Essay - Rich Murphy

Rich Murphy of Arete '81 graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Foreign Service. After he joined the Laborer's International Union Local 368 in Honolulu, , Rich set out to destroy chemical weapons on a "tiny" island in the Pacific. Huh? Yes, the former mile/880 runner at Drake assisted in building such a facility. After working in Japan as an English teacher, he applied for admission to Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. This move was encouraged by Arete '81 friends, Antony Michaels and Joe Wire, while visiting in New York City. Next up, of course, was the State Department’s Office of Northern Gulf Affairs—the Iran and Iraq desks. This took place for several months in the aftermath of the first Gulf war. It resulted in a longer-term position at State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, where Rich concentrated on the emerging free-market economies of Eastern Europe. Rich decided to return to the Bay area, live in Marin, and is now Vice President of Sales for an internet security auditor and certifier company. He would tell us what he thinks of the current situation in the Middle East, but it is a secret!

Bill Taylor

Apologies, Caveats

A few days after agreeing to write the March essay, I received a terse email from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Arete compatriot, Antony Michels. That I was to be the contributor for March had not escaped his attention. I suppose his message was about ten words long, but it spoke volumes. My essay should include “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll aplenty.” Michels’s dashing also included a sobering admonition: “No political screeds.” (He knows me well.) Other than an additional demand that I butcher some Arete sacred cows, he had little more to say--End of Message.

Of course, I must do as he says. He’s a producer/editor at Bloomberg in New York and I’m a sales vice president. If anything other than dumb luck got me into Columbia, it was his help with my admissions essay. Who would want to read my thoughts on Hezbollah anyway? I, for one, would not.

Finally, I apologize for the parts I get wrong here. For years, I kept a beat up itinerary of the 1981 trip on which I had made notes, but I think I lost it on one of my innumerable moves when I was in my early twenties. Bill will have to jump in where my memory fails. I especially beg forgiveness from my closest friends. It is about them that I shall share the most.

Arete ’81 – Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll (and Germans)
What I Was Really Up To

Part of my Arete preparation included reading an enormous book about the famous patent office bureaucrat, Albert Einstein. I bring him up mainly to draw a contrast between my stated mission, which was to explore German builders and destroyers of 20th century culture, and my unstated goal, which was to drink beer, get away from my folks, and live it up with my friends in exciting foreign countries.

How Did We Do?

The chemistry of the whole team made the trip a smashing success. Like most people my age, I’ve been involved in many groups and organizations throughout my life, but few jelled quite as well as the ’81 team. Of course, without the trip itself, the various personalities never would have connected with each other the way they did that summer. Today, I speculate that having the Taylor brothers on the trip might have been the secret sauce. Both were already experienced travelers, and both could read Bill better than any of us, which might have worked as a keel for the ship. Cory was one of my closest friends and we had spent a lot of time at his house throughout my high school years. As I think back, I realize that Jess’s presence as a leader may have made the trip for us. I, and others too, I think, sometimes kept an eye on him when Bill left us to our own devices. Europe was an adventure, but it was always under control when Jess was around.

What I Learned – Pace

For me, the main remarkable characteristic of the ‘81 German tour was the pace. Yes, the trip enabled me able to learn about the German personalities mentioned above. But literally, the act of pilgrimage, from internalizing the information, to the actual labor of travel, especially, created an experience that has had a lasting impact on my life. I had studied the itinerary carefully, so I’m not really certain why I was surprised by how much ground we covered. As runners, I think we all understand that the capacity to handle a certain pace is a function of conditioning and natural stamina. By the end of the trip, I was accustomed to the pace.

Mr. Taylor was to leave one or two weeks ahead of us for a spin around Greece, and I think that he was concerned that some of us would lose ground in our training. One or two weeks later, half of us flew a charter to Miami for a transfer to Frankfurt, with the remaining half to catch up with us a day later. Getting to Miami takes forever—I still dislike the trip, which I make at least once a year for business—and the trip to Frankfurt took even longer. When we landed, Bill was there to meet us. I clearly recall that the airport had razor wire strewn about, several World War II era fighter planes with the swastika painted out, and a sex shop. During the brief chaos after deplaning, Cory decided to march in and take a look around. Both he and I were gratified by my shock. I remember being amazed by the size of the Stuka dive bomber, but puzzled by the missing swastikas, and the surplus of razor wire. Someone explained, perhaps Rick, who had spent a great deal of time in West Germany, that Nazi symbols were verboten. The wire was to prevent acts of terrorism. Five minutes after landing, the wonders were piling atop one another. Every day of the trip, we were walking or riding into new, curious surroundings.

