Sunday, April 26, 2015

Travels With Charley -- Part III

Hoover Dam before 2010 and the bridge

I had never been further west on Route 66 than Flagstaff, Arizona the summer I graduated from high school. Dad took the family on the grand tour of National parks in the four corners area. All other vacations had been to visit family in Missouri at Christmas, or fishing trips in Colorado. Now I was hitch hiking with a Playboy bunny from Chicago and three other class mates who had been rewarded with summers in Europe after prep school graduation. I grabbed shotgun. And they climbed in the back to get some sleep.

Riding shotgun, my pilot father used to explain, is a lot like being co-pilot and navigator; duties I was more than willing to fill because I could see the entire panorama of the scenery before us. It also meant keeping the driver awake and engaged. So I knew more about Charley, our host, than the others by the time we got to Hoover Dam. Charley was the first man I had met outside my high school English teacher who did not look at me sexually. He didn't even look at Bunny that way.

I did not know about homosexuality. It was the 60's. We didn't talk about such things. I was riding in a just off the assembly line car which did not come with factory installed seat belts. Seat belts were only used in drag racers. Air bags were not yet invented. And the convertible did not have a row bar. The term serial killer was not coined until 1974. None of us were concerned about dying let alone rape and murder. It was a time of innocence. But I just knew my parents would not approve.

Charley was the only person besides my roommate from Clovis, New Mexico whose existence was more sheltered than mine. He was in his thirties and this was his first time ever out of Michigan. He didn't live with his mother but his mother lived with him. It was not my first time lying to my parents but this was probably the biggest lie. I technically was still a ward of my parents but I did not think I was ever going home. I considered calling my mother when we got somewhere with a phone, and elaborating on the lie to keep her from finding out I was riding west across the desert at 80 mph in a convertible with leather bucket seats.

Mother had fostered in me what I term the headline mentality. When I slipped off to Juarez with some college friends the year before the headline in my mind was "Coed thrown in Juarez Jail for Sex Trade in Mexico." This one would be "Four Coeds and Pimp Apprehended Crossing State Lines." There was always a sub-headline where my mother would swear I had always been a good girl. Frankly, that line always bothered me the most. In spite of always being a good girl the major headlines in my head always sounded sort of fun. But this time I was not going to let anything get in the way of the fun I was having. I drunk in the western badlands while chatting with Charlie about the process of designing car interiors. He had designed the one we were riding in. Who knew someone got paid to do padded dash panels?

I was enthralled with Hoover Dam. I was sent off to college to get my MRS degree. I returned my sophomore year because I wanted to be an engineer, or architect, or now car interior designer, or anything but a wife and mother. I was seriously, but unconsciously, looking for other female role models. While on the dam tour I watched Bunny work Charley and our guide. She was the only woman I knew in my brief history who was not afraid to be her sexual self. I also watched Penny be jealous over the attention Bunny gave all the men in the tour. Barb-from-Santa-Barbara saw nothing because she was irritated with everything and everyone one it seemed. She was expected home already, and we hours yet. She had a call with a lie to make for herself. Though hers was less a lie than mine because we did have car trouble. It just wasn't fixed.

Making our telephone calls would not happen until Las Vegas, Nevada. No calling cards then. Coins. Or collect in which case you got your first dime back. Collect was out because the operator would say, "Collect call from Jacqui in Las Vegas, Nevada." Yes, a real operator. Not voice activated machine. I gave Barb my change so she could make her call. I decided the less my parents knew the better. I had learned as a military brat, lies were easiest to keep, if they were very simple. And Dad always said it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. We were long past permission. I knew the bigger a lie got the more distance it put between you and those you lied too. But after the summer there was already a chasm between my family and myself.


Las Vegas Strip in the 1960's

As Barb and I left the phone booth, Charley handed us each two rolls of nickels for the slot machines. Yes, they took real coins in those days. I wanted to just pocket my $10 because I knew we were all short of funds to get home if the Buick wasn't fixed. Charley wanted to make us happy so we played. I loved the bells and whistles. The sounds of coins when someone won. I won a small jackpot on nickels. Cashed in for quarters and went quietly to the more expensive slots. Ultimately I cashed out with $250. Worries of how to get back to college were over. Barb's parents had believed her lie. Charley had won at Black Jack and wanted to buy us dinner. He was indeed thrilled to have company. We started with oysters on the half shell. Everything, in the words of e.e.cummings, was "puddle wonderful." Except the General Motors was still on strike.

To be continued

Side note: 96 workers died building Hoover Dam. None are buried in it. It was built by a consortium called Six Companies, Inc. And decades later I would work for one of those six, Morrison-Knudsen, as a cost engineer.

Seat belts would not be mandatory until January 1, 1968.

Legal age to gamble is 21. None of us but Charley were.

3 comments:

  1. An absolutely marvelous read! My, but the times were different.......Wait till you read about the Canada mail strike in 1974. My fingers are itching, but it is garden time.

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    1. I am so looking forward to your story. When I was on Y360 we had a short story group. That was really fun. I am jazzed about doing more of this.

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