So, going back forty years, I was in my new, 1973 Dodge Van that I bought to haul home my motorcycle upon discharge from the Navy. But then I sold the motorcycle to pay for the van. Sort of an O'Henry Story. (A free Oh-Henry bar to the first person who can name the story ... No, it's not the Ransom of Red Chief, but thanks for trying.) (Gift of the Magi — Chuck Lincoln got it.)
I had all my worldly possessions in that van. At least what I had left after an orgie of sales in preparation for travel. I didn’t have a yard sale and that was before Craig’s list, so I just advertised in the local paper’s classifieds. I sold my Magnavox Organ to a shipmate and my Vox organ to someone who answered my ad. I sold my Gibson Firebird to a cool black guy that was going to play some jazz and the Fender Deluxe Reverb followed it out the door.
I did haul home a giant Fender Dual Showman speaker cabinet with two-fifteens, an Ampeg amp, a really beat-up old acoustic guitar, a drum machine, a few microphones, a couple of cords and cables, and a Sony TC-200 tape machine — plus a couple of suit cases of clothes. That’s all I remember.
For the last time, I drove down Willoughby Spit headed for the Hampton Roads Tunnel and I-64. You just stay on 64 for a thousand miles until you get to St. Louis and then jump onto 70 for the rest of the way to Denver. I was stopping there to visit some friends and then headed up I-25 for Billings, Montana.
Visited with my brother a couple of days and we spent the weekend up in Lewistown checking out who had stayed. I took him back to Billings, and then headed west on I-90 for Spokane, Washington, my parents' home at that time. Pretty easy navigation and no need for a GPS, especially since they hadn’t been invented yet. The only problem was in St. Louis where the Interstate ended abruptly somewhere near the Arch and I had to navigate surface streets to find the bridge over the Mississippi River. It was a tough neighborhood and I was a little shook up by the sudden loss of four-lane highway, but the Lord watches out for fools, so I made it OK.
I don’t recall how long it took me to complete the drive. I know I had an ice chest on the floor between the seats filled with sodas and a bucket of KFC. When I got tired, I would pull into a rest area and nap for 40 winks and then hit the road again. The van had the first cruise control I’d ever had and it worked wonders on that trip. I don’t think I stayed in a motel the whole way, but maybe I just don’t recall.
I got home to Spokane where I spent nine months with my folks working on the van and running in the nearby hills. I was in really great shape back then. I ran five miles a day. Oh how the proud have fallen. After that I packed up the yellow van again, and headed for Colorado.
I had an invitation from a shipmate, Tom Aerts, to visit him in Longmont, so I ended up spending my first few weeks in CO living with Tom and his wife Linda. I then got an apartment in Longmont.
Later many old navy buddies showed up including Woody who lived with me for about six months, Glen Hord who visited one summer, and — after I had moved to Denver — Mike Desnoyer showed up for Thanksgiving.
After a year in Longmont working at A.R.F. Products in Boulder, I started teaching at E.T.I. in Denver. Since I still worked at A.R.F. part time, I moved to an apartment in northern Denver, about half-way between the two jobs. A year later I rented a house in Denver by Sloan's Lake and close to Mile High Stadium. By that time Tom and Linda had divorced. I needed a date for a party I was invited to by a student, so I ask Linda more as a friend than a romantic date.
We sort of got drawn to each other at that party and started dating seriously. We had our ups and downs during the courtship and there were several other guys competing for her attention as she was a most lovely young lady. We finally broke up one summer, partly because I was working two jobs and had no time for her.
I tried to survive that summer without her, throwing myself and my passions into motorcycle racing and taking a long road trip on a little Honda 550 four … not exactly a road warrior. But, by fall, I was missing her terribly. I was friends with her brother Chuck, and when visiting him at his parents' new house in the country, Linda was there doing her laundry since her apartment didn’t have a washer. I asked her if she would like to take a drive and we had a fun time cruising up the Big Thompson Canyon from Loveland.
We started dating again and I soon asked for her hand. She was reluctant at first … who could blame her? So it took several days for me to get her answer, which was a quiet “yes.”
My parents still lived in Spokane, so we decided to get married there. We were both off work at Christmas time, so we set the date for late December. We drove up to my sister’s house in Bozeman, Montana, and Linda met Barbie for the first time. They hit it off splendidly and have been great friends ever since. No surprise as I had always wanted to marry someone as sweet as my sister, although I doubted such a person existed as Barbie was a doll. But I found another doll, and my sister approved.
