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Ordinary people do brave things during the most trying times. And acts of kindness, even during the most distressing of situations are well remembered.
Ordinary people do brave things during the most trying times. And acts of kindness, even during the most distressing of situations are well remembered.
I guess you could say this story begins in the Greyhound bus station in Omaha, Nebraska.
A lovely spring day greeted those people getting off the bus.
"Excuse me, is this seat taken?" asked the young man, pointing to an empty seat next to the fellow sitting near the back of the bus.
"No, I think the guy who was sitting there got off here ... in ... what is this, Omaha?" said the fellow seated.
"Yeah, this is my hometown," said the young man, as he sat down. "My name is Hank Tyson, and you are?"
"I'm Tommy Fulton, but my friends back home call me 'Scratch.' I'm from Texas. Where are you headed?" he asked.
"New York City," said Tyson. "I want to try and get a job at one of the Broadway theaters there, and maybe get my career going."
"So, you're an actor or something?" Tommy asked.
"An actor, and a song and dance man, too," said Hank. "It would be swell if I could break into musicals or something. That's my goal. Where are you headed?" he asked.
"Anywhere far away from here," said Tommy. "My ma died last year, and my dad's off in the navy somewhere. I haven't seen or heard from him in years."
"That's a shame," Hank said.
"Yeah, well, what are you gonna do; things just happen!"
"You could probably find work in New York City, too," said Tyson.
As the two young men were talking, other people were finding seats on the bus. A couple of soldiers moved past them to find seats. Other buses were pulling in to the terminal, and people waiting for arriving passengers waved as they climbed off the buses.
"Okay everyone!" ordered the driver of the bus the two young men were on. "Have your tickets ready for me to punch."
A young mother with a little girl fished around in her purse to get out their tickets.
"Well, here goes, Gail; we're finally on the way to see your gram and gramps," she said, as the bus driver punched her two tickets.
"Des Moines is only about seven hours' bus ride from here," said the driver, as he handed her back the tickets.
Everyone finally was settled in, and their tickets punched by the bus driver, when one final passenger came clambering onto the bus. He had just made the connection from one of the other buses that had recently pulled in.
"Here's my ticket," said the fellow to the bus driver. "The guys are loading my bags now."
"Five more minutes and we would have been gone," the driver said as he punched the ticket and gave it back to him.
"Okay, everyone, settle in; here we go," said the driver, and they pulled out of the station headed toward Iowa.
Folks were taking off coats and jackets and stowing them in the overhead shelves. A woman seated behind the driver was telling him about the fun she and her cousins had had at the County Spring Expo Fair.
"It was nice to see them for something other than a wedding or funeral," she said. "My, but how some of them farmers' wives can bake," she added. "I must have tasted twenty different pies."
"My husband, Elmo, and I both had to drink down bicarbonate of soda, and he belched all the way home," she tattled.
The bus driver chuckled at this and turned on his windshield wipers as they came upon a small rain shower. "I love going to our county fair," said the bus driver. "My Harriet makes the best darn dill pickles in Iowa."
"Don't ever say that to my cousin Mary; she's sitting about seven rows back," said the woman. "Mary thinks she could represent Iowa in a national championship."
"That's okay," said the driver, "as long as she lets my Harriet have her little piece of Iowa." And they both laughed.
Folks settled in even more and began to doze on the bus. Girls took out their paper dolls and started playing the make-believe games of childhood. One young boy, about ten, asked his mom and dad again why he couldn't bring his dog, Charlie, along.
"Because, what if Charlie needs to doodle?" the mom asked. "The bus driver can't just stop the bus for that."
"Yeah, but he stops the bus for us," said the child.
"That's because we're human beings."
"Charlie's just as good as us," said the little boy, not quite convinced of the difference between Charlie and the folks on the bus.
Hours later, as the family was getting off the bus, the child said to no one in particular, "I still think that Charlie could have made the trip with us humans."
People got on and off. The woman with the pickling cousin finally convinced the bus driver to, maybe, have his wife send them some of her prized pickles after they had given him a sample of her cousin's pickles. The bus driver thought it odd that they had pickles with them until he remembered that they had just been to a county fair event.
He wondered if the woman had brought them to her Nebraska cousin's just to enter them in the contest under an assumed name. He wondered if all of this would open up a can of worms.
But then he said to himself with a chuckle, No, they'll just be opening up a couple of jars of pickles.
