Living with (and within) a Lil’ Hustler

There comes a time when a lad rebels and declares his defiance.

Well, at least I did.

Fed up with this and that and needing a break from the day-to-day drudgery I followed a path often referred to in a joking to semi-joking manner among my crowd;

“Well, if you do not like it, resign.”

Officers in the military can resign their commission (various limitations that can be found elsewhere) but… lowly enlisted folks?

HAH!!!

Unheard of.  I never even heard of a rumor about an enlisted man or woman doing such an act.

So, obviously, that had to be the route for me.

Sitting at the small table in the berthing area I wrote my resignation from the Navy.

Sure, I was polite but to the point and even wrote out that I hoped the Captain had a wonderful career and to give my best to the entire crew but it was simply time for me to go.

I sealed the envelope, wrote the captain’s name upon it (ensuring no one else aboard would open it) then gave it to an enlisted shipmate to hand to the divisional officer at the next morning’s 8 am muster.

With “liberty call” ready to start shortly I would have the rest of the day, all night and until 8ish or so the next day to make my escape.

Walking away from the warship tied to one of the many piers at the San Diego Navy base I felt FREE!!!

As my nifty little 1972-1/2 Datsun Lil’ Hustler pick-up carried me away, off the base and into the “free world,” I wondered what to do.

A “thanks” to Wikipedia for the picture

Young (18), healthy, a pocket full of money, I was FREE!!!

Freedom’s Just Another Word…

Well, reality was inescapable. Freedom was an illusion but even a temporary delusion was thrilling.

The Datsun had a camper shell atop the bed so I had a place to sleep wherever I went and whatever I did.

Mom lived 500 miles away so that was a logical thing to do.

Give Mom a visit. And a home-cooked meal would appear.

Besides, Dad had died not long ago and being the only child with no kinfolk nearby to assist her I knew Mom likely had a few chores needing done so…

Off to Mom’s I go.

Wheeee!!!  I’m free!!!

Mini-trucks; the earlier era

The Lil’ Hustler was Datsun’s marketing term for their 620 series truly mini-pickup unlike the bloated trucks Nissan, Toyota, etc. build today.

And for those in the crowd who may not be aware of the now-semi-distant past Datsun was once the name for today’s Nissan.

That little Datsun was a simplistic, basic truck.

Pushed along leisurely with a 1600 cc (1.6 liter:  L-16 series) carburetor-equipped engine the 4-speed tranny assisted in maintaining the, then, nation-wide required 55 mph maximum speed limit.

When traveling south upon I-5 up the Grapevine hill north of Los Angeles the fastest my little truck would climb was 45 mph.

I learned to use the shoulder unless Smokey Bear (California Highway Patrol) was around. Those guys frowned upon even a slow-poke like me to use the shoulder for driving; even when doing made sense to me. Especially when semi-truck traffic was heavy as it usually was.

Empty and lightly-loaded BIG rigs were able to exceed my little Datsun’s upward crawl!!!

Slow it was but the gas was sipped tenderly and the trucklet did provide a place to bed down at night.

Dad had bought the Datsun new, a rather rare event for him. He believed in the value of used vehicles.

His job was located in a very rural area where the feds conducted research of the type kept low-key and no co-workers lived in the tiny agricultural hamlet we had moved to so reliability came first. Then low purchase price.

I forget what he paid but I recall his saying he bought it cheap. Perhaps due to slow sales of foreign trucks in that area abound with Chevy and Ford trucks and not much else.

The typical pick-up in that region held a large metal diesel fuel tank in the bed with a pump to send the contents into diesel-powered farm equipment.

Most pumps were electric with a few farmer-types preferring the arm-powered units for some reason. All seemed to be equally reliable as I had learned during my times spent with the mechanical-harvesting crews.

Sigh… I can still smell the ripening tree-fruit crops and the wickedly delightful tang of onions and garlic specifically grown for use as dehydrated spice.

Look for it in your store’s spice section typically offered in smallish plastic or glass containers with holes in the inner cap allowing YOU, the American consumer, to liven up your food.

You’re welcome.

Local Jaunts

Before enlisting in the Navy, when our 3-person/unit family visited the small city 20 miles away, I was forced to ride in the Datsun’s bed due to a lack of room in the cab.

Other motorists would look at me in the bed then look again.

Maybe because of proportions.

Or, when it rained, perhaps they wondered about the mentality of the Datsun’s occupants for having one of that tiny herd sitting in the rain.

The Old Man believed it was good for me. “Toughen the kid up a little,” he would say.

Sure did get mighty chilly at times, though.

The Lil’ Hustler did not have a camper shell until I owned the truck and added the device.

The seven month or so period that included all of winter was the region’s rainy season.

Though sub-freezing temperatures were mostly rare the rain and wind-chill created an Eskimo-like existence for a pick-up-bed-riding lad.

Brrrrrrrrrrr.

Such is the price paid for a “smorgy board” meal.

In comparison to the Datsun’s small size I also likely appeared to be much bigger than I actually was due to the truck’s minimal dimensions.

