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More…Travels With Clarence.


While we were waiting in the backseat of a police car, the trooper struck up a conversation about our trip.  He pointed out, again, that it was a long drive, and he wished us luck.  The whole time he talked with us he never turned around, just looked at us through the rear-view mirror.  Something he was probably comfortable with when he had a suspect in the back with his knees up under their chin.  There is, purposely, not a lot of leg room in the back of a police car.  Keeps the perp from kicking at the steel cage that separates him from freedom, or at least doing bodily harm to his adversary, who is taking him to a place he doesn’t want to go.  He wore his hat the whole time.  One of those brown trooper hats with a round brim that looks like someone punched it in on both sides of the front.

After about a half an hour a tow truck pulled around from the westbound lane.  “Larry’s Auto Service, Stillwater, Oklahoma,” and a phone number embellishing both doors.  Larry jumped out and walked over to the patrol car.  I know he was Larry, because the embroidered  name above the pocket on his blue overalls said so.  I remember a comedian saying something like you don’t want your son to grow up and get a job where he has his name embroidered over his pocket, or something like that.  Larry, however, was the business owner, unless another Larry worked at Larry’s Auto Service.  “Hi, I’m Larry, and this is my brother, Larry, and my other brother, Larry.”

Clarence and I got into the tow truck, thanked the Oklahoma State Trooper whose name we still did not know, and headed back towards the car.  It was now approaching one in the morning.  Larry asked the inevitable question, “Where you guys headed?”

“We’re driving to New York, Long Island, Syosett, heard of it?

Can’t say that I have,” he said.  “Heard of New York of course.  Never been there, though.  Can’t say that I want to.  Don’t know anything about this soy-os-it though.  Never heard of it.”

 We have to be there tomorrow night.”  Clarence said.  The he added, “We’re in a real hurry.”

“Well, maybe you’re in luck,” Larry said.  “I might be able to fix you up”

When we spotted the car in the eastbound lane, Larry drove the truck over the median and pulled up in front of it.  “Let’s have a look,” he said.

He got in the car, started it up after Clarence handed him the keys, put it in gear, and, nothing.  The engine still sounded good.  “It’s the clutch,” Larry said.  “Let’s get it to the shop.”

Larry hooked up the car to the Ford dually wrecker truck with obvious expertise.  We were headed down the Will Rogers Expressway in no time,  then north on US177 towards Stillwater.  Clarence asked the inevitable question, “How much you think this is going to cost?”

He paused for a minute, kind of checking us out I guess, to see if we were moneyed.  Then he said, “Probably get it done for around a hundred, hundred fifty, and have you on your way in no time.  You boys got a place to stay?”

We didn’t.  I expected to be sleeping in the copilot’s seat of the 200SX this night.  We hadn’t really budgeted for motels, barely budgeted for meals, and now we were going to have to come up with over a hundred for car repairs.

“I’ll drop you off at the Motel 6.  We’ll get there in a bit, and I’ll pick you up in the morning.”

At least I was in shock.  I don’t know about Clarence.  “I said, really, you’d do that?”

He said, “Sure, no problem.  I’ll be working on this all night anyway, so I’ll pick you up around 8:00.”

I couldn’t believe our good fortune.  Clarence on the other hand didn’t seem all that pleased.  Then I figured it out.  After Larry dropped us off at the Motel 6 sign flashing “Vacancy,” he drove off with Clarence’s car hooked to the back of his tow truck, with nothing to show for it but a crumpled business card.  He was thinking he wasn’t going to see that car again.  I tried to reassure him.  We had the name, Larry Owens, we had the address, we had a phone number.  What was he going to do, part out the car overnight?

Eight o:clock sharp, we were standing in front of the office of the Motel 6 sipping coffee I wouldn’t serve to a mortal enemy, and up drives Larry in his tow truck.  We jumped in.  Clarence smiled his trademark smile.  I didn’t figure we were out of the woods just yet.  Maybe we were being kidnapped now.  I mean didn’t Larry have another vehicle?  Apparently not, or so he told us later.

We drove for a few minutes and pulled up in front of a small mechanics shop with “Larry’s Automotive Service – All Makes and Models” emblazoned on the wall over the one stall garage.  The Datsun sat in the middle of the stall, parts strewn around, wrenches here and there, obviously not in working order.

What Larry told us was that he pulled the tranny, put the new clutch in, but he was waiting for a part, a throw-out bearing or something, that was being shipped up from Oklahoma City and should be here in a few hours.  He had gotten the rest of parts from his local parts supplier.  He got this guy out of bed at two in the morning, made him go open his shop, and bring him over the parts.  I still, to this day, do not believe all the things Larry did to help us out.  He promised us the car would be ready early afternoon.  Larry suggested we kill some time over at Oklahoma State University, get some lunch, a beer or something, and call him around one.  Off we went in the direction of OSU.

