My Story – Chapter 22 – California Here I Come!
By the beginning of May, 1980, I was well settled in Modesto. They knew me by sight where I did my grocery shopping, and where I bought my gas. My schedule, if not carved in stone, was at least molded in Jello. You'd think I had lived in Modesto for years. On that Sunday morning of May 18, 1980, I was up early and already well settled into my weekend. (When you do a morning show, the day and night before the morning off is golden.) Many things had changed. In addition to my cat, I now had a fully grown sheep dog named Bozo. After taking Bozo for a walk, I spent some time in the kitchen preparing my breakfast. This particular morning I was reheating some spaghetti sauce and boiling pasta. When WTBS – Atlanta began their Sunday morning 'Classic Movie' presentation at 7am, I was in my green leather chair and in pig heaven.
Today it is difficult to image a world without cable (or satellite), but when I left Minneapolis/St. Paul they still hadn't joined the cable TV revolution. My apartment building in Minneapolis had micro-waved HBO and that was it.
RHIP and I was working a five day week. Having two days off was very nice although Program Directors are never really off work. We kept in touch by listening to the station, checking in on the telephone, and dreading the 'emergency' phone-call. It was a different time before pagers and cell phones. What a treasure it was to have those free week-end mornings. It wasn't as if I spent the day lolling in bed and eating chocolates. Instead of waking at 4:30am, my eyes popped open and I grew aware of the world by six. That was sleeping in. For a month now, I was living alone. For the first 3 months in California I had a (shudder) room-mate. After helping me to move to California, a friend had spent the Minnesota winter in California with my home in Modesto as his center of operations. There are many reasons why I have never married and at the top of the list is my basic selfishness. Sharing my “space” had palled a couple of months before it was time to send him home. Not to forget, of course, that Ben Franklin knew that company and visitors are like fish. They start to go bad after just a few days. Finally, on a day in April, we drove into the The City to San Francisco International and he was gone. In retrospect, it was easy to tolerate the invasion of my space for those three months because I was so busy and so rarely at home with free time, I hardly noticed the company. Also, it wasn't like I was Dr. Jekyll living with Mr. Hyde. Not quite. (Literary reference explanation: Dr. Jekyll was the good guy!)
Things at KO93 were turning out well. By the end of April we were not only cookin' but we were a player. We got through our first Arbitron (The Spring Book) and now were waiting for the results. If I can brag, I think we were the best station in Modesto. We had good identity, consistency, a comfortable format, and had blown away the competition with our book contest. The quality of our presentation and our staff was head and shoulders above the rest. (I am seriously bragging. Of course I was filled with Arbitron Angst and could on any given day convince myself we sucked and the ratings were soon to reveal we were a disaster) The main office was still in Downtown Modesto (the Sealy Towers) and the studios were still in the middle of nowhere on the way to Patterson. Downtown nothing had changed. Out in the country there was more change than an Obama rally. (This reference will be dated in about three-four months...I will change it then)
After enjoying my spaghetti and the movie, I hopped in the red Caprice and headed to Patterson for rehearsal. I was doing a show with a little theater company and that morning rehearsals were starting at 11am. When I arrived, we were delayed in starting as we all stood around the television watching the billowing ash spewing from the morning eruption of Mount St. Helens. The mountain blew while I was in the shower. Our station was in Sunday morning programming so it was all a surprise when I got to rehearsal. To this day I always think of Mount St. Helens whenever I think of Bullshot Crummond, the play we were doing. After rehearsal and a stop for an ice-cream cone at the restaurant Bill Johnson dragged me to on my second day in town, I headed down Las Palmas drive. Things didn't look much different at the intersection of Carpenter and West Main where I pulled into the parking lot at KO93. Just like that late night in early December of 1979, I stood for a moment next to that same Caprice. The afternoon sun was warm, and a similar breeze gentled my cheeks and rattled the flag pole next door. I navigated a puddle (from the yard sprinklers, not the rain) and crossed the small cement porch and used my key to open the front door. All similarities to previous studio visits ended when I walked through that door.
