Mom called. The official confirmation letter from the U.S. Department of State had arrived. On a Thursday I took off work at noon and a buddy took me to a used car lot on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. I bought a used red Fiat sedan for seven hundred fifty cash. Then I swung by a liquor store and purchased a six-pack of Michelob Gold on the way to my parent’s house…
<photo by Independent Balkan News Agency
After congratulating me, dad moved to the garage to tune a piano. Mom hosted a Tupperware party. I grabbed a bag of chips and went out to the driveway and slapped a tape into the Fiat’s eight-track console (the reason I bought the car). While Ray Charles sang, “Unchain My Heart,” I took a swig of beer and deliberated my future.
I met with my boss at the El Segundo radiotelephone company the next day. I told him I appreciated his generous offer (a salary upgrade greater than the DOS salary—with benefits!). His expression told me that he knew what I had decided. He wished me a great career in the Foreign Service. Although the word career had never been a concern, I thanked him. The office took me to Stick & Stein for a going away party. It reminded me of George Kennedy’s visit a few months earlier.
Get Your Kicks On Route 66
A few days later I said goodbye to my family who had always supported my adventures. The three thousand mile drive from Southern California to Washington D.C. took about two weeks. I traveled Route 66. The Fiat held up well except for a busted fan belt outside Kingman, Arizona, where, ironically dad had always obtained a speeding ticket. It brought up childhood memories (my parents would buy a new car every five years with the intent of impressing relatives in Missouri who had expressed doubts that they’d ever “make it” in California). I stayed overnight in a “wigwam” motel, willingly got scammed two bucks by a buxom beauty to view a barrel full of baby “rattlers,” (plastic baby rattlers), and ate a lot of Mexican food. My travel orders authorized reimbursement for mileage, plus per diem (a daily stipend).
When I arrived in the Northern Virginia area on Thursday afternoon, I checked into a motel in Arlington. The next morning I took a taxi to the U.S. Department of State.
Swearing-In | D.O.S.
Foreign Service Officer Glen, with whom I had the initial interview, welcomed me aboard. He took me to OC/P, the Office of Communications/Personnel, where I filled out paperwork until I was ushered to another office to join perhaps six other people. We were all sworn-in:
“I (my name), do solemnly swear that…”
I don’t recall all the words when swearing in, but I do remember promising to defend the Constitution of the United States against all our enemies (sounds like quite a responsibility, huh?).
After swearing in I was led to the Office of Communications, Programs, and Engineering (OC/PE). They introduced me around before I filled out more paper work.
Glen and a staff member took me to lunch. Frankly, their “war stories” intimidated me. He asked me where I was staying. I told him I was camped out at a motel on Glebe Road until I found an apartment. He smiled and gave me directions to OC’s tech depot in Springfield, Virginia. I didn’t have to report for duty until Monday morning at eight a.m.
The National Mall
I spent the weekend at the National Mall. I sent post cards of the Smithsonian and the Lincoln and Washington Monuments to friends and family. I promised mom and dad I would fly them out to Washington when I got situated.
Abe Lincoln was by far the most welcoming of the famous patriots I ran into on the National Mall. Sitting there in his chair ruminating, Lincoln reminded me of my dad. He had spent a lot of time in his Lazy Boy chair. On the outside he was a simple man who pestered our dogs and gave in to my little sister’s whims. Dad was entitled by mom’s creative ways and great Southern style meals. On the inside I think there was a lot going on that unfortunately never had an outlet for him to express himself.
I walked by the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue where big changes could be in store. President Ford was running against Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in the election next month. Who would be the next Secretary of State—my boss at the U.S. Department of State?