The first thing we noticed is that the place looked deserted.  Not just the campus, but the whole town.  There didn’t seem to be ten people in the whole place.  Hardly any cars were driving around.  Some business were open, but a lot of them had closed signs, and “Go STATE” banners in the windows.  Toys and bikes were left idle in front lawns everywhere.  Not a kid in sight.  It was like Stillwater had been evacuated for an eminent natural disaster or something.

We walked over to the campus and found Boone Pickens Stadium.  I had never been on “Astroturf,” and I was surprised that we were able to walk right onto the field.  It was blue.  It isn’t anymore.  They have replaced the blue field with traditional green since I was there.  The carpet was not different from any outdoor carpet on a concrete patio, and it felt pretty hard under foot.  Not what I expected.  I also didn’t expect there not to be anyone, I mean anyone, around.  It was just weird.  We ran a few mock plays on the field, looking up in the stands, imagining what it would be like to play college football here on a Saturday afternoon.

We walked off campus a few blocks and found a little bar that was open.  There wasn’t a soul around except the female bartender who cheerfully said, “What can I get you boys?”

“Where the hell is everybody?”  I said,  “This place is like  a morgue.”

“Everybody’s up in Norman.  Game Day.  OU and State.  If it was a home game, you wouldn’t be able to get in here,” she smiled.

“Enough said, we’ll take a couple of Coor’s Lights.”  We went over to the single pool table and put in two quarters.  The balls crashed out, and we picked a cue stick from the rack.

To Be Continued…

 

 

 

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Travels With Clarence.


“I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” –  Mark Twain.  I love the way he goes from “like” to “hate,” and I’m about to tell you a true story.

Clarence and I decided to take the colossal road trip over lunch one early summer afternoon.  A cross-country round trip from Albuquerque, NM to Syosset, Long Island, NY.  Something in the neighborhood of a 4,200 mile round trip in a 1970s Datsun 200SX.  Clarence’s Datsun.  He was from Syosset, and most of his family still lived there.  He was going home for summer vacation and needed a co-pilot for the trip which he intended to drive in two days, non-stop, a total of 30-some hours.  I was born in Copaigue, Long Island, NY and had not been back there since my family moved to Wyoming in 1958.  The idea of visiting some of my relatives that still lived on Long Island intrigued me.  As we talked about it more, I found myself getting excited about the idea.

I was Clarence’s supervisor in a credit card collection department for Citibank.  It wasn’t well perceived by upper management for a supervisor and a direct report to be going off on a vacation together, but we ignored the warnings.  Months of planning ensued.  We would visit the Indianapolis 500 Car Museum, and we would detour to Hannibal, MO, and cross two items off my bucket list.  Clarence agreed.  His wife and infant daughter would fly out ahead of us, and the idea was that they would have a car while we were there.  I’m not sure why they didn’t just rent a car, but somehow Clarence was convinced that having his own car there was a better idea, mostly because of limited funds, I suppose, myself included, and we could drive in to the “City,” instead of taking, as Clarence described it, very dangerous public transportation.

Clarence is black.  I would have said “was,” but he is still, as far as I know, alive, and a man of color, an African-American.  I’m one of those whites “not of Hispanic descent” which continually bothers me, but we won’t get into it here.  Anyway, I tell you that Clarence is black for reasons you will discover later.  The departure date arrives, first weekend of September.  The car has been serviced, a white job with black striping, and a white guy and a black guy ready to head out for parts known, parts unknown, and parts a long ways away.  Clarence’s wife and daughter are on the plane and will arrive in New York later that evening.

A Nissan 200SX is technically a sports car.  This one was an automatic.  There is really no back seat in this two door model, and it is what is known as a hatchback.  We stuffed our suitcases in, and carefully positioned the cooler of beer directly behind the seats in the center, easily accessible from the co-pilot seat, and off we went.

We made good time, switching drivers on the Will Rogers Turnpike, a toll road outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma.  It was around ten o:clock.  Needless to say, we weren’t driving the speed limit thus far in our travels.  We were pushing the car 95 to 100 miles an hour because Clarence had installed a radar-detector, and thus far it had worked well.  I started my driving shift and pushed the car up to 90, rolling along while Clarence was going to catch some shut-eye, before he took over again in the early morning.

Fifteen minutes later the car stopped moving with the accelerator pressed to the floor.  The engine was screaming, but the car was just rolling.  I rolled it over to the shoulder.  Clarence woke up.  “What the hell happened?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said, “it just stopped moving.”  We had been on the road less than a day, and I had already broken the car.

“See if it starts.”

The car started right up, but when I slipped it into drive, it didn’t go anywhere.  It was pitch black outside, no moon, billions of stars twinkling in the sky.

