Sunday, December 29, 2013

It was not a good day .... or WAS it?

 It was a gorgeous weekday in early October 1964.    We were all recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Hilda.  Power in Baton Rouge was almost fully restored and life was getting back to normal.   And I was now back on my job with the Louisiana Division of Employment Security after being storm-closed for a week.

On this particular morning I was en route to New Roads to meet with the Point Coupee parish county agent.  The “new” Mississippi River bridge was still under construction,  therefore it was necessary that I take the ferry to cross the river.  I was still able to drive my 1958 Nash Rambler and with each out-of-town trip I kept my fingers crossed.   This car was rapidly beginning to see its last days, but I managed to keep nursing it back to health.   I had purchased it new in 1958 at a whopping $1800.    Sporting a manual transmission,  it had no AC but it did have a radio, a true traveling luxury back then.   It also had a reclining front seat, a relatively new innovation in cars at that time.  Except when it rained or when it was very cold I would always drive with the driver window open.   It didn’t have turn signal lights, so it was necessary to resort to arm signals out the window.  Some fun!

I had recently been discharged from active duty having devoted over a year of service at Fort Polk during the “Berlin Crisis” in 1961- 62.   Gloria and I and our 2 year old son, Jerry III, resided just off base in an 8’x42’ trailer in a commercial trailer park.  While not the most comfortable accommodations, this arrangement was cozy and, best of all, we were together.   Most of the enlisted guys there participated in ride-sharing to and from our assigned post headquarters units.  I ride-shared with our company cook,  First Sgt Jimmy.  When it was my turn to drive, it was quite a challenge having Jimmy as my passenger because he weighed over 400 pounds.  He also had recently injured his knee causing him considerable difficulty getting into my little 2-door Nash Rambler.  He would have to adjust the seat, then stretch.  On one occasion he stretched and the seat’s backrest reclining gear made a grinding sound.   This made me nervous and Jimmy agreed not to “stretch” anymore when he sat in my car.  I’ll have more to say about this car seat saga a little later. 

When I traveled on state business I would bring my own lunch which consisted of a TV dinner and my thermos of coffee.  To accommodate  transporting my lunches I had fashioned a little wooden tote with a handle consisting of a
2”x8”x12” wooden bed for holding the TV dinner and a wire holder for the thermos.  My wife, Gloria, hated it.  She said "You should be embarrassed being seen with that thing."  But I had to keep reminding her that it was very serviceable since most of my business travels took me to sparse areas of the 9 parishes I was in charge of.  Before each trip I would heat the TV dinner for 25 minutes in our oven (no microwave ovens back then), wrap it in several layers of insulating newspaper,  place it in my tote, then off I’d go.

OK, back to this post-Hilda morning.  Having boarded the ferry with my semi-trusty Rambler,  I found myself positioned next to a late model luxury convertible carrying 2 very attractive young ladies.  As I sneaked flirty glances at them, they would return these glances with smiles and occasional giggles.  This went on for about 5 minutes when suddenly my backrest collapsed (a symptom of my Sgt Jimmy ride-sharing).  And of course I fell back when it collapsed.   Now out of sight I heard the 2 lovelies laughingly saying “Where did he go?”  I managed to pull myself upright, daring NOT to glance in their direction.  I felt myself flushing with embarrassment.   Because my wife, Gloria, loved slap-stick comedy and slapstick reality, she cracked up when I told her about it.

Ever try to drive while having to hold yourself upright?  Not fun.  Thank heavens the ferry was now landing and cars began de-boarding.   Holding myself up by grasping the steering wheel, I entered highway 1 en route to highway 190.  I began to realize this wasn’t going to work … driving without a backrest.  I was about to turn around when suddenly I spotted a 4”x4”x 3’ piece of timber on the side of the road.  I pulled off, picked it up and braced it between the rear of my backrest and the backrest of the backseat.  Worked perfectly.   Was this manna from heaven?   Never before had a piece of roadside trash bestowed such relief.  I was once again upright,  not having to hang on to the steering wheel for upright support. 

I was now comfortably en route to New Roads along Hwy 1 hugging False River when BAM! A huge limb (victim of Hurricane Hilda) crashed onto my car’s hood.  I pulled over to check the damage.    When I dragged the limb from my hood, I found that I now had an ugly cave-in over my engine compartment.  Fortunately I was able to open and close the hood with no difficulty.   Relieved, I proceeded to my destination even though I was truly pissed at having to now drive a candidate for the junk yard.  

I  concluded my business with the parish agent who, by the way, showed no sympathy for my 2 earlier misadventures as he doubled over in laughter.  Nonetheless  I bade him "good day"and proceeded to my next scheduled stop.  

I was now back on hwy 190 when I looked at my watch and discovered  it was 2 pm.  I was starving.  Time to stop and eat.

Back in the early 60s Louisiana (as well as most other states) generously supplied travelers with rest stops.  Many in Louisiana simply consisted of a picnic table on a concrete pad and a trash receptacle positioned under a tree.

Such a rest stop appeared before me, so I pulled off next to it.  With my trusty lunch tote I sat at the table, unwrapped the newspaper from my TV dinner, poured myself a cup of coffee from my thermos, unwrapped my knife and fork and dove into my Salisbury steak meal.  Suddenly after 2 bites my gravy splashed onto my shirt and face.   What the hell!  Closer inspection revealed bird crap.   BIRD CRAP!!  I looked up and saw a male mockingbird proudly perching above me.  That was it!!  I was done!!  No more appointments today.   My lunch went in the garbage and I got back in the car and sped away.  If bad luck happens in threes I had had mine that day.   

I managed to get home without any further mishaps to test my nerves and patience.   

Ever have a bad day? 

A few months later I did manage to sell my Rambler after purchasing a Michoud Plant fleet vehicle.   More on this little saga in a later post.


  1. OH What a most enjoyable read but of course at your expense, Jerry.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Charlotte. Hope all's well with you and Ray and that wonderful bunch of families you and Ray have produced. Happy New Year!