A PCS Story
"... and miles to go"
July 1971, returning from Japan ...
I was met at Travis AFB by friend, and former 14th Field Station comrade, ex-33B Bob Broner, who lived in Oakland. He'd ETS'd about three months earlier. We'd planned this meet-up because I had to get to the Oakland Army Terminal to pick up the Pontiac I'd shipped home. Bob had offered a room for the night and to drive me down to the terminal. We passed the night and picked up the car the next day. I departed almost immediately after, intent on making Reno by nightfall. Arrived in Reno and found a motel ... ate, showered, slept. Next morning I went looking for a bank. I'd converted all my cash to an American Express Bank cashier's check and now needed to cash it in to pay for the road trip home to New Jersey. (Think it was for $400)
My 1968 Pontiac LeMans, bought from my trick chief at the 14th, Milt Chambers
Visited several banks and not one would cash my check unless I had an account with them. What to do? Walking down a street, I'd passed an army recruiting office. I went in and introduced myself, explaining my problem. After showing copies of my orders, a recruiter volunteered to take me to his bank and vouch for me. This done, I thanked him and with money in my pocket was soon on my way. ( Had gotten a parking ticket for letting the meter run out. The car still bore the plates issued in Japan. They were valid for 30 days after return to CONUS. The Parking Officer had tried to copy the Japanese glyph from my license plate that identified Fukuoka Prefecture ... to no avail. He then just wrote, "Foreign" in the ID space. The ticket itself was in the form of an envelope and the instructions informed me to place two dollars in the envelope, seal it, then drop it in any mailbox. I was tempted to ignore it all but then figured that two bucks wouldn't break me ... and I was still a long way from home. No sense in pissing off the municipality.)
Interstate 80 East ... leaving town, began passing a long line of hitchers, most of whom held signs telling where they wanted to go. At the very end of the line was a pair of guys holding a sign that read simply, "East Coast." I stopped for them. Figured I could use the company. They presented a Yin/Yang in physical appearance ... one clean shaven with blond hair that was cut in the military style, the other was bearded and wore his dark hair long, down to his shoulders. They were bound for Massachusetts. I offered them a ride as far as the Jersey Turnpike. They accepted. They related their stories ... the blond fellow was just a young guy bored with college, bumming around the country. The dark-haired one was ex-army, a Vietnam vet who was "just looking" too. Before clearing town, we stopped at a diner to grab some chow. They would not serve the Vietnam vet because he looked like one of those "God Damned hippy types." We left. Found a small grocery and bought bread, peanut butter and jelly. That's what we ate for most of the rest of the trip.
Entered Utah ... and the Bonneville Salt Flats. The highway divided, with the west-bound lanes now about a quarter mile off to the left. Had been driving for hours by this time. The two-lane blacktop, with bright white salt on both sides of the roadway, began putting me to sleep with the monotony of the white center line coming towards me. Pulled into a rest area. PB&J for dinner. My two passengers pulled sleeping bags from their backpacks and stretched out on the ground. I crawled into the back seat and fell immediately asleep. An early start the next day. Approaching Salt Lake City, the car began to bumpbumpbump. Stopped and checked it out. Was my rear tires. The tread had begun to separate from the tire body. (I'm guessing from the heat.) Found a Sears-Roebuck. Bought 4 new radial tires ... cost me $200.
Now began a very long stretch of the trip. The pull of home was strong. Pushed the car hard ... 90 mph or better. That Slant-Six engine was humming! (This was long before 55 was the law.) Across Wyoming, then Nebraska ... through Omaha and Des Moines ... places I'd only read about in geography books. Late afternoon and the blonde fellow reckoned that we might be able to spend the night with a cousin who lived in Rock Island, Illinois. We cut south on I-280, crossed the Mississippi and entered Rock Island from the south. Found the cousin's house. We knocked and were warmly welcomed, told to go and clean up while the family would throw together a meal for supper.
-To be continued