Back in 1973, the cheapest flight to Europe was via Icelandair. For about 250 dollars you could fly from the Bahamas to Luxemburg. I had worked all through junior and senior high to save for my trip to Germany because that is where both sides of my family had immigrated from and I longed to see what it was like. I have always felt a keen connection to my roots and soon I would have this chance. It was good I had worked for so long and hard for this goal because without such a draw I may have been naively tempted to accept an offer that was really too good to be true.
I was 17, tall, thin and blond. Some folks thought I looked a bit like Cybil Shepherd, others like Olivia Newton John. Okay, that worked for me! I was traveling to Europe and I was completely clueless how to dress. I thought for some reason I needed to dress in a red sweater and some plaid bell bottom pants. It was a warm outfit and a bad choice for the Bahamas in June, but I figured it was a short wait before my flight would be off to Europe. So, no big deal, right?
Well, maybe if my flight actually arrived, but on this day the flight from Europe did not arrive. It had been hit by a garbage truck over in Luxemburg. We were delayed one day. Our baggage was checked and it was 95 degrees with 150 percent humidity (or so it seemed) and I was dying inside my clothes.
There were a bunch of customers waiting on this flight and soon they announced that the airline was going to put us up for the night at the Flagler Inn in Freeport. This was good because I was traveling with cash, had no credit card, and I was not prepared to pay for an extended stay anywhere, but it did seem exciting to be stranded in the Bahamas. It was like a mini extra free vacation!
Hotel postcard at the time. Not a bad place to be stranded but I had no clothes or bathing suit.
The airport in Freeport, circa 1973, was little more than a large warehouse with a restaurant located upstairs. It was nothing fancy and I was one of the last passengers to be taxied to the hotel. I got to ride with two lovely ladies from Norway. The guy driving us was the same guy who helped organize all the passengers from the airport. I figured he was an airport or airline employee, or so it seemed.
I agreed to meet these ladies later at the hotel disco for dinner and dancing, why not? Sounded like fun and they were nice. I felt safe hanging out with them. After I was settled with my room, I made my way down to the disco and met with my lovely new friends.
These ladies had traveled to the US and this was their trip back home. They told me all about their home in Norway and it sounded like a beautiful place. We were having a great conversation when we noticed the gentleman from the airlines at the table next to us.
Before long he asked me to dance. George was a dark haired and handsome Greek man, with chocolate brown eyes. Like a lot of foreign men or men of Hispanic culture, he wore a gold chain around his neck. Turns out he was 30 something and while he was attractive he was not really someone I would consider myself with. For some reason I have never fancied men with gold chains. I was more culturally American. He was very talkative and we danced a lot. After some time he invited me to come with him to the Casino. I was just 17 and the only casino I had seen was in Vegas (circa 1964) and I was not old enough to go in there. My parents left us kids in the room with room service while they had fun at the casino. Here in Freeport, I could go, but I did not know this guy. The ladies said he was probably ok, he worked at the airport, right? Yeah, okay, it probably is fine to go with him.
"If I don't show up for the flight tomorrow, you know who I was last seen with, right?"
They smiled and off I went with George and his buddy. When we arrived at the casino, he handed me 50 dollars, which back then was a lot of money. He told me he had something to take care of and to have fun. George told me he would catch up to me in a bit. I headed for the slots.
After some time, I went looking for George. The curious thing was that when I spotted George he was with some other "Greek looking" men speaking what I assume was Greek, and they were huddled together counting what appeared to be thousands of dollars.
I wondered what they could have to do with all this money? I figured he must be into something that most likely was drugs or...worse. Who knows. Before long he found me.
"There is this little bistro I love and I want to take you there for something to eat and some drinks. Can we do this?"
I was a bit apprehensive but I agreed to go. On the way, he dumped his friend and we headed to this smoky, dark little bistro and we talked. It was here he made me "the proposition."
After a drink or two he claimed how much he cared about me and he hoped I would consider staying in the Bahamas. I said, I had no money to stay there and I was on a trip I had planned for over many years. Plus, I had no clothes with me for the Bahamas, as I had packed for a trip to Europe.
"Lisa, I can buy you an apartment. Don't worry you have no clothes here, I can buy you clothes. I really want to take you sailing. I can take care of all these things. I think you are very beautiful and well, I really wish you could stay here so I can do all these things for you. I am falling in love with you."
Was this for real? Who offers things like this except in some movie? Part of me was drawn because you think how romantic it is to have someone smitten with you and want to treat you like a princess. The other part of me was like, no! I have a boyfriend back home and you are kind of old for me and I am not really into older men. My gut told me to get back to the hotel. It was late and so I said I was tired and it was time to get back.
"Lisa, please walk in ahead of me. I am not supposed to be seen with hotel guests."
Another red flag moment. Seemed odd, right? I was hoping he would leave me in the lobby, but no such luck he got into the elevator and I had to think on my. He followed me up to the door to my room and I knew I had to thank him, yet say goodnight and get out of this situation.
"George, thank you for the nice evening, and for the night at the Casino. I appreciate that. I really need to get to sleep, I am really tired."
"Tomorrow, I want you to find me and I want to talk to you more about staying here with me. I want you to come to the restaurant at the airport. I am the manager there and I want to buy you a steak dinner before your flight, okay?"
"Okay, I can do that. Thank you George."
With that, I slipped inside my room and closed my door before he could press his way in. Then I locked the door. I figured I was a bit over my head with this guy and I still pondered over what the hell he was doing with all that money. I really hoped I would not have to deal with him tomorrow and that I could get on my flight without the big steak dinner.
The next day, the Norwegian ladies and I got back to the airport and the only place that had air conditioning was the cafe where George worked. To my good fortune, George was no where to be seen. But my luck did not hold for long.
As soon as George spotted the blond girl with the red sweater (yes, I was still in the same clothes I had worn the day before), he came up to my table and asked me to please join him and to let him buy me the steak dinner. George made it difficult to say no.
The steak dinner was not even a good one, more like something you would get at Waffle House than Ruth Chris. This restaurant was like a small cafe, nothing fancy. Again he fawned over how beautiful I was and how he was falling in love with me (yes, I am so amazing men just fall all over me, right?). Would I please change my mind and let him take care of me? Again, thank God, I had enough wits about me to say no thank you! The pull to Germany was stronger than the pull to believe some stranger had actually fallen in love with this naive traveler.
Soon our call to board the flight came, and with much relief I left the restaurant with the two Norwegian ladies and the saga of the mysterious Greek restaurant manager was left behind. This trip to Germany sure seemed to have a lot of surprises connected to it.
Years later, I was watching a made for TV movie about a runaway young girl who was waiting for her bus at a bus station. She sat for a cold drink at a soda fountain when she was approached by a good looking stranger who bought her lunch. Before long the stranger offered to help her and to rent her an apartment, buy her clothes, and take care of her. It was an offer that this girl accepted. As soon as he had obligated her to him, he turned on her and forced her into prostitution.
At that moment, the light went off. That could have been me! I am sure of it now. I am fully persuaded that George's intentions were less about how amazing I was and more about obligating the pretty and naive and somewhat helpless blond girl into a situation from which I would have been hard-pressed to escaped.
That money George and his Greek buddies were counting was most likely from ill-begotten sources and my trip to Germany could have ended right there in the Bahamas. Not only that, but it could have been a life ending event.
As I look back at times like this, I often think that I have a guardian angel who has managed to tip me down the better path in life, when the crooked path seemed the easier one to choose.