthday greeting to my father, whose birthday was in three days. I had already purchased one of those old-fashioned “aerogramme” tissue sheets of paper that you fold up into an envelope. I don’t think they sell them anymore. This one had a drawing of the Shah of Iran where a stamp would normally be. But no stamp was needed—unless there was an enclosure.
The letter started with a description of the latest bus breakdown, and then I asked my parents to stop sending mail to me at the American Express office in Innsbruck, where I had told my parents I was going to ski. I was afraid the Safaris Overland bus wouldn’t get there until after the snow melted. Bottom line, I was not sure where I would get off the bus. Going all the way to London was never my plan.
Louise suggested I tell dad about the Koochi (Kuchi or Kochi) nomads we saw in their tents between Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan. She added “they are the largest nomadic tribe in the world-comprising 1/7 of the Afghan population”. (It must be true. She spoke with authority and was an officer in the US Navy)! I also told Dad his birthday was on the eve of “Nowruz”—the Persian New Year. According to the Persian calendar it would be the year 1351 the day after his birthday. (Persia is a thousand years older than the calendar).
Then my three friends added to the letter in their own hand writing:
“Happy Birthday, Roger’s Dad. – D. Bruce Fink”.
And one of the nurses wrote something that probably didn’t make my parents feel comfortable. “Dear Dr. P., Roger is in good health. Don’t worry. While he was in India he drank tea at train stations from disposable, recyclable cups. Seems that little old Indian ladies follow the sacred cows and bare handedly scoop up their steaming feces and cart them off to the pottery factory – then 30% feces is mixed with 70% clay and shaped into cups and (fortunately) baked. They’re used for hot tea, and if you don’t drink fast enough, the cup starts to melt from the heat. Happy birthday – Louise”
And the other nurse wrote, “Dear ‘Dad’, Hope you have a happy birthday. We all often think of our parents and hope you are all happy and well. Love, Diana”.
There was still room, so the first nurse wrote: “Job Application Form / Louise M -- age 27 –Marital Status: excellent, Race: the 4th at Aqueduct, Education: B.S. in nursing plus post grad studies in orthopedic surgery and Thoroughbred racing”. (I recently heard she is doing fine in California).
We were probably on our 3rd or 4th round of beers by the time the other nurse wrote: “Diane H.—AGE 25—Marital Status – optional; Sex-liberated, Education-Jesuit, B.S. Nursing. SPECIALITY-- TOAST POINTS”. (Unlikely as it would seem, the resume worked and she was accepted in a program to earn a PhD). And this was not the first time Diana talked about gourmet food on the hippie trail. She repeatedly told us we would be eating oysters Rockefeller at the Istanbul Hilton!
Disappointment at the Hilton. (On another aside, that would not happen. Diana and Louise would leave the bus in Damascus to see more of the Middle East. And I would leave the bus the next day on the Syria/Turkey border when the bus was denied exit because a passenger was carrying guns. When I finally got to Istanbul, one of the first things I did was to go to the Hilton. But it would be a melancholy experience, and I did not eat oysters Rockefeller: I was at the Hilton thinking about the bus trip and enjoying solitude (I was staying somewhere else) when two other travelers sat beside me. They inquired how long I had been in Istanbul. When I told them I arrived last night, they immediately launched into a long and disparaging tirade about “beggars, bazaars, bargaining, Asian diseases, even Asian johns!” I asked them how long they had been in Asia, and they proudly said four days. Obviously they hadn’t thought of the possibility I was travelling east to west. Not west to east like them. Their shallowness was so sickening, that I didn’t bother to tell them I had been in Asia for half a year. Nor did I tell them I’d met people like Harvey who had spent over a year in Asia and never spoke like they did. (More on Harvey’s background can be found http://www.indiaoverland.biz/overland/o … nders.htmlhere). To make matters worse; I was doubting I even wanted to go to Europe. At least not yet.)
March 17 -- the bill.
Back at Ray’s Pizza in Tehran, I don’t remember how many beers we drank, but there was a problem when we received the bill. We couldn’t pay it! The amount was correct, but we did not have enough Iranian Rials. It was not that we were broke; we just hadn’t changed enough money, because we thought we would be out of the country by now. And the restaurant would not accept traveler’s checks. Where are those money changers when you need them? So I paid all, or part, of the bill (735 Rials or about $9.50) with my American Express credit card. I hated to do this because I would be forced to change money at the official rate. Plus there was a 3% surcharge. But I did get a nice souvenir – even if the date is wrong. You can google ‘Ray’s Pizza Pantry’ and the ‘Amir Kabir Hotel’. I think they are both still in business. But the location of the AK has changed.
When I finally left Iran for good, I still had 50 Rials. Around 66 cents. When we got back to the AK hotel, I didn’t have a room (remember, we were told the bus was going to be repaired that day). Perhaps the front desk was closed, or the hotel was full, anyway I shared the floor with Luke (the guy who had married Nancy and Brendan) in the nurses’ room (no sex).
March 18. The nurses (who made fun of me for becoming a minister) treated me at the Tehran Officers Club with real American food. Steak, vegetables, soup, salad etc. They also went to the PX for some discount booze.
March 19. Kermanshah, Iran. Todd woke us up at 3:45 AM and told us we were leaving. We departed around 5:30 AM but soon ran into snow. The bus stopped to put on chains. I was sitting in the first row where I usually sat with the nurses. Visibility was bad, and there was minor collision with another bus, but I didn’t bother to take photos. Later the chains came off. But Harvey and John had to put them back on when we reached some mountains. Another time a bus in front of us skidded sideways and blocked the road. We got stuck several times.
Later while waiting for the road to clear, one of the nurses surprised me with an American beer. Trip leader Harvey is also pictured.
When we got into Kermanshah, soldiers, guards, passengers, lorry and bus drivers gathered around Harvey and John like they were conquering heroes, asking them questions about the road etc. That’s when we learned THE ROAD HAD BEEN CLOSED!