“Look, Mable!!! Look at the size of that guy in the back of that weird-looking tiny truck!!!”

Seldom seeing ANY other foreign mini-trucks in that rural area perhaps some of the stares were due to the rareness of the Datsun and other mini-truck brands.

I do not recall talk at that time of folks heaping hatred upon imported vehicles for taking sales/jobs away from the Detroit automakers; that came later.

I tolerated the attention so regularly received, however.

Those trips to the city, home of the American Graffiti movie released around the same time, included a stop at the all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.

“Hey, kid, wanna’ go to Modesto with us?”

I seldom said no since when he asked I knew the venture would include the great grub grab. Yum.

Yeah, a basic truck. No air conditioning. No radio until I installed an aftermarket Sony AM/FM cassette unit… high-falutin’ and near the top-of-the-line back then when 25 watts out of the two channels was awesome.

Eight-track players were still very common. Gosh dang… I suddenly feel old. Almost ancient.

No carpeting to be seen. Vinyl bench seat, floor and headliner coverings.

But I was still a “happy camper.”  It was Dad’s truck and I had inherited it and bestowed upon the critter tender care and it served me well during the time I owned it.

I added the camper shell for various reasons even though the extra weight caused a snail-like crawl up any self-respecting hill.

Performance on flat land was adequate for me and though I do not recall the exact MPGs obtained I do remember my fuel costs were less than the guys with the full-size pick-ups; even when equipped with small 6-cylinder engines.

Home or Home?

A few hours later and the “old homestead” was in front of me.

A tiny place with a tiny yard in a tiny town.

In a way it was home but home was also a “rack” (Navy terminology for one’s combination bed/locker).

Navy Bunks on the USS Midway posted on flickr.com by Thomas Shaw

Nine months aboard ship during the recent overseas trek and much more time spent aboard than elsewhere and that ship was, technically, home.

The adage declares “Home is where the heart is” but reality does rear up and sinks its fangs to inject reality into… well, reality.

Dashing to the door I knocked and Mom showed her shocked expression since I typically informed her when I could/would make the mad dash for the weekend visits when I assisted and visited after Dad’s death.

With a thousand-mile total trek and not leaving until 5 PM Friday and having to be back to the ship by 8 AM Monday and having to fight San Diego and Los Angeles horrid traffic those weekend jaunts were far from fun or relaxing.

But, being the “numbah’ one honorable son” I felt that visits were a duty since the nearest kinfolk were a half-continent away and Mom’s house and the rental owned next door were old and needed constant care or repair of some sort.

Sitting in the tiny alcove somebody somewhere labeled a dining room, likely a vision-impaired real estate agent, Ma and me talked before I headed for bed.

Having self-debated with myself during the multi-hour trip I had decided it was a time for “just the facts.”

“Why didn’t you call? I didn’t think you would be back for another couple weeks?”

(note: duty days kept a sailor aboard ship, forbidden to leave for 24-hour periods, every third or fourth day [it varied] so that the ship was always at least minimally manned in case of emergency, war, etc.)

I told Mom of the felt need to take off for awhile. To sort of recharge the batteries.

I left out the written resignation part. I did that for my own perverse sense of humor and to send a message to “the system.”

I was angry at “the system” for what I considered fine reasons but I omit those events in this story.

The Visit

The first couple days were normal. I worked around both houses and spent time visiting Mom and her cooking the meals were great “medicine” for her.

She looked years younger on the second day of my visit compared to that first view of her shocked expression when I unexpectedly arrived.

It’s been several decades but I believe it was roast beef, mashed potatoes, brown gravy and warm rolls we were eating when the knock knock knock came from the front door.

Mom said to keep eating, she would answer.

I was savoring that oh-so-good-tasting dinner but my heart sank as I heard the town’s police chief tell Mom he had received a telegraph from the US Navy west coast district that had also been sent to the FBI, state police, California Highway patrol, every Navy base in several western states….. oh heck, who did they NOT send the telegraph to?

They were not the typical “wanted” notice of the type sent out AFTER a sailor was declared UA (unauthorized absence) after being gone for 30 days.

Nope.

These were “technical arrest orders” that included a financial reward for any non-official civilian (not a law enforcement officer, etc.) who grabbed me and dragged me to any jail, Navy base, etc. and handed me over.

Looking back, I wonder if any posters were displayed in the post office along with the other wanted “bad guys”?

The chief told Mom he would have to come back in three days around the same time to ask if I was there.

He knew I was. His office was across the street and a couple buildings down and he knew the Datsun was mine.

Mom thanked him and she came back to the meal; looking old again.

Sigh……..

Okay, I feel the need to include what I wanted to omit.

Typically, emergency leave during peace time, especially with an immediate relative’s death, was 30-days.

Two weeks into that 30 days after Dad died unexpectedly I received a phone call from the ship ordering me to return within 24-hours.

Eeeeek!!!!!

By that time all the few kinfolk that made the 1,800 mile trip had returned home.

Mom voiced her shock and dismay, mentioning the 30 day emergency leave.

I told Mom I WAS ordered.