We took the train from Bozeman to Spokane. Mike, from Linda’s first marriage, was three years old and he loved the train ride, as did we three. We got to Spokane around Christmas and planned a wedding in nearby Coeur d'Alene since Washington state had a residency requirement for marriage, but Idaho was like Las Vegas, you could get married on a whim.
Coeur d'Alene further resembled Vegas with the existence of marriage stores that sold the license, did the blood test, even had boutonnieres in a rack on the desk and a preacher on call. We availed ourselves of the license and test and even got a great little flower with a bumble bee in it for Mike to wear, but we went to the court house for the ceremony. It was a small wedding with my parents and my sister as witnesses and Michael stood up there with us as we had told him all three of us were to be married. (I later adopted Michael, and raised him from then on. So if you ask Mike who his dad is, I think he'll say me. We maintained a good relationship with Linda's ex, but Mike was always with us.)
The J.P. asked, “Will you take this women … ?” There had not been a rehearsal and with the prettiest women I knew at my side, about to marry me, I was very nervous. All I could say is what I’d seen in all those movies: “I do.” The correct response was “I will.” After the ceremony I was chatting with the official and he asked me what I did for a living. I said I’m a teacher. He asked what I teach. I said, “Electronics.” He said he knew it wasn’t English.
So, after a short honeymoon, we returned to Longmont, Colorado where we’ve made our home ever since. It has been a wonderful marriage, blessed with a second son and great in-laws and family, we’ve enjoyed every moment of the ride. We're in our 37th year of bliss, and it just keeps getting better.
Many things have changed. Now the Interstate is a continuous band across the country, although there are still stretches of construction and a couple of toll roads. I know from past experience flying into Virginia via Newport News and taking the tunnel that I-64 no longer goes down the middle of Willoughby Spit, but rides on stilts across the bay to the south of the Spit. Plus the houses on the Spit are a lot more upscale than back then and the amusement park is gone. Now there’s a branch, I-564, that goes right to the Navy Base. Plenty else has changed, but still my old home for over four years, some forty years ago, retains familiarity. On our last trip, just two weeks previous, we visited the old haunts of McCloy Road and the Giant Open Air Market at Wards Corner.
Although I have been back to Norfolk and Virginia Beach over half a dozen times in the ensuing years to visit old friends and we were just there a few weeks ago, this is the first time I’ve driven. That completes the scene. Forty years, another “van,” the hero returns home. Can you ever go back? I’d love to relive those exciting early years of Navy friends and my courtship of my beloved and starting out with nothing but love and a couple of kids, but I’m now 66, retired, rich, and returning to the scene of the crime.
Now I was retracing that original trip in the Blue Bus. Leaving behind the hills of western Kentucky, down by the Green River where paradise lay, we soon crossed the Sandy River just south of the Ohio and traded the rolling hills of Kentucky for deeper valleys of West Virginia.
Here amongst the bones of a once great mountain range worn down by wind and water, we climb the passes and parallel the great rivers flowing by great cities and towns, great refineries and industrial works, as we make our was East.
Charleston with its gleaming gold capital dome passes on the right as we cross and re-cross the Kanawha River.
Our destination nearly reached, the road weary travelers have almost arrived after thirty-six hours of journey.
There is no road work on this holiday weekend and the construction speed limit signs are not flashing and slowing our progress. Traffic was light until the Sunday rubber-neckers hit the road after church. It's a beautiful sunny day as we continue our journey.
The official start of summer has arrived. Summer starts with Memorial Day, regardless of that solstice date. What adventures await us as we near our destination? Of that I can't say, but only fantasize. In the rush I've taken few pictures except with my mind. If quiet time occurs during the next few weeks, I'll try to develop the images for my reading audience.
Now, after a break for bread and chips, it's back on the road into Virginia and the beach. As they would say in Paris, "Bon Voyage," "good journey." There are things in life that are the important part. They are the people you meet and the people you love. Some of that affection rubs off on the location and memories include not just the “who,” but also the “where.” Now I’m going back. This is really a reunion. Norfolk and Virginia Beach, meet the Blue Bus. I know I left in a yellow van, but things do change … now let’s see what is still the same.