by Jim Foreman


Both the month of April and my days in school were rapidly coming to an end when, along with my daily letter from Janet, I received a large envelope from the 1903rd. It contained several copies of various orders, one of which was my promotion to the rank of Sergeant. Among the other orders were those which transferred the 1903rd to the control of the Air Force, effective 14 May 1951, and finally, unit movement orders, Dated 1 May 1951, sending the entire unit to a place called Beale Air Force Base (formerly Camp Beale), California.
       In reading these orders further, I found that the unit was to move in two separate sections; an advance party, consisting of one officer and twelve enlisted men, and followed two weeks later by the main body. The advance party was to be there on the 14th of May, with the remainder to report on the 26th. I found my name listed as part of the advance party, which was to be commanded by a Major Parker, Engineering Officer for Battalion Headquarters. Along with my name on the advance party, were the names of Billy Bob Boomer, Arthur Arthur Arthur and Red Ryder.
       There was also a personal letter to me from Captain Sanders, telling me that I did not need to return to the unit at Fort Leonard Wood when my school ended on the last day of April, but to report directly to California on the 14th of May. Travel orders and a travel voucher were included.
       His letter also told me to report to a Major Parker, who was a new officer in the organization, a Civil Engineer who had been recalled from the reserves and assigned as Engineering Officer in Battalion Headquarters. This would allow a total of two weeks travel time, far more than what would be needed for the trip. It would be a chance for me to spend some time with Janet without being charged for leave time.
       Janet drove my car to Amarillo and met me when I stepped off the airplane. Six months had passed since I had seen her and she looked even better than I remembered. She welcomed me home with several long, passionate kisses interspersed with floods of tears. It was so good to be back home.
       The big engine in my car rumbled to life; I pulled out of the parking lot and turned toward the main highway. Janet was sitting very close with her head of my shoulder. "Instead of going home, let's go to Tucumcari and get married tonight," she said.
       This was a shock that I hadn't expected. All that I had wanted to do was to come home and spend a few days away from army life, not to plunge headlong into marriage.
       "Why don't you say something?" asked Janet in a tight little voice.
       "Well, a shot coming out of the blue like that is a bit of a shock and, to tell the truth, I'm at a loss for what to say."
       "Don't you love me?"
       "Of course, I love you, Janet."
       "The why don't you prove it by going to Tucumcari tonight."
       The situation was getting to be far too tense. I didn't want to break off with Janet, but I certainly wasn't ready to get married either. After all, we had gone together for less than a month when I left for the army.
       "You don't love me!" wailed Janet and the tears began to flow. "Mother said that you were unreliable and probably wouldn't go through with it."
       "Was going to Tucumcari your idea or hers?" I asked.
       "Well, she sort of suggested that if we got married tonight, then we could go on a honeymoon before you had to go back to the army."
       "Janet, some times mothers get a bit too anxious for their daughters to get married and suggest things which aren't necessarily in their best interest. We have gone together for such a short time and we have all of our lives ahead of us. You will be involved in school activities, proms, graduation and all that and getting married right now would probably create too many problems for you. You know how the school officials feel about someone getting married before graduation. They might kick you out of school."
       "We could keep it a secret," she suggested.
       "There is nothing in the world that I would like to do more than for us to get married, but at this point, I think that the best thing for us to do is to enjoy the short time that I will be here and after I get settled in California, we can make more logical plans."
       This must have made sense to her because the tears stopped and the wailing reduced to soft sobs as we drove toward home.

