Charlie’s Second Fabulous Adventure – 1957 (Written February/March 2014)
I was bound and determined to get back to Australia, so, after a month’s recovery from my bout with pneumonia, I took off on my ‘Jack Kerouac’ adventure in early October, 1957. I was aiming for Vancouver, B.C. from where I hoped to get work on a ship making for Australia.
To this day, I marvel at the spirit of my parents who had the confidence to let me go. I had just had my 19th birthday and had just earned my driver’s licence that previous summer in Sudbury. I had a couple of hundred dollars saved from my earnings at the copper refinery.
In the 12 weeks of this adventure, I wrote my parents 22 letters and one postcard. My mother saved them all and they have served to back up my memory. (Hey, it has been almost 60 years!) Reading them has stirred some wonderful thoughts, as well as some adjustments to that memory!
Dad drove me to the Toronto Bay St. bus terminal the morning of Tuesday, October 8 to catch a bus to Detroit. I’d figured the cheapest way to get to Vancouver was to get a drive away car in Detroit, bound for any U.S. west coast city, then drive other cars up to Vancouver. Usually, five Detroit companies advertised in the Globe & Mail every Monday, Wednesday and Friday seeking drivers to take nearly-new cars to the coast. The driver only had to pay the gas, which was cheap then.
The bus arrived Detroit late afternoon. I had a bit of a hassle at the border because I gave my occupation as ‘student’ and the immigration officer wondered why I wasn’t in school!
Because my bag (my scout-camping canoe pack) was so heavy, I checked into the nearest hotel. It was a dump – $3.00 a night and the plumbing didn’t work. So, early next morning, I checked out, stashed my bag in a locker in the bus terminal, had breakfast and started walking to my first choice – All State Auto Drive Away.
It was on Livernois Avenue and turned out to be as far from the bus terminal as from Union Station to Lawrence in Toronto – about six miles. My aching feet! Anyway, I got there. They were very nice but also very firm in their position that their insurance required drivers to be at least 21 years old.
Sensibly, I took a bus back to the bus terminal, retrieved my bag and checked into the ‘Y’ for $2.75 per night. From there, I phoned another drive away company – they had no cars at the moment. Another one had cars to the coast but also the 21 years old requirement. I was starting to feel pretty blue fearing my grand adventure would end after only one day. But I bought a paper and, in the ‘Personals’, there was a private party ad seeking drivers to assist getting a couple of cars to San Francisco. I phoned, no problem about my age, I’M IN! So I ate, saw a movie, wrote a letter home and went to bed a happy guy.
The ad was placed by two brothers – John (the elder) and Al Nealy. John had a 1955 Chev Bel Air and Al had a 1956 Ford Fairlane. They were merchant seamen and were both driving to Long Beach, California where Al’s ship was berthed and getting ready to sail. Then John was going to backtrack to New Orleans where his ship was loading for a voyage. (The San Francisco bit comes later.) They were both ‘good ol’ boys’, in their 30’s, born and raised in New Orleans. They had married sisters who lived in Detroit – go figure! Both were super friendly and outgoing and promised to pick me up at the ‘Y’ on Friday afternoon to leave for the coast.
We left Detroit at 6:00 pm, Friday, October 11.We were a pretty motley crew of eight. I was in John’s Chev with two characters straight out of the movies. Carmine and Tony were inseparable, second generation Italians from the Bronx. Their accents were terrific – I was “Chawlie” (through the nose). Carmine was a big, tough-looking, 5 o’clock-shadow NYC taxi driver. He did virtually all the talking for the two of them, was the ‘brains’ of the pair and held their joint money. Tony was BIG – he was the ‘muscle’. They were both good guys heading to California to make new lives for themselves. So here was this skinny, 19 year old, four-eyed, red-headed naif locked in with a trio of tough, world-wise older guys. A cast to make Damon Runyon weep with joy!
Al’s Ford had a short and broad, tough-as-nails marine sergeant and a young black army private heading back to their bases in California, and, a young black student heading back to his university.
It must be remembered that Eisenhower had only just signed the Interstate Highway Bill in 1956 so almost all the roads we took were two-laners running through the middle of the towns and cities they connected.
