I am not a natural born citizen of the United States; I wasn’t that lucky. I chose to be a naturalized citizen instead. It was as close as I could get.
I was born and educated in London, England four years after the end of World War Two. Rationing in the U.K. continued for nine years until 1954 as the U.K. was broke, as our nation will be in 2019 unless we fix our deficit.
My playground was the bombed out side of my street that I grew up on. The Germans dropped two bombs on a row of houses across the street, and that side became rubble. That was my playground as a child, as it took a decade for the local council to afford to rebuild that side of the street.
I came from a nothing background.
My father was brought to England as a child from Russia in the 19th century, where my family were refugees during a Tsarist pogrom. I believe that some in the family moved to Poland, some to Germany and I suspect some to America.
He helped his family make a living at an open air market in East London at the turn of the 20th century. Eventually he bought a house with (self-storage) garages to make a living. I was brought up there. It was not a happy childhood. It was less than nine miles from Buckingham Palace and the British Houses of Parliament, but it could have been nine light years. The West End of London was the place to live; the East End was not. Night and day.
At some point, due to ongoing religious bigotry in England, he changed the family name to Le Vene to disguise the religious connection. I know all about bigotry and prejudice. I changed mine back to Levene although my extended family still uses Le Vene. I don’t.
He did not believe in education, something hard for Americans to believe, just making money to survive. He even tried to take me out of high school at thirteen to become a machinist apprentice. Fortunately for me, the school principle persuaded him not to. I even remember that bathing water was rationed! If I took too long in the bath, and ran the hot water for too long, he’d turn it off. I frequently took the five cent bus ride to the East Ham Town Hall’s municipal baths and steam rooms, where I wouldn’t be stuck with lathered hair and no water to rinse with.
After years of planning I left for the adventure of a lifetime at 21, traveling around the world. My plan was to visit the United States, a country that I had long admired based on reading my father’s copy of Newsweek every week for years and, of course, watching all of the American TV shows and movies.
I loved the American culture and spent years poring over maps of the United States, determined to visit many states one day.
I was hooked.
I had invented and received a provisional patent on an inflatable tent, with a built-in air-mattress. It could be used on a lake as a covered raft or just for camping so the user could sleep on the ground or, tied up to shore, on the water if used at a lake. It was the original water bed. Now I see my idea used everywhere, especially by our military that can create an instant inflatable building in seconds.
I wanted to see if American manufacturers had an interest, as America was my Mecca for everything good. I also wanted to examine the drive-in movie business, as I thought that I could take the idea to London when I got back, and develop the first and only drive-in in England. I’d make a fortune, or so I hoped.
I can still vividly remember using napkins on the plane to work on sophisticated drive-in movie designs. I later found that drive-in theaters were the opposite, as you know.
I had bought a See America ticket from Greyhound before leaving London. It cost me $99 and was good for 99 days of unlimited travel! They called it the 99 days for US$99 ticket. Imagine that, $1 a day to travel anywhere in the lower 48 states that I wanted to visit, plus I could sleep on the bus to save hotel expenses. That was a dream ticket for a former student. I actually decided to hitchhike instead as I wanted to meet as many Americans of different social strata possible, and eventually cashed in that ticket getting my $99 back. A dollar saved is a dollar earned.
I visited the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square in London, got my visa and was given a free copy of the Rand McNally Road Atlas. As I wrote above, I spent countless hours studying America via Newsweek and poring over that map, studying it for details before my adventure began. I wish I still had it, as it marked my travels across the country and had great sentimental value.
I hitchhiked around the country waiving a British flag (the Union Jack) to get drivers to stop from curiosity and met a lot of very generous, friendly people. I was even interviewed on the KOTS, AM radio station in Deming, New Mexico (thanks to Candie Sweetser). Everything I had read about America was true. Americans were nice, friendly and generous.
From California, I planned to visit Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Turkey and several European countries before returning to Great Britain… as a world traveler.
Fortunately, I didn’t get to Vietnam. In retrospect, being a tourist in Vietnam during the war would have been an act of youthful stupidity. They say that youth is wasted on the young. It’s true. I still haven’t been there… but Vietnam was my war, as I read about it every week in England, and watched the American news reports on the BBC. I still don’t understand how the U.S. government blundered into that one. One day, I’ll visit.
When I finally reached the west coast – San Diego, California, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I hadn’t ever heard of the city, but was only planning to visit Los Angeles and Zabriskie Point in Death Valley. I’d seen the movie just before leaving. In England, the only two California cities ever talked about were Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Life in the United States was unbelievable. It was so much better than the movies so I decided to stay, which was much easier to do then than now.
In England I worked to help pay for college, that I never completed. Sad to say, I made eight British Pounds a week, about $20 at the then current exchange rate. My first real job in San Diego, paid six times that, plus commissions from selling life insurance for the John Hancock insurance company. That was over $3,000 a month base pay, inflation adjusted, plus very nice commissions. I sold a lot, and made a very good income. I couldn’t believe it. An amazing country and (to me) an amazing income! I even had a car, a motorcycle and a condo!
By twenty-four, I had my own business with five insurance agents working for me. By then, I had a big house, a (still beloved) ’73 Chevy Caprice that I cruised around town in and more motorcycles. One was a Yamaha dirt bike, and I pretended (in my mind) that I was a motocross expert when I rode the hills above Tijuana, Mexico. In my dreams.
My friends could not believe that I had achieved so much, so fast. I was driven to succeed and always focused on new opportunities. I had a meaningful life. I still do.
By twenty-six I had retired. I provided good leads for my five agents and they paid me twenty percent of what they made. I made as much as them for doing about three hours of work a week. They made a very good income, and so did I for doing next to nothing.
After a few years, I finally became tired of being retired and the insurance business, so moved into the municipal bond and financial planning business. I spent years selling municipal bonds and providing financial assistance as a C.F.P., Certified Financial Planner, one of the first with that designation. I’ll always have fond memories of Southern California as the people were so nice, and I learned so much. I loved the water… and disco at the Aloha Club! Remember disco?
I never served in the military and, even though not required to, I registered for the draft. My number was high, so I never got that letter. I had friends and clients in the Navy, enlisted and officers. I even had one who was a Navy SEAL, who lived in Imperial Beach just a few miles from the Navy SEAL base on Coronado.
I was especially in awe of him after he showed me the bullet wound scars he picked up in Vietnam. Anyway, none suggested that I join the Navy even though I raved about all of my good observations of Navy life in San Diego, and the Navy’s ability to project power, often without needing to use it. I’m sure that I would have joined, and done well. It didn’t cross my mind, nor theirs.
San Diego was where, as a friend said, I was reborn as an American; I had left the U.K. far behind.
I had nothing but good things to say about my adopted country.
I have never desired to be a politician, but I cannot stand aside. I cannot stand that this amazing and magical country, that I moved to in 1970 is financially falling apart.
I did not like that elected politicians used their political office as business ventures and career stepping stones. I almost always voted against incumbents, and mostly for women challengers. It rarely made any difference. Most people voted for incumbents, which is why the word “incumbent” is printed on ballots… to help voters know which box to check.
I can remember celebrating the new century in the jammed French Quarter of New Orleans. I said to my wife that I thought that the 21st century would be golden for America. As you know, it hasn’t been. It’s been a disaster; our government lead by two failed presidents. I need to fix the disaster before our nation goes over the edge or the next president will be blamed for it all.
We must become a strong, financially sound and unified country again. Future generations depend on us. We cannot fail them.
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