Posts Tagged ‘travel’

I wrote a book!

January 31, 2012

In my copious spare time, I managed to write a little novel. This is my first attempt at writing for public (other than here on WordPress) so I don’t know what the reaction will be.  It is basically a love story that spans almost twenty years.  I drew a bit on my own experiences and embellished them somewhat then added flights of pure fancy.

Anyway, here’s the URL for the first chapter:

http://www.booksie.com/romance/novel/tom_oldman/wanderlust-chapter-1

I intend to add chapters about once a week or so.  Please let me know what you think; good, bad, indifferent, whatever.

T.O.M.

 

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The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (2)

May 19, 2010

The next morning I woke before the three burpers and managed a nice bath before shaving and toothbrushing.  Just as I was finishing up, someone tapped on the bathroom door and I let him in.  I was still a bit sore and creaky from the exercise yesterday, but moving around made most of it go away.

I went down the stairs to the cramped dining room and found that pretty much all of our crew was gathered for the trip today to Wittlich.  Virginia had saved me a spot right across the table from her.  A huge platter of bacon and eggs was put on the table and everyone got their share.  Pedaling definitely makes your appetite grow.  I thought about seconds, but knew we had several rivers to cross and didn’t feel like taking aboard all the extra calories.

We all claimed our bikes from the shed out back and readied them for the day’s travel.  My back tire was low so I pumped it up a little.  I was lucky because two others had flat tires and had to change them.  We finally left around ten or so.

The little town of Niederkail sits at the bottom of our first valley and is split by a very small stream.  We didn’t cross it, but followed it for about a half mile.  We stopped in town to refill our water bottles at the fountain which was fed by a cold spring that comes right out of the mountain.  A bit further down the valley we finally crossed the stream and started up the other side.

According to our map, there were two ways we could approach Landsheid.  One of them was to start up the main highway and end up walking a couple of miles’ or, we could walk up a fairly steep grade for a quarter mile and take a sort of logging road through the forest.  We opted for the second route.  We did not choose wisely.

We left the road down at the bottom of a nicely wooded hillside and started up a trail of crushed stone.  It was definitely ‘push your bike up the hill’ mode.  We stopped two or three times for a breather and finally made it to the top.  Loggers had churned up the ground to the consistency of chocolate syrup to a depth of six inches.  Even skirting the huge clearing, we gathered enough of the sticky goo to clog the braking devices on the bikes.  We ended up dragging them, locked-wheeled, the last 100 meters or so.

Several in our group slipped and fell and one of those got hit by the crossbar of their bike when it toppled over on top of them.  Triage was completed in the grass at the other side of the pit of terror.  We all looked like we’d spent some time in a mud wrestling venue.  I considered myself lucky that I only dropped my water bottle in the mud.  It took us about half an hour to clean off the bikes, clean off ourselves, and in two instances, go into the woods and change into clean clothes.

Well, gee, I hear you saying.  Why didn’t they just go around the mudhole?  Ooh, ooh, let me answer that one!  It’s because the woods were a planted forest and the trees were so close together that you would have been better off trying to squeeze a bike through a picket fence.  Space was not wasted in unproductive real estate in that forest.

After sorting ourselves out, we started along the small track towards the back door, so to speak, of Landsheid.  It seemed as if every turn we made the road got smaller and smaller.  Soon, we were in single file and almost at a walking pace.  Grumbles were being voiced not too quietly now that maybe someone had goofed.

We would occasionally get a glimpse of the valley along which we were traveling, but not much more than that.  Finally, a scouting group of three parked their bikes and went ahead on foot to see if it got any better.  The rest of us took some time to grab a bite to eat.  We had one small alcohol stove and, after many unsuccessful attempt to get it going, it gave a huge ‘boof’ and blew out one end of the delivery pipe.  No hot tea for us.

The scouts came back and reported that the trail widened out into gravel again just around two corners.  They hadn’t gone much further, but that did sound encouraging.  The chief scout looked at the wreckage of his stove and sadly shook his head.  He pointed to the small lever that allowed fuel to flow into the burner – it hadn’t been turned on.  So, even though we had pumped it up to around two or three thousand PSI, it never would have lit a burner.  We held an immediate whip-around and paid him for it.

Heartened by the news, we boarded bikes again and started out.  The trail did indeed widen and smooth out.  It stayed that way until it came to an abrupt end.  Now, why would someone build a trail like this and then just stop?  No answer except that we had to find a way towards what we now identified as a church bell tolling.  It was the right direction for Landsheid so we wearily began pushing through tall grass and small spike-bearing bushes that ripped our ankles to shreds.  This was rapidly not being fun.

With a final push through a huge bramble patch we hit a farm road running alongside a field of grain.  Off in the distance we could see the church tower that had guided us through the jungle.  Not a single one of the girls, and several of the guys, would budge until they had cleaned up somewhat.  Pointing in two opposite directions, the chaperones told the guys to go ‘that way’ and the girls to go ‘over there’ and repair our appearances.  It wouldn’t do to frighten the natives into thinking we had just arrived after being abducted by aliens or something like that.  Refreshed (and de-burred) we pressed onwards and into town.

We stopped at a store in Landsheid where our hapless scout purchased a new pressure stove.  It was a nice one and we all read the instructions carefully so there would be no repeat of the ‘big bang’ as it was called.  On our way out of town, we passed through a huge cornfield on either side of the road.  I have no idea how those twenty ears of corn got into those panniers officer; honest.

We skirted the town of Berg and started down a long, twisty, road to the bottom of the hill.  About halfway down, there was a cry of pain as one of the guys flipped his bike over the handlebars and into the ditch.  He had been trying to brake and one of the little rubber brake plugs had worked its way loose and popped out.  This, unfortunately, happened to be on a rear brake so the only one he had was the front brake.  Since he was applying pressure to both front and rear, the cessation of rear braking tossed him ass over head and into the ditch.  Nothing was broken, but we had to take time out while he replaced a brake.

It was a long climb back out and we had to walk it pretty much all the way.  There was a nice pull-out area with tables halfway up so we stopped, took pictures, clowned around with a couple of soccer balls, and generally had some fun.  I noticed two or three couples had crept away and into the woods.  The chaperones didn’t.  Virginia and I got back and mingled with the crowd as they mounted up.

Hupperath came and went as a series of five cross streets sparsely populated.  We stopped only long enough for a few of us to telephone home and report our progress.  They wanted too much money for me to want to make a call; the equivalent of a buck seventy five for three minutes.  A bit steep.

We stopped at the top of our next valley and took pictures of our road as it undulated down the hillside.  We counted at least seven curves of greater than ninety degrees on its way down.  We would have to take this hill much slower than the last one for sure.  Carefully, we started down.  Cars and the occasional bus whooshed past us and belched fumes at us.  The breeze was good enough to blow it away but it still caused a cough or two.

The accident happened at the fifth bend.  This turn was an almost complete one-eighty reversal and the side of the road was covered with loose gravel from the hillside.  Three of our group were involved.  Unfortunately, Virginia was the second one to fall.  The person she was riding next to at the time lost traction on both wheels and the bike went out to the side.  This kicked Virginia’s bike sideways also and they both went down.  The next guy in line hit her bike and cartwheeled over it and into a small post.  He hit the post right at the middle of his thigh and bounced into the deep grass at the side of the road.

We all slid to a stop and dashed over to help.  Virginia was shaken but not hurt badly.  Her elbow was scuffed up, and she would have a nasty bruise on one of her knees, but otherwise okay.  The original bike was out of service.  It had landed on a large rock and tore out several spokes.  We would have to replace the wheel when we got to the inn in Wittlich today.  We patched up everyone except for the guy that hit the roadside post.  He was in pretty bad shape.  Our resident first aid expert said he didn’t break anything, but his thigh was already turning a dark shade of purple where he had hit.

He volunteered to sit with the broken bike and wait for our station wagon to arrive and pick him up.  We left him some chicken and two water bottles.  I surreptitiously passed him a small flask of Schnapps, for which he gave his thanks.  We somberly mounted up and finished our downward ride.

On the outskirts of Wittlich we passed a really nice sportsplatz.  A game was in progress but we didn’t have the time to stop unfortunately.  We debated on which road to take into town because we weren’t sure which one would take us to our little hotel.  We knew that both of them ended up near the center of town so we split up and took both roads.  We said that we would meet in the town square in any case.

A huge amount of European townships are laid out in the same general plan.  Around a central square or municipal building roads radiate out like spokes on a wheel.  Connecting these spokes are angled streets running from spoke to spoke.  It is not unusual for one continuous road traveling around the core to go through many name changes as it crosses a spoke.  This was the difficulty we faced in finding our inn for the night.

We wandered up one road and down the next.  Whenever we approached the town square, we peeled off into a different spoke road and traveled back out.  On our fourth fruitless search we actually entered the square.  We were hailed by one of our own who drove the VW bus and asked why we kept starting into the square and then turning around.  Damn, we felt like idiots.

She started the bus and led us directly to the inn.  The other group had already arrived, gotten their rooms, were staked out on the restaurant balcony sipping sodas, and razzing us.  We parked our bikes in the little stand they had out front and went inside to get our room assignments.

This particular inn was actually a youth hostel.  Rooms were dormitory-style with perhaps twenty beds in them.  In most cases, both sexes would share the same spaces (but not bathrooms).  This caused the chaperones to form up and select beds that bisected the room – boys on one side and girls on the other.  The German kids thought this was hilarious.

The evening turned out to be nice and warm, but with a hint of cool breeze.  There was a fire pit in the area out back with split log seating.  People drifted out and sat watching the fire as night closed in on us.  Virginia and I snuggled up as well as most of the other couples.  The omnipresent chaperones sat right at the top of the pit and watched the lot of us.  I swear they counted heads every half hour.

