Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Savoy Theatre

In 1958 my dad drove me and my friend Paul to the Savoy Theatre in downtown Ferguson. We were both ten, and this was the first time our parents let us attend a movie without adult supervision. Dad let us off in front, making sure we knew when and where he would pick us up. The movie was “The Blob” and according to friends, it is was “really good” and “really scary”.
 It was the first show of the evening and a long line of kids stood waiting outside to buy tickets.  Paul and I went to the end of the line. Most of the other kids towered over us. Some girls standing next to us talked with each other excitedly and Paul and I noticed they smelled like perfume. Some of the boys up ahead looked dangerous, with hair greased back, short sleeves rolled up, shirt fronts partly unbuttoned and collars flipped up in the back. They were smoking cigarettes, talking loudly and pushing each other around.

The line in the lobby for snacks was long too, but we had plenty of time before the movie started. We bought candy, soda and shared a popcorn. I don’t remember what kind of candy Paul got, but I bought a big chunk of fudge, not the best choice for this particular movie. By the time we made it to our seats, the theater was nearly full and filled with the sounds of talking and laughter. A theater custodian patrolled up and down the aisles. As soon as he disappeared through the curtains and into the lobby, the air was filled with flying popcorn and crumpled candy wrappers. The concrete floor under our feet was sticky from spilled soda and under the arms of the seats were petrified wads of chewing gum.

The movie opens with a young couple necking in a convertible. It was Steve McQueen’s first movie role and he received $3,000 for his performance. The girl was Anita Corsaut, who would several years later play Helen Crump, Opie’s teacher and Andy’s girlfriend on the Andy Griffith Show. The couple notices a meteor cross the night sky and crash to earth. They take off in Steve’s powder blue 1952 Plymouth, to try to find it. But an old man, who lives in a cabin nearby, finds it first. The old man pokes the small meteor with a stick and it opens to reveal a small, round, reddish blob. He then pokes the blob and lifts it up to examine it. It now looks yellowish and oozy like a big disgusting glob of snot. When it jumps from the stick onto the old man’s hand, a collective gasp ripples across the theater. The old man tries to shake it off, but can’t. He stumbles out onto the highway and Steve and Miss Crump nearly run him over.

I watched parts of the movie on "you-tube" in order to write this blog-post, and compared to today’s horror films, it’s terrible. It’s poorly written, the actors definitely would not win any awards and most importantly, to today’s kids, it would not be the least bit scary. In the 50s “cheap teen movies” were made for the drive-in movie market. “The Blob” was released as a double feature along with “I Married a Monster from Outer Space”. But in 1958, the entire audience of kids, even the “cool” rowdy kids, were transfixed by the suspense, many hiding their eyes and scrunching down in their seats.

Paul and I voraciously ate the popcorn, drank the soda and I was working on my big hunk of fudge right when the blob oozed through the ventilation grates and into the on screen movie theater. I had to leave my seat, run up the aisle and out the exit to upchuck by the side of the theater. But I didn’t want to miss any of the action, so I ran back in and continued watching.

          No one could figure out how to stop the blob until a fire broke out and some of the fire extinguisher fluid accidentally sprayed it. When it recoiled, our hero, Steve, remembered it recoiling earlier from an open freezer door and put two and two together. Steve's teenage friends and the cops grabbed all the fire extinguishers they could find and were able to temporarily freeze it. In its frozen state, the blob was airlifted by an Air Force heavy lift cargo plane to the Arctic and sent parachuting down onto the ice. In the final dialogue of the movie, Policeman Dave says something like, “the blob is not dead, but at least it has been stopped.” To which Steve replies, "Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold." And if you’ve been listening to the news lately you’d know that the Arctic ice is melting at an unparalleled rate. Paul and I survived our first unsupervised outing at the Savoy. On the way out we noticed Hercules was coming next week. We could hardly wait.

The last film I remember seeing at the Savoy was “A Thousand Clowns” with Jason Robards.  It was the summer after I graduated from McCluer High School and my last date with Marley before entering the Army.

