It was a beautiful Saturday night and I started it with dinner at Three-Star, with friend Blanche, widow of dear friend, Howard Strauss, the owner of Ebee’s Ladies Shops and a Brooklyn activist of renown.
The early dinner got me home in time to catch the WNYC Saturday night rebroadcast of the dearly-departed Danny Stiles music radio program. Since his untimely departure, WNYC replays a two-hour program each Saturday night!
In his 87-years, Danny Stiles warmed the radio airs with the music of true New York nostalgia, ranging from the once-modern Benny Goodman, Shep Fields — you name him, or her! Danny played the melodic music of yore, once a week on WNYC, then, further down on the dial. As time went on, the reach of the broadcast became smaller and smaller.
After listening to the rebroadcast, I turned the dial to WABC and caught Jim McIntyre’s all-night radio show. It is a call-in, coast-to-coast radio talker. You got something on your mind? Say it! In terms this columnist can understand: Speak Out!
And that night, did I ever have a lot on my mind! Earlier that evening, I opened my phone bill with all its phone-y charges that — compounded now with my television and internet service — make it impossible to comprehend. And when I called my provider for help, no one picked up the phone!
I needed to get my anger off my chest, so that night I called in to the show at 2 am, and stayed awake for some two hours waiting my turn, muttering, “Fool, hang up. You’re 90 years old, ya gotta know better!”
But I calmed down.
“That’s how we got to be 90! Speaking out! Ya gotta talk them back in place. But I asked myself, “Where does it get you? Why do you use Verizon?” I lingered on that thought, then remembered: “When I lose my cellphone, the people in their 86th Street store, or on Avenue P, all treat me so nicely!”
Suddenly, my conversation with myself was interrupted by the voice on the other end of the line. The hold music ceased, and it was my turn to talk. ”You’re on the air, what’s on your mind?”
Free to speak out about anything, I wanted to lash out against the phone company. But he had been talking to another caller about Elko, Nevada. Elko?
That triggered another memory in my vast bank, so I forgot my Verizon anger, and went back to the year 1944 in Elko, Nevada!
I had a three-day holiday pass from my Utah bomb group, and caught a lift to a tiny town, some 250 miles from my air base. I bought a bottle of wine (soldiers could buy no whiskey without a ration card), chilled it, and rented a bedroom.
After a shower and shave I inspected the town consisting of a beautiful hotel, across the street from where Bing Crosby used to visit and sing.
After my inspection I wound up dining in the Elko Hotel.
Before my steak arrived and I spooned on soup, I heard the rhythms of the dice hitting the felted makeshift table through the swinging doors in the next room. It didn’t take long to finish my steak, get up and find my way through those doors into that casino. And it didn’t take long to find myself at a seat next to the bearded silver miners that were losing their hard-earned cash at the table.
I fished a $20 dollar bill from my skimpy wallets. In less than an hour, the wallet was bare — I had just 35 cents left.
I was almost 150 miles from the Army Air Base, in Wendover, Utah and all I had was 35 cents.
But as the song of that era proclaimed, “God was our copilot.”
I sat in my motel room, with my wine bottle in hand, cursing my luck and foolishness.
Early the next morning I packed and left the room, ate an egg sandwich with coffee for about 20 cents, and saved the other 15 cents for lunch!
Out on American Highway 40, I stood beneath a sign reading “Give A Serviceman A Lift.” As snow filled the terrain, I caught a lift to Wells, Nevada, and got a 15-cent sandwich of lettuce and tomato. Finally a Lieutenant drove by gave me a lift back to Wendover Air Base in Utah, just beyond the Nevada border.
I was happy enough to get back to my bed, on the base, where I got three meals a day — and story I’d recall on a Saturday night radio, nationwide, some 68 years later.
If I didn’t win the dice game, at least I was on the winning side in the war — and, at 91, I still get to fill the air with memories of years gone by.
This is Lou Powsner.