Back in the day: Another snow. Another ride-on-my-thumb.

This happened about a year before the previous snow/hitchhiking story. I was heading back to Fort Bragg from Washington D.C., my favorite city to visit on a three day pass. There was so much to see and do, and for fifty cents you could get a bed in the YMCA. You could hitch it in six, seven hours.

This time it was special. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom.

I had spent most my full day walking around the Tidal Basin, taking in the sights and fragrances of the trees and monuments and the Basin itself. There weren’t as many monuments as there are now. There was Jefferson Memorial, which was worth the walk all in itself, and several smaller monuments. The F.D.R. and Martin Luther King memorials would come years later. And a half mile across the park the Washington Monument could easily be seen.

The Basin is a pure reflective mirror. No matter where I walked around it that day, I could see the cherry blossoms and the Washington Monument, shimmering in the waters.

I finished off the day by walking across the park and revisited the monuments on the National Mall. I never left D.C. without a visit to the Mall.

I always walked tall when I was in D.C., but that day I think I walked even taller. So proud to be wearing the uniform of the 82nd Airborne, the All American Division. So proud to be doing my part, albeit a very small part, in protecting the grandeur of this country.

By the time I got back to the cafeteria at the Y I was too tired to prolong the day. That and the fact there was talk about some snow might be coming in the next afternoon, a rarity in D.C..

I had ordered a big breakfast in a pancake house by the highway out of the city when the snow started falling. Back home we would call it a dusting. In D.C. they thought it was a blizzard. Some of the other customers wolfed down their food and hurried out the door. By the time my food arrived, the highway looked like it was an evening-going-home traffic jam. My waitress commented on how the city empties when it snows.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, trying to show wisdom beyond my age. ‘And cause a jam-up and silly accidents. If some of them would wait and follow when the first ones cleared out…’

‘They’re afraid they might get called back to their desks. Most are paid by the month and getting out early won’t be deducted from their paychecks,’ she said as she refilled my coffee cup. ‘It those of us who work by the hour that get their pay docked if we leave early.’ She gave a quick glance to the stern faced older woman sitting behind the cash register.

‘I dig it,’ I said with a smile. The highway was still bumper-to-bumper, too close to stop if they had to. A lot of slipping and sliding. I decided to take my own advice and stay put until things calmed down a bit.

On the next refill I told my waitress my decision. She agreed with me. I ordered a piece of apple pie. She agreed with that also, and suggested warming it up a little and putting a scoop of ice cream on top. I agreed with that.

A customer went out and left his newspaper. She brought it over to me. When I decided things had settled down a little out on the highway, I asked her for the check. She hadn’t bothered to charge me for the pie. I left a big tip. The woman that handled the register gave me my change, thanked me and ordered me to have a good day. Since she never once bothered to look me in the face, I didn’t think she cared what kind of day I would have. My waitress mouthed a silent thank you. I believed her.

I got a ride right away. ‘I’m not going too far, only to Arlington; but it will at least get you away from some of this traffic,’ the woman said as she opened the passenger door. With a voice like that…

As I got in and was surprised, pleasantly, to see she her looks matched her voice. By the time I had settled in the seat and shut the door, I did as any red-blooded, lonesome nineteen year old GI would do. I fell in love at first sight, even if she was a little older than me. She tried talking to me but I didn’t reply. I just looked at her and smiled.

‘I’ll turn this down a little,’ she said, reaching over to the volume dial on the radio. She thought I didn’t answer because of the music. It was classical music. I hadn’t even realized it had been on. She had the perfect 10-4 hand grip on the wheel and I could see her left hand. There was a wedding ring. Bummer.

‘Mozart,’ she said. ‘It helps ease the tension of this kind of driving. Do you like Mozart?’

‘Ho, ah,’ I said, hesitantly, ‘He…Yeah, I like him a lot.’ I hoped we could change the topic. The only classical music I knew about was the William Tell Overture that opens and closes every Lone Ranger program. ‘It looks like you know what you are doing driving in the slush,’ I blurted out.

‘I haven’t had to for a long time, but I come originally from upstate New York, a lot of driving in real snowstorm,’ she said. ‘I guess it’s like they say about riding a bike, once you do it, you never forget.’