After the airport, we rented a VW van and Mr. Taylor hurled us down the autobahn to Heidelberg. We walked through a quaint, old-looking town, unscathed by Allied bombing, dominated by an enormous ruin of a castle. I had never gone without sleep for so long. After Bill counseled us to stay awake to avoid jetlag, Cory immediately crawled to the back of the van and sacked out while we careened back to the airport hotel so that we could link up with the second wave of Areters the next morning. I think we had two rooms for about six or eight people at the airport Hilton. Once we were finally allowed to turn out the lights, nobody would shut up. The next day, we picked up the rest of the group, and we were on our way. Soon after arrival, we caught a night train to Berlin and were awakened in the middle of the night by East German guards demanding our passports. In West Berlin we walked through the Tiergarten to the Brandenburg Gate. I recall being quite tired at that moment, and realizing that this was to be the pace for the entire trip.

I kept that pace like everyone else, and learned to welcome it. At age 42, I believe more strongly than ever that the pace you keep determines how much you get to learn, and how fast you keep growing. I try to embrace a challenging pace in everything I do, and I think it is a major contributor to my happiness. (In deference to you, patient readers, I will avoid any further discussion of the meaning of the word “happiness,” or the meaning of the word “meaning” for that matter, Freud, Nietzsche, and Goethe notwithstanding).

My Own 1981 Trip Notes

The Arete website outlines many of the most memorable moments of our journey. Here’s my take on a few of the. I’ll try to make it quick. Be grateful that I have cut out more than I kept.

Among other things, Cory brought a cassette recorder, a Carol King tape, a Beatles love songs tape, and a number of blanks. On the trains, he would pull it out, pop in a blank, and we would start horsing around. These recordings, if they still exist, contain blackmail-worthy material. I cannot speak for the other parties to the sessions—Dan Caldwell, Mike Fulton, and Antony Michels stand out—but I have lived in fear of these since the day I realized I had something to lose.

I remember when our train was separated on the way to Salzburg(?) sending half of the team to the wrong place. One of our covert recording sessions was briefly interrupted when the train, stopped at some station, briefly rolled the wrong direction before bouncing to a halt and then starting on its way. We continued our play until the grave Austrian conductor asked for our tickets. Cory directed him to the next car, where Mr. Taylor was sitting. Oops, no Mr. Taylor! In fact, no next car! We were fine, having no concern about the anxiety Bill must have felt when he realized we were on our way to Turkey. Working with our conductor, Cory got us on the right train. Bill was on his way to dinner with the other half of the team when we dragged up to the hostel. I think the sight of us a relief for him, causing some elation. I ate wild boar for dinner that night, someone said. Delicious.

Whenever we had serious time to kill, Jess would haul out a deck of cards, and we would play hearts. He was always the one who kept score, took points to prevent someone from shooting the moon, and was the only player, other than me, of course, to shoot the moon successfully.

At the East German bookstore, I saw a children’s book called “Kampf in Wounded Knee.” It contained illustrations of grim faced American soldiers shooting native Americans.

Dr. Griffith was incredibly nice, and magnanimously treated many of us, including Mike Fulton, specifically, for various conditions, both running and travel-related. He got stuck with hauling a bunch of luggage to a hostel in some city to which we had arrived late at night. We were already abed when he came dragging in. We must have wronged him terribly, because his audible mutterings definitely categorize him as by far the most pissed-off doctor I have ever heard in my life. (I couldn’t actually see him. The lights were out and he was reduced to fumbling around in the dark just to get into bed).

I remember drinking a large, warm weissbier in a little place an hour after visiting Dachau. It was a very pleasant Bavarian moment. I have always found Germany to be well managed, and civilized. You have to be thoughtful and sober to build a country like that. Sobering thought.

Rich Murphy
March 2007