There are baby boomers who cruised down the familiar avenues of life … and then there’s BoomerCafé contributor Larry Checco, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. But he used to live on the road, and the high seas, and only recently decided to reaffirm that he is Larry, with an “L.”
I keep telling my wife she missed marrying Harry Homeowner by one letter. “H”arry versus “L”arry. Get it?!
So, recently, when she said our bedroom needed painting, I slipped into a Grand Funk.
You see I never aspired to a white picket fence in the ’burbs. Like probably most boomers, my formative years were spent in the confused and wayward fog-of-life era known as the ‘60s, which pretty much described me— confused, wayward, and in a fog.
No straight lines made up my life. I spent my youth like an aimless pinball rather than a well-disciplined chess player.
The summer after freshman year in college — 1967 — I drove across the country with a friend. We ended up working in a lumber mill in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The following summer, of all things, I worked in the engine room of a tramp steamer delivering supplies to, of all places, Saigon.
Yep, Saigon ‘68. Not quite yet a tourist destination, with military checkpoints and sandbag bunkers on nearly every street corner and almost every rooftop throughout the city.
The cargo holds and decks of the S.S. DeSoto were crammed with army jeeps, pontoon boats, coils of razor-sharp barbed wire, 155mm howitzer cannons, and other military materiel. The temperature in the engine room hovered around 120+ degrees most days, but the job paid decent money.
A few months after arriving back in the States, I used that money to finance a semester in Florence, Italy, where I studied Renaissance art and history. Ah, Firenze, che bella citta’ — the beautiful city — and quite a contrast from Saigon!
It still mystifies me, but somehow I managed to graduate college in 1970 — without much distinction, I must confess. But instead of ending, my wandering days were just about to shift into high gear.
Two years as a social worker — in child care and child protective services — left me frustrated, burnt out, and antsy. So I applied for and received a work permit for Australia, and off I went — backpack on my shoulders and a one-way ticket to Perth via London, Singapore, Malaysia, and a boat ride through the lush Indonesian archipelago.
My goal upon reaching Australia was solely to take a bite out of life, which translated into short stints working as a shark fisherman in the Indian Ocean, maintenance worker on a salt mine in north Western Australia, grape picker for a winery in South Australia, as well as a bartender and elevator mechanic in Sydney, among an assortment of other sundry, but less interesting occupations.
Getting restless again, one day I happened on an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald seeking a crew member for an ocean-going yacht named Quest. The American family from L.A. had been cruising the Pacific Rim for the past four years. They liked me. So from Sydney we sailed to Hobart, Tasmania, then across the Tasman Sea— surviving a harrowing 10-day storm-swept crossing that nearly sunk us — to Auckland, New Zealand.
Five of my six months in New Zealand were spent working as a steward at a remote but beautiful hotel on the country’s South Island. The Hermitage Hotel was located at the foot of Mt. Cook and next to the Tasman glacier. A spectacular alpine setting.
When my six-month New Zealand visa expired, I made arrangements to re-board the Quest. To shorten a much longer story, we sailed to the Cook Islands and then on to Tahiti, where I signed off and spent a month aboard an old rust-bucket of a supply boat, island-hopping the Australs, a remote group of French Polynesian Islands about 400 miles south of Tahiti.
By this time I had been gone from home two-and-a-half years. I was tired and looking for a little TLC. The $3,500 I had wired home from Sydney, my life’s savings after traveling and working around Australia and New Zealand, would give me a stake when I arrived home.
As fate would have it, my future wife and I found each other while we were both working at a Hilton hotel in our hometown just outside of New York City— she, a cocktail waitress just back from bouncing around Florida for a year; me, a bartender who on the side was writing feature stories for the local Gannett newspaper chain. I was paid $25 to $50 to write first-person articles on what were then considered extreme sports like skydiving, hang gliding, river rafting, scuba diving. You get the picture.
I chalk off all this crazy risk-taking to my ADHD!
As you might expect — or no t— it wasn’t long before marriage, a mortgage, and fatherhood— or as Zorba the Greek would say, “the whole catastrophe” — would replace my waywardness.
Fortunately, the catastrophe didn’t turn out too badly. The marriage is 35 years old and still going strong, the mortgage is nearly paid, and the kids are pretty much launched.
So here I stand, paint brush in one hand, damp cloth in the other— to wipe up my spills— and a smile on my face that tells it all.
It’s been a good run. Just hope the paint dries without any streaks. I’m still Larry, after all, with an “L.”