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Old 12-15-2006, 03:01 PM   #1
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Western Trip 6-1970

This is an article published in the Syracuse Herald American and the Long Island section of the New York Times in September 1990, which I wrote right after a reunion for my Western Trip. Now that I discovered this site, I thought it would be fun to share with other former Wel-Met campers. The Eric in the story is Eric Rofes, who died recently and is the subject of several posts elsewhere on the site.

By Jonathan D. Salant

When the school year started 20 years ago this month, I finally had something interesting to write for the perennial essay, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation."

I had spent the summer of 1970 on a chartered bus with 39 other
teen-agers, all between the ages of 14 and 17, camping cross-country. From Upstate New York, we headed west to the Rockies, south to the Grand Canyon, and east to Washington, D.C.

At each stop, we pitched our tents, cooked our meals, and did some sightseeing. We hiked down the Grand Canyon and through Mesa Verde National Park. We helped clean up a park in a St. Louis ghetto and sang folk songs for a group of Navajo Indian children. We saw a rodeo, a cattle auction, and a chicken being slaughtered. And we wound up the trip by spending a few days in the nation's capital. Little did I know at the time that I would be living and working there 20 years later.

IT WAS A year after Woodstock and a few months after Kent State, and we were not immune from the anti-war, anti-establishment feelings that much of the nation's youth was feeling. A lot of us wore long hair, both boys and girls, which led to us being harassed by the police while standing on a street corner in Santa Fe, N.M.

At one stop, we decorated our bus, prominently displaying the peace sign and the slogan, "Peace Now." There was no shortage of guitar players -- the instrument of choice in the anti-war movement -- and no hesitation to break into a Phil Ochs song or another protest tune whenever the spirit moved us.

I learned all the words to M.T.A. (Let me tell you of the story 'bout a man named Charlie, on a tragic and fateful day . . . ), discovered that people who don't live on the East Coast call soft drinks "pop" instead of "soda," and, after correcting the bus driver after he had turned onto the wrong interstate highway, I became trip navigator, sitting in the front of the bus and giving directions.

I've thought about the trip a lot these past few weeks, ever since I got a notice from one of my former bus mates inviting me to a 20-year reunion. I had long lost contact with the other trip participants, and when the letter was sent to me at my parents' home -- luckily, they hadn't moved -- I initially didn't think it anything but junk mail because name on the return address was unfamiliar.

It turned out to be the married name of the woman organizing the
reunion. Then, a long-haired, wire-rimmed glasses-wearing, dungaree-clad high school student, Today, a mother, wife, and occupational therapist, her glasses traded in for contacts, and her hair cut off at her shoulders rather than midway down her back.

NANCY'S EFFORTS at bringing us together ran into one problem. We were a microcosm of society. Our families had moved so much in two decades that she was able to track down only 16 of the 40 campers.

We got together last month at Nancy's suburban home over hamburgers -- not a vegetarian in the bunch -- and '60s music on the radio (old listening habits die hard) and discussed what we had done during the past two decades, and where we were going.

It was sort of like a mini-Big Chill, except that, unlike the characters in the movie, we hadn't sold out. The only thing that was similar was the soundtrack. We once helped clean a park for ghetto kids and reached out to Navajo children. We're still trying to help the less fortunate.

There was Rona, who had spent the last decade at Amnesty International, actively trying to protect human rights throughout Latin America. And Eric, who I would argue was the most popular with the women on the trip, has since come out of the closet. Today, he is running an AIDS clinic in San Francisco.

Fran, also in San Francisco, is doing counseling. Nancy's job is occupational therapy. Jay does scientific research. And me, I'm finishing my 14th year in journalism, attracted by the power of newspapers to highlight problems and spur governments and individuals to correct them.

At the end of the trip, we put out a mimeographed newspaper, which I looked at last month for the first time in 20 years. There was my name, listed in the masthead next to the title, "news editor." And there was the story I wrote, "by Jonathan D. Salant." Even then I knew.

Jonathan D. Salant is the Syracuse Newspapers' Washington correspondent.
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Old 12-16-2006, 07:07 PM   #2
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Thank you , Jonathon. I was on WT 3 in 1970 and also knew Eric. My trip had a 30 year reunion and it was mindblowing at the time. Just like many of the recent reunions, my comfort level with my old Wel-Met friends instantly returned and I felt as if I was a teenager again. Wel-Met mania from its core values to its social connectedness, remains with me still. As Gibrain wrote, To give of one's possessions is easy, but to give of oneself is to truly give.

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Old 12-17-2006, 12:11 PM   #3
Martha Ellis
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Jonathan, I am one of the "lost" members of WT 6 in 1970. Oh how I wish I could have been at the 1990 reunion. Only recently found this site & was of course shocked and saddened to learn about Eric. He definitely was "one of the good guys" on our trip. On the brighter side, I am renewing old friendships. Your article was great to read & left me smiling. Thanks Martha
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Old 01-01-2007, 11:59 AM   #4
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Trip 6, 1970

Thank you Jon for crediting me with the efforts for tracking down 16 people, a number of years before the internet made the job a lot easier. I remember that reunion well, and also recall you sending me that article you published. Well here we are 17 years later and some things don't change. I am still practicing occupational therapy, and still live in suburbia, not far from that home. The little boys I had at that time are all men now, way older than I was when we made our cross-country journey. Not a day goes by when something will happen and I will let them know how it was "back in the day". I was so saddened to hear of Eric's passing, but grateful to have the opportunity to stay connected to those people who were so integral to making me what I am today. I received my annual letter from Fran Reich, a true Wel-Metter and a dear friend for 38 years, which prompted me to call her -- it doesn't matter how long it has been since we last spoke -- she sounds like the same 13 year old girl I met in Wel-Met and whose friendship I cherish. I also have plans to hook up with Martha in a couple of weeks, as a result of this website. Thanks to all who are responsible for keeping up this site, and who have allowed me to go back to a time which was so much simpler. Maybe we can still have a reunion by the Unisphere in Flushing Meadow Park.
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