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Yale 62

Career Interrupted. Times Two.
First Interruption.

By Chuck Post

Chuck between careers, in the 60s

Chuck between careers, in the ’60s

[Editor’s note: Chuck lives not in South America, but in Prescott, Arizona, with his wife Grace.]

I was one of the 10% of our class that went right to work. Of the remainder, 80% went to grad school, the other 10% into the military.

IBM picked me up and made me a computer programmer when that was no fun. Punch cards, big “memory dumps” in machine language… accounting machines, basically.

Nothing like today’s graphical wonders.

So, my first escape from my computer career went like this.

After turning in my resignation to IBM at my third anniversary, I hopped an Argentine freighter in Brooklyn. Armed with a Berlitz self-instruction book in Spanish, I stepped off the ship three weeks later in Buenos Aires, ready for anything.

I got a room downtown, and before long was introduced to a family of means with polo ponies and an eligible daughter. Two afternoons each week, the 20s generation got together for Coca Colas and guitars. Each guy in the circle was supposed to play and sing a song. The girls were spared.

Were it not for the Kingston Trio and “Tom Dooley,” I would have had nothing to offer. In fact, it was only for their amusement that they insisted on “Tom Dooley” each time my turn came up. They had much larger repertoires.

Aside from the Cokes and an occasional ride on a retired polo pony, my life got into a routine. Every morning at the same restaurant, ordering the same “Omoletto con jamon y caso,” and the same “yogurt fruitilla” for lunch. And “bife” was close enough to “beef” to get a dinner.

Chuck on a river boat on the Parana River

Chuck on a river boat on the Parana River, 1966

Three months was enough. I bought a third class ticket on a river boat to Asuncion, Paraguay. A 2-day trip up the Parana River.

Third class meant sleeping in steerage with mostly native people, and only a bulkhead separating us from the cattle. Our bunks were arrayed up the sides of the curved walls, and the bathroom was just a concrete floor with holes.  No paper.

In my still very limited Spanish, I inquired about paper for the room with holes in the floor.

There was one fellow, whose attire spoke of some refinement (he turned out to be a perfume salesman). He piped up and told me to use newspaper. The natives broke out laughing. I could not understand him, and asked him to repeat.

He did, with the same response from the natives. Repeating his comment a third time, the crowd in their bunks were uproarious. Finally I got it. “What does it matter if you use newspaper?  Your backside does not read!”

We finally arrived in Asunscion, the capital of Paraguay. It might have been different had I met another polo family with their amusements but I found little to do there, and after a couple of days I bought a bus ticket to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  It was a long ride. Three days.

By now I had a system. In a new city, I would sniff out some Peace Corps volunteers, and ask them where they stayed overnight. And so it was in Rio.

For $1 per night, clean sheets and relative quiet. And if I am remembering correctly, “agua caliente”…. hot water. Much to see in this beautiful city, and I stayed awhile.

By now I had been in South America for over 4 months.

With diminishing funds, I was determined to see Machu Picchu, the ancient ruins on a mountain top in Peru. Everyone I met along my way had recommended it.

Discovered by Hiram Bingham, an Eli that appears to have gotten a residential college named after him, Machu Picchu was high in the Andes, and I was determined to see some of life in the Andes along the way.

I flew from Rio to Lima, Peru.

From Lima I took a day-long train ride to Huancayo, part way up the mountains. The morning after a night in the hotel, I discovered I had lucked into market day. The colorful serapes and blankets cost me a couple rolls of film. The women wore derbies. I was told that signified they were Aymara Indians.

But I was nowhere near Machu Picchu. To get there, I would need to go further, and up over the Andes, to the famous colonial town, Cusco.

I was only half way to Cusco. But the railroad went no farther. After another night in the hotel, a “bet-your-life” bus ride was scheduled the next day. It was an all-day ride on the sides of mountains, a single lane road with two-way traffic. Screams and prayers the whole way. After many hours, the driver was rewarded with cheers and sanctification when we finally arrived in Ayacucho.

And that was the end of the bus line. No farther. But there were trucks.

After a night of rest, I waved down an open-bed truck carrying mostly Coca Colas, sacks of agricultural product, and natives. There were three days ahead of me. Up, down, switchbacks. Up, down, switchbacks.

The first night I slept between the driver and his assistant. It was a long night. The bench seat did not recline.

The next night, I opted to ride up on the Coca Colas.  (Aside: once in a karate dojo in Bridgeport, Connecticut, I was challenged to lie down an a bed of nails. Distribute your weight over enough nails, and it’s no problem. So, lying on the top of crates of Coke bottles was even easier.)

The truck ride was three days long. The truck would stop twice a day for a food stop.

Usually the only structure along the endless dusty road was a small residence, whose resident, a woman, had a table to seat up to 8, with an oil-skin table cover. I was usually the only taker, as the truck driver seemed to have his own food, and the same for the natives on top of the truck.

I was warned to always drink fluids from a bottle, and thankfully Coke was universally available. And to make sure the food was cooked.

And so I did.

But at 14,000 feet water boils at 187 degrees, not 212.

So, at one of the stops, where the flies on the table just sat there and stared at me, I had a “cooked” meal. (Before we leave the flies, let me tell you, they seemed to be too tired to leave the table top. Or even too tired to buzz my food. At one point, out of curiosity, I banged my fist down on the table. They just popped up about an inch or so, and right back down.)

That was likely the place I picked up amoebic dysentery. Boiling water at 187 degrees was not hot enough to kill the amoebas. I spent the first couple of days in Cusco isolated in my $2-a-night room. Thankfully, it had its own bathroom because I did, in fact, “own” the porcelain for those two miserable days.

Weakened but determined, I spent a couple of days seeing the sights in Cusco, including the amazing Sacsayhuamán, the inexplicable fortification with huge stone blocks fitting perfectly together – the technology needed to cut and fit those giant rocks centuries ago, an abiding mystery.

Weakened but determined, I caught a local train to the ruins at Machu Piccu, along with the women wearing fedoras, just like my dad back in Philadelphia. Transporting their children, chickens and goats.

My dwindling funds were just enough for the flight from Cusco back to Lima, on the coast. With no air pressure in the plane’s cabin, we all had hoses in our mouths for the drop from the Andes at +/- 15,000 feet to Lima at sea level.

Back home in Philadelphia, it took me a month or more to get past the effects of the amoeba. Then what? To pick up where I left off at IBM?

A techie I never was. But computer sales… now, there’s the ticket. I hired on with one of the “Beltway Bandits” in Washington.

(PART TWO, the second interruption, will be posted within a few weeks. Please stay tuned.)


We welcome your comments below.

4 comments to Career Interrupted. Times Two. First Interruption.

  • william weber

    Nice going, roomie.

  • Wow, what a story … another roomie (Tony G)

  • Chuck Post

    See, Tony, I was not CIA after all……

    Thanks to you guys for taking me in for my senior year. It was a good year.

    [Don’t you sometimes wonder if Yale ever upgraded it’s direct current electric system?]

  • Lemmon David

    You are the man Chuck, You have been married to my mom Grace for over 30 years and your adventures are still new and enlightening for me. You are a shining example of what this world needs more of, caring, patient and compassionate people. You are an amazing guy and I am grateful you came into our life when I was but a fun loving teenager working on motorcycles in the backyard with a craphouse radio blowing fuses in moms house. A gem of a story for a different publication. Thank you for always having a joke at the ready to make us laugh.
    Much love to you Chuck,