The Man Who Wasn’t There…

toledo

Toledo skyline

NOVEMBER 2018
by dal…

 

I hadn’t intended on searching in Utah. Please let me state, for the record, that I knew the chest wouldn’t be there but I didn’t want to let Ike down.

I first met Ike about 46 years ago in the control room at a Toledo TV station. I last saw Ike about 40 years ago. He had recently turned 55. We were at a table in Brenda’s Body Shop, a strip joint not far from the station. It was a mirror clad bar with a rotating reflective ball attached to the sparkly, star studded black ceiling, There were three small stages scattered around the floor. Brenda served pretty good sandwiches, played loud country music and employed a squadron of sweet gals trying to make a living using what god gave them. A good place for a lunch break if you worked the 4p to sign-off shift like me, Ike and an eclectic collection of downtown Toledo night shift workers.

In 1972 running a TV station took one enormous amount of electricity and a bizarrely skilled swarm of human beings…lots of them. There was no such thing as automation…color TV was in it’s young years and even broadcast quality video tape recorders were a relative novelty. TV technology was fascinating and growing like a Labradoddle on steroids. 

At that point in my life I aspired to direct live soap operas in NYC. General Hospital, As the World Turns, that kind of thing. Everyone’s got to have a dream. Live melodrama and all the bizarre accoutrements and technical challenges that accompanied such a lunatic concept appealed to me. In the mean time I was directing news, talk shows, commercials, kids shows, religious shows, political programs and what ever other humdrum fodder made up the daily program schedule on every mid-sized TV station in every urban, blue collar town across the USA. I dreamed of bigger venues, not knowing how ill-suited I was to prosper in them.

On my first day in the Toledo studio, Buddy, the program manager escorted me to the control room door and then got way-layed by a question from someone in the hallway. I waited politely for a few moments but when the discussion lingered I cheekily walked into the control room on my own to introduce myself. 

Studio control rooms in 1972 were not the comfy, lounge-like, creatiive environments they are today. They were utilitarian, technical, stark. Often narrow, cramped, and as dark as the inside of a submarine recently hit by a depth charge and headed to the bottom.

Studio control rooms were built for rapid accessibility to the guts of the complicated and often esoteric racks of electronics and miles of wires it took to keep a TV station on the air in the 60s and 70s. Accessibility was vitally important since every electronic module was either broken, breaking or being repaired. These control rooms were manned by often eccentric technicians of the pocket protector variety and had an atmosphere more industrial-like than den-like. There were steel gray racks of humming electronic devices that did “who knew what” emitting glowing red shafts of light, lots of heat and a very subtle vibration and hum. The room smelled of warm lead solder and warmer bakelite. The racks of electronics displayed white signs with frightening black skulls, even more frightening exploding lightning bolts and text that read, “Danger, High Voltage”. But to the pocket protector clan, it was home. 

saab

’69 Saab Sonnet

ham

Vintage HAM Radio station.

These guys were geeks before geeks were a thing. Many drove shark-like Saabs that were more airplane than car, had HAM radios they built at home and bought Hammond tonewheel electnic organs so they could tear them apart and remake them to meet some arcane sound standard that could make your ears bleed. I had, and still have, the highest respect for them.

hammond

Hammond B3 Organ

I entered the control room, climbed the two steps to the operating level and headed over to the empty chair at the center of the studio control console. This would be the director’s position. To my right was the sound engineer at his knobbed audio board. Turntables, cart machines, a patch panel and an audio tape library of music and sound effects cluttered his space. Nick was wearing brown wing-tips, argyle socks, brown dress pants with inch-and-a-half cuffs, and a white, short-sleeved shirt with plastic pocket protector. Nick was fast asleep, head in hands, elbows on the console. My entering did nothing to disturb him. 

OL top1

Vintage broadcast audio console

By 1973 I had been working in TV for several years and I was pretty acquainted with control room life. It was like sailing a yacht across the ocean blue. Moments of absolute adrenaline pushing pandemonium followed by hours of mind numbing placidity. Although management rarely knew what the control room crowd was up to in their moments of calmness, the comfy warmth, the quiet hum of charged tubes, the absence of glaring lights suggested a quick nap.The real surprise was the large hearing aid Nick was wearing.

The sound guy was wearing a hearing aid. 

cntrlrm

A 70s era TV station control room. Video switcher is on the left.

To my left was the video engineer’s position. This is the area that you generally see in any photo of a control room. The massive video switcher with countless rows of warm glowing buttons and a wall of cathode ray tubes emitting images from every device that could make pictures including cameras, film chains, video tape machines, network feeds, field microwave units, character generators, waveform monitors, o-scopes and one monitor with text that said “Technical Difficulty, Please Stand-by”…always at the ready. Ike was the video engineer. He was slouched back in his chair. Feet splayed out in front of him. He was snoring. He had on a pair of dark sunglasses and a white cane with a red tip was hanging on the armrest next to him. 