Also, and carefully I tread here, I did not know of any special circumstances that may have led to that recall.

Was war breaking out? It was the Cold War era.

Was there a ‘special weapons” problem I was trained in?

Several possible scenarios that may have required or demanded my presence so off I went.

Long Story Shortened

Over two weeks later the full story emerged. The district admiral had inspected during my absence and stopped all liberty until the ship passed inspection. Lack of cleanliness and shiny brass ornamentation was the main problem.

What about the other three sailors from our ship on emergency leave?

“Oh, they live much further away than you so they were left alone,” the junior officer replied, after making me declare I would tell no one what he revealed to me.

“You were needed to assist in cleaning the ship.”

Oh. I see.

Back to the Present/Past

What to do?

While the allotted “grace period” passed I plotted, planned and considered options.

A nearby state park where a river ran through it was open but seldom used at that time of year.

Cold, damp, foggy in only the way a place confronted with tule fog can be. Free to camp at during the off-season, I told Mom where I could be found, if needed, and that when the time was ready I would turn myself in and to not worry.

In the scheme of things my actions were slight, meaningful mostly to control freaks.

Preparing the Pad

The truck was set up for snoozing but planning on a possible two-week stay I needed a few essentials.

The Datsun was a short-bed and room was tight but I was able to fit in a propane lamp and one-burner stove and canned goods such as soup, ravioli etc.

I knew the park had restrooms and sinks and running water and… a 24-hour resident caretaker, a state government employee.

I knew that he was the greatest threat to my being found but, know this, it WAS a different era with many people holding attitudes that did not mesh with the military mind of those demanding We, the People… OBEY!!!

And it WAS California where the “common attitudes” found throughout much of the USA is a bit more rare; and vice-versa.

A Most Groovy Hip Place to Dwell

Preparing and packing I tried to anticipate every want and need.

1. A pile of books and magazines… check

2. Plenty of blankets to fend off the humid chill… yep

3. Some soda pop and a few sweets and a can opener… burp

4. Canned goods and paper towels and cleaning supplies… in this box

5. Propane stuff… yeah

6. A long-lasting electric light with extra batteries… uh huh

7. Gosh, the little trucklet was getting kinda’ crowded!!!… check

8. And even more of this and that with some of it going into the cab… righty-o

So, with a hug and a squeeze and a pre-Terminator “I’ll be back” off to the park around 20 miles away.

I could feel the weight and drag of all the weight in the truck’s performance… well, the lack of it.

Lil’ Hustler did not feel overwhelmed, nope. It was more like one of the muscle car Chevy’s of the recent past; the “Heavy Chevy” but the “heavy” in my instance meant heavy… not the slang-term meaning of “Heavy” (Yo, dude, that’s like…heavy, man.” “Thanks, bro. It is kinda’ outtasight.”).

(I encourage doing a Google to learn more about the “Heavy Chevy,” a rather rare car from that oh-so-neat muscle car era).

Laugh if you want but I still consider the lingo of my youth as rather gnarly and effervescent in a fashionable manner akin to the elephant-bell denim pants worn at times back then.

Upon Arrival

Getting to the park required some back-roads driving upon poorly-maintained country-type roads. “Take me home… country roads,” John Denver proclaimed before diving into the ocean aboard his mini-airplane later-on not all that far to the west of where I was.

Entering I passed the closed and locked entrance office; closed until the new season arrived when the park attracted sane folks and those not running from the law.

Picking a place waaaay in the back semi-hidden by low-growing trees, brush, etc. I backed into the spot and did the few things needed to allow my reading, music listening and bedtime.

I do enjoy reading and can pass a lot of time that way.

Toss in the suppressed anger and partial rage at the “system” and I was ready to attempt a Zen-like existence for awhile before emerging pupae/cocoon/moth-like into reality and plod back to the ship and whatever fate awaited.

Ahoy… Company!!!

It was the third morning before the park ranger appeared.

“Howdy.” “Howdy,” as we eyed each other.

He was bearded with hair longer than typical for one in his position; as was I.

Me. 1975

“You likely know I’ve been keeping an eye on you since you arrived.”

“I figured that,” I said. “Do you read Car and Driver,” I asked, wanting to divert his attention away from why I was where I was. Car and Driver was, by far, my ultra-favorite car magazine back then and it was also one of my ‘fave’ “reads” in general. Good stuff!!!

Remember, no Web in those days so printed reading material was required.

“Nope.  I’m more of a motorcycle guy…” and a couple-hour-long conversation followed.

He was basically bored and seemed pleased there was a human around to talk with.

However… after awhile, he turned to the business at hand.

Oh darn.

I have used a lot of words getting this far but the full tale is untold.

What to do?

Stop and allow the reader to guess at my eventual fate?

Did the park ranger lead me at gunpoint and lock me away before calling for outside help?

Did I escape and steal a Plymouth Superbird and make a run for the border?

Did the town police chief lock me up like Rambo and turn his underlings loose upon me?

Well, I did survive those days and have beat the odds and lived past the half-century mark.

I will just stop here and wait for the boss to decide if I should finish the story.

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