       I had been at home a couple days when I received a telephone call from Billy Bob. "I'm driving through to California in Old Paint. Arthur Arthur Arthur and Red are coming along; how about you going through with us?" he said.
       "Sounds like a ball," I replied. "Where do we meet?"
       "Red suggested a roadhouse out at the east edge of Amarillo called the Clover Club, says it is easy to locate, everyone knows where it is and a good place to meet. See you there around dark on the 10th. Bring along something to eat on the way to save some money," he said.
       I'll agree that the Clover Club was known to everyone. It is probably the most infamous beer joint, dance hall and whorehouse in the whole Panhandle of Texas. The band plays behind a chicken wire fence to keep from getting killed by flying beer bottles and it is hard to tell whether there are more people dancing or fighting most of the time. When the place really gets to jumping, it resembles something between a prison riot and an Indian attack. On Friday and Saturday nights, they send three ambulances, five police cars and a fire truck out there just so that they will be handy when needed.
       When I arrived at the Clover Club, Arthur Arthur Arthur and Red were already there, and had been for some time, considering that they were well on their way to a good drunk and had amassed close to a case of empty beer bottles lined up on the table in front of them. As I stepped through the door and stopped to allow my eyes to adjust to the dim light and cloud of smoke, Red yelled, "Have a beer Sarge, you fuckin' old brown nose," referring to the new stripes on my khaki shirt.
       "Well, I see that you are wearing Corporal stripes," I said. "Where did they come from. You win them in a poker game, or did you just go out and buy them at the PX to impress some little skirt back home?"
       Red didn't get a chance to answer because Billy Bob staggered through the door, wearing his beat-up old cowboy hat and carrying a whole ham in one hand and a gallon jug of some sort of clear liquid in the other. "Billy Bob Boomer, the meanest son of a bitch in Texas is here, you lucky people." he yelled at the top of his voice. I can whip every motherfucker in here."
       Five or six truck drivers dumped girls off their laps, stood up and headed his direction, evidently anxious to take him up on his offer.
       Billy Bob set the ham and jug on a pool table and grabbed a cue stick. "Sure is a bunch of them," he said.
       Red, Arthur Arthur Arthur and I grabbed empty beer bottles and rushed to his side to see if we could save his ass from being pounded to a pulp by the truckers. However, they were cut off by the bouncer who stood nearly seven feet tall, weighed at least as much as the average rodeo bull and looked about twice as mean. Carrying a baseball bat in his hand, he stepped in front of Billy Bob and said, "We don't need no shit out of you, Cowboy. What you got in the jug?"
       "This here is a whole gallon of the best Trinity River Stump Blower that was ever made. It'll blow a stump clear into the next county," replied Billy Bob.