The video guy was blind.

My position at the console had a few clocks and timers a couple of monitors, lots of desk space for scripts and notes and a big double paned window overlooking Studio “A”. We all had headsets to communicate with one another and the additional collection of geeks in other parts of the building, video tape, film, the announcer, the stage manager, the camera operators….and so on. Right now we were on the NBC network feed so the crew was free until the network show was finished.

I looked at Ike, sleeping…and then at Nick, sleeping. I smiled…I had a plan…this would be a career defining moment that would allow me into their confidence They would be indebted to me. I would prove myself a worker-bee equal rather then a company guy rat. I had to wake Nick and Ike.

I set the big analog timer in front of me for 10 seconds and let it go off. Very loud buzz. Ike and Nick both jerked in their chairs and looked, first at what was on-air, then at me…pretty much a glower. 

“HI.” I said.

Silence. Glower.

“Buddy is right outside the door and he should be in here anytime.” I said, showing my ace in the hole.

Nick grabbed his hearing aid off his head and shoved it in a drawer while Ike took off his sunglasses and hung his cane where it wouldn’t be seen.

Silence but no glower.

Nick said, “I’m Nick”, and held out his hand.

“Dal” I said, wondering if Nick could hear me.

“Ike”, said Ike.

Then he picked up a white paper cup next to the switcher and spit some of his chew into it.

He held it up and said, “Can’t smoke in here, You smoke?”

“No”, I said.

“Good”, he said and put his cup back down on the console, folded his arms across his chest and turned to watch what was on-air.

End of introductions.

For days I was thoroughly distracted by the hearing aid and cane…

I never saw those appliances again. Even though I saw Ike and Nick daily. It wasn’t til after I actually got to know those two that I decided to ask Ike about it.

“We heard a new director was coming by so Nick and I thought it would be funny if the sound guy wore a hearing aid and I looked like I was blind. So we got those things and put them on and waited. You was late. We fell asleep. We thought it was pretty good  that you didn’t let Buddy catch us.”

So it was. Over the remainder of my time in Toledo Ike and I carved out a pretty good relationship. We worked well together but we also played together sometimes. According to Ike, we hunted rabbits and ducks, although I cannot recall ever doing that. We had sandwiches at Brenda’s, chilli dogs at Tony Packo’s and burgers at Ted’s or Kewpee’s a hundred times.  

Ike stayed at the TV station until he retired. I moved on after a couple of years. I probably worked at a dozen TV stations and production companies across the country between then and now. I lost contact with everything and everyone each time I moved. Then one day a year or so ago, I got curious about Ike. I looked him up. There was a Toledo news story about his WWII exploits that mentioned his work as a spotter-radioman-gunner on a bi-winged aircraft off the USS Witchita. I remember Ike telling stories about those days. He had managed to join the Navy at 15 in 1939…before the war even started. 

ike

Ike

0404503

The USS Wichita during WWII. Note the biplanes on the catapults at the stern.

10090L 1

A Curtis SOC “Seagull”, scout plane like the one Ike worked from.

“We’d catapult off the ship, zero to 80mph in 40ft! That could clear your sinuses.”

After some light digging around on the internet I found his home phone number and called.

Ike was 95. Still telling stories and still living in the hand crafted home that he built with his own tools when he came home from the war. But what surprised me most was that he remembered me. His eyesight was shot. The world was a dark blur. He kept falling down and at least once he couldn’t get up and had to lay on the floor a couple days til a neighbor came by. His beautiful wife had died a few months earlier. He missed her deeply.

At some point, on one of our phone calls, Ike asked me what I was up to. I told him I was still working in TV and then told him about Forrest and TTOTC. He was curious and asked me to read the poem to him. I did. When I finished reading it he said, “Again”. So I read it again.

“Again!” he requested excitedly. I read it again.

“Again!” he demanded and again I read it to him.

“What are you hearing?” I asked him.

“So was this Forrest character a radio engineer?” Ike inquired?

“He was trained as a radioman in the Air Force but he lost interest in that line and became a jet pilot. Flew F-100s in Vietnam. Got shot down a couple times.

Silence.

“There’s code in that poem.” Ike stated.

“That’s what a lot of people think.” I said.

“Radioman and then pilot, eh!!”. He said. “You ever hear of North Wash?”

“Nope”. I replied. “I have no idea what that means.”

“It’s in the poem.” He explained. “It says ‘North Wash at 95’”.

“That means nothing to me”. I said.

“Well you look it up because that’s where something important is.” he replied.

“What else do you see in that poem?” I asked.

“There’s more in that thing, that’s for sure. But you figure out North Wash at 95 first.”

“How come I’ve never seen this “code” your seeing? I asked.

“I dunno. Your not the brightest star in the sky. You’re a director for chrissakes. I’m surprised you can read it, let alone decode it.”

