Go West, Young Man (Part II)
After returning from Germany, I spent three months in Baltimore, figuring out that I just couldn't stand to live there anymore. It was way too expensive, too dirty, and had turned into too much of a police state. I went back to Stewart's and got hired on the basis of my previous employment, but they started me at the same money as everyone else. This did not go over well with me. After a while, I got a full-time job as a night security guard in the mall, and switched to part-time at Stewart's. So, I would go into Stewart's at 5:30, work to 9:30, then take a half-hour dinner break before going on duty in the mall at 10:00. At 6:00 the next morning, I went home, inhaled some breakfast, then crashed until it was time to get up and go back to work.
Somewhere around Thanksgiving, the mall gave me the chance to work double shifts, and I jumped all over that. So, until after Christmas, it was up in time to get to the mall at 2:00pm, work until 6:00 the next morning, back home to bed, etc., etc., etc. I half-expected to meet myself coming back. It was boring as all get-out, but it was good money.
The Sunday just before Christmas, a guy I had known before I left for Germany showed up at Church. I hadn't seen him since before I left. He was divorced now and had been working on a shrimp trawler off the Carolinas, earning money to go to school. In '72, he had been a student at UMBC, but was now going to BYU. I asked how he planned to get there. "Don't know yet", he replied. "Wanna drive?", I asked. "Sure." So, I gave two weeks' notice at work and on the 3rd of January, we packed everything in my little Renault 10 and headed for Utah. (Warning: NEVER buy a French car. The French know about as much about building cars as I know about brain surgery.)
We figured that if we switched off driving and sleeping, we could reach Utah sometime Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately.... as John Lennon said, life is what happens when you're making other plans. We were barely into Ohio when the first problem hit. The driver's side windshield wiper fell off, just as we were coming out of a tunnel. Not a good sign.
In Newton, Iowa, things finally came to a head. We were just pulling off the Interstate when the headlights began to fail. We managed to make it into a gas station, but the engine died. We went inside and talked to the attendant, who told us there was a guy in town who worked on foreign cars and might be able to help us. He let us keep the car on his lot overnight, and we headed out to check into a motel across the street.
On the way out the door, I noticed a 3x5 card by the door, right at my eye level. On it was the name, address, and phone number of the local Branch President. I turned around right there and went over to the phone and called him. He knew the mechanic in question and offered to put us up for the night and help us get the car over to the mechanic the next morning.
Early next morning (Sunday), we called the mechanic and he said to bring the car over, which we did after breakfast. The whole problem with the stupid car was a short in the starter wiring. He pulled the offending part, but told us we'd have to push-start it in order to get it going. So, anytime we had to stop for the rest of the trip, we had to get a push to get going again.
Somewhere around midnight Sunday, we ran out of gas in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I had to walk about a mile with my gas can to get gas, then get a push to get going again so we could fill up the tank at the station. We got on the road again, but I had to pull off somewhere around Green River to rest. Neither one of us could drive anymore. I dozed off with the engine running and the heater on to keep us warm, and woke up just as the engine died. Again, we had to push it to get it started, and we were on our way.
As we drove down into Utah, Hayden asked if I wanted to go down I-15, or take the "scenic route" down US 89 into Provo. Well, I figured I'd have plenty of time to see I-15, so I opted for the scenic route down Emigration Canyon, planning to take a picture of the "This Is The Place" monument. Unfortunately..... just as we turned onto US89, it started snowing and got worse the farther we drove. By the time, we reached Provo, we had a pretty good blizzard on our hands. The next day, I found out that they had been talking about the possibility of a drought until the snow hit.
I stayed in Provo for a few days with a guy I knew, then went up to Salt Lake City and stayed there with the family of another friend. Then I found out about an apartment opening in Provo and stayed for a couple of days with the neighbors, who I also knew, until the apartment was available. That was in the 700 block north of 4th East, just off the BYU campus.
Winter is not a great time to be moving. I still had a lot of trouble with that stupid car, but eventually got it fixed by a local mechanic. Money was tight, and I had trouble keeping up the payments and the finance company eventually had it repossessed. I didn't mind that quite as much as the way they went about doing it. A man and a woman came around one afternoon (to verify my address) and gave some cock-and-bull story about she knew my cousin in Arizona (I had no relatives west of the Mississippi). Two nights later, the car got towed off, with some of my stuff still in it. If they had simply said "We're here to repossess your car", I'd've simply said "Here are the keys. Just let me get my stuff out of it and it's all yours". But no.....
That left me with no transportation for the rest of my time in Utah. Occasionally, I borrowed a bicycle from a neighbor, but that was it. (Oddly enough, when she went home for the summer, she left her bike unchained. She said anyone was free to use it, but she'd really like to have it there when she returned in September. I used it several times, and I'm sure others did. It was still there when she got back. I believe I even bought her a lock for it, but I don't remember that very clearly.)