Ah, but I'm getting ahead of my story.
After spending a plane ride from California making plus-minus lists, and considering my current life in the Twin Cities, it ended up being an easy decision to move to Modesto. After Bill agreed to pay for the Ryder Truck and add a company car to my deal, I was not only ready to return, I was anxious to return. In Chapter One I related the story of my first move to California. That was then, this was now. When I kissed my Mom goodbye in a snowstorm in 1963, everything I owned was loaded in the trunk, backseat, and passenger seat of my 62 Buick Skylark. I headed south and eventually west and got my kicks on route 66. Now, 16 years later I was moving everything west again and the prospect was daunting. I had a lot more stuff.
All I life I have chewed on every decision like a cow on a blade of grass, but once the decision is made, I am ready to get on with it. My body was visiting my family in northern Minnesota for Christmas, but my mind was 2,000 miles away. As much as I loved my family and hated the thought of moving, I knew it was time. My 24 hours in the Twin Cities just accentuated the feeling I had had for months. I felt like someone who stayed to long at the party.
Looking back on those last days of 1979, it amazes me that it all fell together so quickly. On Wednesday, the day after Christmas, I rented a moving truck. Loading in northern Minnesota was going to be easy because all my 'stuff' was already packed and in storage. I could have left the next day, but I wanted to spend every possible moment with my nephew, three year old Sean. Thursday night we picked up the truck and started loading. Since my brother and his family were also moving, we stripped my dad's home of furniture, a grand piano, and my share of family knickknacks and memorabilia. The next morning we finished the loading in the cold and scudding snow. At a little before noon, I was ready to leave. It almost broke my heart to say goodbye to Sean. There wasn't time for enough hugs and kisses. Moments later, we pulled the Ryder Truck onto Highway 33 and headed south. As we passed the armory my heart almost broke again. My brother Tim and his son, my nephew Sean, had driven ahead and were parked next to the highway by the National Guard Armory. Sean was standing on the hood of Tim's car. The little guy was bundled against the cold, but waving vigorously as we rumbled past.
Twenty two years later, Sean's little boy, Braydon, was one of the major reasons I ended my California odyssey and (in a Ryder Truck) passed that same armory in a snow-storm coming home.
If you think I have suddenly morphed into Queen Victoria (using the Royal WE) you know me well, but are mistaken. When I say 'we' headed to the Twin Cities I mean we. My niece, Sue, was going to school in Bozeman, Montana. Rather than leave a few days later on the Greyhound, she was riding with me as far as Gillette, Wyoming. Well, actually as far as a little town called Buffalo. There, I would head south and she would wait for the bus going north to Bozeman. Sue was the perfect traveling companion and to this day we will laugh without control when we get together.
The ride to Minneapolis was quick. Well, as quick as possible in a lumbering truck with a four-on-the-floor stick shift. Instead of quick, let's say it was uneventful. By the time I maneuvered into a parking space near my apartment, it was winter-dark and still lightly snowing. Sue was spending the night with her brother who lived in the far southern suburbs and before six he picked her up and I was alone.
After sitting in my green, leather chair for a few moments (and smoking three or four cigarettes) it was time to get to work. The next few hours were as close to Hell as I ever wish to be and eternity is not long enough time, nor is Hell hot enough, to punish those who visited those hours upon me. Remember Gary DeMaroney? He was moving to California to join me in Modesto at KO93. He was driving himself. But what about HIS stuff, you ask? Gary visited LaCrosse for Christmas and then headed west. Before he headed to visit friends in Colorado he arranged for me to drop by his Minneapolis apartment and pick up a few things. The truck was huge and I had plenty of room. He assured me that all I had to do was pull up to the door and his room mates would load it up. I have still not forgiven Gary. I shall go to my grave seeking revenge.
