from THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE
Chapter 13: Travels and Travails
PHIL HAD always believed that he would die at a young age, and he now began to contemplate his death, especially by suicide. It was not yet the obsession that it would become, but it was something that he could easily call up and consider, often in an eerily detached way. The tombstone on the cover of Rehearsals for Retirement had been no exaggeration: he constantly spoke of how he had died with America in Chicago. He elaborated on it at the Carnegie Hall shows, where he announced the death of Phil Ochs, speaking of himself in the third person as if he could stand back and look at his life with a totally objective view.
He swore he would never perform again. He saw no reason to rehash the same old material, and in his latest prolonged bout of depression, he could hardly write a single line, let alone an entire song, in his notebooks. With enough money in the bank to carry him indefinitely, Phil reasoned that he could stay away from the stage and recording studio for as long as he wanted.
The big plan, he told friends, was to travel and see the world. He had seen a large portion of Europe when he was performing, but his professional obligations had kept him from exploring the countries in any depth. Now, with time and money at his disposal, he vowed to check out every country in the world before he died.
He began his quest at the end of the year , when he visited France, Holland, England, and Ireland with friends Jerry Rubin and Stew Albert. Leaving the United States lifted his spirits. As Albert recalled, Phil was an ideal tourist, whose enthusiasm rubbed off on everyone around him.
Rubin and Albert had their own agenda on the trip-to bring the Youth International party to Europe-and they held press conferences and met with leftist organizers and activists wherever they went. Phil. still burned out from politics in general, turned down numerous invitations to become involved, either through television appearances or by giving benefit concerts. In Paris, he passed up the chance to appear with Rubin and Albert on television. going instead to the movies while his friends taped the show. In Holland, the group connected with members of the Kraubauterzen, a radical Dutch organization similar to the Yippies. Phil was amazed and pleased to learn that one of their members had been elected to a local city council.
Ironically, the Americans' politics were considered mild in com- parison to their European counterparts. In England, a group of British and Australian activists accused Rubin and Albert of selling out by agreeing to appear on The David Frost Show, which was currently broadcasting live in London. Rubin, Albert, and Brian Flanagan, a British activist also scheduled to appear as a guest on the show. struck up a deal with the radicals: the three of them would do a por- tion of the show as if they were serious guests, and then, after about fifteen minutes, they would allow the radicals to "take over" the program. Phil was asked if he wanted to participate in the overthrow, but he declined to have anything to do with it. He still felt loyal to Frost for giving him a shot on his program only a few months earlier, and he was not about to do anything that might embarrass him.
The takeover went off as planned. At the appointed moment, the English and Australians stormed the stage, shouting obscenities and political slogans, and creating bedlam in the studio. One activist kissed Frost on the mouth, proclaiming it a moment for gay liberation. Hashish joints were broken out and smoked. As Rubin had hoped, the cameras caught all of the action, including one funny mo ment that found David Frost watching the whole affair from the front row of the studio. The police were finally called and the troublemakers chased from the studio, but not before all involved had become local heroes.
“We were like the Beatles,” remembered Albert, noting that the story had run on the front page of a number of local papers. 'We couldn't go anywhere without being recognized."
While in London, the group, including Phil, met with Bernadette Devlin at a local tavern. The entourage hoped to spend some time in Belfast, but before heading into Ireland they wanted to speak to Devlin about the country’s volatile climate. The trip itself was uneventful, the group spending a week in Ireland and maintaining a low profile until Rubin and Albert’s limited visas expired and they had to leave.
The European trip was merely a temporary break from the lethargic rut that Phil's life had become. Back in Los Angeles, he fell back into his routine of lying around the house and watching television, stepping out to go to breakfast, lunch, or the movies, or hanging out with Doug Weston at the Troubadour. His relationship with Karen was at an all-time low. Andy Wickham and his girlfriend had moved out and, not needing the big house in Hollywood Hills, Phil moved to a more modest, less expensive place in the city, at 8812 Rangeley Avenue.
Michael Ochs had all but given up on his brother's career. The two had been bickering about it for the better part of two years, but with Phil flatly refusing to record or perform, there was little that Michael could do to help him. To protect Phil's financial interests, Michael set up an account with a New York accounting firm, which paid Phil's bills and gave him an allowance to live on. For some reason, the arrangement confused Phil to no end: until the day he died, he would assume that Michael controlled his money when, in fact, he had access to his own earnings at all times. The misunderstanding, which Michael did little to clarify, turned out to be useful later on, when Phil's binge-spending might have otherwise run him into the ground financially.