“It’s the transmission.  SHIT!”  Clarence then decides to tell me that he has been having trouble with the clutch slipping, but didn’t think it was going to be a problem.  Slipping for months.  This car has over 100,000 miles on it, I just notice on the odometer, and he doesn’t foresee any problems driving it 4,000 miles without a break.

“What the hell are we going to do now?” I asked.  Here we are in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, can’t see any lights in any direction, and we don’t have any cell phones or a CB radio.  We’re doomed.

Clarence answers, “I gotta pee.”  He opens the car door and heads out into a dark field.  I know this sounds cliché, but he was less than twenty yards from the car and I could only see him  when he smiled.  It was that dark out. 

“Clarence, shit, there could be a coyote sneaking up on you right now with a bead on your pecker, and you wouldn’t even see him.”

He zipped up quickly, and with his head darting from side to side, ran back towards the car.  He was from New York, after all, coyotes and other wild animals that live freely in an Oklahoma field hadn’t come to mind.  I had to pee, but decided to wait.

Clarence got back in the car and said, “Well, I’m going to have a beer,” and drew out a dripping cold Coors from the cooler in the back.

“I’ll have one too,” I said, and he handed the one he had opened to me and got another.  We sat there laughing about the coyote incident.  I noticed that Clarence had locked his door.  Like a coyote could get to him through an unlocked car door.

Within seconds of the first sip, an Oklahoma State Trooper, sirens and lights ablaze, whipped across the median and pulled up behind the Nissan.  

“Hide the beer,” I screamed.

I rolled down the window and waited for the officer to approach the car.  After a few minutes, watching him through the side mirror, he came up behind the car with a flashlight, checking the plates, and whatever contents he could make out in the back through the hatchback window.  He leaned over and shone the light into my face, and then in Clarence’s.

“You boys been drinking tonight?”  The first thing that came out of his mouth.  We shook our heads “no,” and satisfied, or so it seemed, he asked us why we were stopped on the Will Rogers Expressway?

“Car broke down,” I answered.  “We think it’s the clutch or transmission.”

“Mmm,” he says, and then makes me prove it.  I start the car, put it in gear, and the engine just revs.  “What’s in the cooler?” he asks.

“Cold drinks.” Clarence answers too quickly.

“Well, let me take you boys down to the service island a couple of miles up the road, and we can call for a tow truck.”

I am now sitting in the backseat of a police car for the first time in my life, and I don’t like it much.  It seems only a few minutes before we pull into a convenience store/gas station in the middle of the highway, accessible from both eastbound and westbound lanes.  We at least could have walked here if we had needed to.  The trooper asks us if we want something to drink or eat, while we wait.  He’s going to call somebody he knows in Stillwater who can help us with our problem.

I get out of the patrol car and use the rest room, free of dangerous animals.

To Be Continued…

 

 

 

 

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She’s Not Dead Yet.


I’m pretty sure I’m partially responsible for killing my great-aunt.  I didn’t mean to do it, really I didn’t, but it kind of haunts me a little to this day.

My father died February 1, 2004.  We went home for the funeral, and almost perished getting there from Reno, NV.  The blizzard that hit southern Wyoming the day we left was a pretty good one, and we had several close calls with the big dually diesel truck, “The Green Hulk,” during the trip, especially the “shortcut” through Shirley Basin.  The truck was prone to slipping sideways while going down hill, so you couldn’t apply the brakes hardly at all.  It was “fun” to say the least, especially if you had to navigate a turn at the bottom of a hill.

The snow had stopped by the time we headed out from Rock Springs where we decided to spend the night.  We passed semi-trucks overturned and jackknifed on the highway, in ditches, and UHaul trucks with their contents spread all over the roadway.  We made the crucial decision to get off the interstate and head to Casper through the basin when the sky cleared.  It can be a beautiful clear blue in “The Equality State,” but you don’t actually get to “Big Sky Country” until you hit Montana.  Where we were headed was about 14 miles from the Montana border.

What I had forgotten about Shirley Basin is the ground blizzards.  If you have never been in one, the blowing snow, which is crystalline from the cold, creates a white-out condition about the height of your vehicle.  In other words, you can’t see the road in front of you, at all, but you can see the clear blue sky above you without difficulty.  To top it off, the windshield wipers on the Hulk needed to be replaced.  But when we took the US287 cutoff and headed to Casper, the sky was clear, the weather improving, and we really hadn’t intended to stop the night before, which turned out to be a good decision.  Now we needed to make-up some time.

