One way to get to Beirut is to fly in a 15 year old Navy transport plane by way of Naples and Crete. It is not necessarily the most comfortable, but it has its compensations. For one thing, it is direct and to the point. It is a matter going from Point A to Point B and then on to Point C. The fact that they happen to be Nooks, Crete, and Beirut is incidental. No one aboard attempts to sell the next point as being "colorful," "traditional," or any of the assorted well-worn cliches that are invariably involved in travel today.
How the hell do you prepare for Beirut? Read the Times? National Geographic? Whatever way you choose, it will be wrong, or at best only a smidgeon right. For that matter, I feel that in this age of communication we have only succeeded in blurring whatever vision we might have had. We look at the world through Ed Morrow or John Daly or the back pages of whatever paper we read, and go away with the highly dangerous illusion that we know about these places and the problems involved.
JEAN SHEPHERD has just returned from Crete and Lebanon, where traveling under Navy credentials, he was on a writing assignment for a forthcoming movie.
There were only five or six of us plus the crew of four in that old ship headed for Lebanon, which for a moment In history had made the big time. Big time in the sense that every TV allow or news media of any kind was using Lebanon "material." News has become part of show bit, and hot spots in the world are very much like hot performers or acts that suddenly catch on. The moment the public shows the slightest hint of tiring of the latest hit trouble spot, the news media drop it like an agent who has an act that hasn't cut a hit record In six months. And for precisely the same reason.
Lebanon had become commercial. It was on the news hit parade. Today, like an old Patti Page record of last year, Lebanon is dead and uncommercial. Matsu and Quemoy are near the top now, and they are swinging. But already they show signs of slipping, and in a few weeks will quietly drop out of the Top 10.
When a trouble drops out of the news hit parade, what happens to it? What happens to all the hit records of last year? Where do the big acts of five years ago go when they die? Do they still exist? Is Lebanon still out there, quietly festering in the sun, or did someone put it up in an attic with those old Kay Kyser discs?
Some Come Back
Occasionally an old-favorite trouble spot makes a comeback and gets back on the big-time shows. Quemoy is a case in point. A couple of years ago, old-news fans will recall, Matsu and the Offshore Islands (the new hit title of the current shows) had a brief flurry in the Big Time, but they didn't stick up there for long. What happened to that act in between times? It's good to see an old tune come back with a new arrangement. It's a warm thing when an old favorite like Quemoy begins to sell again. By the way, is there anyone in the crowd who remembers another old news hit-parader that stuck up there in the Top 10 for a long time - the good old Indo-China Crisis? I always like trouble that have the word "crisis" in the title. "Crisis" is as commercial as "love' In the name of a hit tune. Whoever sees the old 28th Parallel on the top shows these days? I wonder if it's still there, or if it ever was. Remember an oldie called the Yalu? Or was it Balu? It's sometimes hard to remember the titles of the old-timers.
Anyway, all of a sudden we were on the runway of the Beirut Airport and were taxiing past line of white planes marked with huge dark-blue letters: U. N. In front of the terminal that looks like a cross between a Jersey drive-in and a 1939 World's Fair exhibit stood a conglomeration of Jeep trucks and DC-3's carrying the green cedar-tree insignia of the Leban Airline. The sun was hot but pleasant and the air seemed almost to hang, as though someone had hit a high fly ball and everyone was waiting for it to come down.
This was it. I was In Lebanon and It was at the very top of the hit parade. I had a funny feeling that I should reach out and adjust the FOCUS knob, since the boat was making things waver bit. The sound wasn't too good, either, because there wasn't much of it. I missed Ed Marrow's comforting grave voice. This seemed too disorganized for a good solid show. Where do you look when there is no camera to point you? How the hell do I know? Douglas Edwards should have been standing before that doorway saying things to me, but he wasn't. There was only a fat Lebanese soldier who looked like cartoon character with his billed cap and Step gun on his back. He was eating a cheese sandwich that he had taken from an old box lunch in one of the planes. Sitting on the concrete walk next to him was an American paratrooper, asleep. They had the feel of old buddies.
No one said a thing to me. Off to the right in the distance were the hills which someone had said were rebel-held. They were lovely, and as still as a lunar landscape. Inside, the terminal was almost the same as a typical Midwestern Greyhound station. Everything slightly inoperative, with paper cups on the floor and the inevitable closed-up candy stand.
A man walked by me with what looked like an ice cream cone in his hand. I asked him where he got it, and without missing a lick he waved toward the other end of the building. Five minutes later I was eating a 25-piastre frozen-custard cone exactly the same as those that Dairy Queen ladles out to millions of Jerseyites every day. By Cod, I was in Lebanon. I caught a bus and went to town.