In “Now What?” I tried to describe the transition of being under my parent’s authority into a new life with independence. It was accomplished by going through my brother and his family. I had a new job in a new environment with my future before me. I was living on my own, but I didn’t know anyone other than my family. I was seventeen, shy, and lonely. What would I do next? Well, I got a phone call from my parents asking me to come back to Washington to move my Dad back to Oklahoma.
In my story “327 Dill Ave Part 1“, I told of my father having developed emphysema. Apparently, while I was gone, his health worsened and he wanted to be closer to his father and have access to the VA hospital if necessary. They wired money to the local Western Union and asked me to get a bus to Spokane. I arranged some time off with my employer and purchased a bus ticket at the old Union Bus Station located at Walker and Sheridan in Oklahoma City. In 1970 airplane travel was used, but not as much as it is now. For the economy minded traveler, it was “Go Greyhound and Leave The Driving To Us”. That slogan was used from 1956 to 1996. I didn’t think I would mind because I liked to watch people and observe the sometimes fascinating and sometime tragic lives of others. I would not be disappointed with this trip in that regard.
In my mind, there is something lively and exciting about a transportation terminal. People were coming and going continually. Loved ones to welcome and bid farewell to a variety of travelers at the same place. Union Bus Station was located in downtown Oklahoma City. Buses would line up on the east and west side of the building. It seemed it always had the smell of diesel exhaust hanging in the air. The interior of the building had pews to accommodate their guest and it had a small eating area and snack bar. The public restrooms were located downstairs. It was kind of scary down there! People would change clothes, clean up, use the restroom all in a relatively small area. You never knew what you would see or what was going on. Unless you were up to “no good”, it was not the best place to be. The public address system was amusing to me. The announcer would speak with almost no emotion into the microphone saying things like, “First call for Amarillo, Tucumcari, and all points West; now boarding.”
My bus was called for the first leg of the trip which would take me to Denver. There were just a handful of people on this bus. The ticket said it would take two days to go to Spokane. How could that be? Didn’t they know the way my dad went? That only took about twenty four hours to go the 1500 miles. I must remind the reader; in 1970 our interstate highway system was not as expansive as it is now.
My bus started westward. It stopped at Yukon and El Reno and I began to wonder if we would stop at every town between Oklahoma and Washington. I thought if we made it in two days, we would be making good time. I will not bore you with every stop and only give locations that help advance the timeline and progress of the journey. We went to Woodward and then north to Dodge City, where we had a layover. I thought it was kind of neat being in Dodge City, only because of the tv show “Gunsmoke” was supposed to have been there even though I knew it was filmed in California. Boarding another bus, we went west again to Garden City, Kansas and through the dark, deserted streets of Lamar, Colorado. We stopped at the station in Pueblo to exchange a couple of folks. It is strange that I remember how the driver turned the bus from a narrow alley way onto the street. The stub nose of the bus was just inches from the brick veneer of a neighboring structure. With quick grips and releases of the wheel, his strong hands were circling the steering wheel guiding the massive vehicle from a small hole to the open highway. Colorado Springs and Denver would be next.
I had another layover in Denver. The next leg would take us over the Rocky Mountains to Salt Lake City. The call for Salt Lake was made and I waited until the second call since up until this time only about ten people had been on the bus. You can imagine my surprise to see the bus almost filled. The only seat available was on the bench seat at the very back of the bus, next to the toilet. I sat next to the window and two other travelers took the other two spaces on the bench seat.
We left Denver and started over the Rockies. It was a two lane blacktop road that crawled back and forth as it climbed up the mountains. It quickly became clear, the man seating next to me was drunk. As we would go around a curve or through a switchback, you would expect a degree of movement from the upper body. The drunk lost his ability to limit his movement and his head kept landing on my shoulder. With my frustration toward my neighbor increasing, I would shove his head toward the toilet. At one point, I told him if he didn’t stay off of me I was going to put his head in the toilet. We arrived at Vail shortly afterwards and the majority of the load got off to enjoy skiing the slopes of Colorado.
