We Stick Together
Brad lives alone in a Chicago studio apartment some fourteen blocks from his favorite haunt, Tony’s 105th Street Coffee House. Many folks call it a Starbucks look alike. Brad used to call them on it, reminding them that Tony Sabatto opened here fifty years before Starbucks came along. But no one listens. Its hopeless.
He and Tony discussed a Chicago coffee house many times while in foxholes during the big war. Of course, Brad considered it a pipe dream. It was something fot Tony to cling to. That was okay. Talking about The Loop and The El seemed to make life a little more bearable. Sometimes he even forgot about his wet socks and K-rations in that cold, muddy foxhole.
Eventually, the war ended and Tony made good on his coffee dream, opening at a 105th Street address on New Year’s Day, 1946. Folks who had stayed on the homefront and dwelt with coffee rationing poured in the door.
Though coffee was free until eleven o’clock, few took, advantage of Tony’s generous offer. Some even paid double.
More than sixty years had passed since that day. Brad’s leg, the one that was wounded in Europe in 1942 is bothering him more these days and his trips to the 105th Street Coffee House are less frequent, reduced to weekly occasions or when he could manage the fare on the El.
This morning, however, Brad awoke with a start. He’d heard Tony call his name. He stared at the dark ceiling trying to separate fact from fiction, but he couldn’t. It seemed too real. The clock indicated it was almost straight up four. Tony would open at five. He must go check on his friend.
Dressing for the frigid Lake Michigan wind, he hurried down the three flights of stairs and flagged a cab. He was rapping on the front door in ten minutes.
“I was trying to send someone to fetch you. He’s on a cot in the back room, Brad,” said Tony’s daughter, pointing and then locking the door behind him.
Tony’s complexion was ashen. His breathing was shallow and rapid. But he managed a faint smile and then moved his lips. Brad leaned in close to listen and grabbed hold of his hand.
“We could have used a cup of this java back there in those foxholes, huh?” whispered Tony.
Before Brad could respond Tony was gone.
Not the same transmitter, but close.
Dave, was my father’s age, and a casual friend. We often met at the Braille Cafe for lunch. Dave was a Scotsman. He was forever telling me about the Scottish Clans and “slinging the haggis”. In time, the conversation always turned to radio, rehashing his experiences in the Army Signal Corps during World War II.
While we chatted another mutual friend, Pete, joined us. He, too, was a long-time ham, long enough to recall the government taking away the amateur radio bands during World War Two. And then the two of them urged me to earn my novice license.
“The theory is okay, but Morse code is difficult for me,” I complained.
“That’s what make Morse unique. It is difficult to learn. It’s not like someone overhearing a telephone conversation. Few understand the exchange.
Between the two of them, I caved. The following evening I dropped by Dave’s radio shack where he made a practice tape, dits and dahs at a very slow speed.
Two weeks later, the three of us gathered at Dave’s dinner table where they administered an ARRL approved test. An hour later, scoring with a passing grade on both theory and code, I was admitted to the ranks as an amateur radio operator. Of course, I enjoyed limited privileges – power output not to exceed 250 Watts, Morse only on portions of the 80-, 40-, 15-, and 10-meter bands. Actually, a very small segment of 10-meter allowed a novice to operate on single sideband. But I didn’t own a transmitter, so 10-meter or no, it made little difference to me.
Do you own a receiver?” asked Dave after we were finished.
“Yes, I have a receiver.”
“How about a transmitter?”
“No, I don’t own a Transmitter.”
He said nothing more, but as I was leaving he followed me to the driveway and then asked me to wait. A few minutes later he reappeared pushing a hand truck bearing a transmitter the size of a foot locker.
“This transmitter is from a World War II battleship and in its original condition. You will have to convert the input power over to 117 VAC. It’s still set for military frequencies. You will have to figure out how to make it work on the ham bands. It’s yours, if you want it. You’ll have to take the hand truck too. It’s heavy.
I turned him down. And now, after thirty years have passed, I realize the historical value of the transmitter Dave was offering me.
The realization came after my contact with a retired coast guard radio operator and reading experiences this man shared while he operated a powerful land based radio.
In one instance he received a distress call from a ship that was sinking. After learning his coordinates he put out a call for any ship that could come to the rescue. He found one that could be on the scene in four hours.
“How long do we have?” the coast guardsmen asked.
“Captain says two hours.”
“There was nothing more could be done, so I stayed on frequency with him, chatting and taking personal message to family members and friends. I stayed with him until the radio room was flooded.”
I wondered if that transmitter resembled the one Dave offered me.
The only possible answer was to visit The USS Lexington which is open to the public at Corpus Christi,Texas. The Lexington manager responded to my email, informing me the radio room was not part of the tour.
Philip, the editor of K9YA Telegrah, a Chicago Radio Publication, authorised me to visit the USS Lexington on the Telegraph’s behalf. Their response was positive. They would provide an escort.
Three tall ladders stood between the hanger deck and the radio room. The only thing my escort knew about the radio room was where to find the door key and the light switch.
The room measured about eight by fourteen feet. Though the radios had long since been removed there was a panel in which about one hundred phone Jacks were mounted. Each jack was accompanied by a frequency. My escort couldn’t tell me the purpose, so I still don’t know if each jack provided a specific notch filter for that frequency, or what.
While there I searched for an exit. There was only one way out – the way I had come in. A sobering conclusion.
The radio operator is the last hope for a sinking ship. Is he obligated like the captain? I’m asking.
How I wish I’d taken Dave’s offer.