One of Phil's closest friends and confidants during this rough period was Doug Weston, who served Phil drinks and listened to his stories and complaints on a nightly basis. Like Andy Wickham, Weston remained supportive of Phil throughout the bad times, withholding judgment and encouraging him in small ways, and when he asked Phil to come out of his semi-retirement and playa week's worth of shows at the Troubadour, Phil readily accepted.
This time, there were no gold suits or rock bands, no Elvis medleys or Conway Twitty covers. The shows presented a career retrospective, from "1 Ain't Marching.Anymore" to "Jim Dean of Indiana: and all points in-between, with Phil performing by himself on an acoustic guitar .People were impressed. "It was a wonderful performance—
special, authoritative, and truly exciting," wrote a Los Angeles Times critic, who admitted up-front that he had not been fond of the gold-suit shows. "It was a mature performance by a singer who has a great deal to sing about. Hopefully, he will never be silent for long."
What the critic could not have known is that Phil regarded his Troubadour appearances as gestures of friendship. He and Weston had grown so close that it is possible that Weston was the only person on the West Coast who could have talked him into performing. Although Weston secretly hoped that Phil would use the Troubadour gigs as a springboard to concerts elsewhere, Phil treated the week as a one-shot deal.
On occasion, the two would get together away from the Troubadour, sometimes to go rowing at a nearby lake, other times to go on short excursions outside of Los Angeles. One time, Phil decided that he wanted to go to the desert for a day or two; a little time away from the city, he told Weston, might serve as inspiration to his sagging creativity .Weston was all for the idea, and they set off for a lodge in the middle of the desert, Phil complaining all the way about Weston's driving. After checking into the lodge and having dinner, Weston suggested that they go for a ride in the desert.
"We went for a little drive," Weston remembered, "until we were about five miles away from where we were staying. And I said, 'Doesn't the desert look beautiful? Let's park the car, get out, and walk.' We started walking, but we hadn't gone very far when Phil said, 'Where are we?' He had taken twenty steps from the car and he couldn't see it any longer, so he started thinking that he was going to get lost in the desert because it was night. I said, 'Don't worry , Phil, I know how to get back.' We walked around for awhile, and we went up and down sand dunes and things like that. He got more and more paranoid. He had seen some ancient black-and-white movie about these guys getting lost in the desert, and the further we walked, the more paranoid he became."
The experience was not a total loss. As soon as they returned to the lodge, Phil took out a sheet of paper and wrote the lyrics to anew song-his first in more than a year. The song, an account of his being lost in the darkness, never developed beyond that initial writing stage, but Phil took it as a positive sign. Maybe there was hope after all.
By mid-1971, Phil had found a new political obsession: the Allende government in Chile. Salvador Allende, a physician and social reformist, had accomplished what political theorists believed to be the impossible when he became the first communist leader to rise to power through free democratic elections. To Phil, Allende was the most compelling political story since the Castro-led revolution in Cuba—not to mention the kind of peaceful revolution he had dreamed about for the United States—and the more he read about the government, and America's opposition to it, the more convinced he became that he had to witness some of this history firsthand.
Phil's first call went to Jerry Rubin, who was also interested in what was happening in Chile. Rubin was eager to visit the country with Phil, but to Phil's disappointment, he suggested that Stew Albert come along. Phil, who hoped to use the occasion to strengthen a friendship that had been flagging since the Chicago convention, knew all too well that this would not be possible if Albert was in the picture, since Rubin had a tendency to act out whenever he had an audience.
"It was a kind of paranoia showing through," said Albert, acknowledging that he felt the tension almost as soon as he and Rubin met Phil in Chile. Phil and Stew had known each other for nearly a decade, but they had never been especially close. Ironically, their friendship deepened, even as Phil and Rubin grew farther apart. "We really became friends," Albert later commented, "because we shared a common dream [of] socialism and liberation. "
In Santiago, the three toasted their first night in Chile in the dining room of an elegant hotel, where they treated themselves to huge steaks and delicious red Chilean wine. Afterward, they settled back and smoked Cuban cigars. The wealthy people around them, they decided, were part of a dying social order, and it was only a matter of time before they would be replaced by the more deserving working class-the people behind Allende's peaceful revolution.
Phil loved the country, and over the next few weeks, he, Jerry, and Stew were introduced to every type of Chilean character imaginable, on the streets and in out-of-the-way places.