I had not been on the west side of the Rockies in Colorado, so when we got to Grand Junction I was seeing new country for me. Actually, since it was dark I didn’t see it, but I was in places I had not been before. During the night, as we were going through Eastern Utah, a man seating by a window had been smoking a cigarette. He fell asleep and dropped his lit cigarette into his seat, which burned a hole in the fabric of seat and down into the foam rubber. As the bus filled with smoke and the toxic odor of the foam rubber, I was thinking the bus would stop and put out the fire and hopefully the offending smoker. The driver would not stop, saying he could not do anything (did he not have a fire extinguisher?) but he did instruct us to open the windows to let the smoke out. Many did open their window and the cold night air invaded the bus. Oh, it was cold! With it being that cold, the distance to Salt Lake City seemed like it was taking forever. There was murmuring on the bus, much like I would think was the murmuring of the tribes of Israel in the desert. “You brought us to the desert of Utah to let us die from the smoke of a seat and the cold of air? We were better off in Oklahoma!” But we had no Moses, only a driver trying to make his schedule. When we did arrive in Salt Lake, everyone had to get off the bus and as we did we all looked at the smoker with a stern look and an unspoken “Moron, thanks for making our travel so enjoyable because you couldn’t wait to smoke!!!”
Leaving Utah, we entered the southern portion of Idaho. It was in Pocatello or Boise, we had another layover. Waiting in the terminal, I noticed a young woman trying to carry a cardboard box about two feet cubed. She was leaving the terminal and was going to enter a taxi. I offered to help her with the box and she accepted. As I was attempting to get the box in the back seat of the cab, I accidently caused the box to hit her in the face. I was trying to be gallant and I showed myself to be an idiot… no, a clumsy idiot. I apologized as she was trying to rub the cardboard scar off of her young face.
Again, either in Pocatello or Boise, we took a step back in time. Our bus was from the forties. All the seats were elevated from a one-step aisle. Luggage was stored at the very back of the sloped back of the bus. Along the way, I had watched my fellow riders; Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and in Idaho, Native Americans were added. All of us were created by God; all of us were trying to get to a specific destination. We might have different cultures and different thought processes, but we were all on the same bus.
The old bus made it into Spokane, late in the night, about two and a half days after I left Oklahoma City. My family was waiting for me outside the station. I was so glad to see them. It was coming home again, if only for a short while. After a brief time in Grand Coulee, it was time to go back to Oklahoma. Again, leaving Mom and Brenda behind to follow later, just like when we moved to Washington.
Have I mentioned before that my dad apparently was born without nerve endings in his butt? The man could travel forever without the need to stop. I am not that way! After leaving Grand Coulee and driving steadily, somewhere in Montana, I had a need to stop and sleep for just a short time. I mentioned it to Dad who said I could have thirty minutes. I had been out late the night before we left and we were up early to start the trip. It reminded me of one time; my Dad said I was needed on Saturday morning to help move some stuff for my Aunt Maggie. I had gone out on Friday night. I got home about three o’clock Saturday morning. He got me up at seven o’clock to move a truck full of horse manure for my Aunt’s garden. I learned Dad didn’t play on things like that!
After the nap, we continued through Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Just like on our trip to Washington three and a half years before, there wasn’t much conversation. When we entered Colorado, the car developed a slight miss in the engine. In my mind, I was thinking we would stop and get it fixed and I could sleep some more. Silly me, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Dad said to stop at an auto parts store. He raised the hood listening to the running engine. He felt around the engine compartment and then said to turn off the motor. He bought one spark plug and changed it in the parking lot and the motor was good again. He did it so fast that I didn’t have a chance for sleep.
We got back to Oklahoma City, where my Dad and I shared a duplex. There were days that he was unable to walk across the living room and some days unable to leave the couch. He never complained. He spent time with his father and his family. We lived together but didn’t talk much. His health was getting worse. At some point, Mom and Brenda came back to Oklahoma. I was at work, one day when I got a call saying that Dad was at the VA Hospital and I needed to come. I left work immediately and got to the VA. Dad died that day. His family was with him, but I think he died feeling alone.
James Edward Elkins was born September 13, 1918 and died May 21, 1970. He was a son, a brother, a husband, a father. He was a World War II combat veteran. He was a hardworking man. He was a man with flaws and in need of God’s grace and mercy. I believed he received God’s grace and mercy three weeks before died. I will find out in Heaven. Above everything else, he was my Dad.