After an evening of singing, little skits that had us all rolling with laughter, and some excellent storytelling, we began to feel our efforts of the day and drifted off to our assigned bunks.  I managed to give Virginia a kiss goodnight under the baleful eye of a chaperone.  What he didn’t hear was her wish we were back in our own little inn by ourselves.  Oh gosh.  Just what I needed right then for a good night’s sleep.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt. 7)

April 28, 2010

We spent eight long, boring, centuries in Santa Ana.  In the early decades of most centuries, my brother and I would sit up in the small apartment over the garage and shoot rubber bands at each other for amusement.  My grandmother used to work as an accountant and she had a giant box of them on a shelf in the closet.  Then we would shift to play the ‘guess which relative we’re going to see today’ game.

At about the fifty-year mark we would have lunch.  It was almost always peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a glass of milk.  Occasionally, my grandmother would throw in a slice of pie.  After a quick clean up of the kitchen, we’d pile into our bus and head for AuntUncle Whomever’s house.  I really don’t know why all we kids had to go because we didn’t have a clue as to who they were.  After all, if we didn’t get a Christmas present from them, they didn’t count.  We would arrive back home after dark and either have a quick snack (if we hadn’t had one elsewhere) or just flop down into bed and try to sleep in the heat.  Central air conditioning hadn’t been invented yet.

In the initial years of the fourth century, we got up early and, as promised, went over to Disneyland.  We drove around the parking lot for what seemed like hours while my dad tried to find a spot ‘just a little closer’.  Hey man!  Just park it already!  I’m not going to even try and describe our visit to the park.  Suffice it to say that we all had fun; expensive fun, but fun nevertheless.  The ticketing structure was an interesting facet of the park.

In June of 1959 the ticketing structure changed.  Each of us had to have what they called a “passport”.  This passport contained a general admission ticket, a lot of coupons for pennies off their overpriced food, and several pages of tear-out stamps marked from “A” to “E”.  The “E” ticket had just been added.  We were warned in very strong terms that we were NOT to tear out the tickets but, instead, let the ride operator tear it out.  Printed plainly on the ticket was the caveat ‘Void if Detached’.

The “A” and “B” tickets were mostly for stuff like Main Street rides and kiddy rides.  “C” tickets escalated into more challenging rides like ferryboat rides and the Rainbow Caverns Mine train ride.  Tomorrowland and Fantasyland was where you spent most all of your “D” tickets on things like Autopia and the Astro Jet rides.

We all prized the “E” ticket rides, but you only got two “E” tickets in your passport.  I spent mine on the TWA Rocket to the Moon and the SP & D Railroad train (naturally).  I went back and used my own money to buy another set of tickets so I could ride the Matterhorn bobsled ride.  It was this ticket that gave us the catch phrase “a real E-ticket ride” for any fast moving, or really scary ride in any moving object.

To this day I do not remember what my dad shelled out for these ticket books but he moaned about the cost for a month afterwards.  It was this reason we did not go to Knotts Berry Farm this trip.  I would have been happy to go there instead of Mr. Disney’s theme park.  We did spend the entire day from when the park opened to watching the fireworks while standing in the middle of Main Street on our way out to the car.  We spent an hour just getting to the road from our parking spot.

Somewhere in my house I still have all the 8mm film from my dad’s movie camera that he shot of us kids having fun.  I’ve seen it and plan on transferring it to a DVD soon.  ‘Soon’ being a relative term that actually means ‘just before or during the next millennia’.  (Oops, it’s 2010 now and I still haven’t done it.)

I did finally find someone to hang around with in the fifth century.  Her name was Harriet.  She lived two doors down from my grandmother and was lucky enough to have two bicycles.  I felt just a little silly riding a girl’s bike, but it did get me out of the house and away from the family for mornings or afternoons.  She had finished the school year about a week before we got there so both of us were kinds bored.  She was only fifteen, but since I was only seventeen it didn’t matter.

She was kind of plain looking but did a lot of smiling with perfectly white teeth.  She knew all sorts of places within range of a bicycle that we could visit like the local library, the swimming pool, a small amusement park and the farmer’s market.  I tried to get my dad to let me take the bus, but he said he was worried that I only had an International Drivers License.  For some reason, it was not valid here in the United States.  He’d let me do a little driving on the trip, but here in Southern California it was different.  Actually, being able to buzz around on a bicycle was pretty cool.  We could take shortcuts not available to cars.

The day before we were scheduled to leave, Harriet and I pedaled down to the municipal pool and splashed around for a while.  She introduced me to about six or eight friends, most of them girls, and only two of them were brave enough to wear the new bikinis.  The rest of them wore one-piece suits.  All the kids around me were very tanned and healthy-looking.  Must be all those oranges for breakfast every day.

We packed up the night before our departure and went to bed early.  Our target time of leaving was five in the morning.  This was done mostly to try and beat the traffic of the morning rush.  We hit the road only fifteen minutes late and swept up north on highway 99.  By the time the sun rose, we were well down into the valley past Bakersfield and headed to Fresno.

The rest of our trip was pretty uneventful.  When we got almost to Stockton we cut west and drove over the hills to Richmond.  We crossed the bridge, got on highway 101 and went north to our temporary home at Hamilton Air Force Base.  We had reservations in the guest housing so we could look around for a place to live.

Three days later, my parents settled on a little house up in Petaluma.  When our household goods arrived in a month we met the flatbed truck carrying the shipping containers at the new house and watched as they unpacked everything and carried it into the house.  Neighbors came over to say hello and brought food for our hungry tribe.

Once the dust settled, the next phase of my life began – fitting into the sun-worshipping, surfing, car-crazy kids of California.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt.6)

April 20, 2010

Our visit with grandparents was a huge success.  We learned our morning chores well and soon I could milk all five cows in just under forty minutes.  My sisters learned to spot the wooden eggs and leave them alone.  My brother finally was able to split wood small enough so that it fit into the wood-burning kitchen stove.  We all toned up our muscles, got a little tanned, and began working as a team.

We were originally to spend ten days, but my mom got a little restless to see her mom out in Los Angeles so we packed up on the eighth day and pulled out the next morning.  It was a very long, hot, tedious, hot, mind numbing, hot, ride.  Have I mentioned how hot it was?  Our window mounted swamp cooler failed to swamp and just allowed the arid air to sweep over us.  We drank gallons of water and panted.

We had gone back north towards Durango, but then peeled off west on good old US160.  This highway passed just north of Mesa Verde National Park and, as planned, we made a stop there to look at the cliff dwellings and explore ruins.  Despite the heat, it was very interesting actually.  When we left, we passed through Cortez and headed directly to the Four Corners.

Everyone, except my dad who thought it was undignified, got on all fours and did the tourist thing of being in four states at the same time.  A little further down the road we took an interesting little sandy road and found a small water hole to camp by.  This time, there were no bugs that we noticed; however, all night long we’d be awakened by huffings, puffings, growls, and grunts as the various residents of the desert came to drink.  One of them, a coyote I think, got interested enough to tip over our aluminum cooler.  The resulting crash as it hit the ground from our camp table had everyone on edge for the rest of the night.

At around four in the morning we agreed that we weren’t going to get much more sleep and took off while it was much cooler.  We passed through colorfully named towns such as Teec Nos Pos, Teq Nec Lah, Dennehotso (which we thought was hilarious), Baby Rocks, and Cow Springs (another couple of thigh-slappers).

When we reached Tuba City, my dad roamed around to all four gas stations looking for a bargain.  When he found that fifty-two cents was everywhere he really got ticked off.  He picked the station that looked to be the least prosperous and gave them his business.  Big deal.  We rarely put more than eleven or twelve gallons in anyway so what real difference did it make?  He was big on teaching us “the principles of the thing” instead of calling it “cheap”.

After fortifying the bus with gas, and our tummies with semi-decent food, we went back on the highway towards our night goal of a place near Williams, Arizona.  But first, we had to pass through Flagstaff.  The road was very poorly marked and if it hadn’t been for my ‘bump of direction’ we would have gone a long ways towards Phoenix – which was definitely the wrong way.  About the time my brain went “ding!” my dad saw the sign telling us that Phoenix was ahead and pulled over to look at the ‘damn map’ again.  We only retraced about eight or nine miles and ended up on US66 towards Williams.

Williams appeared in front of us as we rounded a bend.  We had a nice long drink of very cold water in the town square and, after stopping at another gas station, we were directed to a great campground not too far out of town.  We swung through a big western-style gate with a huge signboard overhead announcing the Bunnyville Campground and pulled up at the clubhouse.  We were assigned a spot right down on the water of a nice lake where the fishing was free.

My dad, my brother and I pitched camp in a hurry and dashed off to the lake juggling fishing gear.  All we had was spinning gear and everyone else had fly casting rigs.  It also appeared that the only ones catching anything had boats or rafts and were out in the lake.  Not a good thing for shore fishermen.  I think it was my brother that came up with the idea to put an one of those clear bubbles that you can partially fill with water.  Once that was attached, you stripped off about eight or nine feet of plain leader with a dry fly at the end.

Raring back and letting fly with the weight of the water filled bobber made for casts of heroic proportions.  We found we could easily get ranges of over a hundred feet.  Since the bobbers had just enough water to make them barely float, once they hit the water we’d just let them sit for a moment and then slowly reel it back to shore.

My dad got the first hit.  It was a huge trout that jumped completely clear of the water and splashed back down.  His drag started whining loudly as the fish took off for the center of the lake.  Laughing maniacally, he horsed that fish all the way back to shore.  It weighed two and a half pounds.