"We were everywhere," Albert recalled, "[in] the jungles, mines, caves, factories, basketball games, film and 1V studios, newspaper offices, the desert ...We met all kinds of characters, worthy and otherwise: trade union hardhats [with] red stars on their hats, Communist party bureaucrats, businessmen working currency scams, underground guerillas preparing for the coup, anarchist students on strike against the socialist faculty , hippies smoking weak grass in public places, CIA agents disguised as Time magazine, and the very wretched of the shanty-town earth, who called Allende 'Comrade President' and offered not the finest, but the most generous wine."
Of all of Phil's experiences in Chile, none would compare to the events that took place on August 31, beginning with a chance en- counter and ending with his being taken into a copper mine deep in the Andes. The day opened with Phil, Jerry, and Stew taking one of their routine strolls through the streets of Santiago. While on the walk, they spotted a handsome young Chilean with curly black hair , holding a guitar and leaning against a car, talking to a woman. Rubin wanted to stop and chat, and the Chilean, speaking in broken English, introduced himself as Victor Jara. The woman, an English- woman and former ballet dancer, was his wife. Although none of the Americans had heard of him before, Victor Jara was one of the most beloved populist figures in Chile-a folk- singer and political activist not unlike Pete Seeger in the United States. Jara had been instrumental in Allende's rise to power, but he was not one to give a blanket endorsement to any single individual or political party, and for this he had made many enemies in both the governing Communist Party and its opposition, represented largely by the military .Jara's main political activity now consisted of his traveling around the country, singing and drumming up support for the Union Popular, which made him a folk hero among his countrymen.
Phil, who had initially been reluctant to meet the young folk- singer, was utterly mesmerized by him after they had talked for a while. Stew Albert had his own theory for why this was so: "I think Victor Jara was a role model for Phil. He did what Phil wanted to do. He was nationally famous, he had played a part in electing a president, and he had all these connections. If you had said to Phil, 'What would you like to be in the United States?' he probably would have said, I’d like to be the American Victor Jara.' Phil really did identify with him."
On the day of their meeting, Jara was scheduled to give a brief concert during the halftime of a basketball game between a local college basketball team and a pickup team of copper miners. In what Phil called "the best serendipity of the trip... Jara invited the Americans to join him. Phil, said Jara, could sing a song or two of his own.
"Great!" Phil scribbled in the diary that he was now carrying with him everywhere. "What a break-everything-the mines, the Andes, a Chilean experience away from all this bureaucratic driftwood."
The trip, commencing at dusk, took two hours by bus. Phil grabbed a seat next to Jara, and throughout the bus ride, the two traded stories about their respective careers. Jara, Phil learned, had recorded six albums and had visited the United States; he had played a number of shows in California.
Numerous delays stalled the trip, but Phil was too taken by the company and the scenery to care. The mountains, with their snow-capped peaks, reminded him of California, and he was awed by the sunset refracting light off breathtaking beauty everywhere. Night fell, and just when Phil began to wonder if the bus might be lost in the middle of nowhere, the lights of a city appeared on the horizon.
The basketball game took place in a large sports complex—complete with basketball court and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The complex, placed in the midst of modest, dorm-style housing units, struck Phil as being the ultimate irony. The halftime concert went well, with Jara singing first and Phil doing two songs afterward, Jara translating after every verse and chorus.
The experience, similar to those of a decade earlier in Hazard, Kentucky, moved Phil deeply. "I sang for the workers... he noted in his diary. "They seemed to like it-I guess they catch spirit-but not words."
After a meal and a walk in the thin mountain air, which left Phil puffing and vowing to work himself back into better physical condition, the group decided to visit a nearby copper mine. Jara, observing an elevator taking workers down, deep into the earth, turned to Phil and shook his head. "They look like wild animals in a cage... he said sadly. Phil, who was apprehensive about going down into the mine in the first place, slipped on his helmet and examined the rocks stained red and green from the copper.
Down in the mine, Phil and the others talked to the workers, including a group of student volunteers, and walked for miles along tracks set in the mine's many tunnels. Jerry Rubin was immediately drawn to a film crew shooting a documentary of the mine, and he and Albert were interviewed for the film. The visit, originally intended to last an hour and a half, dragged on. After four hours, Phil grew bored and, to the amazement of everyone around him, pulled out a novel.
"He was reading," said Stew Albert, still chuckling at the memory over two decades later. "Some of the Chilean miners were looking him as if he was this crazy gringo, absolutely out to lunch."