Maneuvering this elephant van about in the dark, snow-covered, warren of South Minneapolis streets was as fun as climbing Mount McKinley with a rubber crutch. When Gary's roomie finally answered my knock, I felt the bittersweet fruit of hallow welcome. It wasn't that I was interrupting anything important. Dinner was on the table but is looked more like wieners and beans than rack of lamb. Putting the best face on the thunder-clouds gathering on the horizon, I told him I was ready to pick up Gary's stuff. He pointed me to a dozen liquor-store boxes against a wall and I sighed in relief. This was going to be a snap. Hah! Fuck-you Gary D.! After the boxes he showed me the bed. And the dresser. And the OTHER boxes. Then he showed me the shelf. THE BRICK and board shelf! And then he told me that he had a bad back! Had a bad back! There are times when you wish you had a gun and this was one of them. I wouldn't have killed him on the spot. I would just have forced him to load everything, make bricks without straw, construct a bridge over the River Kwai, and THEN kill him. And then I would have hunted down Gary DeMaroney and after making him listen to the entire Donna Summer songbook, shot him in his black heart.
I did none of these things. I sucked it up and trudged back and forth filling with the boxes, the bed, and the shelf. When Gary finally arrived in Modesto his stuff was in my garage. He looked at the bed and the BRICK shelf and said, “Oh, you didn't have to bring that crap.” Due to the throttling he received at that point, he spent the next six months in the hospital. At my trial I was acquitted because of an insanity plea. The judge and jury agreed. Gary DeMaroney is nuts!
I climbed out of Hell a while later when I arrived back at my apartment and parked directly in front of my front door. Sometimes there are angels watching and guiding us. Wet and cold and sore and pissed-off, I thought, just maybe, things were looking up. I spent some time packing the few things in that apartment, took apart the bed, and hoped for a 9am departure the next morning. By 10pm I fell onto the mattress and slept the sleep of the dead.
When I woke and showered for the last time in my chocolate bathtub, I couldn't wait for Lance to arrive so we could finish loading the truck and get started. Lance was a friend who worked as a landscaper. In Minnesota, unless you are into snow-sculpture, there is not much for a landscaper to do in the winter. We had a deal. He was going to help me with the move and I would pay for his flight back home. For an hour I carried boxes to the truck. When Lance arrived at 7am, the plan was to load the big things (bed, leather chair, dresser). I was happy because the snow had stopped, the sun was shining, and I was ahead of schedule. Not for long. When 7:30am passed and Lance was still a no-show, it occurred to me I ought to call him. While the phone rang and rang I got that thunder-clouds on the horizon feeling again. Finally, an answer. His grandfather promised to see if he had left and a moment later was told he was 'on his way'. In other words, “I just woke him and he is late as hell but will be there eventually.” Damn! At least six cigarettes and a whole slew of curse words, 2 hours late, he arrived without apology. In grim silence we finished the loading and after a quick walk-through, jumped in the cab with my kitty, Harve, pulled out of my wonderful parking space (one tiny diamond in a bucket of coal) and hopped on I35W going south. When we picked up Sue, we were 3 ˝ hours behind my schedule. Sue was the tonic I needed. She helped me to shake all the sadness, stress, and work of the last 24 hours. Without her I'd never have made it to California. The trip would have been aborted when the highway patrol pulled up next to a Ryder truck and found me standing with axe in hand over Lance's body parts seeping fresh blood into the shoulder of Interstate 90.
Years later, in December of 2001, I was also behind the wheel of a Ryder Truck loaded with my stuff. Again, it was dark and I was full of sadness and stress as I left San Francisco on my way to Minnesota. As I turned left and started up the ramp to the Bay Bridge, I methodically shook my right arm and then my left arm. Next I shook each leg and eventually my torso and head. Again a friend was helping me on the move and he looked at me quizzically. I told him I was 'Shaking off San Francisco' and he nodded. He understood.