"Let's see now, the folks at the bus station said the YMCA was down here. Oh, there it is!" said Tommy. There it was, half a block down, on the other side of the street.
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name" Hank said to the fellow who was walking with them.
"Jerry Martin, that's me," he said, holding out a hand to shake theirs.
"Let's see if they'll give us a deal, seeing as how there are three of us," Tommy said. This would become Tommy's signature phrase. His family must have been horse traders or something way back when; his deal-making would get them into more crazy situations than they cared to remember. He never did tell them where he got the nickname 'Scratch.'
"Where are you from and where are you headed?" Hank asked Jerry.
"Well, I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I thought I'd give the east coast a try," he said.
"My granddad came over from Ireland back in 1885, and my father says Granddad talked about living in New York City for awhile, till he moved west," continued Jerry. "So I thought I'd retrace his steps, so to speak. Maybe I'll work for someone like the New York Yankees."
"How funny that you're going to New York City!" said Hank." At least I'll know two people when I get there. You and Scratch."
"Okay, fellas, here's the deal," Tommy said to the two of them. "We'll pretend we're stranded here and just need a room for the night. Maybe they'll let us stay for free." What a wheeler-dealer.
"Can I help you fellows?" asked the man at the registration desk in the YMCA.
"Uh, yeah," said Tommy. "We're kind of low on funds, and we were hoping we might be able to work a deal where we could have a room?"
"I see," the man smiled. "Well, I can probably help you out," said the man. "Come on in and take a load off." That was easy enough. They should have seen it coming.
"How long were you planning on staying?" asked the man at the desk.
"Oh, maybe just one day, I guess," said Tommy. "Do you think you could help us?"
"Well, maybe; I just don't know," he said, absentmindedly scratching his head. "How soon do you need to go on that bus?"
"Well, tomorrow I guess," Tommy said.
"Your bus tickets are probably still good if you don't make tomorrow's bus," said the man from the YMCA. "So, here's the thing. I need a room or two painted here and I could really use the help. I might even throw in a little money for the work, in addition to you being able to have a place to sleep. What do you think?"
"It's a deal," said Tommy, without even bothering to consult the other fellows.
"You better go back to the bus station to collect the rest of your stuff," said the man from the YMCA. "Let them know you want to change your travel day, too."
"See how easy that was!" Tommy said, as the three of them walked back to the bus station. "That was a piece of cake!"
"Be careful with old Mickey over there at the YMCA," he said. "Sometimes a little job isn't as little as you think." The fellows walked back to the YMCA with the rest of their belongings and got settled in for the night.
"Just be downstairs here in the lobby at eight o'clock tomorrow morning," said Mickey, the desk man. When they came down to the lobby the next morning a different man was at the desk.
"Can I help you fellows?" he said.
"Yeah, your night manager said he had a little work for us in exchange for room and board," said Tommy.
"Oh, yeah, he left me a note saying some fellows were going to be doing some paint work. By the way, my name's Calvin; and yours?"
Before any of them could answer, a commotion outside the entrance made them all turn and look at the front door. Car doors slammed and people yelled and the guys ran outside to see what was happening.
A couple of cars had crashed into each other at the corner. Luckily no one was hurt, but a delivery truck that was behind one of the vehicles couldn't stop in time and skidded into the curb. The young man who was driving the delivery truck hopped out of his vehicle to check his cargo. He looked just like Mickey Rooney, except the fellow was six foot tall.
"Jeez, Mr. Freeman is going to kill me if the piano is damaged," he said out loud. He hopped onto the back of the truck and untied the coverings that were protecting the piano to take a look. Pulling out a stool from under some other protective blankets he sat down and started playing the piano.
This looked pretty weird. A young man playing honky tonk piano while other folks were helping to untangle the two cars that had crashed. A policeman came over and looked at the young man and said, "What's the meaning of this?"
Without missing a beat, the young piano player ... er ... deliveryman said that he was delivering the piano to the Westside Tavern.
"That's all well and good that you're alright," said the policeman. "But why are you giving us all a concert?"
"Mr. Freeman will kill me if this piano is damaged," said the young man. "The owners over at the Westside Tavern have been waiting for this piano over two weeks."
"It sounds like the piano is fine," said the policeman. "Let's get your truck out of here before more people come over to gawk at all of this."
"Okay, if you say so," said the young piano player, who by now had attracted a small crowd.
"Don't worry," said the police officer. "I'll speak to Mr. Freeman and tell him it wasn't your fault."
