The whole place was ours alone. There was no one else for as far as we could see, and we could see nearly to Zanzibar. Palm trees at the back of the beach cut off the rest of the world and also served as our shelter from the sun. Otherwise, we had to escape into the water, which was the Indian Ocean, wonderfully temperate, tinted azure blue. Beyond a reef it appeared a grass green, and beyond that a royal blue. The beach itself was ivory white. All the colors were pure in the antiseptic air.
We had been transported to this setting by a pretty girl from California, who had materialized from somewhere with a car and a picnic lunch. She drove the car in her bikini and gave the lunch to the servants, who were back in the beach house, to keep for us while we swam and sunned on the beach. We lay there and listened to U.S. songs, most of them recently recorded, as well as the commercials, call letters and other drivel from a Sacramento station. They were dear, reassuring sounds that Arthur Ashe carries with him all over the world. Were a man to close his eyes and pretend that he was surrounded by throwaway bottles and 50,000 people playing Frisbee, it would seem that he was truly back at any fine American beach. We all lolled that way awhile, then stretched and walked down the dazzling sand into the water.
We were floating there, suspended, carefree, so far as anybody could tell the only people in the whole world taking advantage of the facilities offered by the Indian Ocean. Arthur, cooled, satisfied, stood chest-deep in our briny pool and surveyed the whole scene. Then he shook his head, smiled and said: "You know, I don't feel much like an athlete anymore. I'm beginning to feel like a politician."
After we had had enough of the water, we enjoyed our picnic, and then the pretty girl drove us back to town, to the residence of the Ambassador of the United States. His Excellency was visiting in the U.S., but the house had been turned over to Arthur and all the servants placed at his disposal. His friend Stan was also permitted to stay there.
We shall, for the moment, leave Arthur there, changing into more formal clothes. This evening he will be presented to the vice-president of our host country. We are, you see, on a goodwill tour of 2,500 miles around Africa for the U.S. State Department. Arthur is supplying the goodwill, giving tennis clinics and interviews and playing exhibitions with Stan, whom he invited along as his associate.
Bud Collins of the Boston Globe, Richard Evans, a British writer, and I are in the company to report events. Then there is the U.S. Information Service camera crew, variously described as makers of film documentation or propaganda. We shall all be there as Arthur meets the vice-president, and later there will be time to visit a nightclub, where a nimble USIS officer will pick up the check and then tell Arthur's driver to take him directly to the residence.
So Arthur is right when he says he feels like a politician. I didn't read Drew Pearson all those years without knowing that every Congressman on the Airports' Repair Committee was forever traveling to the four corners of the tourist world to examine airstrips at the taxpayers' expense. At last I have to face it: I am swimming in the Indian Ocean with the taxpayers' money. After a while, though, Arthur has to be let off the hook because he is a bargain for the taxpayers. For every dollar spent on him, you get change back.
The trouble with State Department tours is that there is not enough swimming in the Indian Ocean. A State Department tour is a beast of excess. If real life were this way all the time, it would put the guys who stick bamboo shoots under fingernails out of business. It is a special kind of conflicting hell. You are not allowed to do anything for yourself, yet you must do something on schedule every waking minute of the day. On the whole tour, with stops in six countries scattered all over Africa in 18 days—if it's Tuesday, it must be Zambia—Arthur had only one evening to himself. Promptly he went out and ate two steak dinners, back to back. At that point he was obviously getting a little shaky.
Mostly, a State Department tour is grueling, repetitive, demanding hard work. And nothing is left to chance. We had seven vehicles assigned to us every minute of the day in Nigeria, plus an eighth backup car, and lengthy detail sheets explaining where everybody was, is now and will be. Everything is so organized, it becomes, at last, surrealistic, coming around the other way. People are always saying: "Are we supposed to be here now?"
Adlai Stevenson once said that the three prime ingredients of diplomacy were protocol, alcohol and Geritol, and a tour confirms this. The first element is essential, the second one makes the first tolerable and the two together cause aging. Naturally, because this one was a typical American endeavor, it was also an even more wearing trip. It "would be too simple and inexpensive just to have a man travel and teach tennis. Consequently, the four-man crew—Jim, Bill and the two Dicks—was dispatched to come along to film what the one man did. This multiplied the cost factor several times, to a level commensurate with our high American standards of inflation. It also made it impractical for Arthur to have any time off. (Obviously, here we have the solution to our traveling-politicians problem. All we have to do is send movie crews along to film the politicians' every move. It would be expensive at first, but pretty soon no more politicians would be traveling.)