Near Death on the Road to Damascus

JugenGastHaus Munich
Early August 1977
Six Years after King Solomon's Gate

Finally made it back. My fifth or sixth time I think, what a crazy way to live. The Wild Man New Zealand Chess Champ (Murray Chandler I think) and I were working as Drivers for Iranian entrepreneurs driving new cars from Munich to Iran. In the early 70's the money had just started to flow, the scene at the other end was a once in a lifetime deal. Then there was always the wild train ride back from Teheran through rural Iran and Eastern Turkey, and usually a hippie bus back to Munich from Istanbul. The Shah was still in power. I had my crew from the International Jugen Gast Haus (International Youth Hostel), Reiner the bavarian aristocrat doing his bit as a conscientious objector, his Canadian girlfriend Gail, and Werner, Peter... and names I now forget but whose memory I will always cherish. Murray was always out on the town. There were evenings when you could tell you were near him by the sound of the crowd as you walked down the Marienplatz. We'd meet up at the train station every day, the train station cafe was the business shop for the drivers. It was where you made your deals.

It was always fun to get back and tell the tales of the road,... which were always plentiful. The highlight this time has been the Turk on the train (local stopped in every village). He sat there for a half a day while we rode through the wilds of Turkey smoking hashish in a billowing cloud that rolled down the train, giving us love eyes. There was no law in eastern turkey, but I was clean anyway. Murray had produced this huge brick of hash just after we boarded in Teheran. I couldn't believe it. It didn't seem smart to me, but I was clean, I had nothing on me. I was happy to smoke his. The risk of both carrying it and smelling up the whole train seemed off the charts, but that was Murray. When he told me what it had cost him, and what it would sell for in Germany I quickly understood, at least the smuggling part. Finally after hours of the love eyes the turk had unzipped, did the wild thing while looking straight at Murray the whole time, re-zipped and got off the train at the next stop. We were rolling in isles in laughter for hours over it afterward.

Reiner loved the story, Gail did too through an obvious very red blush. Gail popped up with a "from now on I'm going to call you Gandolf" ? Who's that I asked. "A character from a book" she replied. Whats its about I asked? "Read the Book"" she answered and told me the name of the Book was called the Hobbit. Is it good or bad I asked. "Read the Book" she kept answering. I finally did get her to tell me it was about someone who was always going off on adventures. OK. That did sound kind of interesting.

But I had failed to do what I needed to do, raise enough money to get back to the states and finish college like my parents wanted. Gail, looking concerned asked what would I do? Do it again I answered with some hesitation, the plan, the murray solution was already starting to take shape in my head. it was August and I needed to get back SOON. But tonight was for friends, we went to Peters flat and out to the Marienplatz for beers. Then I saw Murray for the last time, walking down a side-street with some 30 people trailing behind him to see what he would do next. The crowd included a couple of very mean looking polizei who were taking an active interest. Murray didn't show up at the station the next day, and curiously as I write this I am waiting on his response to my facebook link to find out what happened :) (2014) I have been looking for him for years, and having stumbled upon him this weekend decided now was a good time to finish this.

The business always started at the Munich Train station. Iranians hanging in the cafe recruited drivers with western passports to form caravans of five or six brand new Peugeots. The cars were registered to the passports. Then with armed, and often intimidating, Iranians in the first and last car, the tourists in the middle, they would head off, through Austria, across the lengths of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to Istanbul, then through the wilds of Eastern Turkey into Iran. The caravans drove almost non stop, ONE hour for sleep each day if you were lucky, on a five day whirlwind. The real adventure was the passage through eastern turkey, hoping you dogged the armed groups trying to secure the prize. Then the customary intense arguments over pay at the Iranian Border. You had to get paid before you crossed into Iran or you didn't get paid. The car was legally yours until you got into Iran. The intimidation to try to get you across the border and then stiff you was always intense.

I made five or six trips. It was by this time mid summer, and I was still trying to figure out how to get back to the US so I could return and finish my degree at college, when an "opportunity" presented itself. A Syrian was putting together a crew to deliver trucks (it turns out) to the Syrian army in Beirut and was paying a bonus. I came up with probably the most stupid plan I have ever formulated. Bricks of Hash were going so cheap in Lebanon, I would just get one, bring it back and sell it to the tourists in Germany to fund the plane ticket (real smart). Hey Murray did it and it worked.