More likely, Albert continued, Phil was feeling claustrophobic and was using the novel as a way of settling his nerves and giving the appearance that he was quite at home in the mine. The confinement of the tunnels, along with the weak lighting and damp air, would have done in a lot of city boys.
The group left the mine just as the sun was breaking. A long ride back to Santiago awaited them, but before leaving, Victor Jara treated everyone to a breakfast of warm, baked bread, and cheese and meat sandwiches. To Phil, who was famished from the day's activities, the meal was. as rewarding as the thick, rare steaks he had enjoyed back in Santiago at his hotel’s restaurant.
The weeks passed quickly. Phil and Victor Jara appeared together national television, and for the first time in months, Phil enjoyed keeping an active schedule. Chile, he decided, was paradise.
On September 2, Phil met a young American named David Ifshin, with whom he would share some of his most memorable-and harrowing-travel experiences. Ifshin, a former student-body president at Syracuse and president of the National Student Association, was in Chile to attend an international student conference. He had seen Phil perform a couple of years earlier, at the Democratic convention in Chicago, and he had briefly met Phil in April at an antiwar demonstration in Washington. D.C.
The Washington D.C. experience had left each sour on the other. Phil remembered Ifshin as the "neurotic, fast-ta1king, intelligent Jewish American radical" who "was fighting to speak when I wanted sing at [the] last big Washington march," while Ifshin "kind of thought Phil was an asshole at that point."
“There were a lot of speakers," Ifshin remembered of the rally "and I was just one insignificant person invited to speak. A lot of people had been boffed around the schedule, and Phil was getting impatient about having to wait, so he asked me if he could sing before I spoke. I said that it was no problem with me. Well, Country Joe and the Fish were preceding me, and the person running the podium said, 'No, we can't have two singers back-to-back. It's got to be Country Joe, then you as the speaker, and then Phil Ochs.' Phil was really pissed off and began to create a little bit of a scene, and I said, 'Look, this is not my doing. I'd be happy to let you speak next, so quit ragging me about it. I'll do whatever they tell me. It's up to them.' "
In Chile, the two were finally able to work out the misunderstanding and, in the process, become good friends. Ifshin had an irreverent sense of humor that Phil was delighted to discover one evening while they were sitting in the hotel bar and getting pleasantly drunk on Chilean wine.
For weeks, Jerry Rubin had been getting on Phil's nerves, sometimes by acting in what Phil considered to be an inappropriate manner, sometimes just because the two had been traveling together too long and were getting tired of each other. Rubin, who was perhaps second only to Phil when it came to complaining about real or imagined illnesses, had come down with what was probably a minor upper-respiratory infection shortly after his arrival in Chile, but as the weeks passed and the ailment showed no sign of going away, Rubin was convinced that he had caught something more serious-perhaps even life-threatening.
"Phil was just disgusted," Ifshin recalled. "He was convinced that Jerry was really overacting. He wouldn't let any doctor in Chile touch him because he was convinced that no doctor in the country would be able to take care of him, so he wanted to go home because he couldn't get adequate medical care. We were sitting at the bar, and Phil was bitching about what a big baby Jerry was about all this, about how Mr. Revolutionary—Che Guevara with war paint-gets a cold and thinks he's dying and wants to Medivac back to the States. So I said-in jest-'We ought to find somebody to dress up like one of those witch doctors and send him up there with a big jar of leeches.' I was just kidding, but Phil got real serious. We gotta do it,' he said. We gotta do it.' He wanted to go out and get somebody."
Nothing ever came of the prank, but Ifshin's suggestion sealed their friendship.
By mid -September, Phil was reaching the end of his patience with Rubin. He and Jerry argued all the time, often about unimportant matters, and it was clear to both that their time together on the trip was reaching the end. Rubin was ready to move on, either to another country or back to the United States, whereas Phil was considering a side trip to Argentina. Phil's plans took a definite shape when a group of Uruguayans visited David Ifshin and invited him to speak at a university rally in Montevideo on October 8—the anniversary Che Guevara's death.
Ifshin, who knew virtually nothing about Uruguay or its politics, saw the invitation as an ideal opportunity to visit another country,
"Look," he told the Uruguayans, 'I’m not really that important. In my judgment, the guy you should really care about is Phil Ochs. He's somebody who will really have an impact."
The Uruguayans had never heard of Phil, but they agreed to have him participate at the rally. "If he's your friend," they told Ifshin, "you can bring him too."
