Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Catch Me If You Can

I love Pez for how it changed my life.

Approximately 90 trips all over Europe, 1 each to South Africa n Australia. The treasure I sought almost $5 Million Dollars and I found it.

The beginning.
an 8 year old (1959) Pez Outlaw being dragged to, then pushed into the classroom closet at the Maple Grove Elementary school. In darkness to the door in solitary confinement being opened 10 years later by a guard at a county jail in Ohio. 

The guard says.
"if you promise to quit throwing your food at the guards, we will let you out of the hole". My reply "nope, I'm good".

Picked up for Hitch Hiking on the Ohio Turnpike while absent without leave from the US Marine Corps.

30 days later. Pez Outlaw in front of his Captain at a military base in Quantico Virginia. He told me my mother had assured him that I was a good boy. That he was going to handle everything administratively. Basically he was embarrassed. Nobody even knew I was gone. Having been detached to the army for training. Nobody had actually been keeping track of where I was. I had fallen through the cracks for over a month. Resulting in my 30 days of county lockup in Ohio. 

Having missed my training as a map maker. I now had a "ONE WAY" ticket to Vietnam. I had one tiny problem with this. I knew if the Viet-cong didn't get me, someone from my own team might. I did not fit in anymore. My team player skills have always sucked. I'm not good with authority and I do not play well with others.  The indoctrination from boot camp, had worn off. I was again thinking independently and challenging everybody. In Vietnam this would have been a liability that would have gotten other people killed. Not being totally gone, even I knew what being fragged was. So when my commanding officer asked me if I had anything to say. Not wanting to die at 18 years old.  I indeed had a lot to say. Why should now be different, I always had something to say or at least an opinion.

For the next 15 minutes, I had a lot to say. I told him that while on leave after boot camp I had taken LSD and shot Heroin. He asked if I had done LSD before joining the Marine Corp? I told him I had. Truth was, I had used LSD many, many times. There was one time period alone, when I had approximately 12 tabs of some blue concoction called purple haze or something. I remember vividly, it being rolled in paper like a pack of Necko's candy. Yes, I used most all of them. This was just one time period, not counting Mescaline/peyote. Sheets of paper with dozens of drops of LSD on it. Along with many other colors in tablet form. Yes sir, I had done a lot of LSD. Including freaking out twice, which back then was defined as a bad trip. Like I said I had also shot Heroin for the first time while on leave after boot camp.

All this rocked him back a bit. Thing is, I hadn't even gotten to the good part yet. Not wanting to leave my C.O. hanging I launched into the rest of the story. This part of the story is also true. What can I say. I had problems. I also was a major knuckle head. 

I told my C.O. that I had been getting drunk and trying to cut my toes off. He asked me if I was telling the truth? Yes sir it is the truth. With what? A hatchet I bought at a hardware store. Where is this hatchet? In my locker. I was immediately placed under guard outside his office while two Marines went through my locker. After they found the hatchet, another guard was added to my detail which immediately escorted me to the base Psychiatrist.

The part I didn't tell him was, I had also tried on several occasions to get a friend to drive his car over my ankle. Honestly at a certain point there is such a thing as to much crazy. Rubber room or freedom. Skip the car part.

The shrink thought they had over reacted. After hearing my story he asked me. Do you still want to cut your toes off? I answered with a question. Do you think I will be discharged from the Marine Corp? His answer was very clear. Yes, you will definitely be discharged. Then no, my toes will survive. I was diagnosed Schizophrenic with masochistic tenancies. Today it would be called obsessive compulsive with a pinch of bipolar. Over the next month while I waited to go home my locker was inspected a couple more times. Not wanting to disappoint. I tried to make sure to have a hatchet in the locker for them to find. Which they would promptly take. Only to have it replaced with another. At this point, I was just screwing with them. Making them crazy was my new hobby.
After a while the Marine Corps just let me leave. I hitch hiked home, while they handled my discharge. Thanks to Jimmy Carter and the Red Cross. I now have a General discharge from the Marine Corps. That's like a "B" in school grades. Since all I ever got in school were "Cs". I guess it"s not so bad.

