One of my American friends, Roger Bialcik (more about him later), wants to know why I have never published the story of the three months that a group of us Brits spent in the USA in 1965.
As we are between cruises and because I feel that there should be a record of the highlights of one’s life, I will endeavour to put the story together. Our grandchildren may appreciate it!
It was 1965. I was in my first year at University studying law. I can’t recall whose idea it was that we should go to the USA during our first summer vacation. Julian Avery, a fellow law student, and I decided to explore the idea. We felt that in the US we would need to work for a time and accumulate enough money to fund a tour of the States during the second half of the trip.
I knew that my grandfather Charles William Hewson had a friend called Hal Kadish who he had met on cruise ships in the fifties. Hal owned hotels in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My mother had exchanged Christmas cards with him after grandfather had died. Incidentally grandfather died from a heart condition while on a Caribbean cruise on RMS Andes and was buried at sea off Trinidad.
My mother suggested I wrote to Hal Kadish, which I did, and he replied indicating that he would be happy to give the two of us work in one of his Milwaukee hotels, the Ambassador, and accommodation in another of his hotels, the Plaza.
By then we had realised that, if we were to work in the US, we would have to emigrate to that country. Julian and I made applications which involved us attending interviews at the American Embassy in London and taking an Oath of allegiance to the American flag!
At some point Nigel Pugh, who I had grown up with in Southampton and who was also studying law, indicated that he would like to join Julian and me. As he had a godfather who was a Professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (only 70 miles west of Milwaukee) he would stay with his godfather and do a 6 week course in jurisprudence while Julian and I were working.
At the time Greyhound buses had an offer of 3 months travel anywhere in the US for $99 for 90 days. We all bought tickets on the basis that that would be the mode of transport we would use to tour the US during the second half of the trip.
Julian and Nigel arranged to fly to New York with BUNAC (British Universities North American Club) and I found that the old Queen Mary was leaving Southampton 5 days before and would be arriving in NY the day that they flew in.
My father George Smith was by that time a Cunard Captain and (I only discovered this recently) must have persuaded Cunard to switch him to Queen Mary for that trip so that he was aboard while I was travelling. It was a bonus because I received invitations to numerous drinks parties and other celebrations.
I didn’t get the impression that father was there to check that I behaved myself but perhaps that was his intention! It was a great voyage because in those days many American High School children were taken to Europe by their wealthy parents to celebrate their graduation. There were a large number of young ladies returning to the US on that voyage on Queen Mary. One of them was Susan Moore from North Carolina.
I do remember the arrival in New York. Queen Mary berthed at Cunard’s Pier 90 and I could see Nigel and Julian on the quay as the tugs pulled and pushed us into the berth.
They were brought aboard and after lunch we met Peter Kendall’s parents. Peter (more about him later) was at school with me at Canford, but as his fathers job had taken his parents to New York, Peter had decided to apply to an American university and Cornell (prestigious Ivy League) offered him a place and he had just finished his first year there.
Peter’s parents had agreed to accommodate the 3 of us for the night before we set off for Wisconsin. In the afternoon we met up with Peter who had a holiday job in the British Pavilion at the 1965 Worlds Fair. He had to dress up as a Beefeater every day. Hot work in July in NY.
That night we all had dinner with my father in NY and next day Nigel, Julian and I boarded a Greyhound bus for the trip to Wisconsin via Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago. In Chicago we split and Julian and I set off to Milwaukee and Nigel to Madison. For us it was then a taxi to the Plaza Hotel, Milwaukee where they were awaiting us and within minutes a phone call from our sponsor Hal Kadish. He would meet us for breakfast at 7.30 the next morning!
After breakfast next day Mr Kadish took us in his Lincoln Continental to the Ambassador Hotel and we were soon set to work. I was to clean carpets in hotel rooms and Julian was to wash walls. The other staff made it clear that we must not work too hard – not too many rooms a day. They would be doing the job once we had left they said. So 3 rooms a day was the maximum we were told. A room took an hour but we were employed for 8 hours a day. Inevitably to kill time we had to watch TV for hours on end, hoping that the housekeeper wouldn’t catch us.
The room where we lived at the Plaza was fine. It had a kitchen and bathroom and shower and a TV. We bought in food from nearby stores and would eat breakfast and our evening meals there. The hotel had a great bar where they allowed us to drink (we were Mr Kadish’s boys) despite not being 21, the relevant age in Wisconsin.
Our weekdays were breakfast at 7.00 then out to the bus at 7.30 for the trip across town to the Ambassador for an 8.00 start. Lunch was our main meal. Plenty of choice and the same food that was available for the hotel guests. At the end of the day it was a bus trip back to the Plaza.
As we didn’t know anyone apart from Hal Kadish (who was in his 80’s) and his lady friend Miss Alice, the only other people we mingled with in the early days were people we met in the hotel bar. Some were law students with wives who were doing post graduate courses locally for the summer. Others were older regulars who just wanted us to talk. They said they loved our accents. And they bought us drinks to keep us talking.
But Hal Kadish was incredibly generous. He took us out to dinner every week with his lady friend Miss Alice. We went to the American Legion Club which he said he helped to create, the Wisconsin Club (original member) the Milwaukee Golf Club and others. He was very kind but the journeys there and back with him driving the Lincoln Continental were scary.
Additionally he provided our accommodation in the Plaza without charge and he set up a company to ensure that we didn’t have to pay any income tax on our earnings.
I recently Googled him and initially Kadish Park came up. When I delved deeper I found that a park in Milwaukee was named after Mrs Alice Kadish. So at some point Hal and Alice had married. And my recollection was that when we were dining with them they were very elderly.
After we had been in Milwaukee for about 3 weeks, one evening as we traveled back in the bus after work, a girl of our age sitting just behind us said she had been listening to us talking and was intrigued by our accents. She wondered if we would like to see the night life of Milwaukee one evening! Of course we did. We told her where we were staying and she said that she would call us and would come with her cousin.
Blanche was her name and a week or so later Blanche and her cousin made contact and came to collect us. Her cousin was not the blonde we had been hoping for, but a young man called Roger Bialcik (more about Roger later).
From that night on until we left Milwaukee a month later we spent most of our spare time with Roger and Blanche and their friend Valerie and their families.
They took us to a variety of bars, to the State Fair, to a drive-in movie, to barbecues at the homes of their parents and siblings and there were only 3 days in our last month in Milwaukee when we didn’t meet up with them. Their hospitality and kindness to Julian and me was fantastic.
Before we met Roger, he and a group of his old friends had organised a weekend in northern nWisconsin. Rogers parents had a cottage near a small town called Suring and that was to be the base. It coincided with our last weekend in Milwaukee and Roger invited Julian and me to join them for the weekend.
On the Friday afternoon Roger and his friend Marty collected us from the Plaza and we drove north to Plymouth (inland from Sheboygan). There we picked up Glenn and later Gary. Eventually we reached an ancient bar they knew in a place called Hintz. We stayed there until about 2.00am when we drove to one of Roger’s uncles home.
Looking back my memory is of a mobile home with a log fire burning at one end with a semi circle of young children asleep on the floor with their feet all pointing at the fire. (This was August!). We were served with bacon and eggs at about 2.30am and then we left for the cottage.
Next morning when we sobered up, we found that the cottage was alongside a beautiful lake. We swam and sat in the sun and waterskied. We visited some of Rogers relatives and Blanche’s parents and we then went into Suring and Lasches bar. They were expecting us. They loved England. There were photos of the Queen on the walls and all the girls wanted to meet the Englishmen (who loved it of course).