The Big Road Trip and surviving the first year in Washington

I was fresh out of the Army in the winter of 1981, and staying for a while at my parents’ home in Ohio.  I still had a case of wanderlust after traveling the world and resolved to leave Ohio and head back out to Washington State. I had served out there from 1977-1979 at Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma, and had often regaled my buddy Rick with many stories of climbing and skiing the beautiful mountains, hiking in the massive old growth forests, fishing the clear clean rivers, the power of the Pacific Ocean, beauty of Puget Sound and the open desert country on the east of the mountains.  

It was where I had decided I wanted to live and play, and Rick was all in.  By April of 1982, Rick and I had both received our paltry tax refunds to serve as grubstakes and we were keen to hit the road to Washington.  I loaded my ’65 Plymouth Valiant and Rick and his girlfriend Bonnie loaded his fairly new (compared to mine) Datsun Kingcab pickup. 

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My $600 special…of course, mine was 17 years old.
Rick and his rig

They were packed full of all of our worldly possessions and high hopes of an adventurous life out west. Waving goodbye to our tearful mothers and families, we excitedly headed off.  

The three of us spent over a month on the road, doing the classic cross-country road trip.  My poor overloaded car (I had removed the back seat in order to haul more crap, including very heavy books) started overheating immediately upon getting on the highway in Ohio.  We limped along through Indiana, stopping at almost every other rest stop to refill my radiator.  It was not an auspicious start to a cross-country journey of several thousand miles.

We eventually made it across Illinois to Rick’s grandmother’s house in Alton, along the banks of the mighty Mississippi.  Having a place to relax a bit, I tried get to the bottom of my overheating Valiant situation. 

His grandma was a character…she would have us get the burn barrel going out in the field and continue bringing items out one by one. I swear she was pulling Kleenex out just to watch them burn. She had several dogs, a chihuahua she allowed in the house, and a small herd of mongrels that ran around in the yard.  They would commence to barking for one reason or another and she would light a firecracker and toss it out the door to hush them up.

She fed us with homemade cooking and let us spend a few nights with her.  I quite enjoyed our conversations…she did like to talk.  I see where Rick got it from.

But the Plymouth was still a problem. I dug in my trunk for my trusty old Motor’s Auto Manual, going through every possible solution they listed troubleshooting overheating engines.  I literally tried everything in the book. New thermostat, radiator flush, replaced the hoses and on and on.  I eventually took it to a local Alton mechanic that recommended replacing the radiator. I bought a used one at a junk yard and got back to work installing it.  

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My test drive route after each attempted “fix” was to drive from Rick’s grandma’s house, past the famous Piasa Bird pictograph (why it’s famous I have no idea, but Rick went on and on about it), and finally down along the Mississippi River along Great River Road and continuing up to the “Our Lady of the Rivers Shrine”. 

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This shrine became the “Holy Mother of Overheating Cars” to me, as no matter what I did the car would start heating-up about the time I got there, forcing a turn around.  I can’t tell you how many times I drove that route over the several days we were there. 

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Exhausting all the trouble shooting steps in the Motor’s manual, our plan became to simply drive only at night, during cooler temps.  Waving goodbye to Rick’s grandma as she threw another firecracker to quiet the barking dogs by scaring the shit out of them, we hit the road again. 

It was quite the experience trying to stay awake driving all night.  Rick had Bonnie to help him, but I resorted to screaming songs at the top of my lungs and sticking my head out the window.  There seemed to be an overabundance of country stations in the Midwest.

Cell phones were nonexistent back then, so walkie-talkies would have been nice, but we developed a workable signal code with headlight flashes and turn signals when someone needed gas, to stretch or a potty break.  

On our way in earnest once again, we stopped at any and all places of interest along the way.  These included all National Parks and monuments as well as tourist traps like the Corn Palace and Wall Drug.  

