Most of us have taken a road trip at some point in our lives, and we’ll likely set out on at least another. Whether it’s the annual summer vacation with your family to the lake (“Are we there yet?!?”) or a cross-country journey to start a new life for yourself and your family, road trips inevitably bring us closer to whomever we’re on the journey with.
For Joe Van Riper and his parents, it was no different. In 1961, Joe and his parents traveled throughout 23 countries – from the Middle East to the Arctic Circle and back – in just three months. Continuing with our celebration of #carlove, we bring you the story of Soupy, the long-lost 1960 FIAT 1100, that took Joe’s family for an eventful ride behind the Iron Curtain on his parent’s 24th wedding anniversary.
This story is told by Joe Van Riper:
We were headed home from our long tour of Europe. We had convinced the U.S. State Department to give us the okay to take a shortcut across Bulgaria. Bulgaria was under Soviet control at the time and was not a tourist destination to say the least! We were issues 24-hour travel visas by Bulgaria and were advised by the U.S. State Department to get the hell through the country as quickly as possible – without stopping. “Be in Greece before night!”
We went behind the Iron Curtain, crossing into Bulgaria in Skopje (now the capitol of the Republic of Macedonia) at the crack of dawn and punching Soupy through the dreary countryside as we dared, arriving in Evzonoi, Greece, well past dark. We were safe, but exhausted from nervous stress.
Naturally, the little Greek village was having some kind of festival and there was no lodging available. It was still a very long haul to the nearest major city, Thessaloniki, so my parents and I found a small park next to a stream on the outskirts of town. We parked under some trees and tried to catch some sleep before continuing our journey the next day.
Around 2 a.m. we were started awake by the loud pounding on Soupy’s roof! It was the local constabulary, pointing at signs (in Greek, of course) that apparently prohibited camping in the park. We must’ve been quite a sight as we achingly unfolded ourselves from the little FIAT’s sanctuary. I don’t know if it was compassion or humor that resulted in our being forgiven for our sins, but the authorities allowed us to stay long enough to get some more rest before continuing our journey.
I think it was around 2 am that we were startled awake by loud pounding on Soupy’s roof! It was the local constabulary, pointing at the signs (in Greek, of course) that apparently prohibited camping in the park. We must’ve been quite a sight as we achingly unfolded ourselves from the little FIAT’s sanctuary. I don’t know if it was compassion or humor that resulted in our being forgiven our sins, but the authorities allowed us to stay long enough to get a bit more rest before continuing our journey.
As the police left the park, my father turned to my mother and pointed out that as of midnight, it was technically their 26th wedding anniversary. He pulled a small package out of the darkness and presented my mother with a little ornament she had admired weeks earlier at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark.
I could read my mother like a book. She had been on the verge of eviscerating Dad with her razor sharp tongue after being dragged through enemy territory for a day, force to sleep in the car, and then roused by Greek authorities in the middle of the night. But, as she opened that small box, I saw the acid virulence of her mood melt into a tearful smile and a grateful hug. I believe my father was even better at reading her than I was.
It was August 31, 1961 – one helluva day!
- Joe Van Riper