I agreed. ‘You’re keeping a nice distance, pumping the brake…’

Just then, a dehorn that was passing us started to slide into our lane. She managed to handle the situation like a pro. She held back until he got his car under control. His near miss didn’t teach him any thing. He quickly jerked out of our lane and sped into the passing lane.

‘Too bad there isn’t some way to control the other drivers,’ she said.

Everything was going smoothly until she had to drive over a big clump of snow that had come loose from somebody’s wheel well. The steering wheel spun free of her grip momentarily and the car headed for the left ditch. I thought we had it, but she pulled out of it in time.

‘It’ll be better when you get on the cut-off to Arlington,’ I said.

She looked at me and smiled. ‘Oh, we passed that a while back.’

I looked over at her. ‘Why?’ You said you were going to Arlington. Look!’ I pointed to a car in the ditch. It was the joker that was in such a big hurry.

‘Well, he’s one I don’t have to worry about,’ she said.

‘You should be off this highway. Where are we going?’

‘We are just a ways from Fort Myers. There’s a shelter there and a car can pull off and pick up hitchhikers. Your chances of getting a quick ride are much better there,’ she explained.

‘And your chances of getting in an accident are also much better now,’ I argued. ‘A good deed is one thing, but is it worth it in this kind of weather?’

Well,’ she said softly, ‘My husband is stationed in South Korea right now. I would hope that if he was out in a snow storm needing a ride, someone would pick him up.’

I didn’t stick out my thumb until she turned around and headed back to Arlington. I waved and she answered with her car horn.

I thought to myself that there is a very lucky GI over in Frozen Chosen with an angel waiting for him to hurry home. Be it sunshine or bad weather.

The snow was letting up and I hoped that that it had no bad effect on the cherry blossoms. It sure had had a good effect on me. And now when I see where someone had made an angel in the snow or I smell the fragrance of cherry blossoms, I think back to that ride-on-my-thumb.







Back in the day when a man in uniform could thumb a ride anywhere:

That heavy snow we just had on Easter Sunday reminded me of another spring holiday snow storm. That one was on Holy Saturday many years ago.

I was heading home from Ft. Bragg to spend a week with my folks. One of guy in the outfit had posted he was going to Chicago. Another trooper and myself answered the post.

I had the backseat all to myself. The two Chicago boys took turns driving and keeping each other awake. I was sleeping good when they started raising their voices above the music on the radio. It took me a bit to realize they were arguing over who came from the toughest neighborhood in the city. The stories grew larger and larger; by the time they left me off at the highway that bypassed Chicago, you would think they both were remnants of Al Capone’s mob.

Next ride got me though Madison, WI.. That’s when the snow started. It was the wet, slushy snow that often makes April the ‘cruelest month’. Luckily a car stopped before I got too wet. The driver was about 30, nice smile, friendly voice. Seeing I was shivering, he turned the heater on high in spite of the fact he was wearing a black turtle-neck sweater. He asked where I was heading and when I told him, he apologized because he was only going a little past Tomah.

Usually the price you pay for hitching a ride is you have to listen to the driver talking, telling you things he would not tell to many other people; but you were a stranger and his story would go no further. Kind of like a confession. But not this driver. He got more out of me than I was use to telling anyone.

I started to doze off so I suggested that he could turn the heat down. He did so with pleasure, beads of sweat were on his forehead. But it didn’t help me much. The slip-slapping of the wiper blades sang me back to sleep.

I woke in a hurry when he started swearing. The blades were losing the battle with the snow but not enough that I see we were in trouble. The car was heading for one ditch and then he swung it back towards the other. It was facing the opposite direction when he finally got it under control enough to pull onto the shoulder. He made the Sign of the Cross and took some very deep breathes.

I cut loose. I called him names that would make a paratrooper blush. And I finished by yelling, ‘You dumb @#@%$#@, I know I told you I was in a hurry, hoping to go to Easter Mass with my folks; but I ain’t that much of a hurry to get killed trying to do it.’

Apology time for both of us.

‘I got thinking about tomorrow,’ he said, ‘And didn’t realize I was going too fast for the conditions. Thank God, there wasn’t any other cars around.’

‘Yeah, thank God! Well,’ I said in a softer voice, ‘It happens. I shouldn’t have had no call to swear at you like that.’ The last thing I wanted was to have him give me the boot in that snowstorm.