Invigorated by his success my brother and I began whipping the surface of the lake to a froth with our casts.  First I landed a nice trout and then my brother got the biggest one at just over three pounds.  We hated to quit, but all we needed for dinner was at our feet.  I got to clean them after what I think was a rigged ‘rock/paper/scissors’.

Our trout dinner was very tasty and afterwards we just sat around the fire and slipped into a food-induced stupor.  Day turned to twilight which didn’t linger very long because of the surrounding mountains and then to full dark.  In the stillness, between various noises from other campers, we could hear fish jumping.  We told my sister that it was the swamp monster coming to get her.  Yeah, I know that’s cruel, but what are brothers for?

The next day we spent all day running up one hill and down the backside of it.  Nowadays, I40 takes off at Seligman and runs pretty much due west to get to Kingman.  Back then, US66 took a path that went way northwest to Peach Springs and back down to the southwest to hit Kingman.  It was a very long trip.  When we passed trough the town of Antares, my mom remarked that it certainly did feel like the surface of a sun.

We finally reached California at Needles.  It had been a long trip and now our goal seemed a lot closer.  There was a state park west of Needles where we camped that night.  To get to it we had to travel up a huge dry wash.  The road was crushed gravel and it seemed like every mile or so we had to cross a big concrete culvert sort of thing.  My dad said it was for flood control.  Flash floods are a real danger out here.  Everyone looked to the skies for signs of rain.

This was the first night we actually felt cold.  Blankets were thrown across sleeping bags and when we got up the next morning dew had formed on everything.  We also found we had another flat tire.  This one wasn’t so bad though.  A sharp stone had cut through the tread and nicked the inner tube.  We had the wheel pulled, the tire off and tube patched in just under a half hour.

Today we should make Santa Ana if we were lucky.  One of the town we passed through caused gales of laughter.  We pronounced it like the train station announcers in a Bugs Bunny cartoon:  KooooooooooK-A-Mongaaaa.  I bet they really hate Warner Brothers for that.  At least we didn’t make “that left toin at Alber-kurk-ie”.

Down through the valley we went, passing grove after grove of orange trees.  Thousands of them.  Then, on some of the low hills, we started seeing the donkey engines of oil wells.  The smell of citrus trees gave way to petroleum products.  Cruising through Orange, we saw a sign telling us of the new complex opened up in Anaheim called Disneyland.  We had been promised a visit there as well as my favorite of Knotts Berry Farm, which was just up the road from Disneyland.  The rest of the way to grandma’s house was filled with speculations on when we would get to go there.

We arrived in Santa Ana.  It was a beautiful little town surrounded by orange groves.  (What else?)  My mom’s mother lived in a two story house that had a backyard courtyard and a small apartment over the garage.  My brother and I were assigned beds there.  This was a very cool thing because it got us out of the house and away from everyone we’d been sitting next to for the last billion miles.  We were to stay here for ten days also.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt. 5)

April 13, 2010

Morning arrived and once again we were assigned farm duties.  I had to go out and do the milking for five rather surly cows.  I say surly now, but I didn’t know that until the first time I approached them in the pasture.  Rounding them up consisted of a running game whereby I ran back and forth over the grass while they loped right in front of me laughing.

Fortunately, I’d played a lot of foosball and had the stamina to keep up with them.  As I narrowed their field of coverage by running back and forth in front of them I managed to back them up enough to force them through the gate and into the small pen.

Panting heavily, I swung the gate closed and smacked the first one on the butt to get her moving into the barn.  She looked back at me, swished tail a couple of times, and meekly trotted across the floor and into the milking area.  Milking a cow is fairly easy if you can rub your head and pat your stomach at the same time while reciting the Gettysburg Address.  The hardest part is keeping the business end aimed at the bucket and batting away the barn cats.

One of the cats in particular kept trying to dip her paw into the bucket.  I nipped that early on by squirting a couple of blasts across her face.  She began frantically wiping her paw over it while fighting off the other cats.  It’s sorta like sharks; give them something else to do while you swim out of the area.

By the time the fourth cow was ready for milking my forearms and wrists were aching.  I felt like they should look like Popeye’s arms from the pain.  I had to take a break so I stood up, cricked my back, and took what milk I’d gathered so far and poured it into the separator.  My brother arrived about that time and I taught him how to keep the machine running and hold the various buckets to catch the cream and milk.

Refreshed a little, by the time I tackled the fifth cow I was running on sheer determination alone.  She kept trying to shift sideways and knock the bucket over.  In the process she would kick my ankle – hard.  She would turn to me with that “did I do that” look.  She settled down when I punched her on the flank and kept squeezing.

Finally the milking was done so I separated what I had just gathered and the two of us hauled it back to the house.  My sisters had gathered all the eggs without fuss as the chickens seemed less quarrelsome then my Uncle’s chickens.  What they didn’t know was the there were some wooden eggs in the nests that were used to encourage egg production.  Of all the eggs they gathered, about ten of them were wooden.  We had a laugh over that.  They didn’t think it was so funny.

After breakfast we were all turned loose to do kid stuff.  We already knew that most families around the farm were relatives of some sort; some of them by marriage and some of them by blood.  The closest was about a half-mile down the dirt road so I began walking.  Nobody used bicycles here because of the gravel roads.  Gravel is very tricky to maintain your balance on.

Actually, I found out later that my grandparents had three horses.  One was used for plowing but the other two were sort of riding horses.  During my first visit down the road, my cousin, Dale, taught me to ride bareback.  That bony old horse was like riding the business end of a very large, hard comb.  At any pace over a plodding walk it felt as if hundreds of tiny builders were whacking at your privates with little hammers.  Galloping?  Forgeddaboudit!

He did have a spare saddle which he taught me to throw over the horse and cinch up properly.  He even taught me a trick.  It seems a horse will swallow air while you are making ready to saddle him/her.  When you throw the saddle over him/her and cinch it up tightly you think you’re ready to climb aboard.  Not so.  The first time you put a foot in the stirrup the saddle will slide down the rib cage and you’ll end up on your butt with the horse snickering back at you.

So, when you’re just about to cinch the saddle, you punch the horse in the ribs hard.  Sometimes you have to do it a couple of times but once you hear (or smell) the air exiting – by the means you might expect – then you quickly pull the cinch even tighter.  Sneaky animals, horses.

Our travels were greatly enhanced by the use of horses.  A couple of days later, several of us kids, mostly relatives, saddled up.  The locals were taking my brother and I out to what they called ‘four corners’.  Now, I’d already heard of Four Corners and thought something might be afoot here in the way of hazing tenderfoots.

Four Corners is a properly designated State rest area out on US Highway 160 that exits Colorado and enters Arizona.  It does it in such a manner as to pass directly adjacent to southeast Utah and northwest New Mexico.  If you spread yourself out like a spider you can be in four states at the same time.  It is the only place in the entire US where four states come together.

But, I digress.  These old hands were taking the dudes for a ‘ride’.  We ambled along winding our way through small hills and down streams.  We went across a big wooden bridge over a dry arroyo that had huge boulders along the bed.  Dennis told me that when there was a big storm up in the hills that water would roll those rocks down the streambed quite a ways.

The local school kids had lotteries started up where a big number was painted on a given rock and everyone would place bets on how far it would roll in the next storm.  Purses could get up into the sums of twenty or thirty dollars at times.  These kids really needed better hobbies.

We crested a big hill and out in the rounded valley below was a single post stuck in the middle of a barren dustbowl.  Dale pointed to it and told us that was the four corners.  I mumbled a muted ‘gee whiz’ and looked impressed.  I didn’t really feel like it, but I followed them down the hill and we rode around the post and back up the hill.  The locals then told us we’d been in four states just now.

I know how to read a map.  I knew for sure that Four Corners was about fifty-five miles, or so, away as the crow flies so this couldn’t be it under any circumstances.  I wisely kept my mouth shut though because they were having so much fun kidding us.  With suitable expression of dudeness, I acted impressed.  We rode back to one of my cousins homes for lunch.

My brother and I have such a rapport at times that it seems uncanny.  We can improvise comedy routines that will really get you laughing.  One day as we sat in the living room we launched into a very Abbott and Costello routine:

“Hey!  What’s that seat you sitting on made of?”  He asked me.

“Hide.”

“Hide?”

“Yeah, hide.”

“Hide.  Is that so?”

“Yeah, HIDE!  You know, the cow’s outside!”

“So what, I’m not afraid of a cow.”

Damn, we really break each other up.

My granddad’s farm wasn’t really what anyone would call a working farm.  He had a couple fields of corn, some beans, a line of squash and zucchini plus a really good watermelon patch.  Now, I know you’re al l thinking ‘wow, a watermelon patch’ but some of them looked purely scrawny.  Most of them were as round as, and felt like, a cannonball.  That got us thinking about cannonballs, cannons, things that shoot, and finally, to a big slingshot that would shoot hard melons.

We gathered up the items we would need:  a couple of old inner tubes, a nice piece of leather about a foot square, some baling wire and tin snips.  We cut the tubes up into thin bands and braided them into two lengths of about four feet each.  Next we wired one end of the rubber band to holes we cut on either side of the leather hunk.  The hardest part was searching for a suitable launch pad.

We finally found a defunct fence (well, it really wasn’t completely defunct but we fiddled with it until it defunked).  We wired the loose ends to posts on either side of the big empty space that we found.  Next up was the trial run.  We gathered several young volunteers of the watermelon persuasion and set them down on the ground handy to our launcher.