19 year old hitch hiking home to Michigan

hitch hiking on an interstate to standing in a toy show

25 years later (1994), now married with 3 children n after working 25 years as a machinist.
At a toy show I met a lady, I think her name was Maria, she whispered a story about a place called Kolinska in Slovenia. She said it was a warehouse, that had a store also, where you could buy pez. I also was told by Dwayne D. about the train trip he and his girlfriend took in Eastern Europe & how they brought back Silver Glow Pez dispensers. Feeling like I had enough info, Josh & I planned my first trip to Europe to buy Pez dispensers. I scraped together just under $3,000.00 & we were off. I really can't remember today if the first trip was Kolinska or the crazy drive through Eastern Europe of 4 countries in 2 days. Either way the game was afoot, shoe factories, border guards, crazy driving and pretty bad food.

Flight to Ljubljana. After waiting all night on benches in a small corner of the Vienna airport finally it was time to board. We walk out onto the airstrip & are directed to board Sky Kings plane. Pilot copilot & 4 seats for passengers. One of the seats occupied by the overweight male stewardess handing out sandwiches from Rubbermaid containers. This did not look good. The flight turned out to be quite similar to a ride on a scary roller coaster with the male stewardess in your lap more than his own seat. Something to do with flying over the Alps in winter in a small plane, wind currents, downdrafts & low altitudes. We drove clown cars down through the mountains after that. The single most beautiful drive you will ever take is a winter drive from Vienna to Ljubljana through the mountains. The air is crisp & clean. The scenery unmatched anywhere in all my travels. Whenever I think of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen it is that drive in winter. Though driving clown cars through serious mountains can be a harrowing experience.

( Wardrobe. Me in my Trench Coat n Midnight Blue Velour Track Suit, clutching a paper towel in my left hand for security, true story. On the flight from the US to Europe I would not let the Flight Attendants take my coat as I did not trust anybody. 

 Sitting in my seat on that flight to Slovenia, I began wondering how I ended up here, sure I was about to die. The whispered word "Kolinska" that led me to that moment in time. From 1970 to 1990 I had been an accumulator of things old, from 1990 to 1994 I started doing antique n toy shows as a seller. During 1993 I started selling Pez from Canada, which led to the decade that changed my life's direction forever. )

We arrive in Slovenia after taking our first & last clown plane ride. I will never get on another small plane for the rest of my life. Honestly people say this & are usually exaggerating, But I literally thought I was going to die on that plane. After spending some time to regain our composure off we went to Rent a Clown Car. Josh & I had already decided we would not be using the return ticket to Vienna. Here's something you may not know. You can rent cars in Eastern European countries & drive anywhere. But if you rent say in Vienna or Germany you must get special paperwork, which is checked at borders to drive into Eastern block countries.

After leaving the airport we find our way to Kolinska the Pez warehouse & packaging facility in Ljubliana. Really terrific people, they invited us in for espresso, saying they had no problem selling us whatever Pez dispensers they had, that we wanted. Explaining that the Pez dispensers they had was limited, that Plastdispenser in Ormoz the plastics plant was where we needed to go for Pez dispensers. Two things to note here. They actually had quite a good selection of Pez dispensers. Though a month ago they had Pez dispensers I would drool for like rooster mmm, pig mmm, wyle, foghorn, henry hawk, cool cat etc. Second Pez corp downsized this facility, within 2 years they were selling soup & catchup. 

They said Plastdispenser in Ormoz had all the pez dispensers. Though this information came with big warnings & concerns by them. Ormoz you see is very close to Zagreb & Zagreb was at war at that time. The whole Cerbs vs Croates thingy that involved ethnic cleansing. You see if you took a wrong turn near Ormoz, within 1/2 hour you would have been smack dab in the middle of a war. That's not good. Second thing the road from Ljubliana to Ormoz they said was very dangerous, a lot of people were dying on it lately. Now I am really encouraged.

The drive down was interesting, a bit hilly with steep drop offs at roadside. Though the real problem was it was 1 lane north & 1 lane south without even a yellow line to divide them. To complicate things even further drivers in either direction treated it as though both lanes headed north or south at the same time. Remember this is me the guy the King of Austria thought was the worst driver in the world, who could not believe I was allowed to drive at all. Fair due though I learned my European driving skills in Slovenia, Slovak, Czech & Hungary. Just driving in your own lane on that highway was a duel with death. 

My job was navigation, Of course we got lost. I remember screeching to a stop when Josh yelled that sign says Zagreb 20 miles. Whoa did we ever stop & turn around. We spent that night at some weird hot spring spa. Kinda cool if you like taking a swim in hot sulfur waters in a ex KGB retreat atmosphere.