Phil was excited about the prospects. The new plan now had him heading down to Argentina, where he would spend a few days with Ifshin before they traveled to Uruguay for the rally. He had no way of knowing, as they made their plans, that they were about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
Before leaving Chile, Phil visited the Alacumbra Desert where, on the spur of the moment, he took some mescaline and spent the day marveling at the natural beauty around him and ruminating about his lot in life. At first, the drug frightened him and he worried that he might pass out, but, as he noted in his journal, he was able to settle down after awhile:Go with time—don't fight against it—flow—in the moonscape a hard crust—
the purest, cleanest spot in this corrupted world—a selfish man would never come
here—after about 2 hrs, start to feel better—gain confidence—actually feel my
strength returning—almost ecstasy—realize how I am divorced from my
sensations—in LA now I would be sitting in Schwab's eating pork & reading
about assholes & trivia—in America you learn to love killers—Wayne—Murphy—
killers hide behind beauty ...
In the desert valley, Phil began to believe that he was part of nature. He removed his clothing and, lying naked on the ground and feeling the sun wash over his body like a cleansing force, he tried to encourage himself to take better control over his life. "I must push myself to the limit," he vowed. "If lying naked in the middle of the valley of the moon won't inspire you, perhaps you weren't meant to be a songwriter. How can I overcome my stupid fears?"
After nightfall, Phil spent a couple more hours in the desert, looking out at the stars and continuing his self-examination. For all of his questions, he had very few answers.
Phil flew to Buenos Aires at the beginning of October. Jerry Rubin and Stew Albert had left Chile a short time earlier, and with David Ifshin off on his own, hitchhiking his way to Argentina, Phil found himself without a traveling companion for the first time since he had arrived in South America. Being alone didn't faze him. By now, he was a comfortable tourist, open to exploring anything and everything a city had to offer. In Buenos Aires, he hit the streets with a fervor, sightseeing and checking out the city's restaurants and movie houses.
The past couple of weeks had been rough. Although he and Rubin had parted amicably, the tension between the two had been, at times, almost unbearable. To make matters worse, Phil was battling physical ailments that left him feeling worn out and irritable. A bad reaction to a small-pox vaccination brought on a nasty fever, and if that weren't bad enough, Phil had to contend with the effects of a case of the clap that he'd caught while visiting a prostitute in Santiago. Phil was in poor physical condition to begin with, bloated from months of excessive drinking and eating all the wrong foods, and by the time he flew to Buenos Aires, he had promised himself that he would make an effort to work himself back into shape when he returned to the States.
David Ifshin caught up to Phil in Buenos Aires a couple of days after Phil's arrival in the city. Phil immediately insisted on taking Ifshin to see Gone with the Wind, a movie that the younger American had somehow never managed to see, and the two went on to spend the better part of a week touring the city by day and sitting around and talking late into the evening. In Chile, Phil had introduced Ifshin to his nightly routine of huge salads. steaks. wine, and cigars. Phil loved nothing more than to settle back in an old stuffed chair, the smoke from a Cuban cigar swirling around him, while he regaled Ifshin with tales from his past.
"He would tell me these great stories which, to me, were just legendary, about being in the Village in '62 and '63, about what it was like being with Bob Dylan the night he first wrote and played 'Mr. Tambourine Man' for him. He told me long stories about the gold suit. I'm sitting there with my jaw dropped, trying to maintain my equilibrium. It was great to see Phil in Argentina, because it was just the two of us. In Chile, hanging out had been a matter of convenience, but in Argentina we became even better friends."
The rally in Uruguay amounted to more than either Phil or David Ifshin had bargained for. Neither knew much about the country's political picture, and both assumed that, as Americans, they would be protected if any problems arose while they were in the country. They could not have been more mistaken.
The rally was held in a large auditorium at the university, with about three hundred people in attendance. Ifshin spoke first, impressing Phil with his simple, humble manner. Then it was Phil's turn. He had just begun to sing when he was interrupted by the sounds of gunshots outside the auditorium. The rally, it turned out, was not only illegal, but it was the first one held since a shootout between students and police had resulted in the deaths of six students and one cop. The army now surrounded the university, and their gunfire was being answered by students positioned throughout the campus.
Phil could not believe it was happening. The shooting, the tear gas, the heavily armed soldiers positioned behind trees—the entire scenario struck Phil as dreamlike. It was, in his own words, "like living in a newsreel—right in the middle of the volatile South American politics you always read about."
