Wed, Apr 14, 2021

Hold On: The Party's Not Over

         A June morning in 1959 and Denver Union Station is bustling with activity. In front of the station, a fleet of Greyline buses are parked at a slight angle awaiting the arrival of a few hundred midwestern tourists. A three day excursion through Colorado's mountains, a trip of a lifetime. It's my first time driving a bus and I've got a stomach full of butterflies. I'm not alone, it's initiation day for half the drivers. We're college students in our early twenties, and delighted to have nabbed this nifty, sought after job. A dollar and fifteen cents an hour is good money but here's the kicker, tips will more than double our wages.Two days ago, those of us new to the art of bus driving were given a crash course. If you could circle the perimeter of the bus garage, and shift without grinding the gears, you were halfway there. Certification came when you made a sharp turn at the garage's corner without scraping paint. Thus, the official go ahead was given to drive 30 or more unsuspecting passengers over high, narrow mountain roads. Did we think we were ready? I don't recall the question ever coming up. I do remember one serious breach of the work ethic. Jake, Art, and I, were deadheading (without passengers) buses from Grand Lake to Denver. Somewhere along the two lane 6 and 40 highway, Jake sped by me, and then, I passed Jake. Soon Art joined in and the race to Denver was on.

         The Estes Park Chalet, an uninteresting edifice, is positioned on a treeless hillside above Mary's lake, isolated from the town of Estes Park. It's primary purpose was to accommodate bus loads of guests arriving on a daily basis, and that it could do. The rumor was true, more than thirty college gals from near and far were there for the summer to cheer up exhausted and bewildered guests. These gals were seeking summer fun and nothing else would do, decorum and seriousness were not to be tolerated. We drivers, a timid bunch at best, were undone by their smiles and flirtations. So far away from civilizations' watchful eye, the freedom to explore was at hand, anything might happen and often did. On any given summer evening, ten or more drivers would be in Estes for the night, bunking above the bus station just off mainstreet. Late afternoons were spent in the famous Dark Horse Tavern conveniently located a block from the bus station. The bar stools were black painted ponies, we called it "riding the ponies." We would meet up with the gals around 9 pm. Sometimes but not often, the party would be in town at one of the many watering hole establishments. Estes had a number of Chalets staffed by the young and after sundown, it could be a rowdy place. Chugging Moscow Mules was a frequent contest, consisting of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer and served in a copper mug, it was a knockout potion.

         Partying in town is okay but a "woodsy" at a remote but easy to get to mountain hideaway is the preferred choice. We are circled around a low fire, cases of beer and guitars are the necessary props. We know the songs by heart: "Greenback Dollar," "A Worried Man," "The Roving kind," and "The Rock Island Line." Jake, ever the life of the party, was always pushing and pulling us towards something new. Once, he talked us into "steak tartare" and we all got sicker than a dog. A break in the action, and without warning, in an unwavering voice, Jake blurts out the f-word. There's some snickering and giggling and most eyes are fixed downward. Someone strumming a guitar gets us started on "Three Jolly Coachmen." It's 1959, and no one says the f-word in mixed company. We are having breakfast at the driver's table in a corner of the Chalet's spacious dining room, and there's a lot of joking about Jake's bad behavior. How we can engage in lively banter on a few hours of sleep will remain a mystery. Today, a scenic forty-eight mile drive through the national park will take us to our next destination, Grand Lake Lodge. It's scandalous behavior, but some of the drivers have a sweetheart at the Chalet and another one at the Lodge. Naively, they believe that a barrier of high mountains will keep their cheating heart a secret. With summertime romance, infidelity runs rampant.

