Before I moved to the ‘haunted’ house and after I had just moved off the base, I had to hitch-hike to and from the base. Daily rides to work were easy. Most of the folks I worked with drove right past my flat on the way to work, it was an easy thing for them to pull over and pick me up.
Weekends and ‘off-duty hours’ were a different matter entirely.
The main reason I went to the base on weekends was to do laundry initially and later to work with an amateur dramatics society on the base. The theatrical attendance was also quite easy to do because lots of the society members again drove right past my flat, or I could catch them on the road by ‘thumbing it.’
I myself had stopped picking up hitchhikers years ago, while I was still married to my first wife. I’d had a rather alarming episode with a long-haired man and a knife that resulted in me pulling a pistol and throwing him out of my pick-up truck in the pouring rain. After that little heart-stopping event, I swore to never pick up a hitchhiker again.
But my whole first year in England, I did not own a car. I had to, like a male version of Blanche DuBois, rely on the kindness of strangers. This did not always work. I remember quite a few times where, laden with a mobility bag full of dirty clothes, I had to walk the five mile stretch in the pouring rain. I usually got lucky once I got to the Laundromat on base, I could just about always find a ride back.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t use the ‘local’ Laundromat in the village, it is because there wasn’t one.
But, I had enough kind people stop and give an airman a lift, especially easy if you were in uniform, that I wanted to return the kindness shown me by picking up folks who were having to ride their thumb.
I did eventually have to stop though. We were getting briefings about a group of young women who were ‘hitching’ and when they got picked up by a lone male, would accuse him of touching them up. We were warned that if we didn’t know the individual who had their thumb out, to pass them by.
I decided that if the hitcher was in uniform that I would take my chances. That decision led to two of the strangest car rides I’d had since being in the United Kingdom and my cessation of giving strangers a ride.
The first ‘girl’ I stopped for was in uniform. At first glance she looked like she was in the USAF green fatigues that most airmen wear daily. She was of medium height and had very tightly curled hair. She sort of looked like a grown-up Shirley Temple but with reddish brown hair.
It was pelting down rain that stung your skin when it hit and I felt bad about anyone having to endure that for the five mile walk from the base to the village.
When she got in, she extended a sopping wet hand and introduced herself. “I’m Julie,” she said, “Thanks for stopping.”
I said my name was Mike and that I was only going as far as the village. She stated that would be fine as she was trying to track down her fiancée who was supposed to be in one of the Pubs there. Then absolute silence for the remainder of the five miles.
I stopped by the first Pub that was in the village square and let her out, as she got out of the car she leaned back in and again thanked me for the ride. She paused for a moment and them asked, “Do you live in the village?”
I said, ” Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Why?”
She leaned into the car a bit further. “You don’t know Staff Sargent Thompson do you?” Her eyes had taken on a glittery look that made her look a bit mad.
“No-o-o-o. I don’t think I do.”
She reached into a pocket of her uniform that I realised belatedly was not a USAF fatigue uniform at all. It was Israeli. I found this out when she pulled a knife out of her pocket and sat back down in the car.
“Are you sure? I know how you Air Force bastards back each other up. Now think hard, Staff Sargent Thompson, he’s about your age with black hair, he just got back from Israel where he was on a ‘mini’ Kibbutz. We met there and he told me he was stationed here.” She paused for a moment. “He’s got a huge cock. He said his nickname was Horse.”
I sat stunned and just looked at her for a minute. I finally lied and said that I’d only just arrived in country and that she’d be better off checking with someone who had been here longer.
Running her finger along the knife’s blade, she looked intently at my face, apparently trying to decide if I was lying or not. After what seemed like an eternity, she nodded and started to again leave my car. As she went to close my passenger door, I stomped on the gas pedal and left rubber for at least six yards on the road.
When I got home I decided that I wouldn’t be going out that night in case I bumped into her in my local. I didn’t pick up another hitchhiker for ages after that.
Then on Independence day, I was driving past the market square when a young very pretty black girl flagged me down. I stopped when I saw she was in green fatigues and I saw she was an Airman First Class by the two stripes on the arms of her uniform shirt.
She ran up to the drivers side and gave me a big smile. “Hey! You stationed at Mildenhall or Lakenheath?”
She pouted and asked, “You wouldn’t be going to the Fourth of July party at Lakenheath would you?” Realising that this gorgeous creature was asking in a very round about way if I’d give her a lift, I said yes.
“Great! Wait here for a minute, will you?”
Before I could answer she went sailing into a shop. In about a minute she came back out with a plastic bag. The girl was, if nothing else, prompt. She hopped into the passenger seat of my car and said, “I just had to buy a clean shirt. My uniform shirt is all sweaty, I had a late night last night. You know what I mean?”
Before I could say a word she’d whipped her uniform top off and revealed that she did’t wear a bra. She also had nothing to be embarrassed about in the breast department. She was easily a 36 C and very perky with it. She then sat there topless and proceeded to rummage through her bag.