“There was nowhere to go," recalled David Ifshin, "so Phil and I sat behind a turned-over table in this courtyard. Phil, being a movie buff, immediately flipped into this scene out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He was warming up to the occasion, and he said to me, ‘Wait till Rubin hears about this. He'll be incredibly jealous that he didn't come with me.' Meanwhile, there were bullets being shot around—some of which, I think, were relatively serious."
The gunfire eventually ceased, and the army began negotiating with the students for a settlement of the conflict. The government wanted the rally to break up and the students to take down a banner honoring dead Tupamaro rebels. Phil, of all people, could not under stand why the students refused. "Why don't the students just take down the sign and get it over with?" he wondered.
The negotiations took forever, with neither side willing to compromise. Phil, growing impatient during the lull in the fighting, suddenly decided that he had to have a cigar. Problem was, Phil had stashed his gear, including his precious supply of Cuban cigars, in the university president's office, which was now occupied by rebel students who had been exchanging gunfire with the troops. Phil, for reasons that David Ifshin would never understand, did not see this as a deterrent.
"I'm going to get a cigar," he announced.
"Phil," Ifshin replied, "you'll get killed if you go out there."
Phil just grinned. "A Cuban cigar," he informed Ifshin, "is worth dying for."
Years later, Ifshin laughed at the memory. "And Phil," he said, "who was not Captain Courageous, in the one heroic moment of all our years, began to run across this courtyard, kind of crouched over. I shrugged and ran behind him."
They reached the office without incident, and Phil was able to grab his cigars, along with the rest of his possessions. "Comfort in the middle of anarchy," Phil noted laconically of his victory.
A few hours later, the opposing factions arrived at a settlement. Everyone was to assemble outside. Students with identification would be allowed to leave; anyone without the proper papers would be arrested. Phil and Ifshin were assured by their hosts that, as guests of the university, they would have no trouble leaving the campus.
Such assurances proved to be unfounded. Outside, Phil and Ifshin were searched and their passports confiscated. Phil tried to explain that he was an American folksinger, that he had recorded seven albums and was well known in the United States of America. Ifshin, likewise, attempted to explain his background. Their words meant nothing. As soon as the authorities saw the passports, they ordered Phil and Ifshin arrested, and the two were then led away at machine-gun point and driven to a prison where they were booked, checked in, and relieved of their possessions.
Ifshin, who had heard horror stories about South American prisoners, feared the worst. “I figured I was here forever." he said, describing his prison cell as a hellhole. “And Ochs is gone. I figure. 'Poor Phil, he ain't gonna survive twenty-four hours of this, much less if we're here for months or, God forbid, longer.' "
Phil and Ifshin were detained overnight. On several occasions they were summoned for questioning. Their captors, finding Phil's cigars and noting Ifshin's dark complexion, originally figured that the two were Cubans who had been brought to the university as outside agitators. The Tupamaros, they explained to Phil and Ifshin, were serious enemies of the state; they did not invite tourists to entertain or speak to students.
Repeated Interrogations did nothing to resolve the issue. Phil and Ifshin stuck to their stories. Finally, just when it seemed to Ifshin as if they were going to be stuck in their run-down cells Indefinitely, he and Phil were taken, in shackles and at gunpoint, to the Montevideo airport. They were walked to a plane, relieved of their handcuffs, given their possessions. and, without further ceremony or explanation, put on a flight to Argentina.
The two celebrated throughout their flight to Argentina. .'Strange to feel so happy to be on a plane, " Phil wrote in his diary , noting that he and Ifshin were enjoying an 'incredible feeling of liberation."
"What a great story," Phil said to Ifshin. "We got out alive. We’re going to be able to really tell people what a great time this was. Jerry Rubin, eat your heart out. We're going to have a great steak and see a movie, and then we're going to see our friends."
They were going nowhere: as soon as they stepped from the plane in Buenos Aires. they were arrested and handcuffed again, and led away to another prison.
By this point, the spirit of adventure was wearing thin, arid both Phil and David Ifshin were feeling more than a little frightened. Their Argentinian prison cells, Ifshln was horrified to discover, made their accommodations In Uruguay look comfortable. The two were kept apart, in tiny cinder-block cells with no beds or mattresses—only a naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. (Ifshin made the mistake of trying to disconnect the lightbulb in his cell, and was beaten when he was caught by one of the prison guards).