The Savoy Theatre opened on Christmas day 1936. In 1966 it was purchased by the Wehrenberg chain of theatres. The inside was completely gutted and remodeled to become the Crown Theatre and ran  newly released films. In 1993 the Crown closed and the building became the Savoy Banquet Center. 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Childhood Slides

I’ve begun the laborious task of transferring all of my family’s slides to digital photos. The slides start in the mid-fifties and go into the early sixties. My dad took a lot of pictures, three shoe boxes full. In the nineties, after both of my parents had died, I went through the slides, throwing many away and putting the rest in little plastic boxes with labels on the top. Besides the family slides, we also have boxes of photographs out in the garage that need to be scanned sometime in the future.

I bought a slide scanner on line. It was cheap, made in China, but had more stars than the other scanners. One problem is that it cuts the pictures off on the sides. It's like watching a movie made for a newer rectangular screen TV on an old square TV. Sometimes you see two noses talking to each other with the rest of the two persons out of view. Most of the slides are not affected by this because the subject is in the center of the frame. But in a few pictures, where people were sitting around a table or in the living room, I had to decide whether to leave out the person on the right or the person on the left or shift the slide and scan the picture twice.

It was one of those “people sitting around in the living room” pictures that caused me to pause and seriously question this whole project. My Grandmother had two good friends, Elsie and Amanda. Neither of them ever married and they shared an apartment,  we called it a “flat” but I don’t know why.  I never knew the history of either of these women, but as a boy, they both seemed very old, in their old lady print dresses and big clunky black shoes. My Dad referred to them as the “high kickers” which my sister and I thought was funny. They were both very sweet ladies and always nice to us kids.

In the picture, Elsie was sitting on one side of the living room and Amanda on the other. I had to decide which one to cut out or whether to shift the slide and scan two pictures. Then it struck me. Who cares? Who will ever want to look at these pictures? My sister will enjoy looking at them, maybe once. But for some reason, I could not forever cut out either Elsie or Amanda. After all, they were always part of our extended family gatherings.  

Left to right- Grandpa, my sister Karen, Amanda, Mom, Elsie,
cousin Kurt, Uncle Merle, great cousin Marie and Aunt Edie 
On Christmas or Thanksgiving the family gathered at my grandparents house in south St. Louis. These were happy occasions. Grandpa Ben(died in 1959) sat at one end of the table and Grandma(not in the picture, either her or grandpa had to be cut) at the other. This picture shows only some of the family, but for me captures the essence of that fleeting time, which I thought was forever. 

I’ve seen these old slides so many times over the years, I can’t look at them from an objective viewpoint. Dad would set up the screen and projector in the living room, which seemed like a major deal and we sat mesmerized, looking at ourselves on vacation or at family functions. Dad had humorous comments for almost every slide and some of his comments were “off-color”. Mom would then say in a stern voice “Kenneth” and my sister and I would laugh. I even scanned a picture of a robin on our dead front lawn. Mom made such a big deal about what a crappy (my word not hers, she rarely used any bad language) picture it was, insinuating that it costs a lot of money to get slides developed, so don't waste them.

These are a few of my favorites. For me each one still captures some of the security, freedom and hope of my childhood, which seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way to adulthood.                                                                                                    

View on a snow day from our dinning room window

A big snow in Ferguson meant school was cancelled. In the morning, when I  first opened my eyes to the soft, reflected light of snow filling my room, I knew the day ahead had been transformed into an exciting adventure.
Flying down the street on my Royal Racer sled.

I was given a puppy for Christmas when I was three. I named her Cookie. She slept at the foot of my bed and went everywhere with me when I was a boy. She died when I was in Vietnam.

Me, Paul Brehm, Tom Woodard and Bob Chapman

At Ranch Royale, we camped and rented horses. We were allowed to ride anywhere on the  huge property, unsupervised.

One of my favorite trips, in 1958, was to Hannibal, Mo where we visited the boyhood home of Samuel Clemmons. The books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were my childhood favorites.


I had just gotten a new Brownie flash camera for my birthday.