Turns out I am just riding. Driver is a really tough looking Syrian guy who doesn't speak english, and is short on manners. Long five days, too valuable a cargo, driver insists on windows down to keep him awake, almost non stop. Guns out at the stops. I arrived in Beirut in the middle of the Civil war. Everything was blown to bits. Had to jump from the truck cab at the border but they paid up real quick. It was hard to miss the bullet holes in the taxi cab doors and the blood stains on the floor as I rode to downtown Beirut. Completely exhausted and without thinking, I checked into an older Run Down Motel. I didn't really consider it was the one of the few non bombed out buildings on the street. I just wanted sleep. I do remember noticing the Holiday Inn a mile down the valley between the two sides sticking up like the lone structure it had become in No Mans land,... the valley where I decided to rest my head.

I got a good nights sleep and rose to a fine sunny Beirut morning in the rubble. I started out to explore the city, how does one connect in Beirut. I went to the Beach. Very fun, hooked up effortlessly with about a half a dozen guys on the beach smoking openly. I hoped in their car. One had a cross so I figured I was fine. We rode up a hill then past double double parked cars leaving a single lane with guys standing there, to a block or two later where two guys open the way by moving a vehicle. Then we pass. Sometimes you just got to go with the flow.

The car pulled up in front of a low two story deal and everybody got out and we walked up the stairs to a dimly lit storage room. Casual banter about how I should do it to succeed, tricks of the trade, short conversation I do not remember. My eyes begin to focus and I began to notice the rooms heavy wooden boxes were ammo, grenades, bazookas etc samples of which littered everywhere around me. then seeing a cross to my relief, on the man who had brought me,.. I blurt out in relief to the guy behind the boxes of ammo,... "so your Christian". I wanted to hear what he thought. He replied "no I'm moslem" and I did not hide my sudden rush of fear very well, Then the guy with the cross, who had brought me, interjected,... no no no you don't have anything to worry about. "I am christian, we were friends before the war and I am visiting. If trouble breaks out they would get us back to our side, but then the rule is enemies again at war once I have been returned". The guy sitting behind a stack of boxes of grenades, the one whom I had handed my money over to smiled, laughed, took a deep drag off his butt and threw to paper wrapped brick of hash over to me. We smiled, we all had a good laugh, even if mine probably sounded a bit tense.

But it was all fine. They were really decent folk from my experience, caught in extraordinary circumstance. They could have just as well have dumped me in a ditch, but they gave me and my brick a ride back to the beach with a fond farewell. With the years of fighting in front of them, I wonder how they each came out, but of course will never know.

The infamous plan of stupidity was progressing just fine so far. I made my way back to the old stately hotel, and upon arriving in the large 4 bed room, empty for the moment, I decided to stash my find underneath an old heavy Oaken Hat rack. Then I proceeded out on the town for dinner, and began planning my transit in my mind back to Munich.

I had a fine dinner in a local shop with a little more ouzo than would be prudent under the circumstances, and headed back without a care to my room and my brick. Along the way I came across a stall selling books, and low and behold the hobbit was among them so I bought it and stuck it under my arm. As I crossed through an alley to my great surprise I found myself suddenly up against a brick wall, with about a half dozen guns pointed at my face while several ran through my pockets emptying them. They were gone with a laugh and crude gestures and my pockets were empty. They got it all. All I had left was my brick, five lira in the backpack that I would discover later, my passport,... and they left me the hobbit too.

By now I knew I was in a fix. Time to go back to the room, a quiet place, sort it out, make a plan. Upon arriving I threw the brick on the bed, broke out the brick and had at it. As I was starting to relax on the bedside I picked up the book and began to scan it for signs of my character. Gandolf was of course on almost every page. So I leaned back to relax and begin a read. Some where in the early chapters I began to notice first one, then more and more loud booms in the distance. They kept getting closer. By dawn they were all around, and I was hiding under the bed as shots ricocheted off surrounding buildings. This went on with varying intensity for three days.

No TV. No Radio. No Company. Just Me, the brick, the book, and the explosions. Even mortars get boring after a few days. But the book was great. It created an atmosphere in my mind where this all seemed almost normal. The book had Orcs. I had muslim militia who would kill me in a moment if they knew I were close by, and I was close by, but so far they didn't know it.

