By Tom Love © 2004
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, thinking that I am AWOL. I was in Las Vegas, 1973, returning to San Diego Navel Base. I was newly attached to a heli-squadron aboard the Coral Sea, heading for Nam. It seems I had gotten my dates confused. I woke up (like I do now) realizing that it was May 11th, not May 10th. And that my leave had ended yesterday. In a panic, I kissed my lovely companion Diane goodbye and ran down the Vegas Strip half dressed. I hailed a cab to the Air Force base outside of Vegas (good duty for those guys, huh!). At 4AM I barged into the Flight Director's office, sweaty and all together unmilitary-like. (me to the clerk)"Any transports heading for San Diego Navel Base?" (clerk to me) "Not tonight, Sailor." Damn! What to do now?! Well first I cursed myself for being such a stupid bloke. Then, as the merciless sun began to paint the sky over the desert, I stuck out my thumb like so many before me, leaving Las Vegas.
First ride was an auto upholsterer. A Cadillac, rolled and tucked. He drove me a little ways, not very far, but out of town, away from the not-so-friendly-to-hitchhiker-Vegas cops. Car after car went by, headlights turned to taillights as the next round of sweat popped on to my forehead. Nothing. Nothing that is, except for that purple AMC Gremlin that's slowing down and stopping next to a rock outcropping where a sign reads "No Stopping." I run up, throw my dufflebag into the back seat take a look at the driver. Nam Vet, mustache, fatigue shirt, jeans, cowboy boots. (Him to me) "Where'ya going?" (me to him). "San Diego" (him to me). "Swabby! LA. I'll get you that far." (me to him) "Great, thanks a whole lot. I'm late for duty." (him to me) "Rise above it." I jumped in and we puttered out over Death Valley.
Somehow the AMC made it to LA, the Vet let me out on a Freeway exit. There, a queue of runaways and druggies stood ready to take their rightful place at the edge of the entrance ramp, to be next in line for a ride. I took my turn, and was soon at the right spot. Almost immediately a sunshine yellow Beetle pulled up with two California blonde cuties. (them to me) "Want to go to a party?" (me to them) “Yeah!” Well, of course! (Randy Newman to me) "I love LA."
Then (them to me)"But first we're going to Church!" (me to me) "Huh?!"
I was driven to a small building on a hill, filled to the open rafters. The congregation looked like a group from an insane asylum with a weekend pass (they were). In front of us were several stern fellows, one of whom was obviously in charge. He proceeded to open a large floppy eared Bible and preach from Relevations. Signs would appear (They did!) Voices would be heard (They were!) Men would speak in the tongues of Angels (We did!) We cried at the glory, we screamed as multicolored demons were driven from our bodies, we gave offering (all my Vegas winnings)! And, after two hours of this spirited hullaballoo, we collapsed, spent. The young California beauties on either side of me had to prop me up as we exited the hallowed ground and shook the Preacher's hand. (Him to me) "God be with you, my son." (Me to him) “Rise above it."
As we rode through the warm LA evening, me in the back seat, these two lovelies in the front, it occurred to me that although the Lord had forgiven me, the Navy wouldn't. (me to the girls) "I've got to get to San Diego tonight" (them to me) "Let's go home first."
By now, I hoped it wasn't sex they wanted, I left that with God on the Church on the Hill. But home was a nice four bedroom ranch in the suburbs and included a father, a brother and a mom. The three greeted me heartily. (him to them) "Enjoy your church, girls?" (them to him) Yes, Daddy. This nice man needs a ride to San Diego. (me to him) "Before midnight." (him to the brother) "Michael?" (Michael to me) "San Diego? Sure."
We rode in silence. I was filled with more mumbo jumbo than Adam after eating the Apple. I saw the Angels, I heard the Angels, I talked silently to the Angels with my mind. At ll:30 PM we arrived at the Shipyard Gate. I showed them my orders, the SP chuckled at the dates and gave us directions. At approximately 11:50PM PST on the night of May 11th, 1973 I signed in my new duty station, a day late. (Ship's Clerk to me) "Welcome aboard, Sailor" There was no ship here, just an empty squad room. (me to him) “Rise above it.”
Five weeks later I was locked on the Psych Ward at Balboa Navel Hospital, still seeing, still listening to, and still talking with my mind, to those same Angels. Four weeks after that I was home.
Tom Love is a writer from Atlanta, GA.