Although he found the prison conditions dehumanizing and depressing, Phil was now growing impatient with the routine. The questions were always the same, and the authorities had no grounds to hold them prisoner. Phil angrily demanded to see a man he knew at the American embassy, but he was put off; similar demands for possessions were ignored. To Ifshin's utter amazement, Phil even went so far as to complain about his cell guard, who insisted on telling to a transistor radio playing what Phil considered to be bad rock 'n' roll.
"It was the ultimate insult to Phil," Ifshin recalled. "Here I was thinking about how we could get out of this alive, and Phil's bitch about the music."
Unbeknownst to Ifshin, Phil's actions had been carefully calculated. He had spoken to other prisoners—people held on political grounds—and he feared that he and Ifshin would be held indefinitely and without any contact with the outside world unless he acted the role of the outraged American. He was shaken by the fact that Ifshin had been beaten by a guard, and for all of his bluster, he was very worried. "Despair is really setting in," he confessed in his diary.
Phil never did speak to his contact in the American embassy. Instead, he and Ifshin were informed that they were being expelled from the country that afternoon. They would be put on a plane a flown to La Paz, Bolivia, where they would be free to go their own ways.
Ifshin panicked. He, too, had spoken to some of the political prisoners around him, and he had been cautioned that a popular solution to dealing with dissidents was to send them to Bolivia. These people, Ifshin was told, had a bad habit of disappearing without trace. "Whatever you do," the prisoners instructed Ifshin, 'don't go to Bolivia."
Phil and David, of course, were not given a choice of travel itineraries. At the appointed time, they were loaded into a police car and escorted to the airport. As the car sped through the streets of Buenos Aires, its siren blaring, Ifshin passed along to Phil what he had learned about Bolivia from the prisoners. "We've got to have a plan,” he said, "because this could be it. We can't leave the country for Bolivia."
In no time, the two had hatched a plan. Once at the airport, Phil would create a diversion; in the resulting confusion, Ifshin would sneak away and, using Phil's American Express card, purchase tickets to Lima, Peru. Ifshin’s role was going to be difficult, since he would have to pull off the purchase without showing the ticket counter that he was handcuffed and shackled, but given the circumstances, they had no other option.
Phil turned in a performance worthy of an Oscar .
"Help!" he shouted, instantly drawing a crowd. "We're being kidnapped. We're going to be killed by these fascists. Please. We're innocent."
The scheme worked as conceived. While Phil and Ifshin's captor turned their attention to Phil and tried to convince the people around them that Phil was a dangerous criminal and enemy of the state, David Ifshin slipped off to a Braniff ticket counter, flipped the credit card on the counter, and ordered two tickets to Lima. He almost got away with it. At the last instant, just as the tickets were being issued a guard caught sight of Ifshin standing at the counter. He ran to the scene and began talking to the Braniff worker in rapid Spanish.
"This fellow here says you're under arrest," the ticket man said to Ifshin. "You can't leave."
"Look," Ifshin begged, "I’m an American citizen and you're an American carrier. Give me the goddamn tickets." Unfortunately for Ifshin, in pleading his case he was banging on the ticket counter, and his handcuffs showed. The man at the counter looked at Ifshin's wrists and shook his head.
"I think you'd better go with him," he said, indicating the guard.
Meanwhile, Phil was having better luck at his end. His cries for help had attracted the attention of a member of the British embassy in Argentina, and after some discussion, the Argentinian guards agreed to allow Phil and Ifshin to purchase tickets to Peru. As it turned out, the flight they were on was scheduled to go on to Lima after a brief stop in La Paz.
Phil and Ifshin rejoiced.
"We thought we'd pulled it off," Ifshin remembered. “We got out, they took the handcuffs off, and we were put on this plane. Phil an I sat down next to each other. Phil was ecstatic."
"Never was I so glad to see a garish Braniff plane," Phil wrote in his journal. 'Total sense of relief—get a couple of drinks, peanuts, sandwiches—so good to be in the secure, dark sky.”
But security, as Phil and Ifshin had repeatedly discovered during their adventures in South America, was very tenuous. Midway through the flight, the pilot left the cockpit and made his way down the aisle, stopping at Phil and Ifshin's row.
"What did you two guys do, kill somebody?" he asked.
Phil and David looked at each other. "Why?" responded Ifshin.
"Well," said the pilot, "this guy came on and said to make you both deplane in Bolivia. There are police waiting for you." Earlier, before the plane had left Argentina, Phil and David had watched an Argentinian official enter the cockpit of the plane, but since they had not been removed from the aircraft, they had assumed that their problems were behind them. It now appeared that they were in as much trouble as ever.