       "It's agin' the law to bring your own bottle in here, Cowboy, so you just get your ass and that jug right back out the door before I take this bat and bust hell out of both of you," said the bouncer, whose knuckles were almost dragging on the floor.
       "Come on, let's get the hell out of here, before either that gorilla with the baseball bat or that bunch of truck drivers kill all of us," I whispered.
       "We sure ain't gonna starve on our way to California," yelled Billy Bob as we shoved him out the door. "I got enough ham and Stump Blower to take us all the way to hell and back."
       We walked out to Billy Bob's car that he called "Old Paint". It was a 1946 Chevy Coupe which looked like a Crazy-quilt due to the many different colored pieces of exterior sheet metal. The car had originally been sort of a light tan in color, but now the right front fender and door were blue, the hood was white and the left front fender was green. The left rear fender and trunk lid were black.
       "I see why you call this car Old Paint, I said, "But why are all of the parts a different color?"
       "Well, every time that me and Old Paint get drunk, which is just about every Saturday night," said Billy Bob, "We usually run into a tree, fireplug or another car. When something gets bent, I just go down to a wrecking yard and buy a fender or whatever off a wrecked car and bolt it on. No use in painting it since I'll probably just bash it up again before the paint got dry."
       "Well, I'll tell you what. Since I'm the only one who is sober, I'm going to drive. Give me the keys," I told them.
       "Hell, you don't need a key for Old Paint, said Billy Bob. "There are two wires hanging down from under the dash, just twist them together."
       There are two bunches of people that are hard for me to put up with. One is sober people when I'm drunk and the other is drunks when I am sober. I pulled out of the parking lot at the Clover Club and headed west on Highway 66. I hadn't driven more than half a mile before the engine began to cough, sputter and finally died. The fuel gauge rested firmly on the "Empty" peg.
       "OK, everybody out and start pushing," I said. "We are out of gas and there is a service station about a quarter mile up the road."
       "Just in time, too," said Red. "I have to take a leak something awful." They jumped out and were busy watering a speed limit sign when we were bathed in red light coming from the spot lights on a highway patrol car which had pulled to a stop behind us.
       "What's going on here?" asked the patrolman as he walked up to the driver's door.
       "It is a combination out-of-gas and piss stop, officer," I replied. "As soon as they are finished, they are going to push the car down to that station."
       "How much have you had to drink?" asked the officer, directing his five-cell flashlight into my eyes.
       "Not a drop, officer. I'm sober as a judge." Then I realized my error in using the word "judge" as it was very likely that is whom he would want me to talk with. With my luck, it would probably be his uncle like good old Uncle Leroy, back in Eureka.
       "Step out of the car," he ordered. "Let me see your drivers license and smell your breath." After looking at my license, he sniffed my breath. "Close your eyes and stand on one foot."
       I stood erect on one foot while Red, Arthur Arthur Arthur and Billy Bob were making smart remarks like, "He looks just like an old Sand Hill Crane standing there on one foot." and "Now, see if he can lift the other foot at the same time. I'll bet that he can't do it without falling on his ass."
       "You bastards get back in the car and shut up before this officer arrests you for being drunk," I told them.
       I suppose that it did look a bit odd with two of us in uniform, two in civilian clothing and only one person sober.
       "Where you headed, soldier?" he asked.
       "We are all in the Army and are on our way to our new station in California," I replied. "I just picked these guys up back there at the Clover Club where they were doing a little celebrating."
       "OK, looks like you have things under control, Sarge, but just don't let any of your buddies get under the wheel as they are pretty well gone," he said as he walked back toward the patrol car.
       "You don't have to worry about that, officer. I'll keep them out of trouble. By the way, would there be any chance that you could give us a shove down to that station?" I asked.
       "Sure thing," he replied. "Hop in and I'll have you there in nothing flat." Now there was a really nice cop!
       While I was filling Old Paint with gasoline, my three passengers were buying several bottles of a sickeningly sweet soft drink called Delaware Punch. After dumping out about a third of the contents, they would refill the bottle with Trinity River Stump Blower. They sipped this concoction while miles and miles of Highway 66 rolled beneath the tires. I munched on a piece of the fried chicken that I had brought along, but left the drinking to the others. A combination of darkness, boredom of the road, and effects of the stump blower finally took effect and drunken conversation turned into loud snoring. The flashing neon signs above the dozen or more bars that lined the highway through San Jon, New Mexico slipped past and the lights of Tucumcari rose over the horizon.
       "I see a watering hole," said Billy Bob, who had raised his head high enough to peek out the windshield.
       "I gotta piss," said Red Ryder.
       "I think I'm going to be sick," mumbled Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       "Let's stop and all have something to eat," I suggested. "Some food might help sober you guys up a bit as we still have a long night ahead of us."
       "Good idea, I'm hungry as a bitch wolf," replied Billy Bob. "I ain't had a bite to eat since I started drinking a couple days ago."
       "Me too, how about some good Mexican food," replied Red.
       "Now, I know that I'm going to be sick," said Arthur Arthur Arthur as he rolled the window down and hung his head out into the blast of cool, night air.
       "EL TORO LOCO", the crazy bull, flashed in red neon over the door of the restaurant as we pulled to a stop. The right door flew open, Red and Billy Bob, neither of whom were wearing shoes, leaped out and raced for the door.
       "I think I'll just stay here and die," said Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       Neither Red nor Billy Bob were in sight when I stepped inside. "Did you see a couple guys come in here?" I asked the waitress.
       "Yeah, a tall, skinny one and a short, red head came racing in here like they were going to a fire, nearly knocked me on my ass. "The tall one was yelling that the last one to the crapper would piss his pants. They're both in the john," she replied, pointing toward the back of the place.
       When they returned and sat down, she placed three glasses of water the table. "Special tonight is four enchiladas with beans for a buck and a half."
       "I'm so hungry that I could eat a horse; which is probably what your enchiladas are made out of," said Billy Bob. "Give me a dozen of them, with lots of hot peppers on the side."
       "You mean that you want three orders?" she asked.
       "Whatever it takes to get me a dozen," replied Billy Bob. "Along with two bottles of beer with each order; and bring the beer now."
       "I'll have one order of enchiladas and make this on separate checks," I said. "If he's going to eat three meals, let him pay his own check."
       "Just a burger and fries with a chocolate shake for me," said Red.
       She brought our food and carefully lined up three separate plates in front of Billy Bob, each containing four enchiladas, a large mound of refried beans and lots of Jalapeno peppers on the side. He slid over in front of the first plate and began to eat, washing down the spicy food with cold beer. The contents of the first plate disappeared in record time and he attacked the second. Our waitress and the cook were watching from the door leading to the kitchen.
       Red and I finished our food at about the same time as Billy Bob polished off the second plate and moved the third. He didn't put that one away with the same gusto as had been shown on the first two, but he managed to eat every bite of it. He signaled the end of the meal with a loud belch.
       "I'll be damned, you win," said the cook as he handed the waitress a five dollar bill. "I never saw any human who could eat three of my Mexican plate lunches in one sitting, much less with six beers. That skinny bastard, must be hollow."
       "Good going, Cowboy," said the waitress as she slapped him on the back and handed us our checks. "I just won five bucks from the cook, betting that you could eat it all."
       Billy Bob looked at his check, "Eight dollars!" he yelled. "I'm going to faint." With that, he tumbled backwards onto the floor in a feigned fainting spell; his skinny legs and bare feet, sticking straight up in the air.
       "Hey, Butch," the waitress yelled toward the kitchen. "I kept telling you that your food was going to kill someone and now it has. Look at what it did to this guy."
       The cook came rushing from the kitchen with a pitcher of water in his hand. "Call an ambulance or the fire department or someone," he yelled, as he dumped the water into Billy Bob's face.
       By this time, we were all roaring with laughter, even Billy Bob, who was soaking wet on the floor. The cook, who didn't seem to enjoy the joke all that much, started yelling, "You crazy bastards get the hell out of here, and I ought to fire your ass for being a part of the joke," he stormed at the waitress who was doubled over in laughter.

