After much travel-related unpleasantness—most occurring by Gate F8 at the Philadelphia airport—I’m back in my beloved Atlah. Thanks so much for putting up with this week’s sporadic posting; rest assured the absence will pay off down the line, as I managed to collect some dynamite research for my next book. Getting really excited about how this project is coming together, as well as a bit intimidated about how I’ll work up the gumption to stop outlining and start writing the damn thing.
As is always the case, I stumbled across a thousand-and-one great tales in the margins of microfilm and the memories of friendly beer drinkers. One of my favorites is the story of Joann McDaniel, an Oregon girl who made the incredibly foolish mistake of trying to smuggle hashish from Syria to Turkey in the early 1970s. The Turks were, as you might surmise, not amused, and McDaniel and her friends received the Midnight Express treatment. Fortunately for her, the musician Bill Coleman wrote a hit song about the case (“Oregon”), and the continuing public attention eventually compelled the Turks to agree to a 1980 prisoner swap.
What fascinated me about the story is not the arc of the crime-and-incarceration narrative, but rather what happened after the credits had seemingly run. As Coleman recounts here, the seven years in Turkish prison made McDaniel feel like an alien upon her return to the U.S.:
She paid me a visit at my home in 1980 shortly after our initial meeting at the Hindquarter restaurant in Salem. She and Bob Hubbard spoke about maybe settling in Southern Oregon … purchasing a mobile home with the $10K they received from a publisher as an advance on a book they were to write about their experiences.
I saw nothing of the book, nor did I ever hear from JoAnn again. Frankly, it would not surpise me at all if they returned to Turkey, or somewhere in the middle east.
Their homecoming to America, after spending nine (seven by my count–ed.) years in a Turkish prison, was fraught with an extreme case of future shock and they didn’t seem to be adjusting well to the “America” that had developed since their arrest…In that relatively short span of time the baby boomer generation had all gone from irresponsible “hippies” to family oriented “thirty somethings” ….. all, except for JoAnn and Bob. They still dressed and spoke like “hippies” … it was as if they has stepped out of a time capsule …. like lost children playing grown up, they wandered through that day with little or nothing in common with the America they had returned to.
They were, in all honesty, like ghosts from the past, and they felt very uncomfortable in this future world.
That discomfort after such a short absence speaks to a fundamental truth about the human condition: Even at relatively advanced ages, we are constantly growing and evolving more than we realize. When that growth is stunted, whether by prison or, say, life in a totalitarian nightmare, seeing how others have changed with the times must be disorienting, indeed.
Have a good Memorial Day Weekend, y’all. I’ll be spending the bulk of mine revising a Wired story and packing for the new global headquarters. Oh, and maybe drinking my fair share of the ol’ reliable, solely to blot out those painful memories of sleeping in the Philly airport as floor-waxing machines whirred loudly in the background.