He laughed as he pulled a pulled a Uey and back on track. ‘Don’t sweat it, Don. I’m the padre at Camp McCoy up ahead. Heard a lot worse, believe me.’

‘Oh, no!’ I said, ‘You’re a priest! Jeez…Boy, now I really got to get home in time to go to Confession.’

Well,’ he said, ‘I can take some pressure off you.’ He reached under the front seat and pulled out a stole. ‘Always keep one handy in case of an emergency.’ He placed it around his neck. He must have read my mind. ‘Don’t worry’, he said, ‘A car is as good as a confessional.’

I hesitated at first and then begun, ‘Bless me, Father…’ After the first few words, the rest came easy.’

I hoped he wasn’t the kind of priest that closed his eyes when he was hearing a confession.

So, riding in a car, in the middle of a snow storm, going to Confession. A first and only time for me.

The padre left me off at the entrance to Camp McCoy. Nice bench, a sheltered roof. First car stopped. A top of the line Chevy convertible. The driver was a little older than me. Big man, but soft features. I had to do a double take when I saw his backseat. There were boxes of LP records, a stereo phonograph, TV set, a few books and lots of magazines on the floor, Down Beat’s, Playboy’s, probably a Penthouse or two hiding in the stack . He took a nice homburg hat off the seat, flipped it in the back and invited me in.

After trading names and where-you’re-goings, the driver took over the conversation. His name was Paul and he was going back home, which was only a few miles from my home. He had spent the last three years working in Milwaukee. He said the pay wasn’t bad but he hated every minute of working in that office and living in that city; especially after he got a “Dear Paul’ letter from his girlfriend, who had vowed she would wait for him to get established and then they would get married. He didn’t have a job waiting for him, but he was sure he’d find one in the Twin Cities. In the meantime he could live with his folks…And maybe look up some girls he went to school with.

Fancy car, nice clothes, and I imagined he had quite a few romantic albums in his collection would help him find a new girlfriend, fast. Until then, there was always his collection of Playboys, if he managed to hide them from his mother.

His blues story was boring; but I did like the part about him driving me right to my parents’ home, so I made like a bartender expecting a nice tip does and pretended to listen intently. The snow was getting heavier. Instead of driving out of it, it seemed to be we were driving into the heart of it.

I was sure happy when we came over the hill and could see the river and the Hudson Bridge that crossed into Minnesota in the distance. Home was the next stop. Again, I was wrong. As soon as we got got into the river valley, Paul pulled off into the main street of downtown Hudson.

‘I have to buy a new tie for tomorrow,’ he explained, as he got into the jam of cars doing last minute shopping. ‘All mine need dry cleaning.’

Yeah, good luck finding a place to park, I thought to myself.

No problem for Paul. He just double parked in front of a very busy department store. ‘Drive around,’ he said, as he reached for his hat, ‘Meet you back here in a half hour.’ He opened the door and got out. I slide into the driver’s seat and pulled out before one of those irate horn-blowers behind me decided to get really mad.

I turned around the block and headed back to the truck stop we had passed on the highway. Switched on the radio and settled back and enjoyed driving this fine automobile. Sure beat the Jeep I drove back at Bragg. My first inclination when I parked in the big lot, was to go inside and get a cup of coffee; but I had second thoughts about leaving the car unoccupied with a back seat full of expensive goods.

And then it dawned on me. Now, to say I was tempted would be pushing, but I sure was doing some day dreaming.

That damn Paul! That damn stupid Paul! Handing over his fancy car loaded with thousands of dollars of things that anyone could fence. I thought how this kind of money compared to Army pay. I watched the cars heading east and thought how close I could get to Chicago by the time he got tired of waiting and decided to call the cops on me. I thought about those two would-be gangsters I could look up… But like I said, it was a day dream, a would-be author’s kicking around ideas for a story. I wasn’t stupid and I sure wasn’t a thief.

I timed it as close as a half hour as I could. I had no more stopped in front of the store when Paul came running out and jumped in the passenger seat. The chorus of horns started up again. I pulled away as soon as Paul closed the car door and headed back to the highway.

‘Not much of a selection,’ he said, ‘But I got one I liked anyway.’ He pulled out a tie out of one bag and showed me.

I stopped the car just before pulling out on the highway. I turned to him and cut loose with the same kind of language I had used on the priest.

