Thursday, December 17, 2009

I REMEMBER...working for UHAUL

..working for UHAUL company and living in San Francisco, CA. and was the general manager of one of the largest truck rental centers on the west coast. The rental center was in the converted Planter's Peanut factory on Bayshore Blvd. It was one of the largest storage facilities in Northern California. There was a small one bedroom apartment for the manager above the front entrance. See the three windows - that was my living room. When my oldest son, Ian was born, the district manager had some of the storage units removed and added a second bedroom. Very cool. He learned to walk and drive his little walker up and down the hallways of the storage units on the second floor.

All in all, it was one of the best ways to live in San Francisco. The "commute" was riding the freight elevator down to the bottom floor. The view unfortunately was the Bayshore Fwy (Hwy 101). My vehicle was provided and all insurance and gas was paid for. The apartment was also provided for and so was health and life insurance. When Ian was born, all expenses were paid. I was required to wear a uniform daily and it was provided (kind of like being in the military). My paycheck was spent on food and dining out. There are an endless number of restaurants in San Francisco, so that you could dine out every night and you could never live long enough to visit them all.

Some of the U-HAUL stores had been robbed and I was fortunate enough to not have that experience. The closest I ever got to being robbed was one Sunday in August. I was working the store alone. Two rough looking guys came into the store wearing full length leather jackets - the cowboy kind that went all the way down to the floor. Did I mention it was August? It was hot and muggy and when I saw these guys come in, it popped into my mind they were hiding guns and were going to rob me. You just didn't dress that way to go rent a truck. Thank God for an imaginative mind and a backlog of police movies I had watched.

Just as these two characters walked up to the counter, I walked over to the mirrored glass behind the counter and knocked on the mirror and announced loudly. "Hey Larry, I just called the cops to come pick up those shotgun shells we found in storage. They should be here any minute".

There was no "Larry".
There were no shotgun shells.
There were no cops on the way.
In fact, I was the only one in the building, except for my family upstairs.

My prospective clients in the long leather coats turned and left, never saying a word. So, fortunately, I didn't have to find out the hard way why they were there that day. They probably just had overdue parking tickets and didn't want to risk the confrontation with the fictitious pending officers of the law. I had seen an episode of "Sky King" (early 50's TV show about a rancher that always caught the bad guys using his airplane "somehow". He also could "throw his voice" (ha) that would make the bad guys think there was someone outside. That was my inspiration for my "fool the bad guys" trick.

The only other time I had an inkling I was to be robbed was when I was a "manager in training" for U-HAUL at a smaller store in Redwood City in the early 1980's. I was working late one night, closing up the store by myself, when two bad looking dudes knocked on the glass door after we were closed, wanting me to open back up and let them turn a trailer in. There was no way I was going to do that and when they started cursing me, that clinched it...they were not going to be let in. I told them to come back the next day (when there was a full staff around). The next day dawns and I see them pull up in front of the store about 10am. I left the counter area and hid in the shadows of a box display, hoping they wouldn't recognize me. They finish their business, complaining about the guy who wouldn't let them check in the previous night, and left. The guy that waited on them comes running over and says, "Wow, did you see those championship rings? Those guys are with the World Champion San Francisco Niners. That was Eric Wright and Keena Turner". Can you say Pro Bowl / NFL Champions?

So, I guess I have a 50% success rate in recognizing bad guys.

"The Catch" 1982 Super Bowl bound San Francisco 49ers 58 sec. left on the clock..

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I REMEMBER...the palm reader & the 3 accidents

....having my palm read when I was in college and how it turned out. But first, let's back up a bit.

I was a pretty good wrestler when I was in college. [Trust me, there is a segue here]. As a result I was fortunate enough to get a "deal" when I went to college. Chico State College in 1965 did not have wrestling scholarships, but I got the next best thing. I got pre-admitted to all the classes I wanted [just gave the coach your class list and it was a done deal]. I got two classes with an automatic "A" Health (taught by the coach) and communications (I was a DJ at the KCSC college radio station] to help keep my grade point up to be eligible for sports. I also got a much sought after job [working at the cafeteria at the college dorms]. This is when the ratio of girls to guys was a bonus, I got paid, too.

So, [here comes the segue], I worked the cafeteria line serving up vegetables and the student that worked next to me was from China. Her parents were fortune tellers and palm readers. She believed in it so much, she refused to "read palms" for her friends, because she didn't want to see what was in store for them and tell them bad news. Anyway, I finally got her to read my palm after I convinced her that I wouldn't take it seriously.

After she looked at my palm, she got quiet and said she changed her mind. With much cajoling, she finally told me what she "saw". First, I would be wealthy in friends, but not in money (at the time it seemed I got a raw deal), but friends and family "appreciate" at a far better rate than dollars over the years, so (if you believe in fortune telling), it worked out OK.

