Thursday, May 27, 2010

Whatever Happened to Bongo Bob?

I have a set of bongos. They are old. I never learned to play them. They were entrusted to me for safekeeping back in 1972.

"Let's go to California," was the suggestion and immediately the Ox and I stuck our thumbs out and began our trek west. The Ox was a fellow who's real name was Bill. He was given the moniker "Ox" because of a childhood incident where he was on a farm and tried on an oxen yoke. The yoke was on for a minute. The nickname went on for years. So be it.

After a week we had made it as far as Denver, Colorado. This would be as close to California as we would make it. We were road weary and needed to stabilize. We had decided to see what Denver was all about and had decided to stay for awhile.

In 1972 in Denver there was a place called "Shiloh House." This was a place that took in runaways and homeless people and travelers. They would put you up for the night and feed you in the morning. You would have to be out of the house by 6:30 a.m. and could not come back in until after 5:00 in the afternoon. This was to encourage people to either find a job or move on. The Ox and I found jobs.

We worked at a Maxwell House warehouse. For eight hours a day, five days a week, we would unload 50 lb. sacks of coffee beans from trucks and stack them onto pallets. Hard to believe that not only were we allowed to do this, we were also being paid a dollar twenty-five an hour. (Here's an old joke about Maxwell House. Did you know Maxwell House also make parachutes? They use the same slogan. "Good to the last drop." )

The people who stayed at Shiloh House was in constant flux. New faces replacing familiar faces daily. One day Bongo Bob showed up. He was a nice enough sort of fellow. He had a set of bongos and could play them quite well. The Ox and I integrated him in our growing circle of friends. He was the one who introduced us to "Crank."

"Crank," as you may already know, was the street slang for crystal methamphetamine. Two dollars worth of crank would turn the average joe into a Warner Brothers Road Runner cartoon. Beep-beep.

The Ox and I made a daily habit of stopping at the bus depot and renting a locker. We could protect our belongings for 25 cents a day. Better this than carrying all our possessions everywhere we went. Bongo Bob liked this idea and asked if he could share the locker with us. He wanted to safeguard his bongos. We didn't mind. There was all sorts of extra space in the locker. Plus, it would cut down on the individual expense of the rental to 33%.

I don't recall where Bongo Bob worked. He did not work at Maxwell House with the Ox and I. But he did have a check everyday from Manpower. Manpower was a "temp" agency in Denver that was as close to slavery as humanly possible in the 20th century. Manpower was the go-between that employed the Ox and I at Maxwell House.

After meeting Bongo Bob, the days at Maxwell House were a lot easier and went by a lot faster. Beep-beep. The three of us would go to the bus station every morning, get a change of clothes, and go off to work. After work we would meet up back at bus depot and go to the YMCA (you could shower there for ten cents). Afterword we would go one of a dozen places along Colfax Avenue to spend our days wages. Mickey D's was always the first stop. They sold McCrank in the parking lot. We would generally call it quits around 3 a.m. and return to Shiloh House to grab a couple hours sleep before work in the morning. If sleep was possible. Beep-beep.

I should probably mention that Shiloh House was a religious organization and their sheltering charity had an ulterior motive. If they could convert x number of individuals to their way of thinking, they win a lifetime supply of plastic Jesus (or some such thing). And they wanted those plastic Jesus (or some such thing) real bad. Every time they let us in and granted us a bed, we were prayed over and asked if we had found Jesus. They should have put his picture on a milk carton. That would have better results than waiting for the Ox and I to find him. We really were not looking, nor were we intending to start a search party.

One day after work, Bongo Bob did not show up at the bus station. We were more curious to his where-abouts than we were about Jesus. We continued on in spite of this event. After all, Maxwell House was depending on us. Who else could maintain our breakneck speed unloading their trucks? Beep-beep.

About two weeks after Bongo Bob disappeared, Shiloh House had put up with us long enough. I'm not certain what broke the camel's back: either our crank abuse, or our constant hitting on the female guests. For future reference; Religious organizations are very adamant against premarital relations. Especially when they observe you changing partners as often as coffee filters. We were asked to vacate and not return.

The Ox and I decided that we had been west long enough. We quit Maxwell House and thumbed our way back to Michigan. Naturally, we emptied out the bus locker before we left. The Ox got another set of clothes. Bongo Bob had been closer to his size than mine. I inherited Bongo Bob's bongos. When I got back home, I stored them in the basement.

Periodically throughout the years I run across the bongos and think back to those days. It was quite an experience. I still wonder if our sudden departure hurt the Maxwell House Coffee Company. Do you think they might still be in business?

No comments:

Post a Comment