Even with all that shaking, it didn't seem like I was really on the way until a while later when we turned right (west) onto Interstate 90 and with the sun in my eyes headed towards South Dakota. It was much easier maneuvering my Ryder Hog on the highway. The four on the floor and all that clutch work made any in-city progress ponderous and noisy. In the cab of the truck there was plenty of room. The gray-plastic covered bench seat was as ample as it was slippery. Any sudden braking and we would have all been on the floor and under the dash. On the floor was our cooler full of soft-drinks and sandwiches. While I was loading Gary's things and waiting for Lance, Sue made stacks of sandwiches and bought bags of snacks. Before we were forty miles south of Minneapolis, we were eating for the first time and decided to continue to snack every 45 minutes for the rest of the trip. Only two of the truck occupants opted out of our snack and laugh schedule. Lance voiced dissatisfaction because all the sandwiches were unhealthful and loaded with nitrites. My cat Harve also mewed angrily even though I gave her Cheetos. Both Lance and Harve didn't find it amusing when Sue and I would greet their complaints with a chorus of “every party has a pooper that's why we invited you...”.
As we drove into South Dakota the sun was long shielded from view by lowering gray clouds that were producing a scudding snow that was growing in intensity with every mile. Although it was still not totally dark, I worried about looking for a motel in a snow-storm driving the Ryder Behemoth, so when the lights of Mitchell, South Dakota twinkled off to the right we pulled onto the ramp and fifteen minutes later were checked in with nothing to do. Saturday night in Mitchel S.D. In order to get anywhere we had to drive the truck so a restaurant with parking lot was important. We ended up at someplace Italian but really just a pizza joint and afterwards joined the rest of the population at the movies. One movie. (Hello? Multiplex?) It was nice we had a choice. The choice was between a Don Knotts movie and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Wait a minute! They are both the same. After emulating Dante the night before and spending the day fuming, fussing, laughing, and driving, I will apologize to Buena Vista pictures and admit I fell asleep during the movie. To this day I don't know if the orphans ever got their money.
The next morning the plan was to leave before sun-up and stop down the road for breakfast. Harve spent the night in the truck-cab. After showering and turning over the bathroom to Lance, I called Sue's room and rousted her (she was already up) and then I trudged through a couple of inches of snow to check on my kitty. While I was warming up the truck, Sue brought her bag and while she sat in the cab (I didn't want anyone to steal the truck), I went back to get my bag and tell Lance we were ready. He was still in bed.
I had three choices at that point. I could have just left him there and drove off into the sunrise. I could have dowsed him with gasoline and set fire to his bed. I could have kvetched and whined at him to get moving!...and gone with Sue for breakfast. I did the latter. Forty-five minutes later when I returned and he was standing in his underwear in the bathroom looking in the mirror and flossing his teeth, I had three choices. I could have just left him there and drove off into the morning sun. I could have wrapped a long piece of floss around his throat and garroted him. I could have kvetched and whined at him until grousing and grumbling he finally climbed in the truck 20 minutes later. I chose the latter. Two hours behind schedule, we were back on Interstate 90. My only satisfaction was refusing to stop for his breakfast. I offered him some of Harve's Cheeto's but he declined.
The tedium of the drive even got to Sue and there were long silences. The truck wasn't the deluxe model so there was no radio. I hung a small transistor on the side window but as we twisted, turned and bounced down the highway the signal faded in and out depending on how the radio hung. I got bored with it anyway and didn't try radio listening for the rest of the trip. Although, Lance was ostensibly with me to help with the driving, much as on the move back to Minnesota 20 plus years later, I drove the whole way depending on my helper for company. In 2001, my friend Ted slept as I drove. In 1979, Sue, Lance and Harve slept as I drove. Some things never change.
