Dave: When I was 20 and without much cash, I decided to leave Vancouver and see the world. I had heard about the opportunity to travel on freighters – free passage in exchange for work – so I hitch-hiked down to Los Angeles and managed to get a place aboard a German vessel bound for Australia.
My day started at 5 a.m. when I made coffee for the captain, then washed dishes, mopped hallways and cleaned the crew’s quarters.
Soon after departing, I discovered that these freighters also offered luxury travel for a few, well-to-do passengers. The three cabins aboard the ship were beautiful, spacious and very luxurious.
One by one I met the five paying passengers on board: an ex-Governor of Texas and his wife, a couple who owned a professional sports team, and Alex Haley, author of Roots.
I was instructed by the crew not to talk to these passengers, unless approached by them first. However, I was playing darts one day, (on the ship’s beaten-up dartboard), when Mr. Haley appeared, and to my surprise, asked if I could teach him the game.
The next few hours were spent teaching Alex Haley how to play darts, a time during which our two different worlds met… He was both shocked and interested to learn that I was heading to Australia with no return ticket, no place to stay, no plan for getting back, and only $1200 in my pocket. That afternoon we explored various topics, including the way that some individuals feel compelled to seek out adventure, and also the experience of travel (or other ventures), without a plan or specific itinerary.
Right from the start, he made me feel relaxed. He asked genuine and original questions, which caused me to think, before answering. I admitted I was embarrassed because I hadn’t yet read Roots; he laughed at my honesty. In spite of our different backgrounds, we became friends.
He told me he had spent many years with the Coast Guard and being at sea helped him write. This trip he was working on Queen. I remember hearing him tapping away on the keyboard each day as I walked by his cabin.
At the end of the journey, to my surprise and delight, he gave me his address, saying that if my travels ever brought me to his neck of the woods, to look him up.
On the note he wrote: To David, with brotherly love to a fine young shipmate, Alex Haley, Roots. And when I left the ship in Australia, he wished me good luck.
Meeting Mr. Haley made me realize that travelling was not only about seeing other places but also about meeting other people and learning of their worlds and experiences. It was a great way to start, what turned out to be a long and adventurous trip.
3 responses to “Meeting Alex Haley”
Great story Dave! I read Roots years ago and enjoyed the book tremendously. I taught me much of what I understand about the slave trade and the history of African Americans. Travel is less about places and more about people, I always try to remind myself of that.
Wonderful to hear of your adventure with Alex Haley, and to know that he was just “another guy” making a buck in his way. Congratulations
Hi David–What a neat story! The things you don’t find out about family members, eh? Having just been on one of those itinerary-less lengthy holidays, we can sure echo how meeting people and bumping into adventures is a fabulous way to travel.