When we toured the cave where Becky and Tom had to hide from Indian Joe, the tour guide turned out the lights. It was dark and scary.

Sometime my sister, Karen, went along on these adventures. 
My mom had a friend from work named Alma who owned a farm house down in the Ozarks. We went there quite a few times. In the winter I explored the woods with Cookie. I always had my BB gun, but never shot at any animals. I was afraid I might hit one.

In the summer I fished in the local stream and we swam in a large lake nearby. Alma was sometimes there when we were and she made big breakfasts--pancakes, bacon and fruit. She also cleaned and cooked the fish I caught.

Our team was sponsored by Barbay's Market,
a local Ferguson grocery store
Baseball was a big part of my life growing up. In the St. Louis area we had the Kourey League. One of the highlights of my boyhood was getting to play at Bush stadium in the Kourey League All Star game.

Perfecting my Stan (the man) Musial stance

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So Long Leonard

 I first heard Leonard Cohen when I was stationed at Fort Hood Army base in Texas. I had a year left to serve. My unit was filled with Intelligence personnel, back from Vietnam like myself. The Army didn’t really know what to do with us. I was a POW Interrogator and Order of Battle Analyst and in Texas there wasn’t much need for my expertise, so they put me to work in the motor pool. I kept track of and ordered parts for vehicles.

I shared an open bay on the second floor of an Army barracks with a bunch of guys and two of them became good friends. Both Phil and Tony were excellent guitar players. In the evenings we would sit on the edge of one of our bunks and they would play music. Tony was a polished musician, having played in the LA clubs before being forced into the Army. Phil played an old Martin D-28 and finger picked like Mississippi John Hurt. I loved their music and wanted in. They helped me pick out a guitar in a Killeen music store and began teaching me how to play. I picked up some music books to help with the process and one of them was the “Songs of Leonard Cohen”.

Tony was knowledgeable about all the folk artists of the time and he introduced me to the music of Eric Anderson, Phil Ochs, Hoyt Axton, Jackson Browne (Tony knew Jackson from the LA circuit and they exchanged songs before Jackson had his first album out), Tom Rush and Leonard Cohen. Leonard had two albums out in 1969, Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs from a Room. I loved his music. Unlike American music, his songs sounded more like the French singers, Jacques Brel and Edith Piaff. I guess this isn’t surprising, since he came from Montreal.

I loved his poetry of existential/religious/symbolic language. He was intellectual and classy, in his natty attire, a "continental" man.   The guitar music in his songbook was in tablature, which shows you exactly where to put your fingers on the strings. Many of the songs were easy to learn on the guitar and I spent hours painstakingly learning a bunch of them.

The songbook also contained biographical information about Leonard and pictures of his house on the Island of Hydra, Greece with Marianne, his beautiful Norwegian girlfriend and muse. For a twenty one year old boy back from the war and soon to be free with plans of travel and college, I was enchanted by Leonard and his lifestyle. I wanted to be him or some version thereof.

Years later I got the chance to see him live. In 1993, Katie and I drove up to Vancouver, BC to attend a Leonard Cohen concert. Even then Leonard was not widely known in the US. His songs were not top 40 material. This was before his song Hallelujah, from his 1984 Various Positions album, became a huge hit.  At the time his most famous song probably was Suzanne made popular by Judy Collins on her 1966 album In My Life and Leonard’s first song on his first album. Here’s the last verse.

Now Suzanne takes your hand, and she leads you to the river, she’s wearing rags and feathers from salvation army counters, and the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor, and she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers, there are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning, they are leaning out for love and they will lean this way forever, while Suzanne holds the mirror, and you want to travel with her and you want to travel blind, and you know you can trust her for she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

To my surprise, the concert at the Orpheum was packed and the audience knew the words to most of the songs. Like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, Leonard was Canada’s own. With an exceptional back-up band and angelic sounding women singers enveloping and surrounding his low gravelly voice, his songs filled the beautifully ornate theater. It was definitely one of the music concert highlights of my life.

Leonard has been part of my life since I was twenty. I wish I could have thanked him personally.

