Bob Jonas - Life and Times

“When I was in fifth grade, Mr. Jonas said he came from outer space, which seemed totally believable. He also said he was 29–not.”
Classroom Newsletter – 5DNN
Gr 5- Shanghai American School

In the Beginning. . .

From the ages of three to six, he had tricycled around his block more times than anyone could count. By the time he was forty-four, he had logged, in a fifteen-year period, a million miles in a semi-truck, in eleven western states. By the time he retired, he had traveled in forty-seven countries, taught in nine schools, on four continents. The other stuff, all excellent filler—momentous at times, not so at others—is spelled out in somewhat chronologic order, often humorous—ready with perfect triggers to cancel his innocent self at the turn of a page. In hindsight, most of it should have been easy to predict—all except becoming a teacher and working with kids—who knew? Starting with the trike: While most parents might have been worried over this reckless approach to life’s early dangers, for some reason, Bob’s mom wasn’t one of them, never worrying enough to consult Doctor Spock, or any of the experts in her canasta klatch. Did she love him less than other parents? Did she choose to stay in the dark, with more important things on her plate?

Across the World

Using experiences from his work with kids overseas, he employs an extensive knowledge of expatriate living to write about these kids and their frontline exposure to political intrigue, revolution, overthrow, and war. Bob’s travel and writing obsessions began after reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki when he was ten. His storytelling obsession began with his dad—the greatest tall tale teller and BS artiste, mesmerizer, and recontour the younger Jonas would ever lean on for inspiration.

Bob Hits the Road

Bob’s first fifteen years of adulthood found him living the travel adventure in a semi-truck where he logged thousands of miles in twelve western states. After his truck driving adventure hit the million-mile mark, his life took so many new twists and turns, it would be difficult to imagine anyone having a greater store of experiences from which to write action-packed novels for teen readers.
“When I was in third grade, you said you came from outer space. I blinked, I shouldn’t have.”
A former student

BIO BITS . . .

Born mid-century (no, not 1850)—a serendipitous beginning—turned out to be a great reference point when trying to remember how old he is. A lot went on between mid-century and the time he retired, succinctly summed up in the following paragraphs and pics
Note: As you read this BIO, notice how Bob’s boundaries have constantly stretched, always with one obvious, overriding passion—to travel, to go, down the road, out the door, away to anyplace but the place he is.
For whatever reason(s), he could now appreciate how she was way ahead of her contemporaries and future generations of helicoptering parents and their overprotected kids. He never knew, and maybe she never realized, how good her parental instincts were. Along with this long-delayed appreciation, he had no doubt that his mom was an ardent follower of George Carlin—the only possible explanation:
If you want to know how you can help your children: leave them the f—k alone!”
Thanks Mom.
Thanks George.
Bob’s reading habits might have been another source of worry, predictive in so many ways—and ones he’s sure George would have supported—but again, mostly ignored. A kid whose head was constantly buried in a book, wasn’t as weird as it might be today, especially a travel book. Always a travel book? Although his dad often wondered about his reading proclivities, they never worried his mom. “A book is a book. . . is a book. Reading is good. How much trouble can he get into reading a book, or at the library?”

As a Bigger Kid

“He’s got shpilkes.” According to the Mom report, after every parent/teacher conference.
“Spilled what?” said the teacher.
“Shpilkes, Yiddish, means ants in the pants. He’s a boy for chrissakes.”
His mom always relied on this tried-and-true explanation; succinct, righteous, irritating. Thank goodness this was a long time ago because today, using the current touchy-feely approach to these mandated evenings, he would have been invited to participate in something called a student-led conference. This fun get-together would involve tag teaming parents, locked in with teacher and child, to carefully assess what needs to be done with a kid like Bob. There are other strategies, some more drastic than others, but when all else fails, number one in a teacher’s grab bag was medication—the modern go-to for any child with ants in the pants.
Every time mom used the euphemism, “he’s an active boy,” teachers cringed. They knew what that meant. After his mom’s blow-by-blow post-mortems, filled with her typical hellfire to me—”knock it off, you’re making me mashugana”—he had to lay low for weeks. While his mom always saw through any of my well-thought-out excuses, his dad often tried to lend support. Unfortunately, his loyalties always wound up going to the wrong family member.
“Listen to your mother.”

As Early Traveler

Over time, Bob’s mom must have known he was up to something, never quite catching on until it was too late. Her question should have been, how much influence can a book have on the wee small brain of a kid desperate for excitement and adventure? During those years, long before the Internet, the travel section of the library was his escape, Thor Hyerandal’s Kon Tiki, his longest lasting influence. Who at the age of ten couldn’t imagine him or herself sailing the Pacific, Peru to Polynesia, on a balsa wood raft, scanning the horizon for the next adventure? Kon Tiki became his life raft, the one to which he remained bound, never knowing how, when, or where Heyerdahl’s inspiration would kick-start his journey.
By the time he reached adulthood, the pages of his copy were worn, yellowed, the cover falling off, but the promise he made to himself never faded. His mom would never appreciate how, if he’d tied his fate to Long John Silver instead of Thor Heyerdahl, he might never have made it to adulthood—rrrrrrr.
She always thought his posse’s euphemism, “out exploring” meant a trip to the park, the store, or the library. Sad to say, his neighborhood was a wasteland of traditional, boring, sameness. It was up to him and his two best mates to focus their efforts on the furthest horizon, far, far, away. Small kids, pint sized bikes, one speeders, foot brakes, riding and riding, until one day his mom got a phone call from a friend who saw us crossing the Columbia River into the state of Washington, miles and miles away. She never told his dad. She thought she could handle it, Bob. And she did, kind of. He was a good son, in many ways. He might have thought she was no match for all those times he’d pulled the wool over her eyes in his first decade of life, only to find out years later how wrong he was. Her mama bear instincts missed nothing—not Heyerdahl’s inspiration, or his never-ending travel research.
Embryonic indicators of Bob’s far-flung dreams were always in plain sight, ready like a rocket sled, to take him out of the neighborhood and someday, around the world. Only after discovering her quiet support of his dreams, was he truly able to appreciate her influence on his life.