It wasn’t long before we were faced with zero visibility and we had to drive 100 miles in this stuff.  It was too late to turn back so we kept going.  It took us twice as long to keep the truck moving to Casper than it would have if we had stayed on the interstate.  As we pulled in, a Napa Auto Parts was the first building we saw.  It was a godsend.  We stopped and replaced the windshield wipers.  The snow started up again, and by the time we got to Sheridan, the ice was about an inch thick around the sides of the truck.  We pulled up at my brother’s place and had to kick the door open to get out.

Relatives I hadn’t seen in years, lots of years, were there in the house.  My Aunt Peggy, my dad’s only sister, was there from New York.  She sounded the same with that thick upstate New York accent.  After passing around condolences, we left to check into our hotel, and took the truck to a warm-water car wash and de-iced it.

The next day, one of my younger brothers, my wife and I decided to visit the municipal cemetery.  My mother, my father’s parents, my great aunts, and tomorrow, my father, are all buried there.  I wanted to see if I could find my grandfather’s grave because I remember he was buried under a tall tree overlooking the valley below.  I had not made the trip for my grandmother’s funeral, but I had been there for my Great Aunt Anita’s burial.  I knew she was close by.  I assumed my other Great Aunt, Genevieve, would be next to her’s.

Sheridan didn’t have a cemetery until 1890 when a group of businessmen formed the Mount Hope Cemetery Association.  Many of those buried in the surrounding area were later moved to what is now the Sheridan Municipal Cemetery.

We found the marker for Albert L. Olson, Sr., my grandfather, exactly where I expected to find it.  My grandmother, Marguerite was buried next to him.  The view of the valley was beautiful.  We spent a few moments visiting and then headed off in the surrounding plots to see if we could find my Great Aunt Anita’s final resting place.

My two great aunts had moved to Sheridan in 1971, shortly after my grandparents had moved there.  Anita’s husband died previously and Genevieve moved in with her in Long Island, although I’m not sure that they hadn’t lived together for much longer.  My grandparents convinced them to get away from the east coast and move to the small, quiet community where my Dad had settled in 1958.  I helped them move into their second-floor apartment off of W. Loucks Street, on Jefferson.  Within a few months, Aunt Anita, had a massive stroke while taking a bath, and died a few days later after suffering another stroke.

Aunt Genevieve, we called her Aunt Gen,  had never married.  The story I was told, was that her fiance was killed in a car accident on the eve of their wedding.  I later learned that her betrothed was a pilot and died in a plane crash some time before the wedding.  In either case, she never recovered from it, and remained a single woman the rest of her life.  She worked for New York Life for 43 years, as an underwriter, later a supervisor, and retired from there just before moving.  I always thought she had worked for AT&T, but I know she had a comfortable pension.

We stumbled, literally, across Aunt Anita’s plot a few yards away.  I assumed that Aunt Gen would be buried nearby, but we walked the area several times and could not find a marker for her.  The weather was turning cold, so we gave up the search.

Upon returning to my brother’s house, my Aunt Peggy asked me what we had done that afternoon.  I told her we had gone to the cemetery to visit some graves, and was upset that we couldn’t find Aunt Gen’s marker.  We had found everyone else, but we couldn’t find her.  I asked if she had been buried in New York.

“That’s because she’s not dead yet!” my older sister said with some amusement.

“She’s down the street at Sheridan Manor,” my Aunt added with some indignation.

The look on my face has gone down in the annals of Olson Family history.  How could I have not known she wasn’t dead?

The question is, now, how we missed this.  It must have been partly covered in snow.

She just celebrated her 101st birthday on January 28th, I was told.  Sheridan’s oldest living resident.  I immediately suggested that we should go visit her, and my sister told me it would be a waste of time because she doesn’t remember anyone.  I was assured that she was still doing well, although her pension had run out, (Who plans to live to 101?) she was now a ward of the state, and no longer had any assets.  No one was going to see any inheritance from Aunt Gen.

A few weeks after returning home, my sister, Margaret, sent me the front page of The Sheridan Press dated February 24, 2004.  The headline was “101-Year-Old Sheridan Resident Dies.”  “Genevieve Matedero – described by relatives and friends as a ‘grand lady’ who helped people throughout her life – died Thursday at the age of 101.  Matedero died in Sheridan Manor where she had resided since 1997…The Sheridan Press featured Matedero in January 2003 when she turned 100.  She was photographed with a big smile on her face, enjoying cake and ice cream with friends.”

Oh my God, I thought, maybe if I hadn’t gone looking for her headstone, the higher powers might not have realized they had forgotten about her.  Some members of my family thought to suggest that as well.  Two sisters, my Great Aunt, Anita, my Grandmother, Marguarite, and one brother, my Great Uncle, Jerome, preceded her in death.  I didn’t know him at all.  In the end I was just sorry I hadn’t taken the time to visit Aunt Gen the few weeks before.  

And thanks to my favorite niece for reminding me about the story. 

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