Fortunately, a rather large clapboard shed was within range and almost dead across a small field from our contraption.  With a small can of paint that would hardly be missed, we put a nice target on the side of the shed.  We were ready.

Putting our first load into the pouch, we began stretching the bands back.  Unfortunately, we didn’t notice that one side was beginning to slide under the wire binding it to the fence post.  Since I was the person holding the bag as it were, when the wire released the band it snapped back sharply and whacked me across the chest rather severely.

“Oh, gosh, gee whiz.  Consarn it.  That really smarts.”  I managed to croak out while bending over and trying to take in a breath.  What I really said should have melted the rubber band.  My sister couldn’t make up her mind to clap her hands first over her mouth or over her ears.  Everyone kept trying to pound me on the back but that wasn’t what I really needed just then.  An oxygen bottle would have been nice.

We made adjustments to the device and tried again.  I tried to talk my brother into giving it a go, but he’s too wary of things like that.  I carefully drew back the bands again until they were almost vibrating with pent-up tension.  A little elevation for luck and I let go.

The cannonball…er…watermelon arced across the field and impacted with a bang somewhere far over the shed.  We wondered what it could have been but decided to continue our test.  Another watermelon was loaded, the elevation was reduced and I let go.  The fruit sailed across the field with military precision and shot through an open window far to the left of the target.  Several loud noises were heard as it came to rest.

Well, we had the range, now we needed the precision.  Another super-hard watermelon, slightly larger than the rest, was fitted with care into the pouch.  I carefully drew back the bands and made sure they were equally tense.  Bent over slightly so I could sight better I aimed and let fly.  The watermelon flew across the field and whacked the side of the shed at about the top of the second ring.  Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there.  It crashed through the rather thin board and touched down somewhere in the middle of my granddad’s work bench.

What we didn’t know at the time was that my granddad was working near the bench and had left a bucket of old oil he had just drained out of the tractor on it.  We scored a direct hit on the bucket.  You have NO idea how far a blast like that can scatter a few quarts of oil.  Spilled milk has nothing on oil.

My granddad came boiling out of the shed casting an eye in every direction.  I doubt very much if he could see the faint dust clouds left by us rapidly departing kids.

That evening we were a bit subdued and didn’t do much clowning around like we usually did.  My granddad announced to nobody in particular that somehow a bucket of oil had exploded on his workbench and he’d be really happy if somebody would clean it up for him.  It took us almost an hour to mop up that black gooey mess.

There was a very old Montgomery Wards Airline floor model radio in the living room.  According to my grandma, she and granddad listened to the news about Pearl Harbor on it about a month after it had been delivered from the store.  Until September of 1941 it wouldn’t have mattered because they hadn’t any electricity out that far.

In any case, I found that it didn’t work.  I got permission to ‘mess with it’.  I’d been working with radios for quite a while actually.  I had built a crystal set, a one-tube radio and a broadcast band modulator so checking to see what ailed this radio wasn’t hard.  I pulled it away from the wall, pushed the plug into the wall and turned it on.

Every tube seemed to light except one.  It was located way forward (from the back of the set) and partially hidden behind the tuner mechanism.  I turned the set off again and pulled the plug.  When I reached into the radio to pull the tube I managed to touch elbow to the top connector of one of the tubes.  In most cases, the top connector is where the high voltage is.  I hadn’t allowed enough time for the power supply capacitors to discharge and my elbow completed the circuit between elbow, arm, fingers, and chassis.

There was a soft pop (probably my finger exploding), a very numb feeling coming over my entire arm, and a rather loud clunk when the back of my head hit the wall.  My grandmother called from the next room and asked if I was okay.  I managed to stammer out a reply that I was fine without gasping too much.

Some people learn from mistakes and some people don’t.  I’m probably in the latter group because I again reached into the radio to pull the tube.  This time I was VERY careful and gently rocked the tube until it came free from the socket.  Heat had erased the tube type printed on the glass, but a handy tube chart was glued to the underside of the wooden shelf holding the chassis.  I only found that because I managed to drop the tube with numb fingers and look up as I retrieved it.

The tube type was a 6V6, which is part of the audio amplifier.  I got permission to drive into town and buy a new one.  Darn thing cost me almost three dollars.  I returned, placed the tube into the socket and plugged the radio in.  After a few seconds music and static blasted out at top volume.  Whoever had last used the radio when the tube blew had left the volume all the way up.

At reduced volume that huge twelve-inch speaker sounded very nice indeed reproducing the sounds of Glen Miller.  My grandparents were happy it was fixed and I got the exclusive use of a giant slab of gooseberry cobbler.  Nyahhh, nyahhh, to my siblings.

Note:  I still have that radio.  It was willed to me.  It still runs just fine, but the next tube that blows will spell doom because you can hardly find tubes any more.  Sad, really, because tube radios just seem to sound better than tinny transistorized sets.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt. 4)

April 8, 2010

The drive to Dodge City was very hot.  We panted while sitting on the hot cloth seats.  We could barely sit back because the vinyl inserts got hot enough to raise welts.  As a consequence, we kids got a little out of hand.

It started with a classic ‘stop touching me’ and went bad from there.  Soon, we were surreptitiously pinching, hitting, poking, and needling each other.  The swamp cooler ran out of water and we couldn’t find any to refill it with so that air stayed hot and dry.  Our supply of drinking water, not the best anyway since it had been filled with pale yellow water from the faucet, ran out.

We finally pulled over at a gas station that had an attached store.  The owner should have worn a woolen overcoat with brass buttons, an eye patch, a bandanna over his head and carried a cutlass.  He was a pirate.  Sodas, which normally sold for around thirty cents had a price tag of seventy-five cents on the ice tub.  We bought only two.

While he kept a wary eye on everyone in the store, my brother and I went to the side of the store outside and discovered a water tap.  He went back to the bus and found all our canteens and, trying not to clink them together, brought them to me.  I eased the tap open and filled every one of them.  The water tasted cool and clean to me.

When Bluebeard mentioned that the next gas was almost seventy miles away my dad just scoffed.  The pirate’s last shot was ‘see you in a couple of hours’.  My dad just smiled.  We had almost a half-tank of gas.  That would get us all the way to Dodge City and then some.

Dodge City turned out to be a real bust for us kids.  We’d been watching western serials on television over in Germany and thought that with a name and history like Dodge City had they would still be packing six-shooters in the streets.  Not so.  People seemed normal, if a little irritable in the heat, and didn’t even say ‘shucks’ to us once.

There was an old portion of town, set aside for the tourists, that was supposed to be authentic.  It looked the part, but I got the impression if you went behind the false fronts you’d see nothing but timber shoring them up.  It wasn’t quite that bad, but it did seem that every building had some sort of entrance fee.  Just drop a dime into the bin and come see ‘authentic this’ and ‘old-timey that’.  For a half-dollar they’d lock you up in the ‘hoosegow’ for ten minutes.  Whee, what fun.

A couple of guys stepped into the street from two different saloons and drew on each other.  Amid some fairly good gun work, they shot each other on alternate hours and twice on Sunday.  It was a good show.  The stage rattled in twice a day with appropriate dust cloud and properly dressed schoolmarms and dudes stepped down looking like their shoes hurt.

We came away mostly unimpressed with Dodge City.

We took US 50 out of Dodge City and dropped southward to meet US 160.  Our eventual goal now was Durango, Colorado.  Night began to fall as we passed through sleepy, dusty towns until we found an arrow pointing to a lake.  We turned off and wandered over a bumpy road until we came to the lake.  It wasn’t much of a lake, but the tall cottonwood trees gave some shade.  It wasn’t deep either.  I could wade across it and not get my tummy wet.

The evening breeze picked up and kept the mosquitoes at bay.  And, if that wasn’t enough, the smoky fire we started would.  Dinner was good and, once the dishes were washed, we were allowed to go run around for a while.  My brother discovered the blackberry patch and didn’t tell anyone.  I asked him why his fingers were blue and he finally told me.  I grabbed a big pot and went back around the lake to fill it.

The berries were very ripe and were probably the largest blackberries I’d ever seen.  There appeared to be a whole hillside of brambles and I filled the pot and myself before coming back to the bus.  My mom saw them and wanted more so she sent me and my sister back with two more pots.  We filled those also.  She had plans for them in the morning.

Around midnight, a pickup truck with its lights off idled past us and went around the lake.  I could hear doors slamming and an occasional snatch of conversation.  Most people have no idea how well sound carries across water so when I began to hear girlish giggles and manly chuckles I had a pretty good idea what was talking place.  I was either asleep or they were really quiet when the left.

We entered Colorado the next morning.  The air seemed to get cooler as we gained altitude.  Around noon we got to Trinidad and pulled into Trinidad Lake State Park to eat.  It was so nice there we stayed several hours.  My brother and I found that canoe rentals were reasonable enough so we rented one for an hour and messed about the lake.  We’d flit from one part of the bank to another, ground the bow, and take off exploring.

I was amazed at the amount of just plain crap thrown aside into the weeds.  Tons of fishing gear wrappers, empty bait tubs, beer cans, and other items littered the small trails that ran everywhere.  In Germany, you would have a hard time finding anything lying around like that.  Not only are there laws, but there are a sort of park ranger there to back it up.  If nobody official kept you from littering, there was always pressure from just plain folks to keep your act clean.

Once, as we drifted slowly across the lake, my brother looked down and pointed with a shout that there was a huge fish following us.  I looked and sure enough there was a very large catfish just swimming and nudging the frayed end of a rope dragging behind us.  He’d come up, grab the rope in his mouth and then try to dive.  I thought it was my brother doing something behind me until I saw the fish.  I could have just barely covered the catfish’s head with a paper plate.