We stopped for gas in Rapid City and were through the Black Hills before mid-afternoon. It wasn't until we got to Gillette, Wyoming that we pulled into a parking lot next to a McDonald's and grocery store where Sue used a pay-phone to check the bus schedule. This was where we were dropping her and heading south to hook up with Interstate 80. Sue wasn't a happy camper when she found out there wasn't a Sunday afternoon bus and the next bus was the next morning. Sometimes I am just too nice. This was one of those times. I felt so bad at the thought of Sue waiting for over 14 hours for a bus, I decided we would alter our route and continue on Interstate 90 all the way to Sue's destination in Bozeman, Montana. Did I remember that it would soon be dark? Did I know that I was heading into the Grand Teton Mountain Range? Did I consider how many extra miles I was putting on my Magic Carpet? Nope! I just sat in the truck waiting for Sue to return with my Big Mac and Lance to return from the grocery store with some fruit and granola. When I told them I decided our next stop would be BOZEMAN!!!...Sue was elated, Lance was silent and Harve just rolled her eyes. We were off.
Once again, my guardian angel, at the urging of my Mom up in Heaven, guided us all through the night and lightly blowing snow safely. I have since driven through mountains in the day-light and I am happy it was too dark to realize there were impossibly high mountains and sheer drops all about the highway. That I didn't end up at the bottom of some abyss crushed to death by a grand piano and half a ton of shelf bricks is a miracle. The last miles were some of the longest miles I've ever driven and after skirting Billings, we arrived at a snow-covered and extremely cold Bozeman a little after 10pm. Sue led us into her home (it was a cabin and as cold indoors as outdoors). While she got the furnace cranking Lance and I went to retrieve our bags and found the cab-door ajar and one gray-Persian mutt-cat missing. For the next forty-five agonizing minutes, I searched strange streets and yards for my little girl. What a horrible thought it was to leave my lost kitty behind hoping Sue would take charge of finding her while I continued to California. Just five minutes more. Searching. And thanks to God's wonderful design of feline eyes, as my flashlight moved across a wood-pile not 20 feet from the truck, the reflection was bright enough to guide any ship past any shoals. Her green eyes glowing from deep in the wood caused my heart to jump with relief. She was as cold as I was and five minutes later I coaxed her close enough to gather her into my arms. Another five minutes later, I was in Sue's cabin where the temperature was now in the upper 80's. Another five minutes later I was fast asleep. Sunday night in Bozeman.
I am not sure if it was the vein throbbing in my forehead, the fire in my eyes, or the loading of bullets and continued spinning of the cylinder on my Colt 45, but the next morning Lance was fluffed and flossed and ready to go when I was. Sue wanted to fix us breakfast, but her pantry was empty and I was anxious. Before 8am we were in Butte and turning south onto Interstate 15. The only thing I remember driving through Idaho is singing lustily as we passed Pocatello. A Judy Garland song. “I was born in a trunk in the Princess Theater, in Pocatello, Idaho...” Once again, it was pitch-black dark when we drove into Salt Lake City, Utah. I hoped to maneuver through the city before stopping for the night, but after a stop for gas and an attempt to get back on the right highway, I was totally lost somewhere by the airport. As snow, began to fall, there appeared an oasis. A Motel Six beckoned and I stopped. There was room at the Inn. I was afraid to get lost...again...so we raided the lobby snack machines and later that night when the New Year arrived I had already been in bed for four hours. Those Mormons really know how to celebrate.
Again, the threat of the guillotine was enough to get Lance into the truck on time and in spite of the snow, both on the ground and continuing to fall, in the day-time I easily found Intestate 80 and drove onto the highway. I guess on New Year's Day, highway snow-removal and ice removal are low on the Utah Highway Department list of resolutions. Traffic was so light in many cases I was one of the trailblazers, saved from the ditch by following the previous car's tracks in the snow. Barely able to drive more than 20 mph, and often a lot slower, I prayed for traction as we slipped and slid along I80. Dreading the thought of 10 or 12 hours of this agonizing progress, I was delighted when barely an hour after leaving we climbed out of the Salt Lake City Basin and the snow all but disappeared. Fourteen hours later it was over. We checked into that same Best Western in downtown Modesto. It felt like home.
Coming in Chapter 23 – Do You Like Pot Pies?