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We worked our way quickly through the flatlands of Nebraska and Iowa, spent more time in the Badlands of the Dakotas and mountains of Wyoming, winding up at Yellowstone Park, which was still covered by late winter conditions with ample snow on many of the roads.  There are a number of individual tales along the way that I will break out in the future.

Leaving the Grand Tetons, we were weary of living on the road… tired of eating pork and beans with generic white boxes of mac and cheese and doing laundry at out of the way dive laundromats. 

We decided to power our way through to Washington and drove north on the side roads up to I-90 in Montana.  We wound up in a late season blizzard as we crossed the continental divide.  It was a total white-out blizzard and we ended up following closely behind the bumpers of the only other folks crazy enough to still be on the road…long haul truckers. 

We tucked in behind a convoy, barely able to keep their tail lights in view in the driving snow.  Somehow, we were able to keep moving until we hit the WA state line and drove straight thru the dry desert side of the state to the rain forests of Mt Rainier…the promised land!

We spent a few days poking around there and as it started growing crowded leading up to the Memorial Day weekend, we headed off to Tacoma.  Unfortunately, my Valiant decided it had gone far enough by making it to Rainier…heading up one of the passes, it finally gave up the ghost.  I found out later that the oil pump had failed, and the engine was seized. Best $600 I ever spent.

Not to be denied, I broke out my least favored climbing rope and tied it to the bumper of Rick’s Datsun. Any climbers will note that this was a poor choice, since a climbing rope is meant to stretch excessively to help reduce the force of a fall, but it was all we had.  

Stretching and snapping the rope many, many times, we somehow made it to Tacoma with Rick pulling me around the mountain curves like a water skier in tow.  He had a shell on the back of his truck that I couldn’t see past, so I would creep out into the oncoming lane to see what was ahead and dash back over for on-coming traffic.  Some exciting moments, broken up by the constant repairing of the tow line.

We pulled into A+ Auto Repair…it was the first one in the phone book on Pacific Highway.  Being Memorial Day weekend, I just left it there to talk to the owner on Tuesday. 

We then went down the road a few blocks to find the Calico Cat Motel.  It was a seedy looking dive, but in our price range.  It had a locked-off kitchen suite so we picked the lock so we could cook our Mac and cheese in style. It was eventually closed down in 2016 after a murder happened there and all the rooms test positive for meth. Yeah, that kind of joint.

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The flea-bag motel…

While at the Calico Cat, Rick and I decided to ride our bikes down to Pt Defiance, a local park right on Puget Sound. I had some survival vest water bags which we filled with the cheapest Lambrusco we could find. We made it out to the pier and continued sipping our wine on the hot day and then headed back. On the way up the long hill, heat took its toll on Rick and he hurled Lambrusco over the rail onto the traffic on I-5. But that didn’t stop us from stopping at an air conditioned bar at the top of the hill and having a nice cold pitcher of beer to cool down before going back to the motel.

An Army buddy of mine, Ed, who had been a crew chief on a Huey, had lived in a trailer park in Olympia before I left.  We decided to drive down to Olympia and take a look to see if he was still there…he had married a local woman, Teresa, and even though it was three years later I thought there was a chance they might still be there, as he had gotten out of the Army around the same time that I left Ft Lewis for Korea. I had not seen, or even heard from him, since I left Ft Lewis and Washington in July of 1979.  

As we pulled into the shabby looking trailer court, Rick and Bonnie expressed some misgivings, but we continued on in.  The court was called “North End Manor”, a deceptive name if there ever was one.

As it was told to me, the place had been the site of a long-gone road house along the old main highway, now overshadowed by nearby I-5.  This trailer court was bulldozed at least 25 years ago and is now where a Costco gas station is.  I refuse to buy gas there as it is probably cursed with bad juju. 

What did remain at the “Manor” were the single room cabins closer to the road that had served as flop-houses behind the main road house.  These were for the working ladies catering to lonely loggers and truckers.  These were now rather dilapidated and the trailer park, equally or even more dilapidated, had sprung up behind them.  In Ohio, the place would have been prime tornado food.  

I spied the old trailer where I had partied with Ed and company many times when I was in the Army, so I knocked on the door and sure enough, his wife Teresa answered.  I was looking pretty scruffy after being out of the service over 6 months…and had let my beard and hair grow out as many do upon exiting the service.  I really didn’t expect her to remember me without an explanation.

She looked at my face and screamed “Profitt!  I remember those eyes in that hairy-ass face!  She was as extroverted as her hubby Ed was introverted.  We explained we had just gotten into town from our long journey from Ohio and were looking for a cheap place to live as neither Rick or I had a job yet.  We were existing on our tax returns and what little savings we had.

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It was a hairy-ass face.  Les in the den of iniquity trailer with what remained of the tow rope.

She immediately said she could get us set-up in the trailer court, no problem,  and started rattling off all of the available mobile homes in the park.  She took us by the hand and practically ran us to the office building.  She grabbed keys for the available trailers, many of which might have been more properly condemned, and by the end of the day we had moved into a small two-bedroom trailer.  You couldn’t really call it a mobile home, because if anyone had tried to make it mobile and move it someplace else it would have surely self-destructed. 

The one we chose could at best be called rustic, but livable.  Rick and Bonnie claimed the larger bedroom in the back, and I threw my stuff into the 2nd bedroom…this was more like a small walk-in closet.  With a single bed in there I had maybe a foot of space between the bed and a tiny closet.  The kitchen had an ancient gas stove that always gave off the odor of escaping gas from the pilot light, lovely vintage orange carpeting with mushrooms growing in a corner and a pocket door on the bathroom that gave everyone fits until you learned how to jiggle it around to open and close it.  Home!

Looking toward the kitchen of the trailer
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You can see our beer recycle pile in the corner, Rainer and generic Beer beer. We knew we could get a case of the cheap stuff when it was as tall as us.

We drove back to Tacoma and grabbed all my stuff from my car.  The garage owner had told me whatever the mechanical problem was, just don’t abandon the car here as he had dealt with that too many times.  When I called and found out the prognosis was that the car was DOA, I still had every intention of retrieving it…but it eventually was abandoned with the lack of money and distance to Tacoma. 

It is one of the few actual regrets I carry around, as I promised the guy and shook his hand that I wouldn’t leave it there, even though he probably made a few bucks junking it after the headache of going through the title issues.  OK, maybe I regret leaving my old Army Nomex flight suit and sturdy motor pool coveralls in the trunk the most.

Ensconced in our luxury mobile home, we immediately began looking for work.  If you are young or have a poor memory, this was not a good time to be looking for a job.  Lasting from July 1981 to November 1982, an economic downturn triggered by the Iranian Revolution of 1979, had sparked a large round of oil price increases.  

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Trailer park looked best at night.

Tight monetary policies by the Federal Reserve, in an effort to tame inflation, had the effect of squashing any economic growth.  In fact, prior to the big 2007-09 recession, the 1981-82 recession under Reagan was the worst economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression.  But we were young and dumb, oblivious to politics and economic policies and determined to scratch out a life in our new home.

Rick dropped resumes off at all the hospitals and clinics from Olympia to Tacoma.   Without a car, I walked as far as I could to find anything close by.  Bonnie found work at a daycare. Not finding anything close, I started selling Fuller Brush products. 

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What I felt like every time I went out…

Going door to door with my brown vinyl-covered cardboard sample case, I handed out free combs to bored and lonely housewives and extolled the virtues of various cleaning products and magical housewares.  I still have a few of those blue combs I handed out to everyone that opened their door. 

Please buy something…anything!

Rick got a job within a few weeks at Memorial Clinic in Olympia, and with cheap rent we made it through the summer.  My Fuller Brush gig was really only making beer money, so when Ed said he was fed up with working as a laborer for an old well driller that lived in one of the old flop houses… Roy McGill.  

I jumped at the chance to make some real cash.  I went along with Ed when he told Roy he was quitting, but pointed to me as a healthy young buck to keep you in business.  Roy cursed Ed every which way, calling him a quitter, no account, lazy good for nothing and plenty of more choice words.  He calmed down a bit, looked me over and told me to be at his place at 6AM.  I tried to shake his hand and he shook his head and told me I would have to earn his handshake. Oh boy.

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Now, Roy was a cantankerous old roughneck and roustabout from the Oklahoma oil fields that had gotten too old and infirm to deal with the rough physical work on the oil rigs and so had created his own business in Olympia drilling water wells. 

Everything he owned was as old as he was and twice as beat up.  Off the job he was just a skinny, well behaved, soft-spoken Okie that liked to get his western duds on and go “belly-rubbin” with the ladies at the local country line-dance saloons. As I recall he had been married and divorced several times and now lived alone in his little shack.  

Drilling rig like Roy had…

He was extremely independent and I think he resented the fact that he actually needed a young hand to deal with the more physical tasks associated with drilling…and there were many.  Everything from the well pipe, and bags of bentonite to the drill bits was big and heavy.  

One benefit of working with Roy was that he liked to start the day by buying a hearty breakfast at one of the local greasy spoons on the way to the drill site. This was great, he joked and told stories like someone’s grandpa while we were eating, but as soon as you were on the clock, he became a demon from Irish folklore.

He looked like a drunken leprechaun with a hardhat but had quit drinking because his ulcers were eating him up.  He drank Milk of Magnesia like it was water and nibbled soda crackers all day long.

I knew absolutely nothing about drilling, and he was only too happy to tell me in extremely colorful language how stupid I was and that I “wouldn’t be a real driller until I lost some meat down the pipe”.  Roy, of course, was a “real driller” and was missing  a few fingers, with several more that had grafts of his “belly meat” on his thumbs and other fingers where he had lost bits and pieces. 

It was an almost daily occurrence to tell him he was bleeding all over everything, as he had lost all feeling in most of his fingers and constantly snagged and cut himself around the rig.  He would just cuss, wipe it on his overalls and wrap some tape around it.

If there had been at least one other person on the crew to commiserate with, it might have been very amusing, but being alone as the sole focus of all the constant berating, complaining and cussing for eight hours, I could see why Ed had quit.  

I was determined to get out of this job before I “lost any meat down the pipe” or got my head bashed in from an old man swinging big drill bits around.  

I had been ruminating over college, as I had put money away in the Army and the VA doubled it. I had purchased a fairly nice camera at the PX when I first got to Ft Lewis and over the years had thought about photography as a career.

I happened to walk past a booth at the Puyallup Fair late that summer and saw a brochure on a two-year course in Professional Photography that might be covered by my GI Bill.  I talked to a counselor there and he said that it was not too late to join the program even though it was a couple of weeks along.

I went to Roy and gave him the bad news…of course, I received the same verbal thrashing Roy had given Ed, but he soon had another guy from the trailer court going off to breakfast with him.  I would love to know what happened to that old guy.

The idea of doing only 2 years of study in a field I was deeply interested in appealed to me.  I went through all the steps to getting VA assistance started and signed up for the course.  I soon had monthly GI Bill money coming in for school so just needed a part time job.  

Ed happened to be taking an airframe course at the same school in Tacoma, so I had a ride back and forth to class every day.  Future, full speed ahead.

I showed up for my first class and was introduced to the rest of the class.  By now, the class had been going on long enough to form the various cliques and groups natural in any of these types of situations.  

There were first year students, who were studying the basics of black and white, such as composition, lighting and other technical tasks like film development and darkroom work. There were also the 2nd year students, that were going into color development and printing and advanced techniques. 

Our classroom that first year was in an old control tower building next to the airfield in the middle of the campus.  The school was constructing a fancy new building, but it wouldn’t be ready for a while, so the run-down old tower kind of matched my new trailer life.

There was already a pecking order… starting with the upper-class students of varying talent, descending down to the first-year students that had shown some natural ability with composition and technique. They all looked at me with a rather jaundiced eye as the newcomer, but there were a few that offered friendly encouragement and welcomes.  

Our text books were the Ansel Adams series, so we learned the Zone System from the master along with how to work all the crazy buttons and controls on 35mm, medium format and even 4×5 and 8×10 view cameras. I was in hog heaven. 

My first real camera, a Canon AE-1, had been a constant companion for several years in the Army and I had also done a bit of darkroom work as a hobby when I was in Korea, so I wasn’t totally lost.   But I had to catch up with the photo assignments that had already assigned, so I practically lived with my new Canon A-1.

I got to know a couple of guys that were commuting from Olympia as well, 1st year student Doug and 2nd year student Tim.  Doug had a sporty little Mazda rotary engine sports car we called the Mazdarati and Tim had a little blue Vega beater that he drove like a mad man.

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Doug and Les at Clover Park Tech Institute in 1982

We got to chatting and decided we would form a carpool to share gas money.  Over time, we became good friends driving to school every day and having lunch with each other.  

Doug and Les hamming it up in the studio…

Back on the home front, Bonnie had gotten back in touch with her religious roots with some folks where she worked and decided she either had to be married or move on. 

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Bonnie and Rick 1982

I distinctly remember her telling us we were reprobates and needed to change our ways or we were going to Hell.  We weren’t sure what a reprobate was, so we had to look it up in the dictionary, but after seeing what it meant…

Reprobate:

noun: a depraved, unprincipled, or wicked person: a drunken reprobate.  A person rejected by God and beyond hope of salvation.

adjective: morally depraved; unprincipled; bad.

…Rick and I decided we pretty much had to agree with her.  Her ultimatum on marriage fell on deaf ears and she soon moved out to more holy ground.  

The trailer park itself was a true den of iniquity.  While Ed and Teresa were fairly “normal”, there were some real characters in this place.  We got along well with everyone in the park, but it was pretty wild there. Among them were several young married GI families that barely made enough money to stay afloat.  

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Party time at the trailer. Cheap booze in large quantities.

One of the GI’s, while his wife worked at a nearby burger stand to bring in some extra cash, would go door to door selling off her macramé hangers, houseplants and anything else not nailed down in order to buy a six pack or parts to his beat-up hot rod.  They had a toddler, which he was allegedly responsible for when his wife was working. 

A favorite method of his baby sitting style was to put him in one of those round, walker things that looked like a bumper car and leave him to his own devices while he tinkered on his hot rod.  I saw that poor kid tumble out the door and down the stairs of their trailer on several occasions and wondered if he would have any brain cells left by the time he started school…not that there appeared to be much genetic material to work with from his parents.

This guy had an Army buddy named Dewey that looked like he was straight out of central casting for one of those horror movies where the kin folk lived way back in the holler and maybe had too many sister-mothers.  He chugged a whole bottle of Jack Daniels one night on a bet and promptly fell flat on his face and broke his nose.  Pretty much standard behavior for infantry. 

An older Indian couple were just as entertaining.  The guy would come around half-lit offering to “pawn” his shotgun for $5 so he could buy more beer.  He also would come around selling us those good old blocks of government free cheese…I think they were like 5 lbs boxes and he would get a bunch of them them and sell them around the court.  We ate a lot of government cheese. 

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Remember this stuff? Gov cheese

I also bought a small woven basket his wife made, which I still have, for the usual $5 “pawn” fee.

I still have the pawn ticket…

His wife once passed out in their station wagon in the middle of the park on some kind of binge.  I don’t know what she was on but it was a very hot day and Rick and I worried that she might get heatstroke, so we tried to move her into their trailer…she was a very large woman and was totally out of it. 

We couldn’t manage to move her out of the car, so we told their kids to get some blankets and sheets to put over the windows to give her some shade and wetted down some towels to keep her cool.  Her hubby was pretty fried and was little help. She survived to party another day.

Another wild character was a crazy redhead that lived 2 trailers down.  She seemed to have a new boyfriend every week and would get hammered, walk to the center of the park in the middle of the night and throw a hissy fit… screaming at the top of her lungs how unfair life was and what an asshole her current beau was. 

One time the sound of breaking windows and screaming was so bad Rick and I ran over to see if someone was being killed only to have her turn her wrath on us.  She apologized the next day when she was sober, but she was always a mess.

Some of my favorite stories are about the family that ran the trailer park.  This older couple had 2 sons, Steve and Danny, that lived there as well, one-on-one, either wasn’t too bad and we got along well with all of them.  When they were drinking and together, they would often get into crazy fights with each other.  Now, our trailer door was almost always wide open, and denizens of the court would stop by at all times of the day or night to shoot the shit or party. 

To be clear to everyone in the court…I put a baseball bat by the front door and declared to all that entered that our space was to be considered neutral like Switzerland…don’t start no shit and there won’t be no shit.  You make trouble and the bat will start cracking heads.  It worked pretty well.

Around Christmas time, one of the brothers, who always seemed to be doing 5 days here, 30 days there in the county lock-up for various transgressions, came around drunk with a Santa hat on giving everyone nicely wrapped presents.  It was a bit unusual to get anything from him, but hey, it was Christmas time, so we thanked him and dutifully waited to unwrap them for Christmas.  

When we opened them, the gifts made absolutely no sense at all.  There were things like dolls and toys and socks for tiny little feet…come to find out, He had jumped the fence at the back of the trailer park and had broken into a house that bordered the park…and stolen the family’s entire pile of Christmas gifts, just like the Grinch in Whoville. 

He had no idea what was even in the wrapped packages when he passed them out. Of course, it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to determine who the perpetrator was since he had handed out these odd-ball gifts to half the trailer park, and he was soon back in lock-up.

Another time some kids went to this same guy with their cat that had been hit by a car…he decided the cat was not going to make it and the best path was to put the poor kitty out of his misery.  He got a ball peen hammer and knocked it on the head and then took the kids down to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, down the road a few miles, to bury it and give it a funeral.  

All was well until the cat showed up a few days later, looking like Bill the Cat on a bad day, all covered with blood and dirt and missing an eye. The poor thing had dug itself out of the grave, crawled all the way up the Nisqually hill…a 2-3 mile trip…back to the trailer court and home.  A responsible adult took the sad looking kitty to the vet… the poor cat recovered as best he could, but always limped after that and was blind in one eye.

At some point, we discovered that Rick’s cousin Roxanne was living nearby with her husband who was stationed at Ft. Lewis.  They became regular visitors to our humble party abode, along with some of their friends and I have many fond memories of good times that year.

As photography school progressed, I would often have to do a photography assignment and bring a bunch of equipment home to do what Rick began calling “Studio Trailer”.  

We moved everything out of the living room and set up strobes, backgrounds, light stands, and tripods to shoot all kinds of stuff.  One assignment was to do a classic Rembrandt lighting portrait, so I put Rick in a 3-piece suit that I had custom made in Korea. 

I was taller and larger than he was, so I used clothes pins and tape to make it fit, but it still received the lowest score I ever got…everyone said he looked like a holier-than-thou televangelist as he was looking up to heaven.  Rick vowed to never again be one of my subjects…of course, hanging out with me that vow was quickly broken whether he wanted to participate or not.

Roxanne had her turn as well…I needed to do a high-key portrait, so she wore her white duds from work…this one received good marks and Rick was sure it was because he wasn’t in it. 

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Roxy

We threw a Halloween party and for special effects I cut out black construction paper bats and hung them on thread from the ceiling, threw some colored cloth over the lamps and voilà, party city.  

The night proceeded in grand style, maybe a few firecracker incidents but nothing life threatening, until there were just a few of us left.  We had been pulling on a bottle of 151 and killed it off.  Rick and I decided to walk down to the corner store for more beer to finish the night in proper style.  When we got back, my buddy Doug had passed out on the couch and could not be revived.  

I got into my first aid kit and snapped a couple ammonia inhalants.  I waved them under his nose to zero effect, so I crammed them in his nostrils.  I know, but this all made sense at the time.  This didn’t work either, so he became an art project, with us taking markers and decorating his face, sticking a cigar in his mouth and darts in his ears and other juvenile distractions of young men.  

When we were done with our art project, we opened up our hide-a-bed couch to put him to bed.  This thing must have been used for the inquisition.  It was missing many springs, had a mattress about an inch thick and had crossbars right under the important parts of your back.  I had tried to sleep on it once and had moved to the more comfortable floor after waking up with a major pain in the back.

Rick and I grabbed Doug, who by now resembled the dead guy in Weekend at Bernie’s, by the arms and feet and started swinging him back and forth to toss him on the couch-bed. Being rather inebriated ourselves, this ended in disaster with a loud ooof out of Doug as he landed half on, half off the bed, with a cross-bar in his back.  The rest of the springs blew off the bed and he went straight through to the floor.  Mission successful.

Rick staggered off to bed and I ended up passing out on a love seat in the living room where Doug was.  A few hours later I hear an awful racket and pry one eye open to see a buck-naked Rick shoving a staggering Doug back up the hallway.  Doug was trying to get into the bathroom to pee but that damn pocket door was jammed closed and was not cooperating. 

Rick thought Doug was going to blow chow if he couldn’t get to the toilet, so he was pushing him back towards the front door so he wouldn’t barf in the house.  Through my one bleary eye, what I saw was two drunks dancing a tango, one buck naked and the other barely able to stand…both of them trying with all their might to go the opposite direction and mumbling gibberish.  A good time was had by all.

Soon, Rick had a new girl friend from St Pete’s hospital, Marta. By December of ‘82, Rick moved to a new trailer and I moved into a townhouse across town with Doug.  Doug’s mom worked in a bank as the real estate manager on homes the bank had repossessed.  Doug was working for her doing miscellaneous repair work, landscaping and other handyman jobs as needed.  

As the recession was in full swing, there were plenty of repossessed /defaulted homes, so Doug asked if I was interested in partnering up and so we began working on homes together in the Olympia/Tacoma area.  We did it all and saw it all.  It was truly eye opening to see how people treated their homes once they had given up hope.  I should say mistreated, as we saw some unimaginable stuff that we had to cleanup and fix. 

One of the worst was a place we nicknamed “The Turkey House”, as the first time we saw it we looked over a fence in the back yard to see a sheep and a turkey wandering around freely.  We saw signs that people were still in there, so we let the Sheriff do his thing which took a couple of weeks. 

When we came back, the critters were all dead in the backyard, as the sheep had scarfed all the grass down to dirt within the circle of his leash and no where to be seen, and the turkey was a big pile of maggots, bones and feathers.  The guy had apparently had a glass repair/window business, so he had taken out his frustration by breaking all the window glass he had stored in his side yard.  It was a massive pile of glass that took many pick-up truck loads to the dump…but that wasn’t the worst of it.  

Entering the house, we were immediately assaulted by hordes of fleas and a nasty smell.  We backed out quick, slapping the fleas off,  and went to a store to buy six-packs of flea bombs and duct tape.  We took the tape and wound it around our pant cuffs to hopefully keep the fleas out.  We took a flea bomb and coated our pants legs with the spray and went back in the house like we were doing a door to door military assault.  