         Having entered Rocky Mountain National Park, the mic is on, and I start my spiel on the Park's features. Wise words from a seasoned driver had put me on the right track. He said: people would rather be entertained than educated, find some funny stories. I took his advice and my tip money skyrocketed. Trail Ridge Road skirts the edges of lush green meadows, follows hairpin curves through dark pine forests and makes a slow dash across eleven miles of tundra with views of snow covered peaks in every direction. The Grand Lake lodge of the 1950's is the quintessential rustic mountain lodge, framed with massive pine logs, an immense stone fireplace, and a dining room ringed with large windows. The guests stay in several dozen cabins in the pine forest adjacent to the lodge. It's the final week of the summer season and I, with four other fortunate drivers, are there for the Christmas party. When the last of the guests have exited the dining room, it is quickly transformed into a banquet hall in fancy diner party style. There's a large decorated Christmas tree in a corner of the room. We drivers are included in the festivities. The lodge staff shows up in their Sunday best, and a prime rib dinner is served. Afterwards, presents are exchanged and Christmas carols sung. The banquet tables are moved to the edge of the room, lights are dimmed for an evening of slow fifties dancing. The next morning, as the guests are boarding the buses, the waitresses are gathered on the poarch for an enlivened round of old time gospel songs. The summer is winding down.

         The grayline bus garage is tucked beneath Denver's viaducts next to the railroad yards. Down the street stands the Fox hole, a blue collar bar catering to railroad workers. It's midsummer 1959, and several of us driver's are crowded into one of the Fox Hole's back booths, and probably on a third round of cold bottled beer. Somehow a spirited discussion comes about how underpaid we drivers are. Another round of beers is ordered and quickly, it is decided that a strike is in order. Over the next few days, the other drives are consulted and we decide to move forward with a demand for a wage increase. We are a nonunion group and have no intention of unionizing. We will handle matters by ourselves, a letter is drafted and sent off to management. Roger and Mark are elected to spearhead the negotiations. Roger is a Harvard business major and has had a course in labor relations but more than that, he is tall and has the all American square-jaw and a calm demeanor. Mark is a graduate student at American University nervous about the outcome. A contingent of six will attend the negotiations, and I'm one of the lucky ones drafted. Old James, the owner and CEO, has offered his house as a place to negotiate, we are dubious but accept the offer. James knows most of us by our first name and offers us pop and ice cream. We see his ploy but pop and ice cream are darn hard to turn down on a hot July night. We are asking for a 35 cent wage increase which would bring our hourly wage to a dollar and fifty cents. About thirty minutes have passed and James offers a fifteen cent raise and leaves the room so that we can discuss the offer. Roger assures us that James will accept a 30 cent counter offer. However, the team is not about to let victory slip through their fingertips and votes to accept the offer. Roger is staring at us in disbelief. James is scratching his head and has a curious look on his face, and says: okay gentlemen, we have a deal. We are en route to the fox hole where our brotherhood of fellow works are eagerly awaiting news of the negotiations.

          It's fall 1959 and I'm halfway through the grieving period but getting on with my life. A phone call from Art and he says: hold on! the party's not over. Several of our cohorts from the east have secured Denver employment. Art, ever the opportunist, has found a unique rental opportunity. A very wealthy lady, a friend of Art's family, has been buying up old Denver Mansions, lest they be torn down and replaced by high rise apartments. Having trust in Art, she will rent us a furnished eight bedroom mansion. Art, I said: count me in, this could be fun.


Mon, March 22, 2021

Struggling To Stay Young As I Rapidly Grow Old

Memory lapse in we elder folk, I'm convinced, rarely happens. It's just that spending so much time embellishing the past causes the present to get a little fuzzy.


Mon, Apr 6, 2021

Memorable Mountain Outings

Here's a puzzle. Looking down from the top floor of a tall building, I can expect a rapid heartbeat and quivering knees. Yet, going along a narrow mountain ledge with precipitous cliffs, it's a walk in the park. Why not golf or tennis instead of mountain climbing? I have no idea but the urge to be in mountain country has always been there. Climbing was never an obsession, it was secondary, a recreational pursuit.


Fri, 30 Apr, 2021

Are You Trying To Kill The Kids!?

The car is parked in the driveway, the rear slightly sagging under the weight of heavy packs. Paul's in the front seat and Niki is popping in and out of the back seat mumbling again and again: my dad and my brother are crazy. Our destination is Wyoming's Wind River Mountains where a multi-day crossing will take us on an ambitious alpine route.