Making Friends


Photo Source: Internet

In October 1956 I stumbled out of a Missouri corn field and enlisted in the Air Force. Unforeseen events occurred immediately.

Our physical examinations were conducted by an MD, an attractive young woman. We were naked and embarrassed beyond words. One-by-one we marched to her table and waited while she examined us. One poor soul had a gigantic erection. It was purple, matching his complexion. “Do you always go around like that?” she asked. His response was a grunting sound. After a brief pause she smacked it with her pencil and it went limp. I don’t recall ever seeing him again.

Those of us who passed the tests assembled at Kansas City’s Union Station where we were sworn in. After issuing our service numbers the sergeant-in-charge turned us loose for about four hours, with a stern warning. DO NOT MISS YOUR TRAIN.

I didn’t know my way around Kansas City, but a new acquaintance, a stocky fellow in our group, said he did, so the two of us headed to the Missouri River bottoms to see if we could find a place that would sell us beer. One of the places we visited had a small pool table with bumpers pegs strategically located on the green. I’d never seen anything like it. I assumed my partner hadn’t either, the way he began asking questions – how it was played, how to keep score. An older guy, maybe 35 – one of several loitering about, started explaining how it worked and then challenged him to a game. Something was afoot, so I turned down my invitation.

My friend won a couple and lost a few. Pretty soon he was challenged to betting a quarter on each game. The onlookers now took an interest, placing side bets. The bidding went back and forth with time and the pot eventually grew to about fifty bucks, all hinging on the fate of the last three balls.

My friend cleaned the guy’s plow, as it were, and then grabbed all the money, even the side bets. I had no experience in such things, but I was a quick learner. We managed to slip past them and into the street, and beat-feet toward the train depot while three or four angry men were hard on our heels. Fortunately, we were younger and a bit faster.

Upon arrival, we melted into a throng of fellow travelers and stayed lost until our train was called.

The Dalton (fiction)

The photo is from Philip, a friend; by way of Ebay

The Christmas Season was in full swing when the air force transferred me from New Jersey to California. I could have flown, but with an ample travel time. I took a train.

The sun was low when we reached Chicago, grabbing my B4 bag, I found a Yellow Cab waiting on the street.

I’ve heard about The Loop at Christmas. Take me to a reasonably priced hotel so I can see it for myself,” I told the driver.

Yes sir, hop in, I’ll put your things in the trunk,” said the driver. After pulling away from the cub, he pointed out famous landmarks while i watched the meter. Minutes passed, perhaps fifteen, I was wondering if I was ‘taking the tour”. But before it read four dollars he wheeled up to the curb.“This is as close as you’re gonna find a bargain,” he said.

Outside stood a large tan and brown building that might have covered a quarter of the block. Above the entry were the words: Dalton Hotel.

I passed him a five-spot and he set my bag on the sidewalk.

Inside, the lobby was filled with men I took to be truck drivers, judging from the company names on their shirts – Overnight, Watson Bros., Roadway, to name a few. This place had the earmarks of an A1 hotel, back when, but it was headed downhill. The clerk, a heavy set man with a pockmarked face and tired eyes signed me up for room 404 and then pointed a stubby finger toward the lift.

Take a right when you reach the fourth floor,” he said, then returned to a stack of papers he’d been sorting when I arrived.

I waited for a bell boy to appear, but none came, so I grabbed my bag and headed for the lift. It was a relic, something out of the Machine Gun Kelly or Pretty Boy Floyd era. The door was a decorative steel mesh work, that protested when disturbed. But as the latch click a panel of buttons sprang to life. Pressing button number four caused the lift to shudder. Three or four relays clicked, and then it growling to fourth floor where it came to a jerking halt.

Visiting The Loop was a worthwhile adventure. The lights, decorations and music gave me the Christmas spirit, but I didn’t stay long.

The following morning I rode the lift down to the lobby. All the truckers were gone except or eight or nine wearing Roadway patches. They were younger than me.

Where you from?” I asked.

We’re from New York. We’ll be heading back this morning as soon as our trailers are loaded,” answered a skinny fellow with crooked teeth.

Thinking I’d watch some news, I fished out a quarter and headed for the television.

DON’T DO THAT!” one of them shouted and poured five or six washers into my hand. “You can buy these at the hardware store for a penny each,” he added, motioning in a thumb in a direction that was meaningless to me.

Let’s go, boys,” shouted portly fellow who popped in from Wabash.

Maybe we’ll see you next trip,” one said as they filed out behind the old man .

The gray-headed clerk stood watching me. I guess he read my mind when I was hesitate about using a washer.

Go ahead, use the washer. Save your quarter. I wait until they’re gone then I count the washers and multiply them by twenty-five cents. The end of the week I send a bill to the Roadways main office in New York. The boss takes it out of their pay and then mails me a check. We’ve been doing that for fifteen years and they’ve never caught on.”

I didn’t know what to say. Evidently he wasn’t expecting a response, because he turned his attention to some book work.

I had breakfast down the street near the hardware store that sold the washers, then got my bag and hailed a Yellow Cab.

Train depot,” I said.