“OK, Thanks for the splendid analysis Ike.”

“Well I don’t know why you can’t see it. It’s right there big as day.”

After a few more minutes of talking , we said goodbye. I promised to call him back in awhile, and hung up.

Eventually, I came around to the idea of fooling around with “North Wash at 95”. But I had other things to do before I could think about Ike’s advice. There was my job, the blog and the grass needed a mow and Ezy’s oil needed changing and there were dishes in the sink and a “honey do” list that was growing…so I stalled around for a few weeks before I started in.

I looked at a lot of things when I finally got going on the words. It didn’t really matter what I looked at though because little, if anything, opened up any doors.

I started with the obvious. I looked for 95 mile lake, zip.

I looked for hwy 95 and found one in CO that was about 14miles long heading north out of Denver, also known as Sheridan Boulevard.

I found another through Glenrock, WY that is about 20 miles long.

US 95 traverses the continent North to South but doesn’t touch any state where Forrest’s box is located.

NM 95 is a 14 mile road that runs from Heron Lake State Park to Tierra Amarilla….That’s a possibility!! But Cynthia and Michael and Desertphile have turned over every rock in that country. I’ve looked in that county too but my searches there had nothing to do with a North Wash and after examining the Rio Arriba county map with a magnifying glass I could find nothing named North Wash…Stymied!!

Over the next several weeks I would reluctantly and randomly do a little more searching around in the dozens of map indexes and atlases that I own to see if I could find anything that could be associated with “North Wash at 95”. After that, I forgot about it.

Then in August of this year Kathy and I headed out on a vacation to visit her relatives in Missouri. We went the scenic route through ID, WY, NE, KS, OK, AR and up into Missouri. On the way back we bee-lined to Santa Fe to say “hi” to Forrest and Peggy and then headed northwest to home. Ezy had a breakdown in Cortez, CO and I had to leave her there for a new engine transplant. In October I returned to Cortez to pick up the born-again Ezy. While I was in Cortez I was talking with the nice folks at the Tomahawk Motel where I stayed and they asked how I was going to head home.

003

“I don’t know.” I said. “Hadn’t given it much thought really. I’ll take the blue highways I guess. I don’t want to drive Ezy over 60 for the first thousand miles on that new engine.” 

“Well,” the motel owner said. “You should think about taking the Bicentennial Highway through Utah from Blanding up to Hanksville. It’s probably one of the most scenic roads in the country and there won’t be any traffic this time of year.”

“Sounds perfect.” I said. 

“Take it to Lake Powell and then it follows the North Wash pretty much to Hog Canyon….”

Silence

“North Wash?” I queried.

“Yeah.” she said. 

Back to my room for some quick map checking and guess what! The bicentennial Highway is Utah Route 95. North Wash at 95. Look HERE.

ss

UT-95 from Blanding to Hanksville in Southern Utah.

“But it’s Utah.” I decried…No one heard me.

I had to go home somehow. That was as good a way as any…better than most…

I stopped along the way to grab a few photos and even though I’d never admit this in writing, I stopped a few places where the road and the wash were particularly close and I searched.

0T1A1577a

0T1A1569

0T1A1585

0T1A1594FINAL 1

I looked for warm waters halting…I squinted…I touched…I asked Ezy about it…nothing…

I hiked slowly up a few blind canyons. Rocks and creeks and color enough to dazzle my brain. I saw ruins of prehistoric settlers. I saw petroglyphs. I saw magnificent scabbed and canyoned country as jaw dropping as any on this planet.

It’s the most dramatic landscape I’ve ever stared at…red, brown and purple rocks torn from the earth’s guts…raw and belligerent… while others formed by wind and rain were domes and hoodoos and arches. Not a flat piece of landscape in any direction except the winding asphalt of Rt. 95. Who was brave enough to live here?

0T1A1584 copy

I called Ike to tell him I found his place…but he didn’t answer the phone.

I settled for a few calendar images of the magnificent rock and color and continued on my two day journey home.

A couple weeks went by before I would call Ike again. Same old reasons.

I got a note from his neighbor that old Ike had been moved to a nursing home. 

That’s the worst. When they don’t let you live in your own home anymore.

I tried to get hold of Ike but it was fruitless. No one answered in his room. Sleeping I figured. Probably turns the ringer off.

Finally I did get him, “Your dime!” he answered. I laughed. But then the bad news.

He wasn’t Ike anymore. He didn’t know who I was. He didn’t know who he was…

Good god, spare me that phase of life!

I told him I found his place and it was beautiful.

“Thats good.” he said and then hung up.

Note to self: “Don’t procrastinate!”

So I don’t know anything more of Ike’s Code, which is okay because Forrest as much as said there are no codes needed…and it’s not in Utah and…and…and…

But I’m really glad I travelled that way..on Route 95 along North Wash. Really glad…

Thanks Ike…not bad for a blind video engineer.

-dal