Thursday, February 14, 2008

The American Dream comes to Latvia !

By Mike Johnson, Riga Latvia

Many time people ask me “how and why did you come to Latvia to Live”

I usually ask them if they want the long or the short story!

Raised as a loyal American in a lower middle class family in the small town of Olympia, Washington, for some reason I had a deep desire to explore. Perhaps it is in my genes as my grandfather was an engineer much like I turned out to be. My father was also very clever and risk taking. Everyone was his friend.

Some accuse me of being an opportunist.

I like to believe that I maneuver my life using a combination of the best of these attributes.
I have always felt that I should wake up each morning wanting to squeeze the most out of the next 24 hours that I can; not worrying where the day will take me. Explore, question, experiment, take risks sometimes being successful and sometimes spending the evening hours wondering what went wrong. Every once and a while even being tired like hell; having the wonderful feeling that the days events and achievements were all worth it!

Yesterday was one of those days ! Yes it most certainly was. I made a difference in some one else’s life and for that I am very proud and all the hard work was definitely worth it.
The man’s name is Andy Ruments and he was born in Riga Latvia and is about 3 years older than me.

At the age of three he fled Latvia as the Natzi’s and Russians were about to make a mess of this wonderful country. (

He told me his short story of leaving Latvia on a ship and then on a rail car with American solders tossing him his first orange as his open door train car sped past the American army patrol.

He ended up in East Germany and being taken care of by a loving Latvian family with children of their own. They eventually moved to the United States and he was raised in the mid-west. After starting college he went his separate way losing track of his step- family.

Yesterday, after 62 years, I had the pleasure to welcome Andy back to his country as I now operate a tourist office in the Latvian capital city of Riga.

With tears forming in his eye, I took him to the small LIDO Latvian restaurant
( a block away from the apartment that I rented to him. How could someone become emotional over mashed potatoes (best in the world in my opinion) some beef & pork cutlets basically meatloaf prepared like a thick hamburger patty all smothered with mushroom and onion gravy, I wondered.

Wow, he told me this is exactly the same as my grandmother used to make 40+ years ago.
Then he tried some pink colored sweet pudding like desert and he was speechless as it tasted exactly the same as he remembered so many years ago.

As we sat at the table he mentioned that one object stuck in his mind all these years to remind him of the city of his birth. He wanted to see Freedom Monument the Latvian Statue of Liberty and the symbol of Latvian Freedom.
He made it sound like it was so far away and such a “big deal”. So I casually said, well lets take a walk and see it before it gets dark. So off through the park and over to the canal we went. As we approached the canal, I could see that the angle of the sun was just right for his next wonderful surprise.

Walking along, I said, take a look up there Andy - as his eyes caught the sparkle of the bright even sun reflecting off the three gold stars at the very top of the statue.

Now I have tears in my eyes as he exclaims his excitement at being home in his birth city after being absent for so many years.

George W. Bush is also coming to visit Riga this week and creating havoc as the overwhelmed Latvian government struggles to deal with Mr. Bushes entourage of 700 people, four large jet planes and 50 vehicles. The city is being encircled and shut down to even many of the locals for the 36 hours or so Mr. Bush will be here.

On one hand, I am outraged that my company and all the other service providers in Riga are having to do somersaults to deal with all the demands. But, when I think of Andy Ruments and many others just like him; I put into perspective the fallout of the World Wars that set up tiny Latvia, the Baltics and Europe to just survive for the last few of decades.
Then on the other hand, I am disgusted about the world that leaders like Mr. Bush have created since the end of World War II !

I have lived the American dream – for that I am thankful! I had my six figure income; my Mercedes convertible (two of them) my speed boat on San Francisco bay; my vice president title; my expense account; my California dream house and more.
But one day as I checked myself into the Palo Alto hospital basically suffering a stroke at the age of 46, I figured out that I as many other Americans had taken a train that was sidetracked by the hype of the politicians and society itself!

I was really living a fake dream fueled by the desire to die with more toys than the other guy.
So I called my wife of 20+ years, signed all the assets over to her; quit my job with all the perks and said goodbye as I planned to live my life for me - just one day at a time.

I eventually found my way to this historic city Riga Latvia ( thousands of miles and an ocean apart from Andy Ruments who had basically switched lives with me.

I found the love of my life here in Riga and took over the operation of her family business that she founded as a single mother of two when the Soviet system collapsed in 1991.
Yes, I am working 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year to provide experiences for people like Andy Ruments.

But all that effort is worth it when the miracle happens as it did yesterday.

But there are many times in the middle of the night when I wake up screaming because I have seen a speeding locomotive heading straight toward me on the tracks of life. This week, I have seen the locomotive again and there was a picture of George W. Bush on the front of it. Wearing his Yankee Uncle Sam hat with all the Stars & Stripes in living color!

I came to Riga to get away of American politics and the fast life on the wrong side track only to have Mr. Bush coming to dinner in Riga this week!

Thanks for coming Mr. Bush, as Latvia deserves the recognition for its standing up to the evils of occupation all these years. But, please Mr. Bush slow down and for once put yourself in the shoes of the average person and see life as we see it. Understand that people like Andy Ruments and me only want to be happy and help to keep them on the right track of health; happiness; world peace and care for our neighbors and the environment.

Life is far too short and far to precious to be wasted lying sick or worse “injured” on the side of the fastlane. Or worse yet away from the land that they love so very much!

So if you are of Latvian heritage please consider coming to visit soon. If know a Latvian, please encourage them to visit our website or call today for more information.

Life in Latvia has many lessons that still remain unlearned. It has put many years back on my life line ones that were at risk due to life in the sidetracked fast lane.

1 comment:

Scarlet said...

That story was one of the sweetest stories I've heard in a long time. I first came to the website looking for a Latvian cookie recipe, but was compelled to this amazing story. Now I'm glad I read it even though it wasn't helpful.Thank you for that absolute extrodinary experience!