The other, more serious view, was my palm’s "Life Line". Mine has a major break in it, early on in the line and then the second part goes off the side of my hand. Her comment was that there would be a major incident early in my life (remember, this is 1965 and I was 18) and I might not live through it. But, if I did, I would live a long, full life, with enough money to get along, but rich in friends and family.

I didn't think about it until the summer after my senior year. The "Bad News" comes in threes was the catchword for my "interesting break in my life line". In June, some friends (2 guys & 3 girls) and I went for a drive up to Feather River Canyon in my buddy's newly purchased old beater pick-up truck. The girls were in the back and the guys were in the cab. No seat-belts. Coming back down the steep and winding grade, I got the "shotgun" rider's bird’s eye view of the 500' drop off on my side of the cab. As I was sucking up my breath, due to the speed with which we were taking the curves...I heard these comforting words: "S---t, the brakes are out - what should I do"? As we only had two choices, hit the side of the mountain or go over the cliff, we made an extremely hasty unanimous decision to swerve across the oncoming lane on a curve we knew we couldn't make and hit the side of the mountain. Without much discussion, we figured our chances were better with a crash than a lead airplane drop off the side of the mountain.

Oddly, we didn't crash [note: I am writing this tome some 40 some odd years later, so I didn't die, nor did anyone else], but rather, we went up the side of the hill like a motorcycle jump and into the woods on the other side. That newly purchased truck was like a rocket ship out of control. We landed in a dry stream bed, and with all the wheels and both axles gone, gravity had us follow the stream bed like a little slot car.

The driver was still trying to steer, which, looking back on it, was pretty funny as there were no wheels. Note: the three girls were thrown out of the back when we shot up the hill slope. Although bruised and scared, they were alright. Those of us in the cab were OK. The truck died and is probably still there.

The next month, July, I went to visit a former college roommate in San Jose. He wanted to take me for a ride in his parent's new Camaro before they all left on vacation the next day. Full moon, nice night, he cruised up into the hills for a winding road test of the hot sports car. Still reeling from the accident the previous month, I asked many times for him to slow down and cool it. After the car squealed around yet another sharp turn up in the mountains, I undid my seat belt and started to climb over the front seat into the safety of the back seat. That was the moment that Mike couldn't make the next curve and rolled the Camaro over the cliff. I thought surely I had died and moved on to the afterlife. It was a very surreal scene. The engine was running, emitting a high pitched whine. The inside of the car was full of a smoky dirt cloud with just the light of the full moon shining in. Everything was oddly different, as my former roommate was hanging upside down, suspended by his seat belt. The headlights shone out into a dark night right towards the full moon. We were slowly swaying back and forth. It was creepy. Slowly, I figured it out. We had rolled over the cliff and had landed upside down in a tree growing out of the side of the mountain. My friend undid his seat belt and landed on his head. I laughed. We carefully climbed out of the car window and up the side of the mountain through the bushes, to the road. It was very weird looking down on the moonlit undercarriage of the Camaro, engine running, lights shining out into nothingness, with a 300 foot drop under it. That tree was the only one on the side of the mountain and we had landed right in the middle. This was BCP (before cell phones) so we hiked down the road to the nearest house and my former roommate called his parents to get a tow truck and come get us. Mike’s parents arrived at the same time as the tow truck. Mike’s dad only said “Where’s the other car”? Mike told him there was no other car and I don’t think I heard his dad speak again. When the tow truck got there, he refused to hook it up because he feared if the car fell out of the tree; it would drag him and his tow truck off the cliff. So they had to call another tow truck and use both at the same time to get the Camaro up to the road. Needless to say, Mike and his family didn’t leave on their vacation in their new car the next day. Mike didn’t come back to college that September either.

Two bits of irony followed. The car was totaled except for the driver’s side which looked like it was in show room condition. When the tow truck pulled away back to San Jose, the Camaro came loose from the chains and swerved over to the opposite side of the road and scraped everything off the formerly pristine side, mirrors, door handles, paint, etc. Also, Mike and I, other than a few bruises were unscathed…except for two days later when we found out the hard way that the hillside we climbed up in the dark was covered in poison oak.

