venezuela and the burden of fame

Posted: April 13, 2013 in Travel
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Venezuela 1

My folks, though far from wealthy, believed in family vacations. They tried to take my sister and me on some sort of trip every year, a week away from the mean streets of northern New Jersey. Usually it was a jaunt to the shore or a few hours by car to the wilds of Pennsylvania or New York. But occasionally they would pop a real surprise on us and scrape together enough scratch to go exotic. 1973 was one of those times. No salt water taffy from Atlantic City, no Gettysburg battlefields, no Baseball Hall of Fame. December ’73 brought few presents under the tree, but plane tickets to Caracas, Venezuela.

It has never been clear how they afforded such trips. Granted, these kind of whirlwind adventures were definitely the exception, but still it must have blown to hell whatever budget they had. I guess when you are determined to expand the horizons of your kids you will find a way to do it. More pointedly, it probably explains the three months of peanut butter and jelly suppers which followed for the rest of that winter.

I recently stumbled across a few polaroids from this trip. Some of my most vivid memories were not captured by Edwin Land’s marvelous camera, but remain lodged in my ever-leaky brain: the absolute poverty in Caracas we saw during our cab rides to and from the airport, the fist-sized water bugs which greeted us every morning in the hotel room tub, and the hot, hot December sun. Still, the most enduring memory remains “The Clarence Williams III Incident(s).”

Clarence Williams III, star of the hip police drama The Mod Squad, was staying at our resort. I knew it was him because I knew such things. The first time I saw him I excitedly told my folks, “Hey, that’s Clarence Williams III, star of the hip police drama The Mod Squad!” Mom was dubious since The Mod Squad was not part of her regular viewing schedule. “Are you sure?” she asked.

I was aghast. “Of course I’m sure. I may not get straight A’s in school, Mumsy, but I certainly know my TV celebrities.” Well, Mom loved celebrities, even those she had did not know. So she encouraged me to say hello. Even then I understood celebrities preferred not to be bothered in public. Why else would the venerable Clarence Williams III choose to vacation in South America instead of New York or Miami? It clearly wasn’t to do field work for a thesis in Entomology. I declined.

Mom, however, had a different perspective. Calling upon her gift for being bracingly outgoing she marched right up to CW III, dragging me along, and launched right in. “Hi, don’t I know you from television?” CW III smiled warmly, a practiced Hollywood trick. “No Ma’am, I’m afraid you don’t.” She was not to be deterred. “Oh don’t be shy. I know who you are. You’re on that television show. You’re on…The Rookies!”

If the earth’s maw had opened at that moment I would have happily sunk into its fiery pit.

Old CW III remained gracious, denying it was him (which technically was true), and moved along. That one brush with absolute mortification would have been fine. But it was not to end there. Of course not. For the remainder of the vacation whenever we saw CW III mom would march right up and proclaim with loud conviction, “Don’t deny it. I know who you are. You are on The Rookies!” Sigh.

Thankfully I have these photos for without them the beautiful scenery from that week would have been forever lost to me, overshadowed by visions of tropical bugs and an increasingly frustrated television actor.

Venezuela 3

Venezuela 2

My mom and sister. Clarence Williams III is thankfully nowhere in sight.

My mom and sister. Clarence Williams III was thankfully nowhere in sight.

  1. sparklebumps says:

    HAHA! Your mom sounds awesome!
    Your parents sound like mine- we went on trips every year even though they fought about money all the time and I haven’t been on a vacation since I moved away from home…


  2. bronxboy55 says:

    The only place we ever went was northern New Jersey. You didn’t know you were living in a vacation destination, did you?


  3. Nice story…and lovely pics,John!


  4. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Moms are wonderful that way, eh? What a sweet woman, if not a bit confused. I used to watch the Mod Squad faithfully. The female lead, whose name I can’t remember, sleep-walked through the entire series. Even as a young kid I knew she was a horrible actor. But the show was so campy then and still is. Love the polaroids. They are so vintage!


  5. How fortunate that you were exposed to other cultures at a young age. I’m sure it has had an effect on you, even if it is just in your writing.


  6. If you hadn’t been so mortified, that whole vacation would be just a blur right now.


  7. rangewriter says:

    Ah, this was great. Who hasn’t suffered extreme mortification in the wake of a foolish parent? However, I think your parents were damned wise and progressive. By stuffing you with PBJs, they were able to show you the wider world, real poverty, and perspective. It’s served you well.


  8. Mark says:

    Brilliant piece and memories. At least she didn’t say she knew him from Roots! (which, as I read this piece, I thought you wrote Roots, not Rookies…)


  9. By the way, the photos are amazing. I would be tempted to enlarge them and frame them… I’m just saying, that’s what I’d do.


  10. hahaha! This is too funny, John. If my mother had done that I would have shot right in there and corrected her, “She means, The Mod Squad.” I know, I was so disrespectful, but then again, my parents never took us to Caracas, Venezuela. 😉


  11. corydalus says:

    Our family vacations were usually road trips. My Dad had been a truck driver and had a real fondness for spending hours at the wheel…. We did spend a week down the shore once.


  12. You called your mom, “Mumsy?”


  13. Patti Kuche says:

    What a gorgeous set of photos and memories, your mother looks as though she enjoyed the holiday! Wow, CW111!


  14. Rick says:

    Great story. My family went on a trip every year, too. Those are some of the best memories.


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