Towards the end of the hour, we paddled back and turned the canoe in.  By the time the two of us walked back to our picnic table, everyone was almost packed and ready to go.  We jumped into our assigned seats and left to begin the long climb up towards Wolf Creek Pass.

First we had to go north until we got to Walsenburg then west past colorfully named places like Muleshoe and Seven Mile Plaza.  By the time we got to South Fork we had started up the eastern grade to Wolf Creek Pass.  My dad found a pullout next to the road and we let the engine cool down a little before beginning the climb.  Being air-cooled, the Volkswagen runs efficiently and cools down very fast.

Refreshed with a drink from the very cold stream we got aboard the bus and started out.  Most of the time we remained in third gear until the grade got really steep.  Down to second gear at times, our top speed was just over twenty-five miles per hour.  Luckily, there were quite a few pullouts where a slow moving vehicle could let others pass while not having to stop.  We did a lot of pulling over.

The final grade had us in first gear.  Whining up the slope at a stately ten miles per hour we had all the time we needed to look out at all the patches of snow under the trees and the huge piles of it where the snowplows had dumped it at the side of the road.  In one small stretch we couldn’t see anything but a ten foot tall wall of dirty snow.

We ground into the parking area at the summit – right at ten thousand eight hundred and fifty seven feet.  It was the highest I’d been in over four years except for the one time we went skiing down near München.  We all stood in front of the rustic sign naming the pass and showing its altitude and had our picture taken by a guy from a passing family.

My dad asked me if I wanted to drive back down the west side.  I said I’d be happy to.  We loaded back up and down the hill we went.  He cautioned me to never get above third gear until we got down into the flats.  He explained that I could get too fast and the brakes would heat up enough to lock so use the engine as a brake.  Good advice.

I wound around sweeping curves, taking quite a bit of time between light brake applications.  Cars would whiz past us whenever they could pass us.  The downside didn’t have tow lanes so they had to wait until they could pass us in the single lane road.  One guy in particular was very obnoxious when he passed me but signaled that he though I was number one in his book.

I smiled greatly when we came up on him at the side of the road – two huge black streaks leading to the smoking rear end of his car.  He’d hit his brakes too many times or too hard and they locked on him.  Happily, it was his two back brakes and not a steering brake.  I tapped the horn as we passed and waved.  He signaled to me again with both hands.

We reached our interim stop, Bayfield, in the early evening.  This was to be a short stop to visit some sort of relative on my dad’s side; an uncle, I believe.  He was a big, rough hewn kind of guy that rarely smiled.  He lived on a farm with lots of outbuildings we could explore while the grown-ups chatted.  My brother and I peeked into a big barn first.

There were two horses in stalls at one end, and a huge pile of left-over horse at the other.  Both smelled a lot so we slipped out the back and ended up in a chicken yard.  Now, I’ve never been afraid of a chicken, but when this one little black dude with half his feathers missing charged us cackling and squawking, we beat a hasty retreat.

Two smaller buildings proved to be just storehouses for ‘stuff’, mostly canned food.  Then, one shed way out in a field showed some promise.  Through the open door we could see a couple of old cars.  I’ve always been a fan of old cars and, as we got closer, I could see one of them was a 1937 Chevy Coupe.  It appeared to be in pretty good shape, but it was up on blocks and had no wheels or tires on it.

Right next to it was an old Willy’s Jeep.  It was the convertible model called a Jeepster and I thought it was from 1949 or 1950.  I opened the door and sat down in the driver seat.  It was set pretty low because of my uncle’s height so I couldn’t see very well over the dash.  It was originally an old maroon color, but it had two blue fenders on the left and a gray rear quarter panel.  Obviously, he’d been fixing it up.

We threw a few rocks into his pond trying to hit the ducks floating around but didn’t come close.  They just quacked at us and swam out of range.  A faint voice called to us from the house so we had to cut our explorations short and get back for some dinner.

Dinner was good.  Heavy farm food like corn on the cob, thick slices of roast beef, mashed potatoes and stiff brown gravy and the like was on the table.  For dessert, we had a huge slice of cherry pie.

Rather then try driving the miles to Durango, my dad elected to just camp out in one of their pastures for the night and drive in the next day to my grandparent’s farm in Breen.  We unloaded just the bare minimum for comfort and cover and slept under the stars.

Next morning, we kids were assigned duties.  I drew egg gathering and asked if there was some secret method of dodging that nasty little rooster.  My aunt told me that when I opened the first gate he’d charge me and to dodge to the side and trap him by swinging the gate through the opening and he’d be caught in that little triangular area behind the gate.  Sounded like a plan to me.

I was prepared for his charge, but it didn’t come.  I eased past the gate carefully looking in all directions and still no feathered missle.  I crept towards the henhouse and cracked the door.  It squeaked just a tiny bit.  That did it – he woke with fire in his eye and began pecking at my feet and ankles.

I swatted at him but he deftly dodged every swing of my basket.  His gabbling woke every hen in the house and they began to add to the din.  It was insanely noisy with all the cackling so I tried to make the best of it and reached for the first nest of eggs.  The owner took exception to me grabbing them and pecked at me the whole time.

I finally got those three eggs in the basket and moved onward through the rest of the nests.  I had at least four pockmarks on my arms from attacking hens and two of them were bleeding.  Those damn chickens have a really sharp beak.  I counted around eighteen or so eggs and decided to beat a hasty retreat.

This time the head rooster followed me beating at my heels with his wings.  I smiled when I managed to hit him with the gate as I opened it.  A small victory, but I felt better.

Breakfast was also farm fare.  At least three frying pans on the wood-fired stove were cooking things like omelets, bacon and leftover mashed potatoes.  The bacon was not the paper-thin stuff you see in supermarkets but nice thick slices manually taken from a huge side of smoked pig.  All of it was delicious.

After packing up and saying our goodbyes we headed out for the few miles to my dad’s father’s farm.  We were held up in Durango while the Silverton Steam train rattled across the road.  All of us asked if we could take the train while we were here.  Dad said ‘maybe’, which is a pretty sure thing sometimes.

We arrived at the farm in early morning and settled down into visit mode.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt.3)

April 3, 2010

We got up early, cleaned up, had breakfast in the haute cuisine establishment of “Eats” out on the highway, and puttered west towards St. Louis.  About noon, a fairly strong wind developed that held out speed down to around fifty miles per hour.  At that speed it was a judgment call as to whether you used fourth gear of third gear.  Fourth gear bogged the engine down until you eventually had to shift to third anyway.  No matter what you did, you always held the gas pedal to the floor.

In most cases, this would have been a nice thing to cruise along at forty-five or fifty but there seemed to be an awful lot of people lining up behind us.  Occasionally, my dad would drive close to the side of the road and let cars pass us.  Every time a big truck passed though we’d get a huge boost in speed from the suction created by the trailer.  My dad would slap the bus into fourth gear and let himself be dragged along the road by the draft.  Eventually, the truck would outrun us and we’d be back to forty-five in no time with irate drivers behind us.

Every time we stopped for gas we were asked the same thing:  What the heck kind of car was that?  Where do you put the gas?  Where’s the engine?  Things like that.  My dad would get creative at times and tell people that it ran on water, or that there was really no engine and we just stuck our feet through the floorboards and ran.  When he got serious though, the mileage would always impress them.  So far on our trip the lowest figure we had was in the mountains of New York where we got only 32 miles per gallon.

Eventually the wind died down and our speed picked up.  At a Western Auto my dad picked up what he called a swamp cooler.  It was supposed to fit in the window of a car and, using an evaporative process, cool the interior.  Our major problem was that we didn’t have any windows that opened up and down.  All of ours slid left to right.  He finally ended up grabbing a screwdriver and completly removed one of the side windows so that the cooler could fit in and not tip water all over the place.

He added water and once we started down the road we were amazed that it actually did work.  Naturally, everyone fought for a seat next to the cool(er) output from the device.  Mom pulled rank and got the first stint, followed by me, then the “other ranks”.  I spelled my dad (the first time this trip I’d been allowed to drive) so he could see how well the cooler worked.  He pronounced it a good idea.

I drove for about an hour or so, zooming down gentle hills and zipping up them until gravity took over to slow me once again.  I probably ticked off the drivers behind us when I did that because the only time they could pass was on the down slope – and I was getting the most our of the slope.  They had to really kick it in the butt to pass.  I waved merrily at their friendly gestures as they went by.

We took lunch at a small roadside rest stop nestled in a grove of trees.  My sisters amused themselves by feeding the squirrels that would gather looking for handouts.  They got quite pushy until the largest one of the bunch decided that “no more bread left” was not a good answer.  He ran up my sister’s leg and stared her right in the kisser chattering all the time.  She reacted badly.

Towards late afternoon we hit Saint Louis.  My dad had been trying to get there before rush hour and we thought we might have made it until he realized that we were going into the city against traffic coming out.  When we got to the center and began moving the same direction it was stop and go all the way.  Hot, sticky, not a breath of air was the order of the day and we sweltered in the heat until we reached the western outskirts.  Once we transited from US40 to US50, westbound again, the traffic thinned and my dad’s temper eased a little.  We had missed the turn and ended up in a series of one-way streets that all appeared to be going the wrong direction for us.  There was no such thing as ‘going around the block’.

We stopped at a small gas station and filled the tank, emptied our tanks, and refilled them with sodas.  The attendant told us of a great campground about twenty miles down the road so that was our goal for the day.

We arrived almost at dark and found it was next to a drive in movie.  The price for camping ($3.00) included a bench seat at the back of the theatre for campers.  It was a Disney movie but to this day I can’t remember what it was.  I fell asleep towards the end and when I woke up to the noise of rumbling exhausts I went back to the tent and crashed.

