Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Spaceship 511 lands on the grassy sweet smelling landscape.
A story of a Kross-roads decision hides in the old 1927 historical hotel. 

Another Chapter:
The Kindly Kross-roads
A Series

I am a wanderer.

When I was much younger - over 70 years ago on the calendar - I slipped out the back door of the home of my father and his wife and headed for the railroad tracks about a mile away. Many a time I had done a fast pedal on my bike over that way and watched kids as young as me climb into them. They'd stick a pipe right in the middle where the door slides and use that for a lever to pull up.

The war was going on then, the W W two one. When my dad was home, he called me wirey but I knew I could take on any other guy out there. I had a couple dollars hidden in the watch pocket of those baggy brown pants that had been handed down from my father's wife's sisters kids, The money had come honest. My father's wife would hand me the big glass pitcher and fifty cents. When the bar tender didn't cheat me out of it, there was a tip left for me.

The train headed west. I didn't care which direction, I was on the move, I was going out, I knew there was something out there someplace for me.

Hobos, living on the road, would let me hang around the campfire and they'd fill my tin cup with whatever they had if I didn't pester them any. Nobody asked me how old I was and nobody cared.

Nobody cared at the circus either. When I dropped off someplace around Salt Lake there was the big tent and I made a bee line for it. I was pretty sure I could find a home with folk that traveled so many places, I knew that was what I was meant to do.

A kid about my age showed me the ropes to the glamour life under the big top. The big tubs, first for washing the stacks of dishes, then rinse, then drying & stacking again. At the start of the show, the Grand Entry, I pulled on a "Joseph" robe, it had all the colors, and walked a camel around the ring.

One night after things were shut down and we had seen all the acts, Larry and I decided to go to movie in town. We fell asleep and the circus moved on without us. The circus people didn't care, there would be other kids to wash the dishes and walk the camel.

  I continued hitchhiking. When the police stopped me, I always had a story ready for them. I was going to grandma's house, up the road a ways. She runs a laundry so I know she's still there. 

When a policeman didn't believe me, he threw me in a jail. I wouldn't give my name, I told them, "Just call me Jake." One time my father showed up to pay the bail and my wings were clipped. It was back to school. I liked the history and geography parts, spent a lot of time at the school libraries, but my father's wife packed school lunch of goose grease on stale bread and that didn't compare to hobo stew.

In the coming years, I saw the insides of a lot of jails. Since they couldn't prove I had done anything wrong they had to let me go. I had the fiddle faddle foot, gotta see what was on down the road. 

I got on the fruit and veggie circuit. South to North. Apples and pears up around Medford, Oregon. Then there were pole beans about 4 foot high, bush beans about knee high off the ground. Berries, all kinds were on the circuit. California and Oregon with peaches. Last thing is apples in November. 

I couldn't make any money at any of it. The Mexicans had whole families and they did all right. Sometimes there would be a regular camp with kitchen and two meals a day. It wasn't gourmet, big plate of pork chops, ham, chicken, beans but we paid for it.

You could sing for your supper at the missions. There's where you learn a world of what's going on where, what's a bad place to go to. 

Or stand around in employment center, hear guys talking. "Got a good hot tip but no way of getting there." Someone asked, "Where's that?" He gave the name of a casino over in Nevada. I had a couple dollars, had just come out of apples. I called that casino and asked for the chef. He had been advertising for a dishwater but couldn't get one way out there. I asked him, "If I hitchhike 90 miles to Windover would I have a job?" and so I got the job washing dishes. This wasn't bad, warm inside in winter time and I stayed there quite a while.

I learned a lot of different skills by keeping my ears open and showing up ready to work. Dynamiting in the mountains of Colorado. Construction work in railroads and bridges and buildings in all of the western states. 

From the first dishwashing job in the circus, I went the route of bus boy to waiter to maƮtre d' to manager. Some places I moved with the upper crust, the money. Debbie Reynolds, a nice lady, gave fifty dollar tips for good service. Jack Benny's wife would order toast at fifty cents, give the required 15 percent and Jack would scratch it out and replace it. Someplace around on one of the hotel billboards could be a photo of Bob Hope and Sammy Davis with ol' Jake here in the middle, all doing the ol' soft shoe. There were some great people, and some rotten people too, but I was always ready to move on.

Jobs lasted for a few weeks or a few months. Some were for a season and return the next season. Roots were never dug deep enough that they couldn't be pulled with no regrets, always looking forward to what would be ahead. 

The years mounted up to retirement time, finally ready for social security and Medicare. I had an offer for a part-time job that was right up my alley. I would be in charge of the small used-furniture store, have a helper for the work hours and I would take care of the management duties. This would probably be my last job and I could settle with it.

Walking around, thinking it over, wondering what made me uneasy. The years of wandering had to be over, I had seen a lot, done a lot, it must be time to settle. Tomorrow I'd tell the owner I'd take the job. 

As I walked by a large old-fashioned hotel, a busload of people drove up. I moved over to one side, watching them get off, some dragging, some whooping. It got obvious that the trip to the casino for these senior citizens had been a fun trip for most of them. 

The back of the bus came out and I started to move away. I waited while the two last persons walked slowly to the door. She was a little bit of a thing and he wasn't much bigger. Her pink dress was from better days, his jeans had been through many washings. The conversation took place in front of me.

She said sharply, "Shorty, it's OK, we're OK."

He answered, "But, Rose, I know better, I shouldn't have gone, we're on beans now and that's not fair to you."

She was not quite as sharp now. "So we're on beans. We're together, as long as we're together we're OK."

His voice was low but I could hear him. "Yes, we're together and we're home together." His hand took hers as they went inside. 

I started to move away to go make the telephone call. I could hear him again. "We're home together."

There had been many crossroads through the years and it hadn't been difficult to make decisions. Either way, either road, would work for the wanderer. 

Could it be time for the wanderer to plant roots? Home. There was a home through the door in front of me. To the left, walk the sidewalk back to the room at the Y and make a telephone call, keep my care-free life. To the right, through the door built in 1927, two years before I was born. Shorty called it home. 

I hesitated, started to the left. Shorty's words wouldn't leave me. Quickly, not wanting to change my mind, I followed Rose and Shorty through the half-opened door. I followed two people who would be my friends, who would lead me to my wife, who were taking me to my home.

Jake Skylark

Spaceship 511 will land in many backyards, reporting the stories of choices.