I grabbed her discarded top and threw it at her. “Quick! Put that back on! You can’t get changed here!” My eyes were darting all around the immediate area looking for my girlfriend and the police.
Pouting again she put the uniform top back on and did up one button. “Well where can I change? I don’t want to go to the party smelling like this.”
Thinking quickly I said, “Look, my flat is right around the corner, I can wait while you get changed in the bathroom. I’ll even leave the flat door open so you won’t feel uncomfortable.”
This proved to be acceptable and we made our way to my flat. I didn’t have to bother about showing her where the bathroom was or leaving the door of the flat open. The second she went through my door, the uniform top was whipped off and she started rummaging through that bag again.
She had about five different blouses in the bag and she kept putting on one and looking in the tiny mirror over my bedroom sink.
She’d then whip that top off and try on another one. About halfway through, she stopped and turned to look at me. Her breasts were still very perky and I didn’t know what to do with my eyes.
“You aren’t in a hurry are you?” She asked.
My face flaming and blood rushing into places it had no place being, I answered with strangled no. Sweat was streaming down my overly hot face and I just knew that my girlfriend was going to walk in at any minute. When the girl came over to have me light her cigarette, I started believing that this was some kind of test.
I decided that my girlfriend had set me up to see how I’d react to this half naked vixen in front of me. After cupping my hands with hers while I lit her cigarette, she kept hold of my hands and dragging deep on the now lit smoke, she looked into my face. “Are you sure, you don’t have to be anyplace…special?”
My nerve broke then and I pulled my hands back and started for the door. “Damn! I just remembered I have to meet somebody at the party and I think I’m late. We’d better get going.”
I stood just outside the door and waited while she finally decided on what blouse she liked best. Practically pushing her to my car, I set the world record for the shortest drive possible to RAF Lakenheath. When I stopped the car at the area set aside for the Independence Day celebrations I said, “Go on and get out, I’ll just park the car and I’ll join you after.”
“Okay Honey.” She leaned over the gear shift and kissed me on the mouth. She tasted of cigarette smoke and bubble gum. She also smelt ever so faintly of marijuana. “I’ll see you in a little bit.”
I drove off and didn’t go back to the festivities.
Later that night my girlfriend came over and she never even asked me if I’d done anything special that day. I decided two things after that nerve wrecking experience with the topless tootsie.
I decided that my girlfriend had not been trying to ‘set me up’ and that it would be a cold day in hell before I ever picked up another hitchhiker.
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**All of the folks I talk about here are, as they say, real people but as I don’t know their whereabouts to ask permission to include them in my little story I’ve changed their names.**
My first wife and I wound up living in the old Pasadena Music Conservatory. This old clapboard house, just one block over from N. Los Robles Avenue on the north side of the Foothill’s Highway, had been turned into a ‘four-plex’ a long time ago. The house itself was large and quite pretty. It had a huge covered veranda that ran all along the front of the house. The apartment next to ours had double French doors that the occupant used as a front door.
Our apartment was a two room affair. It boasted a huge kitchen (it had actually been the kitchen of the original house) a bathroom and the front room, which was huge, had a sofa-bed. Behind the house was a separate little house on the plot. The area between our house and the little one was our communal back yard. It was bare of any grass, mostly dirt with a few weeds here and there to give it a bit of character.
It was a perfect place to start us off. We met all our neighbours within the first few days of living there. The first neighbour we met was Nathan. It was the Fourth of July and we were sitting on the front porch watching the sporadic ‘illegal’ fireworks that dotted the sky. Nathan came wandering down and introducing himself, gave us both a Coors and said, “I’ve got some rockets up stairs, I’ll get em and we’ll celebrate your first Southern California Fourth of July.”
We sat sipping our beer and waited for Nathan to return. While we were waiting we met Martin, the guy who had the cool French Doors as his entrance, he was only passing by, but he wished us a happy fourth and said that if you went around the back of the block you could see the Rose Bowl fireworks for free. Nathan came back looking a bit dejected. His rockets weren’t there and he decided he’d have to go buy some. With promises of a speedy return he drove off.
We decided to go around the block and see if you really could see the Rose Bowl fireworks. We locked our front door and walked around the corner. The house sat on the front corner of a city block that was divided into two different territories. The ‘top’ of the block was ‘ruled’ by the Diablos and our section by the Bloods. We weren’t aware of this quaint little gang custom until later. But appearances to the contrary, this was one rough neighbourhood.
There were a few other people out and about when we walked to find a good Rose Bowl viewpoint. They all spoke and we sort of meandered up the sidewalk. We kept stopping and looking at the occasional sky rocket and talking excitedly about our first ‘Fourth’ away from home. We kept an eye out for a new apartment complex on the corner. That building was our cue to turn right and start looking for the free fireworks.
We stopped just before we reached the corner. We could see what we thought might be the Rose Bowl display and we talked about how cool it was that we could see it for free. While we were talking, two little old ladies chattering like magpies passed us and went around the corner we were about to turn down. Seconds after they turned up the road and out of sight, we heard screams.