The hotel was mostly Saudi's with their flowing silk robes. Why anybody stayed there is anybody's guess. It was a half a mile up the valley directly from the standing skeleton of the Holiday Inn High-rise. A vista made famous by Time Magazine numerous times in those years. The valley was no mans land. Where Moslem met Christian in holy battle week after weary week. This week, my week, it was a real hot spot. By dawn of the first day, as Bilbo dealt with the trolls, people were running up and down the street outside my window throwing grenades and exchanging gunfire. Some rich guy with flowing robes opened my door unannounced and laughed at me hiding under the bed with the book. Just then a string of bullets struck the wall and the lord of all creation did a quick belly flop on the floor, as I laughed right back at him. He quickly arose with a harumpf and left. I spent the next few hours hiding behind the water heater in the bathroom, fearful the dissed one would tip the militia surrounding the hotel as to the easy prize within. But nothing happened. The fighting raged outside for a full three days before it subsided,.. and now famished, I chanced to emerge.

I remember walking down the long stairway overlooking the lobby, with its black and white diamond tiles, and whirring ceiling fan et al, all straight out of a casa blanca set, and asking timidly if it was safe yet. The clerk assured me with a wave, it was all over for now. He directed me toward the embassy at my request. I arrived frantic, blurting out to the woman behind the counter, "what in hell is going on ?". She pursed her lips and said it was nothing to worry about, simply an organizational dispute. "Lady I am not up on the hill, I am staying in the valley". She pursed her lips again and in a monotone said "We advise you to leave that Area Immediately". Great,... HOW do I get out of here". To which she replied that there was fighting on the North Road but that the Road to Damascus was clear.

I arrived back at the Hotel in a state of exasperation, no money, just the hash. My stomach was doing flip flops. During the 3 days I had to drink the Beirut Tap Water. A Volcano was beginning to emerge rapidly from within. How much worse could it get I thought as I climbed the steps to the Hotel Lobby.

As I started up the stairs to the Room the clerk yelled and brought me up short. He said I wasn't living up there anymore, Palestinians had checked in and they moved me down behind the Desk for my safety. I'll make sure you didn't forget anything I stated and against his protest continued up to the Room. The furniture had all been rearranged to make way for more beds, but then right in the middle of the Room was the HatRack. With My Brick now open and lying on top of its base. I spun on my heel and went back downstairs saying Yes he had gotten everything. And then inquired about where to eat and he directs me to the cafe at the base of the stairs, he didn't really want me to go. I flew down the stairs out the door and down the street to the Market. I have five in coins. The Cheroots were asking six. Again and again, the driver of the small toyota pickup truck had five passengers for Damascus. He Kept yelling, then finally with a toss of his head took my five the pointed me to the truck.

I climbed out of the cheroot just outside of Damascus and fell to the roadway as it took off. Things had started to get really bad. Projectile vomiting, uncontrollable diarrhea, severe dehydration, unable hold water down, extreme fever, and severely blurred vision that made all but the general landscape unrecognizable... I was at times unable to stand, falling and getting up repeatedly. I was broke, sick, without any goods except the clothes on my back and my passport as I began to try to hitchhike my way out of Syria.

Managed to get as far a the Syrian border crossing. But was really delirious by then. Standing there with my thumb out, an English Driver who had been delivering Oil Pipe to Saudi and was on his way back recognized me from the coffee shops on the route and picked me up. He got me a pail of Yogurt, it was a teaspoon at a time to start to see if it would stay down. But it worked. I made it back to Munich, and it was Reinhart's salon in the parlor again with select and cherished guests. Gail asked what I would do now,.. and dropped her Jaw when I replied, I was going to do it again and make it work this time. I didn't see that I had a choice.

The next morning Gail presented me with a ticket to NYC. All the crew had chipped in and Gail had found a super deal out of Luxembourg. I arrived at New York customs nearly barefoot, with the military sleeping role and my passport and the clothes on my back my only possessions. The Customs officer without looking up asked me in a mechanical voice if I had in excess of 25000 in cash or securities on me. I laughed until I collapsed on the floor in tears as he answered for me "I guess not". By arriving at JFK I had completed my trip around the world.

I had everything but the booming voice on this one.

Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

The Holy Bible Acts 3-9

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This is just one of the Paranormal Events surrounding
King Solomon's Gate
The first Archaeological Proof of the history of the Torah, Bible, and Quran