THEY'RE KILLING Bob Velazco. They're murdering him. They're putting little obstacles in his path -- rocks in the road, he calls it -- and he's getting weary. His business has suffered and his personal life has gone to pot and all he does, really, is try to arrange Christmas dinner for the 50 American hostages in Tehran. Somehow, the sweet Christmas dream of Bob Velazco has become a nightmare.
Good Morning America calls, but he won't go on the show. A senator's office calls and tells him to keep up the good work.
Local television stations check from time to time to see how he's doing. The phone rings. The mail is heavy. A Virginia hotel will cater the meal free. A bagel baker offer six-dozen bagels.
Meanwhile, Velazco goes back and forth to the Iranian Embassy. He has got for them the letter of intent they wanted, and he went to the caterer and got the menu typed up, and he went to Air France and arranged to have the food delivered. He has spoken to all the people several times and he has been told that Tehran has received the cable asking for permission but nothing has happened yet.
"I swear to God. I want to make it work," he says. "I'm going to do this thing, but it's hard. They're putting rocks in my path. I have to get a letter from the Iranians for Air France. How can I get a letter from the Iranians?" It's not a bad question. No one has been able to contact the Iranian government in weeks. No one's even sure who it is any more.
The world nibbles at his dream. Air France tells him that the Concorde is too small to accommodate the food crate. He checks with the caterers. They will make two crates. He goes over the menu. He makes sure there is no pork, no booze. He comes up with a menu fit for a king -- fit, anyway, for a hostage.
It starts with hors d'oeuvres preceding dinner, and then goes on the chilled cream of chestnut soup and then fresh roast tom turkey. There's Chesapeake Bay oyster stuffing and giblet gravy and pheasant casserole, and all the fixings. Dessert is pumpkin chiffon, mince meat and deep dish apple pies, and the whole thing ends with eggnog, coffee or tea -- cream and sugar included, naturally.
Velazco took this menu to the embassy. The embassy cabled it to Tehran. He took a letter, saying that he would pay for and provide the meal. The letter was sent to Tehran. Everyday, he calls the embassy. Everyday he is told there is not yet an answer. Everyone is polite. Nearly everyone is packing to return to Iran. They all smile. They are all polite. They all have no answer for him.
The news constantly jolts him. He hears rumors that the hostages have been split up. The rumors depress him. He hears that the ayatollah has taken an even harder line. The news sets him back. Lately, he has been depressed. Lately, he has lost hope. Lately, he is beginning to think it will not work.
He stepped out of the Iranian Embassy the other day and couldn't get a cab. He hailed one and got the finger in return. He hailed another and got passed up. He was momentarily puzzled. Finally he realized that cabs would not stop for people at the embassy. He walked down the block, hailed a cab and it stopped. The driver asked Velazco if he was an FBI agent. In this Christmas season, this is what it takes to get a cab near the Iranian Embassy.
The dream of Bob Velazco was to provide a Christmas dinner for the hostages. He has an idea and $1,500 in the bank, and on an inspiration he called the newspaper. That really set things off. Those of us here at the paper went on our way, but Velazco now had a mission. Somehow, the idea -- this simple, naive dream -- became his life. It was real it was in the papers and people were taking it seriously.
So is he. He always did, of course, but now so many other people have that he has no choice. His voice droops now on the phone, and the other day, after a lot of mini-setbacks and still no word from the embassy, he called. His voice broke.
"I don't like to sound like a weeping Joe," he said. "Usually, I'm a hard guy. I want to make it work. I tell you, I'm strung out. I really don't know how much more I can take."
There are a lot of things you can say about Bob Velazco. You could say he has the strength to dream and the strength to cry and you could wish him, no matter what happens, a Merry Christmas. But the best thing you could say is what was said in a letter that meant the most to him.It was one page, with some writing only at the very bottom.
"God bless," That was all it said.