Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Jeff 3

 Saturday Reflections:

Long may you run.

Although these changes

Have come

With your chrome heart shining

In the sun

Long may you run. 

– Neil Young

Photo: Jeff Kjos’s 1973 Ford LTD. Thanksgiving 1987 in San Francisco. It had done some serious miles across America. He had driven it down from Portland to join a group of old friends gathered in the Marina District for a celebration. It was the last time I saw Jeff’s old car. We had some serious adventures in it. The method of transport to countless hikes, canoe trips, fishing excursions, Packer games, and a few Grateful Dead concerts, amongst others. She wasn’t much to look at, but she was a real beauty anyway. In my mind Jeff drove it into the Pacific Ocean the next day to be reclaimed. The truth is I think he managed to nurse it back to Portland where it had a much less dignified ending. In my mind I prefer the former myth.

In the summer of 1984, I was living in Madison Wisconsin in a lovely old 4-bedroom brownstone flat overlooking Lake Monona. I had the place to myself. Just a few blocks removed from the campus of the University of Wisconsin. I was in summer school taking a final semester of 3rd year French which were the final credits I needed to graduate. It was all extremely idyllic. My last taste of such youthful freedom. 

I had a part-time job working in a dairy factory for a few shifts per week, and though I didn’t have a lot of money it didn’t really seem to matter much. If I had a few bucks to put gas in my old Ford Pinto, buy a few beers and other essentials I considered myself to be a rich man.

My phone rang one evening, my old landline phone, as no internet or mobiles existed at that time. It was Jeff ringing me from Milwaukee. He had recently returned from a stint living in Homer, Alaska and was planning to move to Madison in the fall and enrol at the University. 

Somehow Jeff had lined up a job with some guy who had bought a huge quantity of steel pipes that had rusted in the hold of a ship while at sea then made its way to the Port of Milwaukee. This guy bought the rusted pipes and they needed to be sand blasted, cleaned, painted, and bundled into strapped lots of pipe by size. Jeff was the foreman, worker, forklift driver, blaster, painter, bundler, and stacker – all in one. He needed a toiler and so he rang me. It didn’t sound all that tempting, but being that it was Jeff, I soon loaded up my Pinto, put some tunes in the cassette player and the 80 miles of freeway between Madison and Milwaukee flew by.

Jeff had an upper flat with another friend of ours on the East side of Milwaukee. The next morning Jeff and I piled into his old battered Ford LTD, got a few large to go coffees each, and headed into the mire of the industrial southwest part of the city to finally arrive at a large industrial yard where the pipes, equipment, forklifts and racks had been set up. It was a hot summer and because we were sand blasting, priming, and spray painting we had to wear long sleeved shirts and pants. And if it was your turn on the spray painter a breathing mask was needed as well. It was hot, sweaty, and dirty work. The plum job was driving the forklift and I must admit that despite Jeff being the Big Chief we split the duties equitably. It didn’t take long for us to find our feet and we soon got into a rhythm and the finished painted bundles of pipe began to grow steadily. We worked hard until quitting time.

This industrial area had lots of tiny corner bars and each one with its own clientele from the nearby factories. We chose a random one each day. Jeff and I had had long hair, and no doubt our musical tastes, political leanings, and most else differed from these guys. Yet walking in dirty and hot as they were and ordering ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon we were readily accepted and soon discussing the Packers and Brewers like good ol’ Wisconsin boys. 

Then we would return to the East side to the flat and go for a run, or more likely take Jeff’s battered basketball down to the park to shoot hoops, which would invariably lead to many games of hustle.  Oh, the wonders of our youth! Then back to flat to indulge in more ice-cold Pabst, Jeff’s record collection, and brats or burgers on the grill. A few other things as well.

Lather, rinse, repeat for a week or two until we finished the job. 

Summerfest was happening during this period of the Milwaukee summer, but we were usually to0 tired and satiated with ice cold Pabst, and other things, and with an early start the next morning, were never too bothered with it. However, one night we did go. Where on one of the stages was playing John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Jeff was a pretty good harmonica player himself and so was a big admirer of John Mayall. I lost track of him during the show until I finally spotted him. On the side of the stage with his own harp out blowing along with the maestro himself. How he got I up there I still do not know to this day. 

I don’t recall how much money I made after the expenses of food, gas, lots of Pabst Blue Ribbon and other things, tickets to Summerfest, 2 large to go coffees each morning, and who knows what else. And as I drove my Pinto back to Madison it didn’t matter at all. I was still a very rich man. I had just picked up and left for Milwaukee on a whim and stayed in the company of an amazing friend for as long as he needed me. Moments of true freedom, vigour, and good health. Some how I think I appreciated that even then.

Funny the memories and thoughts a photo of an old car can evoke and bring back to life moments long gone in such vivid detail and remembrance. To Jeff’s Ford LTD!

Long May You Run!

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