The three apprentice painters who had been standing on the sidewalk watching all of this turned to go back into the YMCA, when the police officer asked if they would help push the truck back.
"Just let me tie down the piano and cover it up," said the young man. A few minutes later the young man motioned the three fellows over and said he was ready. They got the police officer's attention and he cleared a way for the truck to get through the crowd. Off went the young piano player to deliver his apparently undamaged piano.
"Sorry we left so abruptly," Jerry said to the YMCA manager when they went back indoors to start painting.
"That's okay, boys, let me show you what I want painted," said Calvin, the YMCA manager. "Just don't take off again like that; you'll never get done painting."
So off they all went down to the basement of the YMCA to gather up ladders, paint brushes, paint cans, and all the other stuff needed to properly paint.
"Say, wait a minute!" Hank said to Calvin. "This looks like a lot of stuff to be dragging upstairs if we're only painting a couple of rooms!"
"So Mickey didn't tell you exactly what he wanted done?" Calvin looked at the boys.
"Well, not exactly," said Hank. "But I have a sneaky suspicion that we've gotten ourselves into a sticky situation."
"Just use these drop cloths and try not to step on any paint drips," said Calvin in his best manner to smooth over the situation. "Come on; let me show you that it won't be so bad."
That was another phrase that seemed to reverberate through their dealings with folks. 'It won't be so bad' ...
What was that Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel? "Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into, Stanley."
The rooms turned out to be the rec room and the dining room.
The fellows figured that Mickey and Calvin were just waiting for someone like Hank and Tommy and Jerry to come along. You know the type; easily duped into doing things. But then, being the honest fellows that they were, the three young men said it would be okay.
Not to be outfoxed, young deal-maker Tommy Fulton convinced Calvin and Mickey to feed them while they were painting.
"Wait a minute," Hank said to Tommy. "We're not gonna have to wash dishes, too, are we?"
"No, I'm sure we won't." At least, I hope we don't! Tommy said to himself.
The three young men were no strangers to hard work. They knew this would be just one of many odd jobs they would have to do to 'work their way' out to New York City. Sometimes, youthful energy and enthusiasm make up for lack of experience.
The fellows spent some of their break time sitting on the back fire escape. There was a dance studio across the alley from the YMCA, where they could watch young men and women learn the latest dance steps. Hank figured he better watch as much dance lessons as he could fit in. He wanted to be ready to show his stuff when he got to Broadway.
The three young men really applied themselves, and they made steady progress.
"Are you sure our bus tickets are still good?" Jerry asked Hank as they were washing off the paint brushes.
"Don't worry, I asked the fellow at the ticket counter down at the bus station, and he said no problem," said Hank. "Hey, did you see that cute brunette dancing with that clumsy fellow this afternoon?"
"Now don't you go getting sidetracked by some girl!" said Jerry. "There'll be plenty of girls in New York City to meet and dance with, once we get there."
"Okay, but what'll I do in the meantime?" asked Hank.
"Did you see the sign in the front window here at the Y?"
Hank shook his head, no, to Jerry's question.
Jerry said, "There's a talent show this Friday night at some place called The Silver Moon, and the sign says today is the last day to sign up. Hey, where are you going?" Jerry shouted.
"To make some money for myself!" said Hank, taking off.
After Hank ran off to the audition, Calvin called the Silver Moon and told them that Hank was in the middle of painting the rec. room at the Y, and not to be surprised or laugh at his appearance.
"What can you sing?" asked the man who was filling out the forms and setting up the order in which people would appear at the talent contest.
"Something called, 'Let's Get Away From It All,' said Hank. "I hope you have the music."
"That's funny!" The man shuffled through his list of performers. "Someone else, I think, is also singing that. Let me see here ... yeah, here it is ... someone named Jane Hilton. But that's okay, we're choosing a girl and a boy each to win, as well as a musical group."
"Okay, what key do you want that in?" asked the piano player.
"The key of G would be just fine," said Hank.
Okay, ready, one two three four," said the piano player. And Hank launched into the song. He did a little song-and-dance move and then sang the last two verses again.
"Very nice," said the man with the list of performers. "Too bad you're not doing the song with the young girl who sang it earlier."
"Who's that?" Hank asked.
"That girl over there." The man pointed to a girl wearing a floppy hat.
Excerpted from Six Old Crows by J. P. Martin Copyright © 2013 by J. P. Martin. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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