Phil and Ifshin told the pilot their story. They informed him of who they were and what they were doing in South America, and then briefed him on their troubles in Uruguay and Argentina. They were not communists and they weren't spies, they insisted; the entire episode had been a huge misunderstanding.
To their great relief, the pilot believed them and sympathized with their troubles.
This kind of stuff happens," he said. "When we land, just stay on board and you'll be fine. They can't board an American carrier.”
The plane landed in La Paz, and as soon as it had come to a stop, it was greeted by heavily armed soldiers in jeeps. Phil and Ifshin stayed on board as instructed, and from their window they could see the soldiers looking over every passenger leaving the plane. Phil, worrying that they might board the aircraft despite international law, walked to the back of the plane and locked himself in the bathroom—as if that would have prevented his capture had the military chosen to come aboard. Ifshin slid down in his seat, hoping that no one outside could see him.
The holdover in La Paz lasted the better part of a long, tense hour, but passengers eventually began to return to the plane for the final jaunt to Peru. As before, the soldiers checked everyone passing their checkpoint, but at no time did they attempt to come aboard the plane.
This time, there were no celebrations. Both Phil and David Ifshin were so unnerved by their experiences that they fully expected to be taken into custody as soon as they arrived in Lima. After all, they had been arrested after their flight from Uruguay to Argentina, and the authorities had been pursuing them from that point on. They easily could have called ahead and asked that the Americans be detained when when they attempted to go through Customs.
In Peru, the two waited in the long Customs line and, for once, neither was in any hurry to reach the front. Everyone in the airport looked like the enemy. Ifshin could have sworn that he had seen one of the Customs officials back in Argentina. Both scanned the people standing around, waiting for someone to point them out. They felt totally exposed in a line that didn’t seem to move.
Ifshin was the first to reach the front.
“Why are you here?” the Customs officer asked.
“To visit,” Ifshin replied. “Tourism.”
The Customs officer stamped Ifshin’s passport and waved him through. “Have a great stay in Peru," he said.
What had started out as a vacation had turned into a three-month lesson in totalitarianism. Neither Phil nor David Ifshin dared to assume that they were safe in Peru, and though they checked into a hotel and spent several days as tourists in Lima, they were constantly dogged by the fear that somehow, in some way, authorities in Argentina, Uruguay, or Bolivia had contacted people in Peru about having them arrested.
Such fears, they learned, were justified. The day after arrived in Lima, David Ifshin looked up several Peruvian students he had met at the conference in Chile. He told them of his and Phil's problems in Uruguay and Argentina.
"Don't go back to your hotel," the students warned Ifshin. "They're going to figure out where you are very quickly, and they’re going to come back and get you. The police forces all work together here."
Back at the hotel, Phil, unaware of Ifshin's conversation with the students, was busy trying to call his contact at the American embassy in Argentina. He eventually heard from Ifshin, who told him of his conversation with the students. The Peruvians, Ifshin informed Phil, were checking to see if the authorities were still looking for the but in the meantime, it might be best if he checked them out of the hotel. Phil needed no further persuasion.
The students confirmed their suspicions. "The police know you're here and they're going to look for you," they told Ifshin.
Avoiding the police was not terribly difficult, as long as Phil a David stayed on the move. Rather than stay in the city indefinitely, they decided to catch a train, and then a bus, to the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, which they explored with an American couple and their young daughter. Phil, who was not fond of Peru, enjoyed the distraction from their problems.
They still had to figure a way out of the country. The airport in Lima was risky because, in all likelihood, authorities would be Waiting for them there. Ifshin favored a trip up the Amazon, which would be time-consuming but safer. Before leaving Lima, he had called the president of the National Student Association and detailed his and Phil's plight to her.
"If I vanish again," he told her, "I'm in serious shit here. I may be killed."
Now all he wanted to do was get out of South America alive, no matter how difficult the task.
Phil, however, had reached the end of his endurance. He was exhausted from their travels and was due back in New York for a concert. He couldn't bear the thought of an arduous journey up the Amazon.
"I can't take it anymore," he complained to Ifshin. "I just gotta go back."
The decisions were reached: Ifshin would travel alone up the Amazon, while Phil would catch a train back to Peru and take his chances at the airport.
To Phil's amazement, no one was waiting to arrest him. He boarded the plane as easily as he might have caught a flight in the United States. A free man, he settled back in his seat, trying to take his mind off the long flight ahead.