Avram's Past

American Express: The first Social Network?


I am in Copenhagen now and remembering my first visit to this city.  I like to think about that time.  After all, it was 1966 and I was just 21 years old.   had moved to study music in Paris in the fall of 1965, and to try to get over my broken heart.  Neither of those things worked out so I moved to London for a while.

When I was booking my original ticket to Paris, I found that for the same price, I could fly to Paris, London, Brussels, Amsterdam and Copenhagen,  The dates could be left open. I just had to go to the airline office and book (that was the only way to book then) and they put a little yellow sticker on the right page of the ticket.

So after living in a one room “bed sitter” in a rather poor part of London (I was the only non Nigerian in my building), where I wrote poetry and continued to try to get over my broken heart, I started my journey.  I planned to go to Israel and learn Hebrew. This would of course been before the six day war.  But first, I wanted to travel in Europe.

It is a bit strange that I am making the first part of this trip 47 years later.  I was just in London, Paris, Amsterdam and now Copenhagen.  My circumstance are very different of course.  I am now 68 years old.  My  broken heart has healed (almost).  And I am no longer traveling alone but instead traveling with one of the most amazing women in the world, my wife.  But I do find myself remember those days and was thinking about the role that American Expressed played in my life at that time.

In those days, there was of course no email. The internet was yet to be invented.  We did not have mobile phones.  The phones we had, actually had dials.  It was very expensive to make international calls (although I knew how to do this for free).  So  regular postal mail was the primary way to communicate when you were traveling.  But for those of us that were “backpackers”, we not only did not have addresses.  So we would tell people to write to us C/O American Express at the city we were planing to visit

When I lived in Paris, I would go to American Express almost every day.  It was filled with people like me asking if they had any mail.  There was a section that handled the mail.  I would go there and say, “any mail for Avram Miller?” although in those days I had a different name”.  I did the same when I lived in London.  When I left London, I told everyone to write to me C/O American Express in Athens where I planned to stay a month or so before going on to Israel.

I would make friends at American Express with others in similar situations.  American Express was also a great place to score weed for those that were interested in that sort of thing.

This particular trip did not actually end up in Israel.  After Copenhagen, I took a ferry boat and a train to East Berlin which in 1966 was a very different place than it is now. There I had some problems with Russian soldiers that thought I look strange given my beard and long hair so I moved on to Prague where I stayed for a while.  That was a lovely time.  Finally, I ended up in Athens where I met some great people at American Express.  After about three weeks, I decided not to go to Israel but to return to the USA.

I just checked and it is still possible to send mail to people via American Express by the way. I doubt that any of us will be making use of that capability.

2 thoughts on “American Express: The first Social Network?

  1. That’s a nice story Avram. I remember that way to get mail! I never did as the trip we took in ’71 for 2.5 months involved a 6 week tour that gave hotel names/addresses for our parents to write to. But they did have to wire us money! All that shopping! My trip ended with a broken heart so I can relate to that part of it…..so glad I got to travel all those weeks in Europe back when it was not so crowded as it is now.

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  2. Loved the story, Avram. When I went to Europe in the late 80s after college, we relied not only on Amex but also on a service Visa had at the time to basically host short (Twitter-length) messages that were dictated to an operator by phone. So i would dictate a message saying “I arrived safely in Paris” and my parents would call Visa someone would read back that message. I actually find in that world something lost today, when you really can’t get “lost” anymore… enjoy the rest of your trip.

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