First verse of his song Anthem from the album The Future. A very timely message.

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

 Thank you Leonard.



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dylan on the Jukebox

      Just the other day Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. For most of us boomers, this is world wide validation of one of the main artists and driving influences of our generation. Only Elvis and the Beatles share such an exalted place in single handedly redirecting the popular music and culture of our time. The poets of our generation were the singer song writers--Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Neil Young, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, Carol King, and Leonard Cohen. 
      Dylan's music brought protest songs into the popular arena and influenced  musicians to write and perform their own songs. Yet he was not widely accepted by the popular music listening audience. In his entire career, he never had a number one hit on the Billboard Top 100 charts and made it to number two only twice. In the sixties, most of Dylan’s popular songs were made famous by other artists, Blowin’ in the Wind, Peter Paul & Mary, Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds, It Ain’t Me Babe, The Turtles, All Along the Watch Tower, Jimi Hendrix. 
     In 1963 I first heard Dylan’s music. He was a “folk singer” and had only two albums out, Bob Dylan and Freewheelin. I’d like to say I liked him from the very beginning, but I didn’t. I thought he had an obnoxious nasally voice and was an even worse harmonica player. What I did like at the time was a girl who wanted me to like him.
     Her name was Marley and she attended a local Catholic school. I met her at a party. That’s not exactly true, we first met at a local Steak & Shake. She was in the back seat of a convertible with three other girls. They pulled in next to the car I was in with three of my friends. She caught my eye immediately and smiled and said hi. My friends knew the other girls in the car. They all attended McCluer High and invited us to a party at one of their houses.
     The party turned out to be just the four of us and the four of them. Marley and I hit it off right away and began talking about music. Her passion for folk and jazz equaled my own for rock & roll. We started seeing each other regularly and listening to music. And that’s all we did, listen to and talk about music. We became good friends and enjoyed each other’s company. I would have liked to have changed the friendship, but “dating” might have ruined it. Besides, I was too  chicken to make a romantic move.
     We influenced each others taste in music. I began to like folk music and learned to appreciate Dylan’s  hard edged poetic language that mocked cultural conventions and exposed the hypocrisies. I helped Marley appreciate rock & roll.
     It was in 1965 on a week long trip to Florida, where I first heard the fusion of folk music and rock & roll. I went with two of my high school friends, Petie and Jeff. We took turns driving Petie’s Corvaire Monza convertible non-stop all the way from Ferguson to Fort Lauderdale. With the top down the entire way, the three of us were painfully sun and wind burned by the time we arrived. After renting a cheap motel room, we agreed on one important rule. If any one of us picked up a girl, the other two had to “get lost” for the entire night.
     Over the course of the week, I became intimately acquainted with a bench on the boardwalk, while Jeff and Petie took turns in the motel room . One night while sitting on that bench, I heard Dylan on the jukebox. The music was coming from inside a pinball arcade directly behind me. I located the jukebox in the back of the arcade. The song was number B-25, Like a Rolling Stone. I plugged the machine with quarters and played it over and over.
     The next morning I called Marley long distance from a pay phone next to the highway to tell her the news,  Dylan was playing rock & roll.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Last Wild Ride

Don was not supposed to be driving. He has dementia. His wife told me before we left
the house, “He is not to drive” and she knows what she’s talking about. So Don and I took off in their Subaru Forrester with me behind the wheel and headed up to Louella’s Cabin. It’s about fifteen miles from our home in Sequim, a beautiful drive up into the foothills of the Olympic Mountains.
Louella was Don’s Grandmother. She and her husband built the cabin in the early 1900s, when the Peninsula was sparsely populated. It is now owned and run by the Park Service and can be rented. I had been to the cabin with Don once before, before he had dementia. He and I had walked around the cabin and looked in the windows. Don was excited to point out the pictures hanging inside on the cabin walls. They were pictures of his relatives. I really couldn’t see them clearly, but Don told me who was pictured in each one. We talked with several of the neighbors.
They were excited to meet the grandson of Louella. Everyone in the area knows a little about Louella or at least they know her name. At the intersection of Louella Road and the gravel road leading up to the cabin, a Park Service sign identifies it as “Louella’s Cabin”. 

