Friday, January 18, 2008

Taking the Long Way to Turkey in 1964

I enlisted in the Air Force in 1962, and after Basic Training at Lackland AFB, San Antonio, I went to Russian language school at Indiana University, then to radio intercept schools at Goodfellow AFB, San Angelo, Texas, and the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Maryland. By the time I finished all the schools and had orders to report to Karamursel Air Station, Turkey, I was less than two months from completing two years of service.

Marilynn and I bought a used 1958 Rambler station wagon for the commute from our apartment in Laurel to NSA, and when I graduated we decided to drive it to California where I would complete my thirty-day leave from the Air Force, leave Marilynn and eight-month old Bruce with her parents in Vallejo, and then go on to Turkey alone.

We decided we would go from Maryland by way of Long Island, New York, to visit Marilynn’s Aunt Helen and Uncle Jul in Levittown and take in the New York World’s Fair before departing for California.

Of course the roads and routes have changed a lot since late spring 1964, but I remember that getting out of New York and through New Jersey onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike wasn’t bad. The Pennsylvania Turnpike would have been great too, except we had to stop overnight in Carlisle to repair a small hole in the radiator.

Looking back, I can’t believe the old clunkers I used to buy and drive because we couldn’t afford better, and the innocent faith we had that we could load our family and all our worldly possessions into one, and take off on a one-week, three thousand mile trip across country with $200 cash in our pockets, about the same in our checking account, and a Chevron credit card.

What adventures we had, by just being young and foolish!

I’d do it all again, only this time I’d take more pictures.

Cross country travel was more fun and interesting then. Once the more populous eastern states were behind, the roads were almost all two-lane and went down all the Main Streets along the way. However, before you knew it you were across the Mississippi, and towns became fewer and farther between, and so did motels and gas pumps.

We stopped in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to visit my mother’s youngest brother, Uncle Richard Stonemetz, and his wife, Aunt Shirley. From Cheyenne heading west you would see a sign about every fifty miles or so giving you the miles left before you got to Little America, an “oasis for the traveler” located somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, almost three hundred miles from Cheyenne and another 150 miles to Salt Lake City.

I can still remember the relief I felt approaching Little America. The sun was down, and I could see the lights far ahead. Soon we pulled in and parked next to a gas pump. Fortunately Little America took every gas company credit card, because I only had the one from Chevron. All around us were trucks, most of them with their engines idling.

We drove a short distance to a parking space at the café, and I carried sound-asleep Bruce in while Marilynn prepared a bottle for him. Then we sat down to our burgers, fries, and cokes, all for about three dollars.

Then it was time for me to get us a room. I had already determined that there were many vacancies that evening, indicated by a lot of empty parking spaces, and the waitress had told me that there were a couple of motels within ten miles heading west. Armed with this information, I entered into negotiations with the motel desk clerk, and got a reduced rate for the night.

For the next six years, as the need arose, I would look for vacancies and negotiate for lower prices rather than reserve rooms in advance.

It wasn’t until we got to England in 1970, and I realized my pay as an officer was now enough to bump us up into the middle class, that I finally started making advance reservations and quit negotiating room rates.

However, in the late spring of 1964, those days were a long way ahead and I wasn’t really sure that our life would ever be significantly more prosperous.

Anyway, after Little America we still had almost 900 miles of driving and two or three nights in motels before we would arrive at Marilynn’s parents’ house in Vallejo.

Most of the traveling west of Omaha was through “almost no radio” country, although as the sun went down and we searched for signs of gas stations, cafes, and cheap motels, the radio dial became flooded with signals from powerful stations all over America.

Of all those stations, I have a special place in my heart for KMOX, St. Louis, a place I apparently shared with most of Middle America at that time. After driving west for two days and almost a thousand miles from St. Louis, I was still in St. Louis Cardinals country.

I doubt there has ever been, or will be again, a force that unified and united a culture to the extent that KMOX did for the Mid-West for a half-century after its start-up in 1925. I still prefer to get my news and sports delivered with a flat Midwestern accent; it just sounds more interesting and believable that way.

The rest of our trip took us through Salt Lake City, then into Nevada through Wendover, Elko, Winnemucca, and Reno (where we were married almost two years before, in November 1962), then down through Sacramento to Vallejo, with a fun dinner stop at The Nut Tree in Vacaville, our only “extravagance” since leaving the World’s Fair in New York.

We stayed with Marilynn’s parents for only two days, then drove to Point Arena to stay with my parents while I worked for almost a month at the Bojock Lumber Company. Pop was the Bojock millwright, had worked for its owner, Chub Ohleyer, for many years and had arranged a job for me while I was on leave from the Air Force.

Working in the sawmill was hard, enjoyable, and paid well, but all too soon I was saying goodbye to Marilynn and Bruce, to Mom and Pop, and was in San Francisco boarding a Pan American 707 on my way to Turkey.

The sadness I felt at leaving didn’t stand a chance against the joy I felt for the anticipated adventures ahead.

I boarded the Pan Am 707 wearing civilian clothes and a big smile.

No comments: