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Let’s Ride
January 6, 2024
Every Day is Valentine’s
February 28, 2024

This is the beginning, a very humble launch, of a biography that may require years to complete. I have chosen to post it here as some “work-in-progress.” I will add to it as time and inspiration so direct. Clearly, it is not the highest of many more attention-seeking priorities.

I, a chubby, somewhat different five year old, was sitting on the hall floor of our humble two bedroom bungalow in Pico, California. I was cold at 5:00 a.m. but the heat from that tall, gas-fired, wall-heater compensated adequately if I sat close to it. The perpendicular wall, inches away from the aluminum frame of the heater served as a reasonably comfortable backrest as I waited for them to wake up.

In this case, "them" meant my mother, stepfather and brother. That scenario, "waiting for them to wake up,” has followed me my entire life. Today it is my wife and the gas heater has been replaced by a companionable, wood-burning fireplace.  Still, the accompanying effort at silence, the pondering and wondering "when", so "they" could sleep has not changed a penny's worth.

That is not to imply that this familiar routine irritates or even bothers me. After decades of this theme it is my life, the life of a man who enjoys being an early-riser.  If there were cards carried by early-risers, I might have been issued card number one! I am merely mindful of this daily experience. I find the lingering delay a curious, frequently-pondered amusement, a comfortable friend.

Some mornings if I got hungry or, more likely, bored, I would get up from that hallway and slip into the kitchen. Mom always kept a teaspoon in the sugar bowl. I would help myself to a spoonful of sugar and then wipe the spoon dry on my pajamas so, when replacing it in the bowl, sugar wouldn't stick to it. Leave no evidence.

I was the younger of two brothers parented by our mother and stepfather. My mother spoke Swedish and my stepfather spoke pain, frustration and rage.

His actions spoke in regular, severe beatings and strangulation even, directed at my brother and me. I've forgiven him. If I had been crippled in an accident in my youth and had my growth stunted and opportunities severely limited as a result, who knows how angry and violent I might have become as an adult?

Other than that, my childhood was unusually gifted. Oh we didn't get toys lavished on us and there weren't ice cream cones doled out when the Good Humor truck rolled down our street. I missed out on male modeling and instruction from my stepfather but my brother and I had something that, in retrospect, was priceless. We had freedom!

I was allowed to ride my bicycle miles away to go swim at the city plunge. I was turned loose, as a seven-year-old, to walk more than 3 miles along a busy highway, to the movie theater. We'd often leave home with maybe only pennies and show up at the ticket window with thirty-five or forty cents redeemed from cast-off, pop bottles we had collected on our walk. That was enough for me to get in to the movies,  buy a bag of popcorn and, sometimes, even Milk Duds ferferheavensakes!

We would spend, when school was out, long hours in the open field at the end of our street. It was adjacent to the fenced, keep-out, San Gabriel River bed.

“River” was a term of wishful thinking in arid Southern California. I don't recall ever seeing flowing water there. There was merely enough moisture kept to allow for a bit of almost-mud beneath the cracked chunks of adobe soil.

On the eastern side of that riverbed we're the railroad tracks. When I got a bit older (maybe ten) I'd jump that freight train a time or two, ride a few miles and jump off. Freedom indeed!

Due to the proximity of the tracks, we'd occasionally encounter a hobo transient-camping under the Whittier Boulevard Bridge. I recall one such character to whom we were sneaking sandwiches and magazines until Mom found out.

When I was around eleven years old, our family became the proud owners of a 16-foot outboard runabout. And run about we did. It was fitted with two, thirty-five horsepower, Evinrude outboard engines. I learned to water ski out on the open ocean behind the Long Beach breakwater.

Catalina Island became my home away from home. Avalon was only twenty-six miles or so from Alamitos Bay. It became so routine for us to cruise over there and spend a weekend that, over the years, I made friends with other kids who either lived on the island or were regulars on their own boats at the anchorage. Eventually we switched over to sailboats which, for me, eventually led to sailing as half of a two-man crew from California to Hawaii and back. Adventures!

My first SCUBA diving experience came when I was thirteen. With only limited, amateur instruction from a neighbor I donned a tank and regulator, fins and mask and plunged to 30 feet in the cold, 60 degree depth of the salty Pacific gawking at golden Garibaldis, kelp forests and abalone. It's only by God's mercy I didn't kill myself. But, I had come to expect freedom. Eventually, at fourteen I did complete a proper SCUBA certification course and enjoyed diving for decades thereafter on the California coast as well as in Mexico and Hawaii.

At fourteen years of age I bought my brother's Cushman Husky from him. I thought it would make it easier to deliver the afternoon news on my paper route for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. It actually didn't. The job was certainly more fun riding on a motor scooter rather than pedaling a bicycle but keeping a hand on the throttle and slinging papers to a porch required new skills.

But, that little fifteen-horsepower Cushman planted a seed of passion that took a deep root and flourishes healthily to this day. Motorcycles have been a significant feature and freedom-outlet most of my life. I became a Motorcycle cop, rode a Harley over the Swiss Alps and coast to coast to coast here in the U.S.

Harry Easton lived about a mile from my family. He was an architect by trade but a cowboy in appearance. He once had hired a buddy of mine to help him disassemble an old shed which was to be transported out to the desert and there reconstructed on a horse ranch. My buddy turned ill and sent me instead. Not only did that apparent fluke lead to my learning to ride and care for horses but I became a regular out there at the Desert Moon Ranch in Coachella Valley.

Harry had been in the 7th Cavalry back when they were still horse-mounted out of Fort Riley, Kansas. In addition to teaching me horsemanship, Harry taught me the basics of shooting, kindling in me the makings of a gun nut. I ended up being a military marksmanship instructor, a highly acclaimed competitive pistol shooter winning medals and championships. More Adventures.

Harry had a friend by the name of Harriet Johnston. Harriet was the director of Whittier Junior Theater. We were introduced and I became a regular cast member for four or five years. That seed directed me to be a Theater major in high school and in my first year of college. I performed on a stage play in Hollywood for a year and a half and over the years in various community theaters. I even was on a TV show and had a part in a movie.

What kid has had these diverse opportunities and adventures? Most of them were birthed when I was thirteen and they've lasted a lifetime.

Well, in 1966 I was doing poorly in college. I had never been a happy or attentive classroom student. On top of that the Vietnam War was raging so my daily routine upon arriving home from school or work was to check the mail for a beckoning from Uncle Sam's army.

I was born with a gene that insists on being in control; control of myself that is, not others. So, when I looked at the looming lousy grades plus the dis-ease of wondering when I'd be yarded off, have my head shaved and be put into a uniform, I decided to take charge

I enlisted in the United States Air Force. My brother had gone into the Air Force maybe three years before. My best buddy had also become a flyboy. So with no more logic than that, I joined up too.

The recruiter had shown me a catalog of potential jobs to be had. One of those was that of a small arms marksmanship instructor. Well, being a gun nut I marked the page and declared that's it. That was the job for me.

Sadly, he said that I could not hope for that occupation since those men were chosen from the ranks of existing, more seasoned airmen who were already doing other jobs. Shucks!

So right out of boot camp I became, by decree, not training, a communications specialist. They sent me to Beale Air Force Base just outside Marysville in northern California where I would be taught how to be a switchboard operator.

My immediate boss was an older, civilian woman, a redhead. She was kind in a demanding way. I had the hang of it before long and found myself working the graveyard shift. It was an easy-enough job and working "graves" suited me just fine.

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