Next morning, after breakfast from a box, we headed out again.  The rain clouds had formed with huge thunderheads floating up well over forty thousand feet.  Big, black, anvil-shaped clouds that signals serious rain.  The sky got darker, the wind picked up but it was from the side now.  It would push in bursts that threw us all over the road.

We did not have radial tires on the bus.  Those were very expensive and my dad, being my dad, opted for cheaper tires called retreads.  These were supposedly sound tires that had had new treads vulcanized to them to form a nice “new” tire.  For our weight class (flyweight) they worked great.  Tubeless radial tires help to keep your vehicle running in a straight line as the sidewall flex, but normal, tubed, tires won’t.  As a result we wove from the double line to the sideline with regularity in every blast of wind.

After about an hour of this side-to-side motion, my mom said she heard a ‘rump, rump’.  My dad didn’t, and kept going.  She tried again a little more forcefully “I hear a RUMP, RUMP!”  Just as he turned to chastise her, the tire blew.  It was spectacular.  The entire right front retread peeled off the base tire with a huge BANG and shot out the back to lay smoking on the pavement.

Everyone jumped a foot as my dad eased the bus to the side of the road and onto the grass berm.  We got out and looked at the mess.  When it blew, it took the entire sidewall out right up to the bead.  Just the short distance we traveled on nothing but the rim and a little bead had scuffed the rim but hadn’t bent it.  Luckily we hadn’t hit any rocks or holes.

Our first flat for the trip.  Actually, this was a pretty good record for the bus.  We’d gone almost ten thousand miles with just one flat, but that was a slow leaker that allowed us to get off the road and take our time to fix.  This was a little more urgent.  My dad got back in and, with my guidance, pulled over under a tree so we could change it.

We unpacked the ‘way back’ until we could get to the spare mounted under the rear pad over the engine compartment.  The jack worked as it should have and we had the tire changed in about fifteen minutes.  Packing the stuff back in was tricky but we accomplished it in due time and were back on the road towards somewhere west of Wichita.

Every place we stopped, we checked for a replacement tire.  Finally, at yet another Western Auto store in Emporia, Kansas we found one.  It was a new one though, not a retread, so my dad decided to just mount it as the spare.

The further west we went the hotter it seemed to get.  The heat just made us kids more restless and argumentative.  Finally, my mom suggested we stop at a roadside rest that seemed to have river access.  We pulled in, and even before we got our of the bus we knew something was wrong.  It smelled horrible.  We cruised down the access road and when we passed the river, we saw what was causing it.  Someone had left a dead cow lying on the riverbank.  Yuk.

We went just a little farther down the road and came to a dirt road that angled down to another river that we crossed on a bridge.  Down the road we went until we were under the bridge.  It was cool in the shade.  A light breeze blowing upriver kept the bugs down to a minimum and we all soaked for a bit in the water.  Refreshed, we loaded back up and continued onward.

We found a nice motel with cabins situated around a small lake outside Newton, Kansas.  The cabins were only one bedroom so we ended up having to take two of them.  My brother and I, along with my dad, got one, and my sisters and mom got the other one.  The water was so hard that we couldn’t raise a single bubble of soap in the shower.  It tasted awful to boot.  We were completely exhausted by all the heat and lay on the bed with no covers trying to believe that the fan in the room was actually blowing cool air over us.

Tomorrow, we were excited to learn, we would be going through Dodge City.  That was worth the wait.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt. 2)

March 26, 2010

The next few days consisted mostly of the five of us settling down for a long trip.  We chose seats according to our age.  Since I was the oldest so I got so sit where I wanted to, and so on.  My brother built a wall of pillows, comic books, and luggage between he and I while my younger sister utilized most of the far back seat to torment my youngest sister who was barely out of toddlership.

We wiggled, twiddled, nudged, squabbled, informed on each other, and generally were miserable until we left the western portion of New York and entered, in rapid succession, Pennsylvania (just the sliver up near Erie), and then onward into Ohio.  When we hit the lake, we turned south and drove towards Dayton.

I think the main reason we were unruly for the first few days was that we had lived in a mountainous region of Germany for three years and we wanted to see something different.  Ohio is pretty different – flat.  We buzzed down the highway looking at the fields, farms, other things we missed about America.

We stopped just west of Dayton at a campground with another lake at its center.  This one had electrical hookups so we were able to use our small table lamps instead of the hissing white gas lanterns.  White gas was hard to find.  Every service station pumped leaded gas and to find one with what was called “white” gas was rare.  Whenever we did, my dad would be sure to fill up our small one gallon can.

Note:  What we called white gas back then is now the familiar “unleaded” gas we all know and love.  Lantern gas, now, is another thing – and much more expensive since Coleman is the only one who produces it now mostly.  But, who cares because propane lanterns are now “in”.

This campground was built by the owners of a large dairy.  Their farm operation was just over a fence from the campground.  We didn’t realize just how close they were until the westerly winds came up that evening.  Woooooh!  Who knew cows could produce that much stink!  One of our neighbors told us that every evening this happened, but the wind would die out just a bit after sundown and it would get calm again.  We couldn’t wait.

We had dinner.  It was a quick meal.  Mostly it was quick because we would dash out of the bus, grab a few bites while holding our breath, and dash back to the bus.  Food wasn’t allowed in the bus, that’s why.  That edict was brought on by my sister leaving a half-eaten salami sandwich in the bus while we took a tour of Buffalo’s famed attraction – Niagara Falls.  When we got back, the heat had mummified the sandwich and filled the air inside with the pungent aroma of baked salami.  Every one of us kids denied ever having eaten that day so some passerby must have pried open a window and done it.

The winds died down.  As soon as they stopped wafting malodors at us, the mosquitoes decided that now was the time to come forth.  They zoomed towards us in waves from the lake area.  They’d hide in the willows and cattails until nobody was looking and then attack in swarms.  We broke out the repellent but that only seemed to irritate both them and us.  My skin took on a blotchy sheen highlighted by angry red bumps where the probes of the alien bugs had siphoned off a gallon or two.  Finally, dressed in the longest sleeved shirts and long pants we had, we tried to get some sleep.

Sheer exhaustion after fighting the bugs finally took its toll and we dropped off one by one.  Sometime during the night, a light wind and a small rain shower came along and banished the mosquitoes back to their swamp grass hangars where they would pump our blood into large containers for use when no campers were available.

Next morning we launched towards our eventual goal of Saint Louis.  My dad had a friend stationed at the base there he wanted to see so that’s where we were going.  Indianapolis came and went.  The day got hotter and hotter.  The windows were opened to allow the rushing wind to heat us up more.  We even slid back the top so we could take turns catching bugs in our teeth.  I won the prize with a nicely fielded June bug that smacked me in the forehead and actually left a welt.  If I hadn’t looked down into the bus right at the moment it hit me I’d have probably lost a tooth.

We didn’t make it all the way to St. Louis.  We ended up in a tiny little motel with rusty colored water and no ice.  There was a dilapidated country store and “eatery” out near the highway from our cabin that dispensed cold pop from a galvanized bucket filled with ice.  A fan blew over it to help the cooling process.  We just stood in front of the cool breeze taking our time making a selection.  It felt really good after all the heat we’d endured.

Supper consisted of what we kids called “hot plate stew”.  This was in striking contrast to my mom’s famous “Whatzit Stew”.  With the former we were involved in what went into it; with the latter we didn’t have a clue.  This particular stew had meat chunks, a can of little round potatoes, a can of tomato chunks, and a can of hominy.  Stir that all together with a soup base and ladle it into cereal bowls.  With a side of fresh buttered bread it couldn’t be beat.

By the time the other kids took their showers the water had cleared up to a light yellow hue.  I was next and braved the cool water long enough to hose down the road grime (and the remains of the June bug embedded in my head).  Earlier, I was called out to help my dad change the oil.  In our bus, it was relatively simple to change the oil.

There were eight little nuts on a circular plate at the bottom of the engine.  One simply turned them until they were all loose, removed them one at a time until one side of the plate began to leak oil.  The you quickly slapped a bowl down to catch the oil as you finished removing the nuts.  My dad was always careful about unleashing invective around us kids, but since it was just me he apparently decided that it helped the situation to curse as warm oil began coursing down his arm and into his shirt through the sleeve.

“Well, gee whiz and gosh almighty that really gets my goat!  Son, would you be kind enough to pass me that rag?”  (Not exactly his words.)

I passed him the rag and he did a little horizontal jig so he could wiggle out from under the back of the bus.  This, of course, allowed sand and dirt to be scooped up by the tail of his shirt and mix nicely with the accumulated oil.  By the time her got vertical, he had a huge slick of oil as wide as his shoulders running all the way down his back.

My mom chose that moment to arrive on the scene to ask what all the hubbub was.  He must have tried three or four times to describe what had happened but kept running to a speech block that wouldn’t let him swear in front of her.  Finally he just turned around.  My mom silently took it all in and began swabbing at the dark stain.  Sometimes she can be pretty cool.

The oil stopped dripping into the pan and I was elected to drag out the pan and fish for the nuts, washers, filter, and plate that had dropped into it.  My dad had oil changes down to a science.  First you got it out of the vehicle, and then you fished for the hardware.  Next you cleaned the little oil filter basket and added two new paper gaskets – one above the filter and the other below it, next to the plate.  Carefully, you slid the plate with the filter on it up onto the six embedded bolts.  Once there, you finger tightened the nuts and then used a wrench to tighten them in order.  Now came the good part.

