In Part 2 I told about my first five months in South America selling magazine subscriptions. My sales crew had worked in Venezuela, Colombia and Peru starting in December 1955. In May 1956, we traveled on to Argentina.
Argentina – First Visit
We flew from Lima, Peru, and arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, near the end of May 1956. It was winter time there. The city’s airport was huge, modern and beautiful. The city seemed very much like a European city. Buenos Aires had the longest, shortest and widest streets in the world. It also had air that was much polluted with smoke and dirt. Prices were delightfully low. We stayed at the best hotel for $2.50 per day and enjoyed steak dinners for 75 cents.
I wrote home: “This is the strangest town I’ve ever seen. Paper must be scarce — napkins, writing paper, toilet paper, etc. come in small doses. Also, they are short of water and electrical power. At night, most of the street lights are out and the whole city is real dark. On top of that, they drive their cars with only dimmed lights on.”
We were very disappointed with Buenos Aires. The people were unfriendly and business was terrible. In another letter I wrote, “The people are afraid to part with their money because everything is unstable now. Peron really messed up this country.” Previously we had thought we would do some work in Montevideo, Uruguay. Because it was just across the river from Buenos Aires, we suspected business might also be bad there, so we crossed that off our list, for now.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
We flew from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in early June 1956. My letter home said, “Verlene and I got friendly with the flight crew and rode up front with the pilots. We even had supper there with them. It was night time when we landed in Rio and we watched the landing from the cockpit. I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight as then. "LEAPIN’ LIZARDS, MARGIE! WERE YOU ABOUT TO FLY ANOTHER AIRPLANE??"
We moved into The Excelsior Hotel on Copacabana Beach. Our first outing was to see the famous zigzag tiled sidewalk along the beach. We walked its full length and headed back. I decided to wade at the water’s edge which was close by. A big wave came along and knocked me off my feet. I got dumped in the water and had to go back to the hotel for a change of clothes looking like a drowned rat. My two friends were not much help — they doubled over with laughter.
We had heard that Rio was considered the most beautiful city in the world. It did not take long for me to agree with that. A letter home said, “We saved the bestest until the lastest.” So many buildings were ultra-modern and quite new. I knew that my father, who was an architect, would be fascinated with the architecture we saw.
Although we were now faced with a new language, Portuguese, instead of Spanish, we found that most people spoke English to some extent because it was a required subject in their schools. We hired two Brazilian women, Odette and Therezinka, who helped us with the Portuguese language and in guiding our local travels.
The local streets were wide, but the traffic was very dangerous. Some people had described driving a car in Brazil as the most frightening experience of their lives. We were faced with unsafe tap water and unsafe milk. The only recourse for milk was to boil it; I did not like that, so I stayed with safe bottled water.
I liked Rio the best of all the cities we had visited. I enjoyed much local sightseeing and kept busy going to the yacht club (and sailing), the zoo, parks, and both country clubs.
When our sales diminished in Rio, we went off to Belo Horizonte, the new capitol city for Brazil. We traveled there by train. That was a terrible experience! Our train car was old and beat up; it seemed like a cattle car. The trip was 300 miles and it took 16 hours. We tried to make the best of it by staying in the dining car and entertaining the people there with our singing.
Belo Horizonte was a city with a population of around 500,000 as the capitol and largest city in the state of Minas Gerias. It was the second master-planned city in Brazil, the design initiated in 1893. In the 1940s, young Oscar Neimeyer worked with the city's mayor, Juscelino Kubitschek, in designing the greatly acclaimed Pampulha Neighborhood. Starting in 1957, when Kubitschek was President of Brazil, the two worked together on the design for Brasilia, Brazil's new national capital.
In Belo Horzonte, we stayed at the Normandy Hotel, a top luxury lodging. The hotel manager spoke English well and was very attentive to our every need. Carmen Cavellero’s orchestra appeared at our hotel for a one-night engagement. We met some of the members of his band.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
In early August 1956 we flew from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, the second largest city in Brazil. This city seemed very American — like Chicago — busy with industry and commerce. Over 40,000 Americans lived there. At that time, it was purportedly the fastest-growing city in the world. Here we found safe milk for the first time since Lima. We became “regulars” at some nice restaurants near the hotel. We became friendly with the son of one of the restaurant’s owners and occasionally he treated us to free meals. In September, he was going to go to attend college in Houston.
One night our crew caused quite a stir at a restaurant. Some people there mistook my roommate, Linda Robertson, for Susan Hayward who was expected to arrive from Rio. People crowded around her and asked for her autograph. They were disappointed to find she was not the expected celebrity, but took many photos of her anyway.
I met a local man named Bob Banko who was lots of fun. One Sunday we went to the town of Santos to attend a huge birthday party for Bob’s friend, Joe Rosario, with over 150 people and a large orchestra. A local radio station broadcast an hour of music and narrative from his party.
In early October 1956 we flew from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Montevideo, Uruguay. Due to some personnel changes, I was promoted to manager of our sales crew. I tried very hard to do a good job and was helped a lot by dear Linda Robertson, my long-time roommate. Although we had crossed this city off our list in May, it now turned out to be a good place for our sales. Linda and I met the local public relations man for Pan American Airlines. He arranged for an article about our crew that was to be published in six local newspapers. We also had our pictures taken at a local golf club and an article was published about us in Golfing Magazine. The manager of our hotel called our crew the “sunshine girls” because he thought our presence cheered up the place.
We became acquainted with a local millionaire named James Miller. Odette and I were invited to join about 50 other people who met in his private movie theater three nights a week. One night he attempted to connect us with our folks at home via his ham radio system, but was not successful.
Argentina — Second Visit
In early November 1956 our crew returned to Buenos Aires after ten weeks in Sao Paulo. We had been very disappointed with Buenos Aires in May, but now our sales work went well. I had my very best sales since starting in the business with $949 in five days. Linda Robertson celebrated her 25th birthday there.
We planned to finish our efforts in South America within the next few weeks and return home in time for Christmas. I became acquainted with a man who worked for Argentine Airlines. Through him I was able to obtain tickets to the U.S. for all four of our crew at a 30 percent discount price.
Our crew flew out of Buenos Aires on December 5, 1956. That was one year to the day from when I arrived in South America. I arrived at Idlewild airport in New York City. I seriously considered going out of the airline terminal to kiss the ground because I was so glad to be back in the U.S. heading for home.
I very much enjoyed my first venture abroad. I had worked with many very nice and interesting people. I had learned to work with Spanish and Portuguese and to cope with several monetary systems. I had learned several Latin dances. I had made nice friends in every city where we stayed and had therefore enjoyed a very active social life. I had received various job offers and even some offers of marriage. I declined all of those so I could continue to do much more world traveling.
My year away from home had shown me how dear my family was to me. I was very glad to be back with them to enjoy their love and concern on a daily basis. That year had also convinced me that I lived in the most wonderful country in the world. I truly appreciated all that the U.S. offered that was not available to millions of other people in the world.