Ex KGB Resorts. This place was actually pretty cool in a KGB sorta way. At the center of everything was this old looking glass enclosed swimming pool with a brick changing room attached, surround by wooden cabins for rooms. Lockers the whole bit. It was the pool that was the big deal. The pool was fed by a hot sulfur spring, so you swam in hot sulfur water. Of course we tried it. It was a very unique experience & as we were lost when we found it, I could not tell you for the life of me where it was. A lot of these experiences were very unique & the last remnants of something soon gone forever.

Ex KGB Towers. At the borders of most old Eastern Block countries there were at regular intervals Guard Towers. They reminded me of water towers here but flatter & more saucer in shape with windows & a wrap around porch. These were the big ones, there were also smaller ones made of wood that reminded me of Park Ranger Towers over here. There were still a lot of cold war things standing in the early 90s.

One more thing that always struck me as odd. After crossing customs leaving Hungary, you would get on the Highway to Vienna. At the first overpass on the side of the hill was this wooden building that looked like a club house. It was manned with Austrian cops of one sort or another in the early to mid 90s because I saw them. In the later 90s, they appeared empty. This area was the same area where during the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Communism, where the Hungarian people fled across the border into Austria to escape the tanks that the USSR had sent in to squash the rebellion. The reason I know this is on one trip to Hungary I read a book that went into a lot of the details about the 1956 Hungarian revolt & the exodus from Hungary afterward.

I've got to tell you about the toilets in a lot of old eastern block countries. You know how when your sitting doing your business here it is a straight shot down in this country. Well that portion is way forward in the bowl, your business in the old country quite often lands on a flat raised area like table & just sits there till you flush, sometimes it leaves, sometimes not. To further aggravate the situation, above the toilet in our cabin was an open propane heater. So it baked the toilet & its contents. Sorry if this bit of color grossed you out and the only reason I tell you is it really grossed me out.

Next morning we arrived at Plastdispenser the pez plastics factory in Ormoz. First thing I noticed was very long lines of cars at one side of the factory. After watching for a while I realized they were dropping off assembled Pez dispensers & picking up components for Pez dispensers to be assembled. People from the surrounding community were doing home assembly of pez dispensers. The population of Ormoz is 2,400 people. Until that moment I had no idea this was how it was done. Later I found out this at one time or another was how it was done at most injection molding plants in Europe. Which means just like the Queen of Austria found pez dispensers & components for Pez dispensers in the community around the factory in Linz. You too could find them in the communities surrounding factories in Pamplona Spain, Ormoz Slovenia, Gyor Hungary & early production in China. One thing you need to know is workers especially home assembly workers always have pez stuff in there garages.

Josh and I were admitted in, then escorted to the upper level where the offices were. As we waited on the glassed in balcony, we were able to take in the view of the entire manufacturing area where production of pez components was actually done. In the dozen visits I made to this factory, this was always my favorite part of every trip.
Driving that tiny car from Slovenia through Austria, The Slovak Republic, Hungary, The Czech Republic, ending up in Germany for our flight home. Using Maps n locals, one of whom happily climbed in the car (his idea) to show us where to go. An elaborate goose chase that ended at a shoe factory not a Pez factory. Border patrol guards going through our luggage n openly stealing items. The strongest images of Eastern Europe from that first trip were lots of Machine Guns Tanks n Armored Vehicles on tarmacs at airports n borders. That's probably why I'd call that First trip Bullets Over Budapest.

The stories of Gypsies, Prostitutes, clandestine meetings, Bribes, smuggling in plain sight, my own version of the Wild Wests Hole In The Wall being The Raba Hotel in Gyor Hungary n how Pez Corporation would have killed to know that location. How the staff at the Raba literally guarded my privacy. How my movements resemble a covert agent more than some Redneck buying Pez. 

Notes for the book.
I didn't just drive on the sidewalk in front of Pez Austria, Linz. This happened in other places in the old eastern block + Slovenia. I can't remember exactly why josh n I did this, all I remember is that on multiple occasions it was just the easiest solution. I blame this behavior on tiny tiny cars.
I also accidentally drove through a non vehicle area of downtown Viena.
Offers from prostitutes was a daily occurrence. Exposure sometime literally to prostitution were multiple daily.

For ten years I had the unexpected pleasure of traveling to Europe & other areas of the world searching for Pez. A more noble journey would have been in search of wisdom or truth. My journey was in search of Plastic.  My lifestyle allowed me to travel roughly 10 times per year for most of 10 years. Each trip lasted 4 to 8 days. Some of the trips were more of a whirlwind affair involving many countries on the same trip. I don't miss it, especially with flying being what it is today. Though for ten years it was my life & beyond what I ever thought possible.