We went room to room, popping the flea bombs like grenades and got to the great room and our jaws dropped.  Now, this had been a pretty nice old house at some point.  Oak floors, sunken great room with a big white marble fireplace, nice fixtures and so on.   

What we saw was a massive pile of garbage and trash piled almost to the ceiling, and these were the big old high ceilings.  It smelled awful and included rotting food, dog crap and God knows what.  There was a black ooze coming out of the bottom of the pile, staining and warping the 100-year-old oak floor.

They had obviously tried burning trash in the fireplace for a while as it was covered with soot and ash.  They had cracked the marble at the top with the high heat from the trash burning but had obviously just given up at some point and let the pile grow. 

It looked like what Arlo Guthrie described in Alice’s Restaurant when the Hippies that lived in the old church had so much room they just threw their garbage in a big pile in the old church.  I wish I had photographs with circles and arrows showing the horror. 

They had obviously been pissed off, as they had randomly broken fixtures, mirrors and porcelain along with the plaster walls.  I’m just glad the water, gas and electric had been turned off or who knows what we would have had to deal with.  That place took us a good month or two to clean, working into the night after school. 

By this time I had caught up in class and had become one of the top students in the 1st year photography class, along with a beautiful young woman named Terri, but that’s another story…

Who had the best hair?

Shackleton’s Spirit Penguin

Back on December 23, 1986 and on our way to Antarctica, Terri and I found ourselves strolling through the ghost town of Grytviken on South Georgia Island.  South Georgia is an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean that is part of the British Overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The population consisted almost entirely of elephant seals and penguins.

Remnants of the whaling fleet

 

When we visited Grytviken, an old Norwegian whaling station abandoned 20 years before in 1966, it only had a small outpost of British soldiers acting as a deterrent after the station was captured by Argentina during the Falkland Island War a few years earlier in 1982.

Processing a whale back in the day

This small conflict aside, the main claim to fame of Grytviken may be that it is the last resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the legends of polar exploration. His epic leadership while overcoming unimaginable hardship during the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 is a tale of greatness.  Against impossible odds, he didn’t lose a single man in his crew, who fondly called him the Boss.

It was here, in 1922, on his way to yet another Antarctic expedition, that Sir Ernest died of a massive heart attack aboard his ship. He was eulogized in the small company church, and buried in the station’s cemetery, facing south, the direction he was so drawn to.

Grytviken Whaler’s Chapel

 

We had already been regaled with many tales of Shackleton on our journey to Antarctica, so it seemed impossible to think of leaving South Georgia without paying homage to Sir Ernest at his grave.

Looking at Grytviken from the dilapidated wharf

So, we decided to hike over to the small whalers cemetery containing Shackleton’s grave just south of the station. This grave yard mostly holds the remains of fallen Norwegian whalers that lived a hard life far from civilization.

We headed out through the slushy snow and about half way there we came across this King Penguin heading the same direction…not wanting to frighten it, we stayed back behind him as he waddled, slipped and slid through creeks and mud holes all the way to the cemetery.  This was quite some distance for his tiny legs and the little fellow looked like he was on a mission.

Looking back at Grytviken on our way to the cemetery

As we got to the cemetery we expected him to continue on past towards some other penguins in the distance…but he circled all the way around the small fenced cemetery to the gate opening, entered, and walked right up to Shackleton’s grave stone. We followed along behind him as he then stretched up straight,  pointed his beak upwards, flapped his flippers a few times and gave several loud penguin cries as if that was exactly what he came to do.

Shackleton’s spirit animal?

I snapped this photo and he then turned, walked out the gate and headed back the same way he had come.  Terri and I looked at each other with wide eyes like “what the heck just happened here”?  The whole experience was so extraordinary we decided that little King Penguin must have had a spiritual connection to Sir Ernest. Wild!

Paupers amongst Antarctic Kings