On the drive home in my car on that first trip, Don made sure I took the narrow asphalt road that angled off the main road leading down the mountain and ending at Highway 101. He told me that when his grandparents lived in the cabin, the road was dirt and/or mud, and Louella would harness the mule with a rope, throw saddle bags over his back, and walk the five or so miles down to the Blyn store to get supplies.
When we reached the cabin, I parked the Subaru in front and Don and I walked into the woods behind it. He told me he had roamed these woods often as child. As we walked, Don whistled. He is an avid whistler. He doesn’t whistle complete songs, only pieces. Once on a walk, I asked him what he was whistling and he said he didn’t know. I was able to identify a few of the songs, but Don really wasn’t that interested in knowing what they were. He became a little disoriented a few times as we traipsed through the woods, but clearly he enjoyed being in the familiar territory of his childhood. When we returned to the car, I opened the driver’s door and started to get in when Don called out, “I’d like to drive.”
I hesitated, but there was something in his look that caused me to toss him the keys. He caught them one handed. He drove slowly and carefully down the driveway and out onto Louella Road, but as soon as he turned down the narrow asphalt road leading to Blyn, he sped up. The road is windy and my body was thrown from side to side. “Don, don’t you think you should slow down?”
He looked at me with fire in his eyes and continued barreling down the mountain. What have I done? Don’s wife told me not to let him drive and now we’re both going to be killed in a fiery crash.”
“Don, you need to slow down.” I yelled, but instead of slowing down, he accelerated. My good friend with dementia seemed to be channeling Mario Andretti. He flung the car We came around a sharp turn and onto a dirt road. We were heading straight for the cliff edge overlooking the river. I braced myself for a “Thelma and Louise” ending, but suddenly Don rotated the steering wheel, putting the car into a sideways skid, and we came to rest at the edge of the steep embankment. Don looked at me and smiled with open, clear eyes. He was completely focused and aware of what he was doing and never looked more alive. I realized he must have driven these roads hundreds of times. I relaxed after that and let Don skillfully maneuver the car down to the highway.
My relaxed attitude quickly dissipated when we got to the busy intersection. Don was having trouble deciding when to pull out into the traffic. He began inching his way out as cars whizzed by.  I realized his disorientation was back and he needed my help.
“Don, pull over, I can take it from here.” He looked at me, his focus and clarity gone, replaced by uncertainty and confusion. He got out of the car and walked around to the passenger’s side and I drove home.
Don now lives in an assisted living facility. We are going to visit him next week. I bet he’s made lots of friends in his new home and I hope he’s still whistling. I’ll never forget going with him on his last wild ride. 




Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Historical City of Hue

Our hotel in Hue was located down a small alleyway off a main street. In the hotel lobby we were greeted by three employees, all were gracious and accommodating. Our room was on the third floor. The elevator had no depth. We walked into it, turned around and our backs were to the wall and our faces next to the door. It was a nice hotel for less than $25 a night. The room was clean, the bed was comfortable and the staff arranged for any trips or cab rides we needed. Breakfast was included and served every morning in the lobby.  I had a small freshly baked baguette or Croissant with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and Vietnamese coffee, yum.

The first day we went to the Citadel, located across the Perfume River from our hotel, the walled Imperial City filled with ornate temples and buildings. It was Vietnam's capital from 1804 until 1945 and the home of Vietnamese Royalty. Instead of walking all the way down to one of the bridges to cross the river, we paid $2.00 and rode an ornately painted “dragon boat” operated by a man and his wife.

Image from
In February 1968, Hue was attacked by ten battalions of North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong. American forces along with South Vietnamese units battled it out in the city for 25 days. The last stronghold of the enemy was the Citadel. In order to root out the enemy, we bombed it, destroying many of the structures. I was in Vietnam at the time and one of our interpreters had taken some time off to visit his family in Hue for the New Year’s celebration. He survived the month long fighting and returned to our unit and told us all about it.