Spies, Black market deals, smuggling and Bribery. 
10 years, Nobody could catch me.

Gun Towers, Armed Guard Check Points, Military Equipment on Tarmacs at Airports n Hookers almost everywhere you turned. FYI the Hookers were anything but shy. Five or six on the roadside as you drove by, one out of five would be flashing you, lifting her shirt as an invite. At a roadside food-stand one Hooker was wearing, we'll call them trousers, so sheer that she might as well have been wearing nothing. Add to that the always present groups of Gypsies
n bubba you got a story.

Everywhere I went people on the hustle with a recent jolt of freedom. Eastern Europe was to me a real contradiction. Remnants of the old oppression side by side with the new energy of a fresh batch of entrepreneurs. My timing could not have been better, the perfect marriage of an idea, the will to act on it n the environment for it to be possible.

The following are surveillance photos taken on the sly by me. For this transaction I paid Gunther Leitner for 50 boxes of 12 carded Silver Glows per box. The driver and I were then told where to meet off site by Gunther.

It Fell Off The Back Of A Truck. 

Photos are of the silver glow Pez buy. The driver was under orders from Gunther Leitner. I paid Gunther, then met the driver for delivery.

That's me on the left. These are Photos I took covertly while buying Pez.

Covert Pez photos I took. That's me on the right. Tell a friend many more to come.

The Raba Hotel in Gyor Hungary
This is the Raba Hotel in Gyor. I spent well over 6 months here if you add up all my stays over a 10 year period. I loved this place. Highly recommended if you visit Hungary. Last few years of my travels my room was in far left corner of picture. The ones with balconies.

Restaurant at the Raba Hotel. I spent a lot of time here smoking cigarettes drinking espresso & Fanta orange as a chaser. Absolutely lovely place, many fond memories. Table with thingy on it was my table.

The Elvis Cafe.
The Elvis Cafe was this really weird restaurant located at the side of the road. I used to pass this cafe every trip in Hungary. Like I said, If you take the M1 freeway you really don't see Hungary. You have to take two lane blacktops if you want to see a passenger plane sticking out of a building. This restaurant was located about midway between the Vienna Hungarian border and Gyor. I actually stopped at this cafe several times. Had espresso up in the plane and bought several T-shirts.
Elvis Cafe outside Gyor in Hungary. Picture courtesy of Rudi.

The Real Pez Truck
The real for real Pez truck. Parked at the Yellow House aka Hungarocany in Gyor. For all the trucks that have been made and sold to collectors. I never understood why someone did not make the real thing. For me this truck is an icon. This truck is also the reason I thought Gunther was disappointed after we made our first Pez buy. He had them back it up to the warehouse, so once we were done it could be loaded for transport. That buy was early days only a few thousand dollars. What am I saying? I never in 10 years bought more than could fit in a good medium size car. Five duffel bags was my limit. I used to see this truck in Hungary, Slovenia and in between. Picture courtesy of Rudi.

J√°nossomorja  was the name of the town or was it the warehouse where Gunther sent me. All you had to do was spot the smoke stack with Pez on it. then find the roads that got you there. This was the warehouse where Pez dispensers were stored. At the time it was also where candy was made and pez were carded. Like Kolinska in Slovenia. More or less the distribution hub for the old Eastern Block countries and Russia. Gunther owned that part of the world when it came to Pez.
Austria, Traun.

This is the building Where I found Gunther Leitner that day. That's my crappy little red rental car turning the corner. Unlike the photo the parking lot was empty and the main door was wide open.
Below Photo of the Ferry Boat I booked passage on with Silja Ferry Lines in Sweden. Inset is Pez Pal Mariner. 
I arrived at Silja Ferry lines & was allowed to board the ferry & go to the gift shop on board the ship. There I met this really wonderful lady who ran things named Tuula. She said we have about 60 or so Pez Pal Mariner available but you have to be on board as a passenger & at sea before I can sell you any. I told her I really needed a lot of them so she checked & said she had 2 pallets of pez pal mariner at the other port. Off I went to buy a ticket. I booked a round trip, in a Tax deductible high end room. It was a room with an exterior window, so a view of the whole trip. This room even had a shower & a TV. Until this trip the idea of being on a large boat out in the middle of a big body of water left me a little uneasy. After this trip I realized it was more like being in a small city that happened to be a boat.