My wife and I stood frozen for what seemed like ages. We then bolted around the corner. One of the ‘little old ladies’ was lying on the sidewalk blood streaming from her forehead. Her friend was anxiously darting around her as one or two people came running our of their houses. As I ran up to the little group, one of the men looked at me suspiciously. “Did you see anything?” This was asked as he advanced menacingly towards us.
“No, no. They were around the corner. They didn’t do anything.” This was from the friend of the unconscious lady. After giving me a look of disdain the man went back to the ladies and said he was going to call the police. We stood there feeling helpless. This was outside of our limited experience. We did find out that as the two old dears turned the corner a man jumped out of the dark and smacked one of the ladies in the forehead with a brick. He then grabbed both their purses and ran.
While we stood waiting for Pasadena‘s finest to arrive, we realised that if we had not stopped when we did, we would have gone around the corner before the little old ladies. We both went a little shaky at that thought. It should have been one of us lying on the ground and bleeding. After talking to the police just long enough for them to realise that we would be no help. We walked back home.
The lovely glow of the place we’d just walked up had changed. We walked slowly and looked carefully at the shadowy areas by the path. When we got back to our little apartment, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. It would be another two weeks before my brush with the gentleman with the black robes and scythe. He was very interested in me on that night, offering me two chances to take a trip with him.
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The USAF sent me to the United Kingdom in 1982. It was not problem, I had volunteered to go. My first marriage had died a pretty messy death and the airbase I was at held too many harsh memories. My unit commander had suggested I put in a transfer request. He said that he happened to know there was still a place or two left open in England.
Alamogordo Air Force Base in New Mexico was my first assignment in the Air Force. I had just changed jobs and my new commander was a “re-tread” an officer who had been promoted from the enlisted ranks. He was one hell of a guy.
He had been stationed at RAF Mildenhall years before and had loved it. His idea was to get me away from the memories that were making my life a misery. I put in for a transfer and got it. We were a small career field so it was a bit easier to get ‘choice’ assignments.
I drove my immediate superior’s car to Dover AFB. She was being reassigned to Germany and wanted to ship her car. On my way I stopped by and visited with my son, my parents and the rest of my family. Sad, bitter thoughts kept me from enjoying anyone’s company too much and I was anxious to “get going” and start forgetting.
I flew into England via the “Freedom Bird.” The Freedom Bird was usually a stretched commercial aircraft, stretched meant that it had moved the seats closer together so they could fit more military personnel on the flights. It was cramped and uncomfortable. This commercial aircraft was dubbed the Freedom Bird because it, or another one like it, would be the aircraft that would take us back to the USA when our assignment was over.
The minute my feet hit the tarmac in England I fell in love. Instinctively I felt that I this was the place I had always been looking for. I had conflicting emotions running through my head. I was excited, relieved, expectant, and sad all at the same time.
I was also jet lagged.
England was a welcome change for me. I got the chance to ‘live’ my life again. After a few years I fell in love with a girl from Cambridge. We tied the knot and we moved to The Netherlands for four and a half years. While we were there she gave birth to our beautiful daughter. And we made plans to move back to England when our stint in Holland was over.
Then I got out of the Air Force in 1993 (under the downsizing drill in 1992) and made England my home. I became a British citizen and my visits home had to stop due to lack of funds.
Fast forward to 2011. My second marriage was over. Thankfully for different reasons than my first one, I’d learned that much at least, but it lasted a lot longer than my first marriage. The first thing I knew I had to do was to go home and visit.
My daughter and I flew over for a two week ‘rest period’ and as luck would have it, we would be in the USA over the Fourth of July.
We spent the holiday at my brother’s house with his family. He went all out for my daughter’s first 4th of July in America. She saw her first baseball game and saw her first firework display at the ripe old age of 21. She fell in love with ‘live’ baseball and America. She will be coming back to live and work there.
She also saw her first Rodeo and got to see a lot of the places I’d lived and visited when I was a whole world younger. She also got to visit family she’d either never met before or she’d only met when she was too little to really remember.
Something else happened on that flight home. Something important.
It started on the flight over. I sat (watching one of the in-flight movies) and my eyes started watering and I got a lump in my throat. I was going home. I hadn’t been there since 1990. It was a little overwhelming. The culmination of this feeling came on the 4th itself.
As we sat watching the brilliant firework display put on by the town of Coppell, Texas tears ran down my face as I ‘taped’ the colourful explosions. I suddenly remembered that I was an American.
It was like being reborn.
I had spent so many years ‘overseas’ that I had forgotten what I was, where I was from, and who I was deep down. I had begun to think of myself as a citizen to of world and of course I was an British citizen as well. I think that visit helped both my daughter and me a great deal.
We still live and work in England but life has changed. We both discovered our ‘roots’ last year. My daughter for the first time and I got back in touch with mine. So while I’m setting here writing this, I am reliving last years 4th of July celebrations. The smell of the popcorn and other delicious foods at the ballgame and the sounds and smells of the fireworks.
So even though I was born in September, I was reborn on the 4th of July.
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