The day was extremely hot when we wandered around the palace grounds. We carried bottled water and had rags to wipe away the sweat.  There were a few signs that mentioned the war and the battle of 1968, but without the negative tone against the “American aggressors”. There was still much evidence of the battle from almost 50 years before, destroyed buildings and walls, bullet holes in the bricks and deep holes in the ground. I tried to imagine my fellow soldiers fighting the enemy in and around these historic buildings.

After an hour or so of taking in the many beautiful ornate buildings, they became rather redundant. We read about the royal family and looked at many pictures. They seemed rich, spoiled and out of touch with the rest of the people in their country. They enjoyed gluttonous meals consisting of hard to get or hard to prepare foods and they used eunuchs (castrated boys) as personal servants. The men in power had many wives as well as many concubines.

The next day we hired a cab driver to take us to a restored primitive village with an historic old bridge. The expansive countryside around Hue was beautiful, green and lush. The cab driver told us he was a journalist and worked for one of the local papers. As Katie and I traveled the country, we were disheartened by all the trash, plastic bags and bottles etc. scattered along the sides of the roads and floating in the waterways. In and around the cities the trash problem was the worst, less so out in the country. We asked the journalist/cab driver about it and he admitted that it was a big problem. He told us he had written an article about it and submitted it to his paper. “My editor asked me if I was willing to go to jail over it and I told him 'no, I didn’t want to go to jail'.” So his editor told him to drop it and write about something else.

Even though under Communist rule the Vietnamese people do not yet have all the freedoms of a democracy, in general, this young population seems happy and hopeful about their future.  In Hoi Ahn when the school kids rode past us on their bikes, invariably they would shout out a friendly “Hello”. One evening when we were strolling along the Perfume River in Hue, we were approached by a small group of young Vietnamese women. They were students at Hue University and asked us if we would mind talking with them so that they could practice their English. We sat on the river wall and talked for over an hour. They were excited about their future and wanted to learn all about the world. They did not seem the least bit worried about their country or the government and no topic was off limits. 

On the third morning we took a cab to the Hue airport, flew to Hanoi, then back to Singapore. We had spent fifteen days in Vietnam, and similar to my first time there in the sixties, I was both happy and sad to leave.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

PTSD Express

As we sat waiting with other passengers to load onto our bus from Hoi An to Hue, a Vietnamese man stood up and began yelling at us, “Come on, let’s go, get on the bus”, as if we weren’t paying attention or were late to arrive. We didn’t realize our bus was parked over to the side of where we were sitting. There were no signs or directions of any kind.  It was one of those sleeper buses that run up and down the few highways of Vietnam.

When you enter these buses, the bus driver hands you a plastic bag for your shoes. You are to place them in the bag and carry them back to your seat. The seats are like recliners, with an enclosed area for your legs. Within the enclosed area is (but not always) a blanket and small leather pillow. Above your midsection is a built in tray to hold snacks and drinks. There are three rows of seats and two levels, like bunk-beds. Katie and I had ridden this type of bus before and we chose the lower seats because they are easier to get in and out of, but are still difficult. The distance between the top seat and bottom seat is small and you have to slide in at an angle one foot at a time to get your legs into the leg area.

Everything in Vietnam seems to be made for small people. I had to buy an XXL tee shirt, which is the largest size at the souvenir stands, and I’m not a very big guy. One washing and this shirt will fit my twelve year old grandson perfectly.

A very tall young man entered the bus. The quick tempered purser directed him to a seat in the back. I watched this lanky northern European tourist attempt to maneuver his long legs into the leg compartment. He couldn’t do it. One of the other passengers who had witnessed his frustrated attempts, directed him to a seat up front where there was no leg compartment. The bus driver and purser had exited the bus and were attempting to cram a motor scooter sideways into the luggage compartment. The relieved young man sank into the open fronted seat with a sigh of relief.

When the cranky purser came back on the bus and saw the man sitting in the front seat, he yelled and frantically gestured, “You go in back.”

“I’m too tall,” he replied, “I don’t fit.”

