Luckily I ended up with a rental car that had a) some get-up-and-go; b) looks kind of cool with its black exterior and smooth styling inside and out; c) a killer sound system that’s heavy on the bass (just my style) for a sudden trip from Utah to my hometown of Salmon, Idaho, to see my mother on Monday.
Yeah, in a way I guess you could say I could afford it. What awaited me and my lovely wife when we got back from our “stepping out in faith marriage retreat” over the weekend was a check representing what was left from my retirement account after taxes and penalties had taken a big bite out of it. I had put the wheels in motion to dig into my retirement before getting the opportunity to be a “wrangler” in the Bay Area, and it will help us along until that opportunity really starts to take off. AND IT WILL!
This is also called “stepping out in faith.” And, no, we’re not going to go totally crazy. We’ll make dollars stretch as much as possible, just like it would be if I didn’t have a job opportunity at all. Stepping out in faith to take care of some very personal business in my hometown.
The sound system in this Mazda sedan was the most important to me as I started off on a six-hour drive, and I still don’t have a vehicle of our own that I trust not to break down to make that journey. Everything else with the rental was just the icing on the cake of a smooooth ride that usually takes about six hours, including a half-hour lunch plus another half hour to gas up and stretch the legs in Idaho Falls.
This was a slightly different road trip for me. I don’t usually head northbound on I-15 through Pocatello and call my old college roommate Baron Chase and leave a voicemail message asking him if he’d like me to say hello to Pocatello for him for the first time in many years.
I usually head straight through the Portneuf Valley area and go directly to the Idaho Falls area for a bite to eat, some gas, and a chance to stretch my legs around the halfway point on the drive to Salmon. But I knew it had been a very long time — maybe 27 years or so — since Baron had seen some of his old stomping grounds in the Pocatello area. So I decided — following my instincts — to make a side trip to show him what his old stomping grounds are like today. After all, I’ve made this journey myself so many times through the years it’s pretty much all second nature to me. For Baron … well, I’m sure it’s been a while for him.
What I didn’t have on hand was our good camera. That was stupidly left behind by me at Baron’s place in Petaluma, California, but I can do okay with just my cell phone camera for as long as I need to. There might be just a few blurry pictures, but that adds to the artsiness, right?
My first stop through the Pocatello area was one of the major plants that employs many people there, where Baron once worked as a mechanic and a welder. He told some creepy stories of working in the tall towers in 20-below-zero temperatures, driving snow, biting wind, and the gnarly critters that would be attracted to him by the heat of the welding torch while he worked a good 150 feet above ground.
For some reason, the bark of a guy in the parking lot across the road from me while I was simply snapping a photo of one of the taller towers reminded me of a story Baron told me about the working environment there.
“HEY!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!!” the guy bellowed.
“I’m just taking a picture,” I responded.
“Well, you’re not allowed to take pictures out here!”
“Okay,” I responded as I got back into the car. But … too late, I thought, as I pressed the “Save” button. I mean, it’s just a tower and some steam. It’s not like I’m stealing top-secret government documents or anything. Right? I was on a public road, not their property, when I shot the tower. But it gave me a line to feed to Baron to inspire him to dig in to his music and get it to a full-time level based on experiences he told me about while working there so many years ago.
“Don’t allow yourself to be the ‘company nigger’ too much longer, man,” I said bluntly when he called me back as I was making my way, backtracking-style, to the campus of Idaho State University and our old stomping grounds from back in the 1978-79 school year. “Let’s get to work on making names for ourselves. Let’s get past this ‘company nigger’ kind of garbage, let’s do something big.”
How many people besides me could have gotten away with using that kind of talk with my good friend? That’s why he made me his “wrangler.” He seemed to know exactly what I was saying and why I was saying it. It’s time to get down to the business of getting creative, in both a music and entrepreneurial sense, get away from the “tough guys” who like to holler out “HEY, WHAT’RE YA DOIN’?” when there’s no trespassing going on.
After all, it’s a free country, right?
The talk and recollections on the phone with Baron continued while I made my way to our old residence hall, the Garrison dorms to the south with the girls’ dorms in Turner Hall to the north.
Baron started out living on the south side of Garrison before moving to the north side with me in the second semester. We lived on the sixth floor of Garrison, which was THE floor to party in those days. It was wild enough back then that it was compared to the movie “Animal House” from that same timeframe. How we survived those days is anyone’s guess. Facing the girls’ dorm was prime real estate for the guys back then.
Speaking of girls, it’s also strange that the music that was playing on the car stereo as I drove up to those dorms on Monday was from ELO’s “Out Of The Blue,” which brought back a flood of not-too-pleasant memories for me of a lost love from my early college days because I wasn’t a member of the girl’s religion. That ELO album got heavy play from me in those days. That’s the time when Baron became pretty much a life-saver to me.
That was a big reason why I ended up drowning my sorrows back then. Looking at it now, I realize how foolish it was to waste time pining over the girl. I ended up with a gem of a wife and three great kids. You learn more as you grow and mature.
But then there was one of the “freaky things” that seems to pop up more and more all the time these days as Baron and I plot a mutual course for our linked futures. It was one of those “signs” that just kind of takes my breath away, and I’m becoming more tuned to them.
“It’d be cool if you could find the old Bengal Hut and get a picture of it,” Baron said from his workplace in the Bay Area while I drove the streets of Pocatello, Idaho.
So I found the old location of The Bengal Hut, where Baron and I used to dance and drink like two madmen. What I found there on Monday made me think a bit. What I found in the place of an old “watering hole” with one of the larger dance floors in that area during the latter days of the disco era was now a non-denominational church, Christ’s Love Vineyard, inviting everyone to “come as you are.”
And Baron now lives in the land of California vineyards. And he told me to seek out the old Bengal Hut. Kind of freaky.
I made my way to one of Baron’s old apartments nearby from there, the first place he lived, if I remember correctly, after he got his diesel mechanic’s certificate at ISU.
I remember times when I’d go there after I’d left college myself and tried to start a career of my own, waiting for him in my car in front of that place, and for whatever reason I recalled listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and Jean-Luc Ponty’s “No Strings Attached” from his “Live” album while I waited for Baron to arrive, so we could visit and listen to music. We ALWAYS listened to music together.
From there, I started heading back to the freeway to make my way out of town. But on the way to the freeway, I found the last place I remember Baron living before he moved to the Bay Area — another place where we’d just visit, listen to music, enjoy each other’s company. Just like brothers.
I went through Idaho Falls quickly with a bite to eat there and a gas stop. As I headed through the desert of southeast Idaho on the way to Mud Lake (yes, there’s actually a town called Mud Lake on the way to Salmon), I got what I took as another “sign” that I’m heading in the right direction. It came in the form of the sun behind some clouds, and it took my breath away.
Around the top of the mile-high Gilmore summit, I started running into some fog. And I had the music of Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” to soothe me and to sing along with as I neared the home stretch. The fog lifted as I got closer to Leadore, and as I got less than 20 miles away from my hometown I saw the deer along the side of the highway that you pretty much always see through there at night, just wondering if it was going to jump out in front of me. It didn’t, but I could still admire that creature’s beauty.
And then it was there. Main Street in Salmon, Idaho. Illuminated by the sign from the two-screen theater. I had arrived at a place I’d once called home, and still do in a way.
I was born in a small town. And I lived in a small town.