Early 1975 was a tough time. The country was still mired in the recession caused by OPEC raising oil prices astronomically. Finding work in a college town is bad enough in the best of times, but this was much worse. I finally got a part-time job as a janitor at Deseret Industries, and that kept the wolves from the door. Somewhere along the way, I had talked to an Air Force recruiter and had even taken the qualifying tests. My scores were so good that he just kept after me. Finally, he wore down my resistance and on 2 May, I signed up under the Delayed Enlistment Program. It wasn't until I arrived at Basic Training that I found out he had been a bit less than totally honest with me.
Back then, the Air Force had a career field called "Management Analysis" which sounded really interesting to me. Unfortunately, the recruiter told me I couldn't get into it, as there were no openings (this turned out to be untrue). He said all he could get me in as was Security Police; the AF was really hurting for cops those days. Well, even today. Some things never change.
At least I got to spend the summer in Provo. It's a great place to spend a summer. There was always something going on at BYU, even though dating was a real challenge. There's a saying that 20% of the people do 80% of the dating, and I'm fully prepared to believe that.
One afternoon, I walked over to the laundry room to do my laundry and there was another young lady there named Carrie. We chatted a bit and I started to get the impression she was flirting with me (although, with some women, it's hard to tell). Just then, a friend of mine named Paul walked in and saw what was going on. After Carrie left, Paul started ribbing me a bit and wound up asking me if I was going to ask her out. "Probably not", I said. He seemed more than a little surprised, and wanted to know why I didn't particularly want to go out with "a fox like her" (sic). "Because her looks don't mean anything to me", I said. Paul walked out of there practically talking to himself.
Now, don't get me wrong. Over time, I actually got to know Carrie a little bit. She's actually a nice person. But not necessarily my cup of tea. And I certainly had no interest in going out with her based on nothing more than her looks.
Weeks later, I met Margaret. Didn't want to have anything to do with her, either. She, too, was drop-dead gorgeous. But what did I care?
One morning, on the way to the laundry room (it's a wonder I didn't avoid that place altogether), I passed thru the pool area, where Margaret and her roommate were sitting. Kathleen said something like "How are you?", and I said something really nice and friendly like "What's it to ya?". On my way back from the laundry room, the two of them ambushed me. I got it from both sides. I think they called me everything in the book but a white man. I was unfriendly, anti-social, and more. By the time the dust settled, we had an understanding.
One evening, I had gotten really fed up with my lack of social life, and decided to do something about it. I sat down and made a list of everyone I thought might by any stretch of the imagination go out with me. I think I had about 15 names -- ranked in order of probability. Margaret never even made the cut. I started at the top of the list and called each one in turn. By the time I got to the bottom of the list, I hadn't gotten a single "yes". A couple weren't home; I got a few "little white lies". But not a single "yes".
Then I thought about Margaret. But I thought to myself "No way. She'd never go out with me." Then a little voice said "She won't go out with you if you don't ask. She's not going to call you up and ask you out." So I figured "what do I have to lose?", and I called her. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a story if she didn't say yes. And we had a great time. By this time, I already knew a bit about her, so there wasn't that awkwardness usually experienced on a first date.
As you might guess, word gets around the grapevine pretty fast about who goes out with whom. Less than two days later, I ran into Paul and he said something about "What's this I hear about you going out with Margaret?" I admitted it was true, and he said "I thought looks didn't mean anything to you?"
"That's right", I replied.
"So how come you went out with her?" he wanted to know.
"Because her looks don't mean anything to me", I replied.
Weeks later, I was visiting with her in her apartment. For some reason, I wound up telling her this story. And I didn't mind that she had a good laugh at my expense. When I got finished, she said "You're right, I wouldn't have asked you out. I'd never ask a guy out." I couldn't help but laugh. I said "I'd hardly think you'd have to!" For a moment, she got a really serious look on her face and I sensed something that troubled me. I asked what it was.
She said "You don't know the half of it." Then she went on to tell me how guys would just walk up to her on the street and ask her out. There was a certain look of sadness on her face that touched me deeply. I really knew how that made her feel. For once in my left, I felt unmitigated compassion for another human being. After a moment (referring to the above story of how I had come to ask her out), I said "Well, at least you know there's one guy who doesn't do that." She laughed quietly and said "Yeah, I appreciate that." Right there, I knew I had a friend for life.
After I went into Basic Training, I lost track of Margaret, but I've never forgotten her example or her friendship. I hope life has been kind to her.
Over the years, I've been back to Provo numerous times. I've often wondered how things might have worked out for me had I not joined the Air Force.