The train ride to Oakland is uneventful...just the way I like it. Dave and Bernie on my mind...both now dead. I simply can not believe it...and me, on the way to fight in a war on the other side of the world. Dad bawling at the train station... also on my mind. I simply can not believe he was bawling; I'm the one off to war; and what did he do when I really wanted to talk to him that night he hauled me into Idaho; he hands me five dollars and says, ... and don't come home.
I take the military bus from the railroad station to the embarkation center on Mare Island...a Navy Base in the middle of San Francisco Bay...the Bay Bridge soaring overhead.
Your a week early, the navy guy says as I hand him my orders. Since your here, we'll give you some chores to do. He assigns me to a barracks...report to the Mess Hall in the morning for your work assignment. The next five days, I clean tables, clean floors, scrub pots, peel potatoes, and clean some more. I then receive an overnight pass to go into San Francisco.
I catch the military bus to the Embarcadero, get off, and start walking. Never seen San Francisco before; follow the waterfront out toward the Golden Gate Bridge, ending up in Fisherman's Wharf. Now, I come from a fisherman's family - Mother telling me how, at 6 months, I was taken salmon fishing in a rowboat out of Des Moines, lying in an apple box in the bottom of the boat -, but never had I seen so many fishing boats and seafood of all sorts on display. Bought a plate of fish chips and coke...Yummm.
Continuing my walk, I end up in the center of San Francisco. The Mark Hopkins Hotel is standing alongside dozens of the tallest buildings I have ever seen. I walk into the Mark, take the elevator to the Top Of The Mark where I can see the entire San Francisco Bay. Coming back to the street, I walk the few blocks to California Street where I hop on a street car, not knowing where it is going, but determined to ride it to the end of the line. The street car stops in a residential district in South San Francisco. I get out and continue walking. Up and down many streets lined with neat white stucco homes, I come across an Ice Rink. I walk in and watch as dozens of skaters go round and round the rink. Out in the middle of the rink are a few skaters jumping and spinning. A man walks to me...you skate? No, but it looks fun. If you like, skating is on the house today for service men - I was in my dress blue class A uniform -. Sure, why not. I follow the man to a room, walls lined with ice skates...what size? Size 10...he hands me a pair of black boot skates.
I sit on the bench and put on the skates. Takes a half dozen tries before I can take a couple steps without losing my balance. Finally, I reach the gate in the wall surrounding the ice rink and gingerly step onto the ice...and promptly fall on my tush. Turning onto my knees, I pull myself up. Holding onto the waist high wall, I venture around the rink, one hand on the wall to keep from falling again. Half way around, I let go of the wall and dare to let the skates slide along the ice. Returning to my starting point, I'm starting to get the hang of it...at least I haven't fallen again. I start around again, fingers sliding along the wall just in case. A hand slides under my left elbow. I look down into dazzling brown eyes...owned by a smiling girl in a tiny white skating dress and white ice skates.
You look like you might like some help, as she takes my left hand and pulls me away from the wall. Too stunned to say anything, I let her lead me around the rink, trying to pretend it really isn't ice. At the end of my second circuit, I actually "walk" in step with her. My name is Patricia...I saw you come onto the ice. This your first time? Yes. Would you like to skate with me for a while? Yes. What is your name? Bruce.
The next half hour, Patricia and I skate hand in hand...my thoughts on her hand in mine...not even aware there is ice under my skates. Come on, I want you to meet my folks, as Patricia pushes open the gate. She leads me to a row of seats where an audience is sitting watching the skaters. Mom...Dad..., this is Bruce. Mom and Dad are standing smiling at me. Still holding Patricia's hand, I shake hands; glad to meet you. You are doing pretty good out there; I blush, look at Patricia who is beaming up at me...she must be all of 13...because of Patricia, I say, as she squeezes my hand again.
We live close by...would you like to walk home and have dinner with us? (Would I???). Yes, I really would...I get another hand squeeze... I silently thank my Wichita Falls dance teachers for introducing me to some social graces.
Dad chats with me as Patricia helps her Mom prepare dinner. By the time dinner is over, I learn that Patricia is determined to join the Ice Follies, and I tell them what it is like growing up on the stump ranch. Mom, Dad, and Patricia, promising to write me when I get to Korea, walk me back to the street car.
It's dark when I step off the street car. There is a military bus standing nearby with the sign: MARE ISLAND. I have no desire to walk the streets of San Francisco...finding a place to sleep never occurs to me. I hop on the bus. I spend the rest of the week washing more pots and pans...my mind on Patricia in her white outfit holding my hand nearly all evening. Not once did I think of Kennewick. It was difficult to hold back the tears...tears for ME...maybe...just maybe, I'm not such a criminal.
I do not get to see the Golden Gate Bridge as our ship heads out into the Pacific Ocean. Barely 6 months ago, I was taking photographs of Sam in her cap and gown, she, standing (me, unbelieving) in our living room on graduation day. Korea, fighter jets, bombs, and bullets wait, only two weeks away.
* * * * * *
One o'clock on this sunny Bellingham afternoon, MPV is having it's transmission changed out. Arriving back at my apartment in the Senior Assistance Housing building on Sunset Highway, Cathy, the manager asks...when are you moving your trailer...hopefully this afternoon, Mam.
I check my cell phone...I check my e-mail; nope, no messages from potential employers.
Down to three cans of baked beans, two packages of macaroni and cheese, and one frozen pizza; no chance of a bite at Appleby's. Only one more week until my Social Security $$ arrives.