I told him he was a @##@$$#@# fool to turn his life savings to a perfect stranger. How did he know I wouldn’t just up and steal the car and everything in it. How did he know…

He gave me a smile and a doughnut he pulled from a second bag. ‘It’s Easter Time, Don. Nobody steals at Easter.’

The doughnut was good. His logic was…

I drove to my folk’s home and Paul and I wished each other a Happy Easter. It was still snowing as I ran into the house. Went right in because that was back in the day we left our door unlocked and nobody ever stole anything… especially at Easter Time.

I would like to wish everybody Happy Holidays in this time of Holy Days for all. Belated or predated. In sunshine or snow.


(Happy Easter Day)

May we all celebrate the Holy Days of April in the way we use to. Please stay safe. Obey the rules. Remember the lives you may save maybe the lives of those you love the most.


snow driving

            In Minnesota: ‘Yeah, you bet, heard about the snow com’n. Changed the oil and tuned up the snow blower and snow mobile first week in October, just like always. You betcha!’

            Down South: ‘Snow! Snow! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’


Last week the East Coast and some Southern states got hit with a blizzard. And the 24 hour news stations talked so much about the snow coming and falling and melting that there was little news about anything else.

They darn near missed the Palen endorsement of Trump. It happened the same day her son got arrested for using his girlfriend as a punching bag. Sweet momma Sarah explained that it wasn’t Track’s, (Track???), fault. It was Obama’s. Poor Track did a tour in Iran during the G. W. Bush’s administration, and although never got in any combat, came home with PTSD according to his mother. Later she said she was misunderstood, and then said pretty much the same thing again. A real Alaska Snow Job. At least she didn’t blame Obama for her daughter’s habit of getting pregnant sans marriage certificate.

And they darn missed another important Trump endorsement. One of John Wayne’s daughter, standing in front of a statue of her father in the John Wayne Museum in Somerset, Iowa, stated that if her father was alive, he would certainly endorse Trump.

(If her father was alive he would be 109 years old.) And the cool thing was Trump accepted the endorsement stating that he once met John Wayne in person and always admired Wayne’s legacy. The rest of Wayne’s family disavowed the endorsement. I was only too happy to be rid of the silliness leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

 I did run across a great bit just after the snow fell someplace. There was a reporter standing hip deep in snow talking about the big snowfall. As the camera pulled back, it revealed the dehorn was standing in front of a chain link fence that captured a lot of snow. As he struggled to get out of the drift, the snow gradually became less and less until he was standing snow that was no higher than his ankles.

Snow down south causes problems because people have no experience in what to do when it snows. It frightens them just as it would frighten me to look out and see an alligator in the back yard.

We got a little snow, a couple inches, in Fort Bragg, N.C., one time. It snowed three times when I was in the Army down there. This particular time I had a midmorning dental appointment. I hopped on my motorcycle and drove to the main post. There wasn’t much traffic and when I got on the less traveled streets, there wasn’t any tire tracks. Only one car in the dental lot, the plates were from Wisconsin.

The car belonged to a dentist on Reserve duty for two weeks. No receptionist, no dental techs, no other dentist, just me and angry Captain Angry from Wisconsin. He was mad at the Army, mad at the snow, mad at his hangover. He smiled when he told me the Novocain was locked up and he didn’t have a key.

‘But a little pain won’t bother a bad ass paratrooper, will it?’

Oh, was he wrong? And every time he spotted me clinching my fists, he cheerfully reminded me it was a court martial offense for an enlisted man to hit an officer. A little Southern snow and I was silly enough to drive in it. Should have just used it as an excuse not to keep the appointment. Every time I have the slightest inclination to root for the Green Bay Packers, I think back on Captain Angry’s license plate and that removes the inclination.

Another reason snow is so bad down South is they don’t have the necessary equipment to handle it. We can send out a fleet of public snow plows. Pickups rigged with plows to clear out parking lots and some driveways. Snow blowers waking up the neighbors early in the morning. Snow shovels used to clear steps and the like. People in the south don’t have much in the way of fighting the snow. Heck, down South a snow shovel in the garage is as rare as a liberal in the closet.

Another time a storm in Bragg brought about a good foot of snow, with no place to put it in the main drag in Fayetteville, so they just left it in a long pile in the center of the street. Naturally, some of the boys parked their cars on the mound, it was the weekend and the bars were full, and when it came time to go back to post, they  couldn’t get them off, sunk to the frame. The tow trucks were busy and the city told them to stay away from downtown, and then proceeded to ticket each car for illegal parking, each day it was left on the mound. When the tow trucks came down the hill to get the cars, they towed them to the impound lot. Some expensive parking!