My dad punched holes into the cans of new oil and applied a homemade funnel to the oil filler at the top of the engine.  Since there were absolutely NO Volkswagen dealerships, parts shops, or garages in the U.S. at the time we had to make do with a manually generated funnel.  This one started out life as a small juice can.  My dad flared the top and soldered pieces of another can to expand the dimensions enough to allow pouring oil from a can into it.  The long body of the funnel was actually electrical conduit (the snaky kind that you could bend) and you poked that into the filler hole.

It worked surprisingly well and as soon as we put exactly three and one-half cans of oil into the engine he took the remainder and put it into a jar for next time.  He had a quart jar so that every fourth oil change he wouldn’t need to save any.  Then, pulling the funnel out of the engine he stuck the end of it into one of the used cans of oil.  I held it while he carefully poured the used oil back into the cans.  We left the cans next to the motel garbage cans.  Since the EPA hadn’t been invented yet that was the easiest thing to do.  The motel owners would probably throw it on the dirt road to hold down the dust.

Another note:  Until I sold the bus (which I had purchased from my dad) the oil funnel performed hundreds of oil changes.  The odometer had just over three-hundred thousand miles on it when I sold the bus – for three-hundred dollars less than what my dad paid for it.

I took my shower, slurped up the stew and hit the sack.  It had been a really long day.

T.O.M.

Across the USA, Pt 1

March 19, 2010

Following our touchdown, it seemed as if we would taxi forever until we turned sharply and the engines went silent.  We’d been hearing them for almost eighteen hours and when they stopped we were still speaking loudly to each other.

Now, on a flight today, everyone would be up scrabbling in the overhead bins, banging butts with the person across the aisle, and generally making things difficult for deplaning.  This was a military flight and ‘you vill remain sitzen until ve giff you die order to shtand!’  We got off the plane by rows.

I craned my head all around but didn’t even catch a glimpse of Elaine.  I wasn’t even sure where she sat when not quoting poetry to me.  I heaved my string bag down the aisle and finally exited the sardine can onto a long set of stairs and trudged into the terminal.  We were told to stay together so we could be counted (?) as we left the plane.  When I heard that I wondered to myself who would be nuts enough to want to stay on the plane.  I sure wouldn’t.

We reported to the proper desk for Customs after waiting at a long table for our checked luggage, had our belongings examined, and passports stamped (yes, they used to do that back then – now all they do is stick it into a barcode reader).  Once all of us were stamped, we were allowed to go into the terminal proper.  Every one of us headed for the restroom of their persuasion.

I never saw Elaine again.  I berated myself for not even finding out where she was headed or getting an address.  Poop!  I was already remembering her soft voice quoting Ms. Browning.  We stood in line for a taxi to the base transient quarters and finally checked in.  My dad called the transport terminal and checked to see if his car had made the ship over – it had and we could pick it up either today or tomorrow.  He opted for tomorrow as we were all pretty tired.

My brother and I headed directly to the snack bar and ordered a double cheeseburger with loads of fries.  In all fairness to the German cooks, they made a passable burger, but nothing beats having one flipped on a good old American grill.  As far as French fries go, nothing equals deep fat fried ones.  The Germans just didn’t know how to make good fries.  They were both soggy and soaked with grease, or burned into a crisp suitable for use as a nail.  The Coke we drank was out of this world.  All we got over there at the snack bar was reconstituted syrup and soda water.  The mixture was never right – here, it was just right.  We both had two each.

The bed was lumpy, pushed up against a very hot wall that held heating pipes for the hot water, and smelled of smoke.  I crashed about eight and slept like the dead until I was shaken awake at seven thirty.  Time to go and pick up the bus.

The same time I bought my Volkswagen convertible, my dad bought a VW Microbus Deluxe.  It was as square as a cheese box, and a headwind would keep you in third gear at forty-five miles per hour, but it got almost exactly the same mileage that my bug got.  It had three complete bench seats; the two back ones had a little jump seat sort of thingy that folded down so you could get into the very back seat.  The side doors open like a clamshell – one folded forward and the other backwards.  There was a huge cargo area in what we called the ‘way back’.  In this area we packed all our suitcases and traveling stuff.  It also had a slide back roof opening, which was really cool (especially in winter).

Anyway, we headed over to the shipping terminal to pick up this wonderful vehicle.  It was none the worse for wear even though the battery was dead.  When we attached the jumper cables to the battery, the radio began blaring.  My dad figured that deckhands had used the bus for card games because he found three cards pushed down into the seat.

After folding our maps so that our immediate route was visible, we loaded up and drove out of the terminal and into New Jersey traffic.  Our first goal was to run north up into New York City.  We wouldn’t stop though because our eventual goal was upstate New York where my mom was to visit with her bridesmaid.  They had been corresponding for the whole time and she was looking forward to seeing all of us.

We picked up US highway 9 in northern New Jersey and followed it completely all the way up towards Albany; switching to 9W when it split at the river.  The high point of the trip was going right past West Point.  That was a very impressive school.  We didn’t have time for sightseeing though and moved onward.

Fuel stops were interesting.  There was no self-serve stations back then.  Every time you hit the little black cord and the bell dinged, attendants would rush out to help you.  Their first question was usually ‘what the hell is that’?

We’d have to explain that it was a German car called a Volkswagen and that the engine was in the rear.  This should have been self-evident because the front seat was built completely over (and a little forward) of the front wheels.  This meant that your toes were approximately six inches from the front of the vehicle.

My dad loved to take someone for a ride and whip into a parking spot perpendicular to a brick wall.  He’d get it up to around twenty or twenty-five, turn sharply towards the wall, and snuggle into it – stopping with bare inches to spare between the front bumper and the wall.  Scared hell out of the guest.

The gas cover was inset on the right side and, when you opened it, a huge cap could be unscrewed to allow the nozzle to enter it.  One littler quirk that remained with this bus for the whole 450,000 miles we drove it was that when the gas burbled to the filler hole you had to rock the bus a little to “burp” it and you could get another half gallon in.

The bus, along with my convertible, had no gas gauge at all.  Under the driver seat was a little know that, when pulled out allowed another five liters of gas to be available for use.  So, one just drove until the engine missed a little, pulled the knob, and waited for the engine to begin chugging again.  Then you looked for a gas station.

The really hard part was remembering to push the little knob back in. If you didn’t, you ran the risk of running completely out of gas.  My dad solved this by putting a gallon can of gas in the ‘way back’ for use “just in case”.

Anyway, we arrived in West Hurley after driving most of the day.  Janice and her husband greeted us with a huge meal which we all noisily consumed complete with table talk catching everyone up with heir exploits over the years.  They had no kids so we got a bit bored and wandered outside and down to the lake to feed the ducks.  As I look back on it, I find that West Hurley is very close to a little town called Woodstock.  I seem to remember that town being in the news a while back.

Their house was huge so my brother and I had a room to ourselves.  The bed was so soft you sank completely down into it.  I was asleep in minutes.

We had originally planned to stay for a couple of days, but Janice and Ed had to leave for a funeral the day after we got there.  Just one of those unplanned things that happens.  We packed up again and headed west with a destination somewhere out in western New York.  We were planning on camping most of the way across the US.

Toward evening, we pulled into a nice campground at the end of a river.  We putted around the little lane a couple of times looking for a nice spot to pitch out tents.  In one little copse of trees we found a fire grate and some left-over firewood.  This is where we unloaded and set up camp.  I was elected to help keep the rest of the kids out from underfoot.  Essentially, this meant I was supposed to keep the kids occupied while my parents made camp.  Seemed like a good division of labor to me.

I rounded up my brother before he was able to disappear and had him keep an eye on my youngest sister while all of us walked back to the ‘Tradin’ Post to see what they offered.  Their soda machine, which was one of those old flat-topped machines with the channels you had to navigate the neck of the bottle through so that you could lift the bottle up through the pay-flapper, swallowed my first quarter.  When I complained to the guy behind the desk he just laughed and told me to feed it another quarter.  Surprise!  Soda’s cost fifty cents!  Each!  We all shared one bottle of soda.

The whole time we were in the store the guy behind the counter kept his eye on us.  At these prices, I’m sure he expected us to grab stuff and run out.  Even a box of cookies ran almost a dollar.  Good thing we had enough groceries to last us a couple of days.  We quickly lost interest in the rest of the stuff the store had to offer.

On our way back, we explored a little.  Down by the river was a small dock with several row boats locked to it with a chain.  We sat a while and hung our feet over the edge watching the gnats get hit upon by the fish.  In roughtly one minute, we saw huge fish jump cleanly out of the water and snap up bugs as large as a dragonfly.  On our side of the river there must have been five or six guys fishing.  You’d think that with all those fish jumping they’d be having good luck, but not a one of them caught a fish the whole time we sat there.

“I bet I could catch one,” my brother said.

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” I answered.  “Let’s go get our stuff.”

We hustled the other two back to camp and dug our fishing gear out of the back of the bus.  We didn’t have much.  All I had was a nice split bamboo rod that joined in the middle and a middle-sized box of flies.  My brother only had one of those little kids rods with the plastic reels on it and two lures: a red one and a green one.

Back to the dock the two of us went and settled down to do some fishing.  I tied on a green fly that had white wings and lofted it out into the current.  Two casts later, I felt a huge tug on my line and landed a nice trout.  I slipped it onto my stringer and lowered it back to the water.  In a half hour I had a string of five fish.  My brother contributed one also for a total of six.  We decided that was enough for one apiece tonight and packed up the gear.

As I lifted the stringer out of the water a voice behind me said “Hey!  That’s a nice lot of fish.  I suppose you have a license, eh?”

