Saturday, March 29, 2014

USFS Summer 63-64, a learning experience

The summer before and after HS graduation in 1964 I worked for the US Forest Service in the Fremont Nat'l Forest in Silver Lake, Oregon. Located in SE Oregon around 100 miles south and east of Bend, it was then one of the most remote places in the state. Vast areas of high desert, mountains forested with ponderosa and lodgepole pine, Silver Lake had a population of maybe 20 people, excluding the perhaps 50 people on the scattered ranches within 60 miles. The town of Silver Lake had one each of a gas station, cafe, bar and post office. The cafe doubled as a bus stop for the once a day Trailways bus going to and coming from Bend.

The headquarters where I worked, under construction:

Each summer the 'Us Fuss' as we called the USFS, would hire around 10 people to augment the permanent staff of around 8 to build trails, fight fires, and whatever tasks the district ranger would come up with. The first summer, 1962, I was the youngest at 16. All of us were young, the oldest being a fellow who was just out of the service, a geezer of 24 or so.

We lived in a bunkhouse, back and to the left of the area shown above.  Our meals were at the cafe nearby, at breakfast we'd get a lunch bag to eat out in the field, and dinner would be followed by a trip to the bar, where our age didn't seem to matter to the bartender, who also ran the post office.

We'd spend our days out in crews of 3 or 4, building trails, repairing the few campgrounds, and when they occurred, fighting the fires, usually lightning-caused.

Because of the distances involved, and the fact the 'roads' were often just dirt tracks off across the high sagebrush desert into the forest, sometimes we'd spend the night at cabins that were built in the Fremont.

The last summer I worked there, there were two additions to our ranks that were notable. Two young men from Brooklyn, NY. This was during the era of LBJ's Great Society initiatives, designed to fight poverty and racial inequality. One small program of this was designed to get young black men out of the urban ghetto and into the work force.

That summer, a couple weeks after most of us had arrived in early June, the district ranger, a Clark Gable look-alike with a pencil-thin mustache named Dude, told us we'd be receiving two young men from NYC.

A few days later, two of us drove one of the Studebaker trucks used by the government then the half mile to the wide spot on the road that was Silver Lake to meet the bus. Two young black men got off, both around our age, looking dazed. I try to imagine what it must have looked like to them, nearly 100 hours on a bus, from the inner-city of Brooklyn.

For most of us, these were the first blacks we'd met. I kid you not. Sounds weird now, but back then Bend, population 8K, had no blacks. I wish I could remember what I said to them at that point, but I don't. I know we loaded them into the back of the truck (only one bench seat in front) and we took them back to ranger station for the summer.

I remember all sorts of unforeseen things came up. Training, for one. All of us had used axes, shovels, etc as part of life growing up. Most of us had used a chain saw, and we all could drive. They had no experience with any of those, neither of them had ever driven a car.

A couple weeks of 'training' ensued, and we 'trainers' had no idea how to teach anything. I remember some near-decapitations with the chain saw, some pretty good gashes from axes, and several dents in the trucks. I also remember it was a lot of fun. In the weeks that followed, we overcame the initial awkwardness,  and actually got to know one another. They told us of their everyday lives in Brooklyn, some of their stories had us agog. One of them even got a straw cowboy hat like most of us wore by the end of summer.

The 'high' point of the summer came in late August, when we decided one evening to drive the miles to Lakeview, a cowboy town of then around 3K people south of us. Around 5 of us including our two new guys, trouped into a bar. Quick, complete silence occurred, followed by the bartender yelling that we couldn't bring 'those guys' into his bar. There were several local cowboys who got up from their stools.

The next morning early Dude came to the county jail and got us all out, told the Sheriff he'd 'handle it', and drove us back. He never said a thing about it to us, except we were to 'Stay the hell out of that place'.

Hell of a good summer, and I learned things about myself that stood me in good stead in the years ahead.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Encounter with Parking Enforcement

2pm, no one parked for 100 feet from the entrance to the post office, I needed a stamp. One damn stamp. No customers in the post office, I even had the exact change. 60 seconds, max.

The area directly in front of the entrance is marked with a blue strip, meaning disabled parking only. I know that, I'm not stupid, or even all that evil. I'll help a little old lady cross the street, if I think there's a possibility of a tip.

So I pull up into the space you see in the photo below with the other law-breaking truck sitting.

Photo courtesy of Montana Historical Archives

I hop out, change in hand, leave the engine running and rush in, get my stamp, toss the letter in the bin and hurry out. That's when things went south.

As I sit and fasten my seat belt (law-abiding) I look up and see a parking enforcement person walking towards the front of the truck in the street. I've seen her before, we only have two after all. Mid-forties, blonde frizzy hair, with an orange vest that says "Parking Enforcement". I sigh inwardly and roll down the driver side window.

"Hi!" I say with a winning smile. She looks pointedly at the handicapped parking sign.

"I know" in my best winsome voice. "I swear, I wasn't in there even a minute, there were no other cars around...." my voice trails off under her accusatory look.