But the purser kept yelling and gesturing for him to move. This went on for a while, each man repeating the same thing. Finally the tourist said, “You are not listening, I don’t fit.”

The purser got off the bus and talked with the bus driver who immediately came on the bus and began yelling at the man, “You go in back.” But the tourist wouldn’t budge saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”

The bus driver was beside himself. He totally lost his temper and began shouting at the guy to move. The tourist just kept saying, “I’m not moving”. Some of the other passengers tried to explain the situation, but he didn’t understand or wasn’t listening. The driver grabbed the keys, turned off the bus engine, pushed the purser toward the door and they both exited the bus. He slammed the door shut, locking us all in. He sat down on a plastic chair just outside the bus, in defiance.  

It was a standoff between the Scandinavian tourist and the bus driver and the rest of us were unwitting victims of the situation. It was a hot, humid day. The inside of the bus was heating up and it was becoming stuffy. After a few minutes, a passenger needing to use the bathroom, began pounding on the bus door, but the Driver and Purser paid no attention.  I was feeling panicky, a familiar feeling that had visited me from time to time since last being in Vietnam. My heart was racing and I felt claustrophobic. How are we going to get out of here? I imagined myself kicking out a window. I knew the bus driver could not kill all his passengers, that wouldn’t be good for business. But I wasn’t thinking rationally, so I focused on my breath, deep breath in, deep breath out, to help me calm down. The other passengers were now beginning to talk to each other about the situation.

In January 1968, I was awakened in the middle of the night by one of my hooch-mates. “Yeager, get up! We’re being attacked.” The five of us in the hooch all scrambled to pull on our pants and boots. We were used to the sound of explosions in the night, but these were getting closer and there was a strange new noise. It sounded like the whistling bottle rockets we set off on the 4th of July, only bigger and more ominous.  I grabbed my rifle and steel pot. The other guys were huddled at the screen door, looking across the dirt road to the bunker on the other side. Tracer bullets filled the space in between. We didn’t know who was shooting at whom, but the explosions were getting louder and we needed to get our butts over to the bunker, post haste.

Looking over the damage after Tet offensive

One of the guys said, “We’re gonna have to run for it,” and he took off across the road for the bunker. Another guy went and another until it was my turn. I waited for a break in the tracer bullet action and took off. At the entrance to the bunker someone grabbed me and pulled me in. We all made it and spent the rest of the night hunkered down in the bunker, listening to the explosions and hoping we were not being overrun by the enemy.  I kept thinking about how easy it would be for someone to lob a grenade or satchel charge into the bunker and kill us all. We sat huddled in that humid smelly bunker until daylight, not knowing what was going on or what would be the outcome.

This hooch took a direct hit from a rocket
This was one of many experiences I had the last time I was in Vietnam and it seemed to be fueling my current anxiety on the bus. I looked out the bus window at the Bus Driver and he was talking on his cell phone. He hung up and shortly after that a man showed up on a motorbike, apparently the bus company supervisor. He got the keys from the driver and unlocked the bus door. The passenger who had been beating on the door, ran off to the bathroom and the man climbed on the bus and stood in front of the tall tourist.
“You need to go to a seat in the back.” And in broken English he tried to explain why. But the tourist didn’t want to hear his explanations and kept saying.

“OK, I’ll go in back, but you just shush.”

The man continued to explain and the tourist kept saying, “You shush,” but then went to the back and into a seat, with his knees up in his face. The Supervisor left on his motorbike and the Bus Driver and Purser came back on the bus. Now the Driver was late on his run and his frustration and anger were not abated. He started the bus engine, slammed it in gear and stepped on it. I think he was trying to peel out or pop a wheelie, but the bus just shuddered, before starting forward.

 It was a wild ride to Hue. The driver tailgated every car and bullied every motor scooter to the side of the road, all the while laying on the horn. When we finally got to Hue we were all relieved. A woman passenger with a Spanish accent told the bus driver off before exiting the bus. She told him he was a menace on the road and one day he was going to kill someone. A few of the other passengers clapped. Katie and I got off the bus and walked around the parking lot a few times just to get our bearings.