       Our plans were to drive all night while it was cool, to escape the blazing summer heat of the desert. Later, when the sun began to really bear down, we would find some fairly cool place where we could rest. This was the usual method for crossing the hot, arid western states in the days before automobiles had air conditioning.
       Having sobered up considerably after eating, Red took the wheel for a while. Billy Bob climbed into the back seat with Arthur Arthur Arthur, who was doubled up in a fetal position and making no sound.
       The hot chilis, three orders of refried beans, six beers and a dozen enchiladas finally began to work their magic on Billy Bob's digestive system with predictable results. It was around four in the morning when the first blast filled the car. "Holy shit!" gasped Arthur Arthur Arthur as he was jolted awake. "Roll down all the windows. I dreamed that I was being gassed. That's even worse than Filpot."

       Billy Bob's gas attacks became stronger and more often as the night turned to dawn and the sun crept over the horizon. "We have to do something about Billy Bob and those stinking farts," said Red. "With all the beans, beer and onions that he had last night, they could last for a week."
       "You know, I'll bet that drug stores have something to cure them. They can cure most everything else with pills," I said.
       "Winslow, Arizona is just ahead. Stop there and let's see what we can find. I can't stand this much longer," Said Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       Highway 66 forms the main street of Winslow. In fact, Highway 66 forms most of the town, which is two miles long and two blocks wide. Beyond one block to either side of the highway puts one out of town and into the desert. Red parked in front of the first drug store that we came to and headed for the pharmacy. There was a girl, who looked to be about seventeen, behind the counter. Red asked her, "You got anything back there that will cure stinking farts?"
       Her face turned about nine different shades of red as she stammered, "The pharmacist isn't here yet, but I'll see if I can find something for you." She looked at several different bottles and boxes, finally bringing a square plastic box containing several large green pills to the counter. "This might help some," she said.
       Red paid for the pills and returned to the car. "Here, Boomer, take one of these now, and you get another one every time that you fart."

       By ten in the morning, the desert was beginning to take on its daily supply of heat and Billy Bob had been force-fed at least a dozen of the big green pills, which he washed down with a mixture of Delaware Punch and Trinity River Stump Blower. The pills were evidently working because his noisy discharges no longer had the slightest odor.
       "Time for a few hours rest," I said, "Pulling off the highway and under a bridge where a small stream bubbled across polished, round boulders. This looks like a great place to escape the heat."
       Sitting on the cool sand, we ate an early lunch, consisting of slices of Billy Bob's ham, pieces of fried chicken, pickles and boiled eggs; finishing off with chocolate cake that Arthur Arthur Arthur had brought. I stretched out on the soft sand beside the stream and, having been awake all night, had no trouble in going right to sleep.
       I don't know how long I had been sleeping when Billy Bob began yelling and shaking us. "You bastards have been trying to poison me," he shouted.
       "What the hell are you carrying on about?" I asked.
       "These damn, green pills that you've been making me take," he said.
       "What about them, they stopped your farts from stinking."
       "I was reading the information on the box and those damn things are chlorophyll pills for dogs! They are to make dogs smell better, not people!" stormed Billy Bob.
       "Go back to sleep, Billy Bob," I said. "Don't worry about those pills unless you start chasing cars, pissing on fireplugs or get an urge to lick your balls." 

       The evening sun was low on the horizon when we pulled back onto the road. That night's driving carried us out of Arizona and across the great Mojave Desert to Bakersfield, the southern entrance to the lush San Joaquin valley of California. Turning northward, we followed Highway 99 through grape vineyards, fields of cotton and stately orchards; a vast change from the barren deserts which we had just crossed. We took turns driving, stopping only for gasoline, food and occasional rest. On the afternoon of the 13th, we pulled into Marysville.
       "Let's find a motel room, clean up and get a good night's rest. We are supposed to meet a Major Parker at the main gate of Camp Beale at eight tomorrow

Index | Next Chapter