This morning my subject well is empty. There is nothing that needs saying. So I went back to basics. I conducted a random word search in the first book I could lay my hands on: Lee, the last years. I failed to note the page that fell open. I only remember the word my finger pointed to: BIG.
The year is 1956, the month is October, the day is 15. I’d just enlisted in the air force, taken my oath, and boarded a train bound to Texas. Though second thought were no longer an option I still wondered what I’d left myself get into.
I was among strangers, standing in the coach waiting for the train to leave the station when perhaps the largest man I’d ever see. suggested we should go to the last car and wave goodbye to the folks. I didn’t have any folks to wave to, but I went along just the same.
The train began moving the moment I closed the door behind us. Everyone, my fellow enlistees and people standing on the platform, were all waving and shouting farewells back and forth when the conductor joined us.
A conductor of a Kansas City Southern Passenger Train probably had to have many years in his wake. He certainly fit the image.
“Hey!” he shouted, his voice that of a very old person, “you can’t be out here.”
We all turned and we probably would have silently obeyed, but the big man was not accustomed to bending to another man’s will.
“Wadda you mean we can’t be out here?” he shouted down at the top of his head.
Without a doubt, the conductor had faced similar situations, so instead of responding, he turned on his heel and reentered the coach.
Without another word we followed, the young giant trailing behind.
BBC reports on a Facebook employee, Antonio Garcia Martinez, who has quit his San Francisco job and moved to a newly acquired parcel of land in the San Juan Islands. He predicts that technology will soon overtake our economy, forcing sixty percent of the population out-of-work.
Not many of these out-of-work people will have the funds to purchase these new products of which he speaks – self-driving is what he mentions in the interview.
However, if by chance his hunch is correct and the masses come for his stuff they may not rush him. They may wait in the bushes. Eventually, he will nod off. What then?
Is Antonio suffering from paranoia, or Y2K+17?
A close friend of mine was unable to face the world without a drink under his belt. I was years coming to realize that.
We all thought that it was funny when during a hospital stay the nurse found a fifth of Old Crow in his bed sheets. She’d raised hell with him. We laughed.
He kept his problem hidden from others, for the most part, but there were times when the glaring truth could no longer be kept secret.
One summer he worked a temporary job driving a mint harvester at night. It was an alcoholic’s dream-job. In the darkness no one could see him taking a nip from his thermos. His drinking problem remained unnoticed until the night he apparently hit the hooch too hard. The boss discovered him driving the tractor across the field perpendicular to the proper direction and fired him.
Later he took a job driving a taxi at night. It was also perfect. No one could see what he was doing. But one night a passenger with a sharp nose sniffed something and reported him to the supervisor. He was fired in middle of his shift.
Some years earlier he’d lost a leg in a truck accident, so he naturally moved slower than others. He was probably about 65 when he was afflicted with cancer on his tongue. After the cancer was removed we, the family, went to the hospital to visit him. He moved around as easily as the rest of us. I’d known him 40 years, yet I hardly recognized him. He had been in a constant stage of drunkenness all those years and I was unaware of it.
He passed on at age 70. After he was gone I came to realize he lived in constant fear.
Which brings another situation into focus.
A middle-aged lady I’ve come to know shows evidence of a drinking problem. She’s obviously been at it long enough she’s learned to maintain a controlled environment. No one notices she has a snootful because they’ve not seen her in any other state. Not until recently did I realize she is dealing with a failed marriage and the loss of her comfortable home. There may be other issues of which I’m not aware, because I’m only an acquaintance, not her confident.
But I’ve come to know her well enough to suspect she cannot cope with life while she’s stone sober.
I think about you every day, but I’ve been extremely busy. My 22-chapter Rose series will be finish out in September. I finished a seven-chapter serious that is in the final states of edit. And another story is showing itself. I can put off a lot of things, but I have to capture the stream while it’s running.
Thanks to those who keep checking. I appreciate your support.
Each morning Barb and I take our coffee to our small, north side deck where we engage in conversation and observation of the world about. The morning we discovered a bug transporting something much larger than himself. We decided it was probably an ant, considering the fact they are able to carry a load several times their own weight.
However, the load this bug was moving apparently approached his limit. He was struggling. Everytime we moved he paused and waited. By the time our Coffee Call was finished he had moved about twenty inches in an easterly direction.
We respect life in all forms. If creatures don’t interfere with us we don’t purposely create problems for them whether they be ants, wasps, crows, or skunks.
When we moved back inside he may still en route.
Image From the Internet
More than fifty years have passed since I left the old home place. Standing on the cellar wall, peering into the ashes and half-burned timbers that fill the place where I spent my winter nights, I hear the voice of Bob Wills or Red Foley, or maybe Ernest Tubb. I cup one ear to be sure. But the restless cottonwoods assure me it’s my imagination run wild. I’m hearing the ghosts of my past.
In this sooty hole beneath what was once the living room I’d experienced the golden age of radio. With a wire in the cottonwoods and a white Arvin 5-tube radio I’d earned from coupons on hog feed bags I enjoyed The Grand Ole’ Opry, Louisiana Hayride, and another that escapes me. But these fun-filled programs were transmitted only on weeks ends.
During the weekday evening I enjoyed Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Whistler. The Shadow, and scores of other stories.
There were no full descriptions like those on television. I didn’t need them. I’d seen the girl with the yellow hair in the grocery store, just as I’d seen the guy with thick glasses in the drug store. I recognized my characters. Had you been sitting beside me during those winter nights you would have recognized yours too.