That was two. The trifecta was completed (thankfully) the next month, where once again I was a passenger in someone’s car. A friend from college and I had gone to Tahoe to apply for jobs at the ski resort for the next winter season. After a long day playing at the lake, we were driving back to Lodi late one Saturday night. There was a Y in the road coming up and we had to be in the left side of Y. The driver thought she was over too far to the right and moved over one more lane to the left. It was dark and it appeared as if we were just about the only ones on the freeway. Just as we noticed the highway divider chain link fence appear out the passenger side window (meaning we were in the oncoming lane on the wrong side of the freeway) we also noticed the oncoming traffic, three abreast, taking up all the lanes coming right at us. This is all happening at 60 miles an hour in opposing directions. Instinctively, I uttered some situation-appropriate, adults-only, words and raised my arms up over my face. The driver instinctively pulled a hard right, even though the chain-link fence was there. Fortunately, the sixty miles an hour, two-ton Cadillac swerved to the left just as it kissed off our tiny tin-can Volkswagen Bug. It was like throwing a small flat rock at the right angle and at the right speed to skip along the surface of a huge lake, defying gravity and impact. The Volkswagen was destroyed. About 30 yards of highway divider chain link fence never lived to see the dawn. Cheryl went to the hospital with a broken rib and a lacerated liver (seatbelt). Once again, I walked away. I suffered a fractured finger and a gazillion tiny cuts from the implosion of the windshield over my head.

I figured I had survived the odd break in my palm “Lifeline”. Three months. Three major accidents. No one should have lived through any of them. Only the vehicles died. Bob, the passenger, walked.

Fast forward thirty years. I meet Lise and early on we took some picnics, trips and adventures. One day she says, “You always drive. Why don’t you let me drive and you be the passenger.” I couldn’t do it. I never was the passenger again after that summer. If I couldn’t drive, I didn’t go. I have since relaxed with it a bit, especially if I can fall immediately to sleep but mostly. I drive. Note: back in the day, before seat belts and before seat belt laws, the passenger seat was often referred to as the Suicide Seat (the act of doing something that seems contrary to your own best interests and seems likely to lead to a disaster).

Drive My Car - Beatles

Monday, December 14, 2009

I REMEMBER...marbles & tops

.........MARBLES & TOPS. I have been struggling of late to not get left too far behind in the social networking/technology era.

Ah, the simpler days of yore when I was consumed with the desire to only master the playground skills involving marbles and tops.

I did pretty well at that game and soon became the king of the blacktop at lunch time. As I recall (which is a task in itself...but since this is my blog, I will naturally assume I am correct in my remembrances), the initial game was just one of skill and luck. The tops were about the size of a large lemon, wrapped in string and spun with a flick of the wrist. We would draw a circle on the black top with chalk and the game was to throw your top and have it land in the circle and stay there without wandering off, or to draw an X on the ground (blacktop or cement) and try to hit the X.

Somewhere, in probably the first grade (about 1953) someone must have gotten anxious to throw their top into the circle and succeeded in bumping the first top out. OKLAHOMA SCHOOL YARD TOP WARS was created. The next evolution was when the steel point of someone's top hit the other top and took a chuck out of it (it was wood after all). My Top Reputation was made when my top hit the competitor's top dead center of the top's top and split it right down the middle. There was a hush and reverence for what everyone had just witnessed. I was Michael Jordon...except for my era I was Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth rolled into one. I had done the impossible (quite accidentally, but I took it). The blacktop boys spread my fame, far and wide (all the way to the third graders, as I recall). All the top guys revered me (except for the kid whose top I split - who never spoke to me again). It was fabulous...except for one down side. No one would play tops with me anymore. Sometimes you lose when you win. However, with only a slight nod to the obvious was good to go out on top.

I also had awesome skills with marbles (not so much with baseball, football, basketball ...there was no such thing as soccer in 1950's Oklahoma). The goal of the game was to knock your opponent's marble out of the circle (and you got to keep it). Soon, I had a sizable empire of marbles and had a difficult time finding an opponent, as I had taken most of their marbles. The Heavens have an uncanny way of evening up lopsided situations, however. My downfall was that there was an unfairly strict rule about having your marbles out during class time. I dropped my pencil one day and as I reached down to pick it up, the unthinkable happened. My marble dynasty was over in an instant as my year's winners swag of marbles spilled out of my coat and covered the classroom floor as Miss (Evil to the Core) Billingsly, stepping around the few hundred marbles scattered before her, gingerly approached my desk, snapping that old wood ruler into the palm of her hand. I can see it as clearly as if it was yesterday (which is interesting, as I can't remember much that happened last week- which I guess only proves that you can always recall the true turning points of your life). The inflexible rule was that you forfeited ALL your marbles to the principal for the rest of the year if they hit the floor. I went from 1st Grade Marble King to Marble Pauper in an instant. My lasting memory is of all my classmate slain opponents grinning from ear to ear as I had to pick up my treasured marbles and deliver them to the principal's office.

Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting an angry bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.-- Shari R. Barr

You Can't Always Get What You Want. But If You Try Some Time, You Just Might Find, You Get What You Need....Mick Jagger