And down South they just never learned how to have fun in the snow. Oh a few snowmen and a few snow angels, but not real fun like skiing and snow boarding, snow mobiling, clearing snow off a frozen lake to skate or ice fish etc..

Some members of 82nd Signal Battalion were going with one of the line companies to Alaska for Winter Training. They were issued white snowsuits and a pair of skis with poles. For several weeks they were getting prepared out in the field behind the barracks, wearing those hot suits and trying to glide along on the grass on their skis. As if gliding the skis on the grass actually prepared them for anything. But there’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.

Then we got a nice snowfall. I told some of the guys, I’d show them how to have fun in the snow and maybe even teach them a little about skiing. That night I ‘requisitioned’ the Old Man’s jeep. I was the Old Man’s clerk. We got some ropes and went out to a Drop Zone where I pulled the men on skis behind the jeep. A good time was had by all. Especially since the two MP’s that caught us, believed us when we told them it was authorized training to prepare for the upcoming Cold Weather Exercise in Alaska.

The worst experience of being caught in a Southern Snowstorm came when I was hitchhiking back to Bragg after a few days in Washington D.C.. Talk about shutting down a major city! It was shortly after noon when the snow hit. Offices emptied and the roads filled with cars filled with bad drivers trying to get home. And none about to pick up a hitchhiker, even if it was a soldier in uniform dressed for the warmth of the South, not a snow storm of the North.

I was alternating my hands, one thumbing for a ride, the other covering my ear until my hands got so cold I had to put them under my arm pits inside my Ike jacket which was getting wet from the heavy flakes. Doing a little dance to keep circulation in my feet.

Finally a car braved the slipping and sliding traffic and pulled to the shoulder. The passenger door opened and I jumped in. I was busy saying thanks and putting my hands in front of the heater when I heard this angelic voice telling me that she was only going as far as Arlington; but at least it was far enough to get me out of the heavy city traffic and I would stand a better chance of getting another ride.

What a sight for sore eyes! Not only because she stopped for me, but also because she was beautiful. A few years older than me. Long black hair. Green eyes. A smile that would melt the snow and warm the heart.

I was trying to get the numbness out of my hands, my ears, and still trying to carry on a normal conversation with her without distracting her as she was driving. It was evident she wasn’t use to driving in that kind of weather. She kept a steady pace until there would be a car poking along ahead. Then she would veer out to pass, slip and slide, head for the ditch. Had to hand it to her, she didn’t panic, managed to get straightened back on the road. I must admit I tightened up a few times.

‘Whoa,’ I said, ‘You just missed the Arlington cutoff.’

Again with that smile. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘Fort Meade is down further. There is a shelter where the soldiers stand, and cars pull in the side road and give them rides. You’ll stand a better chance of getting a ride in a hurry down there.’

I protested. I pointed out the road was bad. The snow was getting heavier. She should just leave me off and get home as quick as possible.

‘No,’ she answered. ‘My husband is in the Army stationed in Korea. From what I hear, they have terrible winters there. Snow. Cold. And I just hope that if he is hitchhiking, and the weather is bad, someone will pick him up.’

Wow! I sure hoped that soldier appreciated the woman he married.

She was right about Fort Meade. I got ride right away. As I got in the car I could see her car heading back to the Arlington cutoff. I said a silent prayer that she would make it home okay. We got out of the Southern snow storm in about fifty miles. My new ride took me almost to Bragg. He talked and I mostly listened, and thought about a very kind lady whose husband was stationed in Korea.


            Right now it is snowing. They say it might be the biggest so far of the season. About 6” to a foot. Schools will close early. It will be a slow afternoon commute home, but by tomorrow’s morning rush hour the driving will be much better. Our army of snow plows will see to it. Yet there will still be a rash of accidents and cars in the ditch. Not every one up here knows how to drive in a snow storm, especially those driving big SUV’s. They know they can bust through all kinds of snow; but they forget that sometimes they can’t stop on the wet pavement.

Of course, I won’t be one of those fighting the elements. I will be safe and snug in the house. I am retired!


And that’s a wrap for today.