The way things were.
“Hey kid, you think this is adventure” said the drifter from the distant shadows of the box car. “Excuse me” muttered the kid from the opening of the box car rolling steady as a Johnny Cash tune. “I said, do you think this is adventure” the drifter repeated himself sounding very clear and educated, for a drifter that is. “Listen man, don’t give me some frazzled tale of your woe’s and hard life, this is adventure , I am not in the Congo murdering in Vietnam, i am taking trains like the poets who are all the rage, i am going to San Fransisco to meet up with them. Thats why i am on this train, on this adventure.” The drifter got up from sitting down and walked over to sit next to the kid with his grip on a stick. “Trite comes to mind, and you being a writer must understand that word. I was a writer, a farmer , a plumber, a drafts man , a banker, a father , a son , a drunk , alone and then drifter came in somewhere and now I’m here with you on this box car. You remind me of a story i once heard about these two fellows searching for adventure. Listen up, I’m only going to tell it once.”
“The year was 1942, World War II was all the rage, kids where coming home in pine boxes just like today and everyone wanted to destroy the enemy, blood was on everyones pallet. If you didn’t go to war, you were not a man and further more not an American. This isn’t some story about a war hero and how great this country is, this is the story of two dreamers – and the power of movement.
The carnival was in town, that town being Tybee island , a small beach community off the coast of Georgia. There was a bar, a small dark dive joint where common men would come to forget about life. Sailors would come in on leave and drink till they couldn’t see or stand. At the bar sat a deserter from Massachusetts drinking a glass of beer slowly and instead of a grip like you have there kid, he had a guitar. He sat there , minding his business , slowly sipping his beer when a couple of good ol’ boy’s on leave decided to disturb his quite corner. The good ol’ boys said “ Hey music man, play me a song – can you play that nigger music boy, you look like one of those boys. A god damn nigger loving Yankee!!” He stood up from his beer calmly and looked both gentile men in the eye’s when fate waltzed in and did the two step. A booming voice spoke in a thick southern twang “ NOW-NOW Boys, whats all the fuss, i happen to know this boy – and he is a world class guitar man, he doesn’t play no nigger music, hell he ain’t even from here – we imported him from the circus in Vienna. He don’t even speak English. I am sorry for the bother boys, I’ll be taking him home now.” The good ol’ boys stood there stunned as the circus savior pulled the young guitar man out of the bar by the cuffs of his long coat.
When they got out side the young guitar man asked him “What the hell was that for, i can handle my own battles” At which point caused his savior to rawer a giant laugh. “ You were about to get squashed by those two drunken sailors and when they aren’t fucking on leave, there fighting and all they needed was a reason and a body, and your welcome. The names Cole Porter,i work with the circus, I am what they call a ringer” Cole reached out his hand to make acquaintances with the young guitar man. “Thanks but no thanks, like i said i can handle my own” The young guitar man gave him that same cold look he gave the sailors, picked up his guitar and kept walking down the street, away from the bar and off to who knows where. Cole rushed up to the boy as he was walking away and said “ Hey boy, you play that guitar, you any good, i am a harp man myself – I love blues, have you heard of the blues kid.” On that dirt road , off some forgotten street the boy turned around, put his guitar down and said “ The names Howard Sturges, let me show you something” He knelt down opening his guitar case and picked a beat up old six string with a worn finish out of a velor lined case. He began playing a two part blues and then stopped realizing where he was. “Well Howard, its a pleasure to meet you – lets get out of the street and go to my camp site, i got my harmonica there and a bottle of whiskey tucked away”
They walked back to the circus camp grounds. On there walk they learned about each other. Howard was escaping the war and playing music for money all they way from Boston down as far as Tybee Island. Howard’s father ran and owned the only all black blues bar in all of Boston where Howard was exposed to the music and eventually learned how to play. Cole was from west Texas , out in the dessert and was traveling with the circus before he was getting shipped out with the national guard where he learned how operate a gun torrent and they needed him in Germany.
Back at the camp ground there where all sorts of people from all walks of life lounging around, they where about to pack up camp and leave Cole behind for Germany. Cole took Howard to where he had his harmonica and they just began playing together as if they had been doing it for years. The drank the whiskey and played every standard they could. Cole slurred “ Man wouldn’t it be great to do this all the time, with no restrictions, i really admire you Howard” Howard looked up puzzled from his guitar. “Well whats stopping you”. Puzzled faces must have been the theme of the evening because Cole now adorned one as well. “I couldn’t do that, well there is the circus and the guard and my country , fighting Germany and coming back victorious or dying a hero” Howard began to pack up his guitar and it looked as if he was gearing up to leave. “Those are excuses Cole, thats not living”
Cole responded “Those are responsibilities, when you find out what living is come find me” Howard was almost out the door not knowing wear he was off to next.
“I wish we could just get away out of this place, away from constraints and complaints so we would’nt have to keep singing the blues”
Cole laughed, gave a synthetic smirk and spoke “And how do you suppose we get there, fly on that there guitar of your’s, maybe i can ride this harp to this magical place”
Howard looked around confused as if he hadn’t thought that far ahead and noticed a hot air balloon that was tethered to the ground next to a sign that read, BALLOON RIDES $2.00. Howard said “How about that balloon over there, we could just take that”
Cole started jazzing on the idea and went along with it for the sake of conversation “Yeah we can just steal rations from the national guard compound down the road a bit and just steal the fuel for the balloon. Hell, we could make it to China.”
Howard, responding to the hint of cynicism, gave Cole the same hairy eyeball he gave the sailors and when Cole tried to introduce himself . Howard continued “Ok, lets go tonight, right now, this instant. Lets go, put your money where your mouth is”.
Cole’s down fall was not acepting to be challenged, failure was not an option. Cole wasn’t an impulsive man, but a man of principle and pride. “Follow me Howard, leave your guitar here we are going to fill your case up with canned goods and grab some canvas packs and fill them with canteens. We are going to need a sledge hammer to break the lock off the mess hall, we can just grab the one that the balloon ride man’s has, we are going to be stealing his balloon, he wont notice a sledge hammer missing. By the time we will get back it will be day break, I can wake up Marquis d’Arlandes, thats the guy who runs the hot air balloon rides and tell him there shipping me out and i want one last good look of America, the land I am fighting for before i go to Germany. He will be groggy and tired and wont notice whats in our bags, and why your carrying your guitar and we have two big jugs of kerosene.”
They did just that. It was around six in the morning, the sun had just come up and Howard and Cole where in the balloon, with all there materials and acting as somber as a soldier could before leaving home. They watched Marquis as he made the balloon go up and down. The mechanics where very simple, tug to go up, tug harder to go down. Howard pretended to be sick and have Marquise land the balloon. Ten feet to the ground Cole turned to Marquis and said “ I’m sorry about this, i hope it doesn’t hurt to bad. Thank you for this, you’ll figure something out”. Howard and Cole dumped Marquise out of the gondola , cut the tether with a knife and where off to a new life.”
“See kid now thats an adventure” The drifter said to the kid. The kid just stood up, put his hands in his pockets and then sat in the shadow where the drifter lurked out from in the first place. The drifter continued “ They where never heard from again, rumor is they landed in Trinidad right in the middle of carnival and where treated like royalty for there festive entrance. They lived by there own rules among the citizens of Trinidad playing calypso clubs” The train rolled on as it was getting dark and the wind was bighting down in the Midwest, no mans land they call it. The kid just said “I’m cold” to this the drifter responded “I thought you said you were a writer”