Oops.  I figured my brother was pretty safe since he was only eleven, but I appeared to be fair game.  I figured ‘what the hell’ and answered him in German.  His eyebrows rose a bit; he stood up straight, and replied – in German.  Now I knew I was in trouble.  He repeated his request and held out his hand.  All I could do was produce the last license I’d owned; one from Germany.  He glanced at it, did a double-take, and read it again.  He started to laugh and asked me, in English, how long I’d been in the States.

“Just a week.  We’re on our way out to California.  You’re not going to fine us are you?”

“Well, no.  I should, but I think I’d just better talk to your dad.  Let’s go to your campsite.”

Off we went to our site.  He held the fish though and I thought I’d never see them again.  But, I was wrong.  He hailed the camp and when my dad came out of the tent he introduced himself.  He was the owner of the campground and an air force retiree.  His last duty station was in Germany only about 40 miles away from Stadt.  The two of them got along famously.  He wasn’t a game warden at all.

By the time dinner rolled around, we had the fish cleaned, grilled, and laid out on a plate.  The owner, Bob, had gone up to his house and brought back his wife.  She was German and very shy.  Once she found out my mom and dad spoke German they had a grand time.  Between the four of them they killed an entire bottle of wine and had started on a second.  They didn’t appear to notice the mosquitoes.

Us kids drifted into our tents and tried to hide from the buzzing insects.  There was no place to hide.  It was suffocating down inside our sleeping bags, but you couldn’t have any skin exposed or they would drill right down into an artery.  Even I, a veteran of the Alaskan mosquitoes the size of Condors, couldn’t keep them away.  Around midnight, and the end of a bottle of repellent, I drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

T.O.M.

Back to the USSA

March 12, 2010

(My ap0logies to the Beatles, but since they’ve not been invented yet I guess it’s OK.)

We arrived back in the good old USA from Germany in the late fall of 1958.  We touched down at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey after a harrowing eighteen hour flight in a military passenger plane.  It started out as a C118 and was subsequently modified into a machine of torture by the air force.  If you were less than 4 feet in height you were probably comfortable in the seats, but anything over that caused your knees to hit the seat in front of you.  Fortunately, the seats did not recline or legs would have been amputated.

We were not allowed to get up and “move about the cabin” unless under an armed guard (well, it seemed that way to us kids).  Comic books flew through the air as we finished them and traded for yet another one.  This was naturally followed by spitballs, wads of paper, pillows and very small children.  This activity was stopped by the older of the three cabin attendants – a buck sergeant who wore a moustache and spoke in a low, menacing voice.  He would growl and we’d knock it off until his back was turned.

The two younger attendants, both males also, began twitching around the ninth hour and would disappear from sight for a while until the sergeant dug them up and pushed them back to duty.  By the time the flight was over they were glassy-eyed and unresponsive.

The last three rows of seats were arranged in a semicircle with a low table that could be clicked into latches on the floor.  We older kids were allowed to sit together back there instead of being trapped in our normal seats.  Fortunately, my mom had exposed me to science fiction about a month before we left Germany and I managed to purchase three great books.  Two by Asimov and one by Heinlein.  I dropped into a rear seat right next to a bulkhead and nosed into the first book.  Three hours passed until I sniffed the delicate order of peaches.

I pulled my nose out of “Pebble in the Sky” and glanced over to see where it was coming from.  A very pretty dark-haired girl was craning her neck trying to see what I was reading.  When she saw it was by Asimov she brightened up and asked if I was into ‘SF’ also.  Also?  Could it be possible that this lovely girl had been infected with the bug?

I showed her the cover of the book I was reading, and lifted the other two from the bag at my feet.  She reached for the Heinlein book as she told me she hadn’t read this one.  I handed her “Have Spacesuit – Will Travel”.  She thanked me and we were back to other worlds again.  In about an hour, she grew drowsy, closed the book and laid her head on my shoulder.  This surprised me until I realized that she was really asleep.  I closed my book and leaned towards her.  We drifted off; her head on my shoulder and my head on her head.

The plane hit an air pocket and jounced pretty hard.  She woke up and immediately sat up.  A flush grew from her neck upwards into her hair line.  She apologized with downcast eyes and explained that she was pretty tired.  I told her that it was quite all right and she could put her head back where it was; she declined, but didn’t move from the seat though.  She again raised the book and started reading again.

I tried very hard to concentrate on my book, but it seemed like every minute I’d glance out of the corner of my eye to see if she was nodding off.  Sure enough, within fifteen minutes her chin fell.  I very carefully eased my arm over the back of the seat and gently pulled her downward to my shoulder again.  This time she didn’t even crack an eye.

For a very long hour I was happily breathing in the peach scent from her hair.  It had been a long time since Virginia had left for Italy (and subsequently broke my heart) so any contact with the fair sex was welcome indeed.  I nodded off briefly but woke up from time to time to make sure she was comfortable. I woke from one resting period and turned to see her looking steadily at me with her light blue eyes.

“You have a soft shoulder you know.  I don’t even know your name.”

“Sorry, it’s Tom.  And yours is…”

“Elaine.”

Elaine!  In my mental list of the top ten names for a girl, Elaine was right up there near the top.  I only knew of one Elaine right off: Elaine the Lady of Shalott.  At one point in time about a year ago I got into Tennyson’s poems because Virginia thought they were great and the name Elaine just took hold of me for some reason.  When I asked her if she was the Lady of Shallot, she knew exactly what I meant.

“I have never met any boy who has read Tennyson before.  How did you ever start reading his poems?”

“I got interested in some of the old authors and playwrights, Shakespeare and the like, and pulled a small book of his poems off the shelf at the library.  They intrigued me and I started reading them,” I explained, carefully avoiding that I was actually reading them to a girl who liked to lie across my lap when I read because she liked the vibration of my voice.  “Do you read Tennyson?”

“I love the old English Victorian poets.  Tennyson, Browning – both Browning’s – and especially Wordsworth.”

“Both Browning’s?  I only know of one – Robert.”

“Shame on you.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote sonnets also.”

Ah, man.  I had forgotten about her.  Nice going you smooth-talking fathead.  I apologized, and she smiled.  A nice perfect white teeth smile that set my pulse thumping.  Down boy.  This is just a very pleasurable interlude that will be shattered the moment we touch down.  I’ll never see her again.

“You said Shakespeare also.  Have you read much of his works?”  She asked.

“My first play was Romeo and Juliet.  I loved it.  Especially Romeo’s speech to Juliet at the window…”

I started to recite Act 2, Scene 2: “But soft!  What light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!  …”

As I continued she began to smile again and moved closer to me as I recited Romeo’s speech.  When I got to “That I might touch that cheek”, Elaine spoke Juliet’s response: “Aye me!”

I was completely enraptured at those two words.  I flustered through three more lines and ground to a halt.  Her eyes were shining – actually shining at me.

“You have a wonderful speaking voice Tom.  Have you been on the stage?”

“No, not at all.  We didn’t have much of a drama department in school.  I had this very, um, intense relationship with a girl and we would read to each other for hours at a time.  Shakespeare was our favorite.”

“She was a very lucky girl.  I never did find anyone to read poetry to me.  I’m a sucker for poetry of any kind.  I could listen all day to good poetry.”

Just as I opened my mouth to continue, Elaine spoke softly, almost to herself:  “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways…”

It was one of the poets I should have remembered before, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet number 43.  I closed my mouth and listened raptly as she recited the whole poem.  I thought to myself that I could easily fall in love with this girl.  She was so very easy to talk to and she loved poetry!

We continued talking about various poets until my brother came back and jolted me into reality.  He told me that I had to come back to my seat for a family conference and fill out or customs forms.  I tore myself away from Elaine and, with a lingering hand to hand touch, turned and walked away.  My brother, the little shit, smirked at me as we went back up the aisle.

“I really HATED to BOTHER you but Dad said to go get you.”

“Yeah, I can see you’re consumed with grief.”

One last look behind me at Elaine, a smile, a wave, and I sat down in my seat.  We all got handed customs forms which we needed to list everything we were bringing into the US.  All I checked was the box marked ‘nothing to declare’, signed it and handed it back to my dad.  We began our family meeting with details on who was going to do what when we landed.  My dad had just gotten the word from one of the wild-eyed attendants that we were almost forty-five minutes early into New Jersey.  This meant I didn’t have enough time to go back and visit with Elaine.

I fussed about fitting my books into the string bag that held everything else I needed on the flight.  It looked like a small fishing net that had managed to scoop up several treasure chests what with all the corners sticking out.  I knew it was going to be a bear getting it down the aisle, but it’s all I had.

By the time I’d polished off a couple more chapters, the light popped on telling us to fasten our seat belts and stop smoking.  I hadn’t been smoking but it felt like I’d gone through a couple packs of cigarettes.  Thank goodness they wouldn’t let my dad smoke his horrible stogies or his pipe.  It was going to be bad enough when we actually started out in the bus.

We swerved around as we approached the coast, dropped lower and lower over water until it looked like we were going to land on it.  We held out altitude for a little longer, cruising above an endless sandy pine forest and then suddenly, the edge of the airfield appeared and we touched down.  It had taken us seventeen hours and forty-five minutes to cross what took us nine days in a ship.  Personally, I preferred the ship.

Comment:  For those unbelievers among you, I really did memorize quite a bit of Shakespeare, Tennyson, and even Browning.  It is amazing what a young teenager will do for a girl.  Virginia liked to hear my voice, and I like to read to her, so there you go.  We once went a whole day speaking in pseudo-iambic pentameter and I didn’t feel like I had a screw loose even once.  Such is love.

T.O.M.