The Trucking Years
Dreams Coming True . . . Kind of

Ultimately, I survived childhood, as did Mom and Dad—barely. I didn’t end up in jail, a lawyer, or politician, though Mom and Dad—or so I thought—would have settled for doctor. But truck driver?
Though no one had ever taken the time to browse my bookshelves—or so I thought—they foretold, with extreme accuracy, a less conventional future—what mom’s friends would consider a phase, something I would grow out of.
But I never did, and after four directionless years at university, at the end of the sixties, I was nowhere—no clear path, no money, no job. At the State Unemployment Office, looking for something temporary, I jotted down three entries from the State’s database, then took a number to present my findings to the next available agent.
Looking over my completed form, he said they’d already sent the maximum number of applicants to one of my listings. His phone rang, and while briefly turning away, I scanned his screen and saw the company and address of the one he said was off limits. I went anyway and got lucky. The dispatcher at this manufacturing plant turned out to be a first cousin I hadn’t seen in years.
“Rob, do you know how to drive a twenty-two-foot straight truck with a two-speed rear end.”
“Piece of cake,” I said. He looked worried and excused himself to the dock area where trucks were loading. I couldn’t hear what he said, but the dock foreman’s response was loud and clear.
“I don’t give a flying fuck who he is, or how you’re related, we need him. Now!” I was hired. To my great good fortune, the drivers had recently joined the Teamsters Union so if I survived, I’d be making a decent wage.
I had my foot in the door of a semi-skilled profession that many folks looked upon as a legitimate job for life. While truck driving as a career had never been a goal, I started out like a kid on a carnival ride, loving every minute, thrilled to be on a new, unexpected road to self-reliance. My acceptance into this blue-collar brotherhood seemed sudden and a surprise in many ways, especially after four years at university.
Never had I dreamed of being in a position to see and experience so many extraordinary things so early in life, soon realizing that these would be the first serious stepping stones to fulfilling my boyhood dream.
Sadly, the enchantment only lasted a few years, as the long hours of isolation gradually replaced the initial excitement. I became anesthetized, white line fever, as good as an excuse as any in the face of a shitload of adult responsibilities that at times seemed almost cliché. Listening to Janis Ian’s lament in her song, At Seventeen: “married young and then retired,” or Springsteen’s ballad of loss in the The River, “all those things that seemed so important, they just vanished right into the air,” struck a frightening chord.
As the gear jamming days ground on, something in my psyche, under my skin, like a virus, tingling—wouldn’t stop. I had to find a way out, to the next chapter. Up high, in the cab of an eighteen-wheeler, the mind-liberating freedom of the road allowed me to keep dreaming. In the end, I was able to quit, allowing pieces of my mixed-up life to sort themselves out, paving the way to the freedom I had dreamed about for years.

As Trucker to Teacher, Travelin’ On

Next Up!

New degree, job, wife and traveling partner, and a world to see:

Forty-seven countries, four continents, nine schools, including:

China: Beijing and Shanghai,

Hong Kong, Santiago, Chile, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Erlangen, Germany.

Then back to the US, to Vashon, Washington, an island off the coast of Seattle, and finally, Norway.

Never would he have guessed that these twenty-five years would be spent, not only as traveler, writer, and storyteller, but as a teacher and school librarian.

As Expatriate

Home for Good, of Not, Maybe

And so it came to pass . . . illness in the family, Covid limiting his and his wife’s travels everywhere, missing family and friends.
After two and a half decades, the gut-wrenching decision to see if they could fit back in to a country they most certainly would not recognize, needed to be made.
The first few months home were tough, bewildering, and at times, overwhelming. They experienced many similarities to their return in 2016, but this time, they faced the leftover and continuing dregs of Trumpian insanity—how things had changed in just the six years.
Trying to find a new normal, in their own country—as foreign to them as any country where they had lived or worked—required new survival skills, ones that depended more on fatalism, than hope.
The news of so many appalling changes was unrelenting, nothing was getting better, day after day. Their decades-old advice to themselves, live where you are, had never been put to this kind of test.

As a Writer

Using his extensive knowledge of expatriate living, and the experiences he had had with overseas kids, Bob was able to write about their frontline exposure to political intrigue, revolution overthrow, and war—in addition to their nonstop challenges of just fitting in.

Publishing Date:

Inspired after working seven years in China.

Publishing Date:

Three years in Saudi Arabia.

Publishing Date:

Three years in Germany. And now.

Publishing Date:
July 2023

From a lifetime of travel, all over the world.


As a Blogger

  1. The joy of writing and reading
  2. Comparisons of the things I experienced overseas; health care, people, politics, education, third culture kids, corruption, etc.
  3. Whatever pops into my head on any given day, at any given minute
  4. Trying to find hope in a country where hope seems to be in short supply


    1. Figuring out who I am and if I can find a way to live happily in a country I don’t recognize
    2. Promoting my new book, Jump
    3. Big thoughts on travel
    4. Big thoughts on education
    5. Big thoughts on schools and libraries
    6. Big thoughts on travel partners

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