Finally she speaks. "I really should give you a ticket." she says. I sigh, thinking of my civic duty.

Then she leans against the driver side door and looks at me, arms folded on the top of the lowered window.

"Will you be sure not to park here again?" I nod alertly.

"Yes, it'll never happen again." I vow.

"Are you sure?" I nod quickly.


"Do you promise?" I may have frowned slightly, thinking this was venturing into the slightly-weird territory.

"Um, absolutely."

"Are you sure?" she repeats in a coy voice. I now realize I'm in odd terrain indeed.

"What do you want from me?" I ask in what might have been an exasperated voice.

This is when she takes a step back, and in a rush of words uses some expressions not often heard outside Marine Boot Camp. I believe the phrase 'asshole', 'fucking jerk' were some of the milder ones.

At this point I'm making a mental note to congratulate the local police for not arming the parking people.

"Do you often talk to the public like this?" I asked mildly. She turns on her heel and walks away.

Last night I checked twice to see the doors were locked before I retired.

Monday, March 17, 2014

I knew she was being too nice

My neighbors and I enjoy a convivial relationship, if one is going to the store it's usual if you see one outside to yell and ask if they need you to pick anything up. A couple of them and I often will take samples of something we cook to each other.

The one across the street, a mother of three rambunctious boys, has lately been sending one of the boys over with things she's cooked for dinner, a great minestrone soup just the other day. Some delicious enchiladas just a day before, and some doughnuts on Saturday morning she'd just cooked.

Then I get this phone call last week.....seems she was going to visit family in Arizona. "Would you mind putting the mail in?" No problem, we do that stuff all the time. Then...."oh, and um, would you mind letting the cat out in the morning and putting it back in in the evening, and it's food bowl is in the kitchen with the water bowl." all delivered in a rush of words.

Fine. Ok. When I told my oldest daughter she broke into inappropriate hilarity, if one can be said to do that via texting. See, I don't like cats. Not at all. I won't bother to explain why, let's just say I'd prefer to have a rabid skunk for a pet than a cat.

So now for the 4th day in a row, I go over and let it out.

Three more days.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Normalcy is 5 minutes away

It's time for me to finally own up. (clears throat)

"I'm Mike, and I have an issue."

"Hi Mike."

Perhaps I should backtrack a bit. For the last 40 plus years, I've needed a bit of assistance in getting going in the morning. Now retired, it's not as much a hindrance as during my productive years, but I recognize it's still lurking. 


I know what your thinking; yeah, yeah, I like coffee in the morning too. No. I am non compos mentis until the first large cup is circulating through my system. By large, I don't mean the puny 12 or 16 ounce size. At home my cup is a large old German pottery stein, probably 40 years old. And the first cup is finished in 10 minutes, when I get up and totter into the kitchen again. Two cups, that's all. Ok, it's larger than what most people down, but it is all I need for the day.

Which brings me to the point......this thing.

I found it 4 years ago here in a small coffee roasting business. It works somewhat like a french press, and can make one large cup at a time. A small round filter is put into the bottom, three heaping teaspoons of Italian or French roast ground the night before (I'm incapable of doing it in the morning first thing), 2 cups water is nuked till boiling, poured into the container, stirred for a minute then pressed into a cup. Voila! Then in the German mug 2 inches of milk is heated in said microwave, the coffee poured in, and there is a large cafe au lait. 5 minutes total time, though it seems much longer in my foggy state.

So, in keeping with the only applicable step of the 12, #9, I'd like to apologize to those colleagues and people who in hotels at conventions I've looked at blankly on my way to the coffee dispenser, wondering who in god's name they could possibly be, and why the hell they were trying to talk to me.

Who knows, I might even try to make amends, just don't expect it before the first cup. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Daylight Savings Confusion, or Chicago Had it Right

The old rock group, not the city.

Back when dinosaurs walked the earth (when I was a kid), DST was a different thing. Until the Uniform Time Act was passed in around 1966, it was left up to local governing bodies to decide to change the time in spring and fall. In Oregon it was at it's most confusing in the late 50's into the early 60's. Cities took to it, welcoming the extra light during hours children were outside.

Outside the towns, not so much. Oregon was then still mainly agriculture and logging.

People who's work hours started with first light, loggers, ranchers, etc didn't care what actual time it was, just that there was enough light to work. Ranchers said their cattle didn't wear wristwatches.

The result was that most rural areas did not change their clocks, while most (but not all) towns did. It even got more confusing: some towns used DST Monday through Friday, but not on Saturday and Sunday.

The net result was as the group Chicago sang, "Nobody really knows what time it is...". If a rancher outside Bend drove into town it might be an hour later when he crossed the city limits. Unless it was Saturday. If you were living in town, you might have to change your clocks Friday and Sunday evening. Bend had two small towns within 20 miles, with frequent trips by people on weekends to shop or visit. It may or may not be the same time there. If you were a farm or ranch kid, you had to remember the school bus was on a different time zone than yours. 

Now retired, I find myself going with the ranchers, I get up when first light filters through the blinds, and when I'm tired I go to bed.