Home » Travel » JEAN SHEPHERD Travel–AROUND THE WORLD–How it Happened Intro 1 of 2

JEAN SHEPHERD Travel–AROUND THE WORLD–How it Happened Intro 1 of 2


Shepherd devotes four programs to his seven-day trip around the world.  Although the programs proceed in a rough geographical sequence, he varies his talk between background on the cultures, general descriptions and insights, specific incidents, and audio tapes of everyday events indicative of the particular country he’s in.  His taping of local activity gives a feel for the environment he is in at the time, but can’t be translated into words on paper, so they are only included in a minimal way here.

These programs, disrupted by commercials, asides, and breaks of several days between broadcast segments, taken as a whole, are an entertaining montage, but there is some overlap and backtracking within programs and from one program to another.  To give a coherent story of his trip, some organizing and editing puts it all together in a logical fashion.

world map

And Here’s How it Happened

I have just returned from a voyage—a trip, the likes of which I doubt whether there is even a microscopic percentage of the people in the world who have ever done it.

Maybe a few airline people, but that’s about it.  In exactly seven days I went around the world.  I went around the world in one week—purposefully. You don’t do something like that accidentally, you know?  You have to plan it.  And it’s a very, very strange experience.  I don’t know of any other travel experience—in fact I don’t know of any experience that you can have in this world that remotely approaches it.  The world becomes—how can I say it—it becomes something that it was not before you left on the trip.  For one thing, the world seems to be almost nothing in size.  It’s frighteningly little.

Don’t immediately say, “You’re just doing what all the ridiculous American tourists do—they try to see the world in ten minutes.”  You’re way off base there.  That’s what I wanted to do.  In other words I wanted the curious experience that a round-the-world endurance flyer gets.  Or somebody who is attempting to set a record gets when he’s involved in some vast project.

Let me tell you this—flying around the world is one of the most tiring things that I’ve done in a long time.  You think flying in a jet plane—gee, groovy—you sit there and they ply you with martinis.  I want to tell you, after about three or four days, you are really beat.

Of course, it’s a combination of things that go to make that up.  I suspect that the most insidious is what has become known to most jet travelers as jet-lag.  There is a jet fatigue that sets in, too.  And you know that scientists are not really aware yet of all the ramifications of why it is.  For example, what subtle and curious things happen to the human body hurtling along through the upper atmosphere at around thirty-five to forty-thousand feet at six-hundred miles an hour in a pressurized cabin.  On the surface, really nothing.  Your heart is the same and your respiration is the same.

There’s been some talk about whether or not problems arise when, say, a head of state travels to another country and he travels, say, twelve-thousand miles to get there.  He’s traveled a long distance, he’s gone through several time zones, he’s been at a high altitude, he’s been traveling at a very high velocity.  What does it do to his judgment when he arrives?  What kind of curious things result?

Well, I can tell you this—you get an odd sense of looking at the world through the bottom of a Coke bottle.  It’s not that things are specifically, physically distorted, it’s that your mind skates over the surface of things and picks up some very odd—and interestingly enough—some quite profound insights which you might not have had, had you traveled at a much more leisurely pace.  It’s that feeling of being almost on the edge of hysteria that gives you a fantastic insight.  You suddenly see the orchestra for what it is.  You suddenly see the singers for what they are.  It gives you an odd sort of X-ray vision.

And here’s how it happened.  A friend of mine who is an airline type—a friend over at Pan Am called up and he said, “How would you like to take a trip around the world in one week.”

pan am 747

I said, “Yeah.”  You don’t turn that down, so I quickly made the arrangements and I took off.  I’ll tell you the route that I took around the world.  I left New York City from JFK at seven o’clock a week ago last Saturday night and headed across the Atlantic, and a few hours later—it seemed just momentarily later, because these 747s, when they’ve got a good tailwind behind them, move fast—you barely finish your meal.  It’s scary.  They come along and lay this food and drink on youfood on 747 1960s and you’re lying there, lolling back, and already you’re getting the curious jet-malaise—you get a curious feeling that I always have felt guys who have lived all their lives in a really first-class harem must get.  A sated feeling.  Heady with rich perfumes.

And already the plane is coming down and we’re in Heathrow, London’s airport, and, of course, it’s raining and cold and the airport is curiously sterile and seems to consist largely of pieces of aluminum hooked together by pieces of dirty glass.

globe 1

After a spot of tea I get back on the plane, which just makes one big, arched swoop—shooooom!—up, and shooooom!—it’s down, and now I’m in Frankfurt.  I’ve been in Frankfurt many times, and no matter how many times you go there, there’s one thing you can’t get used to.  In the john in the airport there are three ladies wearing these blue smocks who work there and they come in and they watch you.  What do you do?  You have to pretend that they are part of the furniture, but they ain’t part of the furniture, because the three ladies are roughly, 18, 19, and 20 years of age and highly nubile.  It depends on the urgency of your need as to how long it takes to break down the inhibition.  So you finally say, “I might as well.”  You tip them a six-pfennig piece and you leave.  It’s an enlivening experience at the crack of dawn.

So I walk out, and I’m on my way to Istanbul.  Ah, now we’re getting there.  Where you really taste the exotica.  We land in Istanbul and of course, when you’re traveling around the world in a week, it’s like you’re traveling through all the out-takes of all the James Bond movies you’ve ever seen.  The stuff on the cutting-room floor like the blurred shot of two cabs running into each other and two guys arguing at a cigarette stand in the background and a dog doing what a dog does on the left wheel of a Peugeot.  You’re seeing all the stuff in these places that you ordinarily don’t see in the movies.  So here I am in the middle of Istanbul, in the out-take world.  And one of my problems as a performer, as an actor, is that—I can’t help myself—I instinctively, like a chameleon, take on the accents and the cultural coloration of the people, wherever I am.

So the minute I’m in Istanbul I begin to sit with heavy eyelids as if I’m ready to meet a mysterious lady who has just crossed over the border from East Germany mit der films and I have my information concealed in the hollow my left heel.  You can’t help it, that place is ripe—any minute now I expect to see either Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers cleverly disguised as a streetcar motorman.  But here I am, in the middle of Istanbul and I’ve just barely left New York.  My head is still back in the Village but my body is in Istanbul.  Partly.  It never comes entirely.




  1. Frank Reck says:

    As I read this I had a revelation that in some ways Shep’s travel shows were a precursor to the many Michael Palin travel series. As a big Monty Python fan I’ve always enjoyed Palin’s work. It also occurred to me that Shep was unfortunate in having his radio career end at a time before the proliferation of the many cable networks that allow an outlet for such niche programming. Perhaps if things were different, Shep could have had a very satisfying post radio career as a travel host like Palin has done post Python. He was moving in that direction with his PBS travel series but even on PBS there was only so much bandwidth for shows of that nature. Another of the many, “It might have beens,” that can be said about Shep.

  2. Steve says:

    Make that “Alec [sic] Guinness [sic].”

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