John and Al drove their cars all night, picked up fabled Route 66 south of Chicago, and made it well into Missouri by noon the next day – Saturday, October 12.
Jim Crow laws were still a fact of life in many U.S. states. John and Al were in a hurry because they were really afraid to let anyone know they were transporting black persons across state lines until they could get to the western states which weren’t as bad in practice. They wouldn’t let them drive, (blacks driving big new cars, uh, uh) and when we stopped for food, gas and relief they had to use separate facilities and we had to bring food out to them in the car. In reality we moved so fast for two nights and days of non-stop driving that it didn’t become a problem. It was an eye-opener for me though.
However, John and Al had a secondary agenda – Missouri beer. In those days it was the only state that had 5% beer and, before they went to sea, John and Al just had to tank up. We had stopped at a combo gas station/restaurant/bar. So, dead-tired, empty-stomached John and Al proceeded to lap up ‘way too much of the good ol’ suds. I think I remember them saying they had driven so fast so far just to get at them. While they were “getting at them”, the rest of us grabbed some food and relaxed in the cars.
It was early evening before John and Al stumbled out of the bar. But, they were so smashed, sozzled, blottoed out of their minds that they couldn’t drive. That left the marine sergeant, Carmine and me as drivers. (Tony couldn’t drive.) The marine sergeant drove Al’s car and Carmine started driving John’s. The whole idea was to drive together in sight of each other’s car, but Carmine’s NYC cabbie experience did not fit him for tandem highway driving! He kept losing the other car and either it or ours would have to stop to match up again and it quickly became obvious that he couldn’t continue. Executive decision – Charlie would drive John’s car. So, with about two month’s driving experience of maybe 100 miles, I took over and drove all night through the rest of Missouri, Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle to Albuquerque, New Mexico next morning, Sunday October 13. I loved it! There was very little traffic and at night you can easily see car lights approaching. I still love late night driving.
John and Al had sobered up by then so they took back the driving. We roared past the painted desert and petrified forest in Arizona, but I was dozing most of that day and we were going 70 – 80 mph most of the time. We left Route 66 at Kingman to head up to Las Vegas because John and Al wanted to try their luck before heading out to sea.
We passed over Hoover Dam, got into Las Vegas around supper time and six of us checked into The Sands Hotel. (Las Vegas’ hotels, etc. were heavily segregated then so the soldier and student had disappeared into what I was told was “their part of town”.) Again remember, Las Vegas was just getting started in 1957. Here’s the skinny on the Sands’ postcard: “On the fabulous ‘strip’ in Las Vegas, THE SANDS stands out as the most magnificent of all resort hotels. There’s nothing newer in Las Vegas, nothing finer in the world.” As you can see from the postcard photo, it looked like a reasonably nice motel by today’s standards. The Sands grew much bigger, became famous as an entertainment venue and home to Sinatra’s ‘rat pack’. It’s gone now.
The marine sergeant (he was in uniform the whole trip) stayed in his room and John and Al, Carmine and Tony, and I went gambling. Well, the other four did. I just watched ’cause I hadn’t a clue beyond nickel-ante poker at scout camp. I don’t remember how John and Al fared, but I’ll never forget Carmine and Tony! You’ll recall I’d said Carmine was holding their joint money, $500, a lot in those days. I guess Carmine wanted to bulk that up some. Instead he lost it all in less than an hour. He tried to pump me for $20, but I refused. (Pretty brave of me in the circumstances, I think!) I thought Tony was going to kill him!
Next morning, Monday, October 14, we picked up the student and soldier and took off for Los Angeles. John’s car was pretty subdued (me, Carmine and Tony). We drove through the Mojave desert to Barstow, then over to Bakersfield, then down to Los Angeles. (No I 15 then.) We dropped off the marine sergeant and the soldier near their bases before we got to Los Angeles. The student and Carmine and Tony took off before John, Al and I checked into a motel In Los Angeles that evening. I still remember how impressed I was with the warmth and the pleasant aroma of all the lush foliage. The buildings were so unlike any at home. It was quite wonderful – just like the movies.
The next morning at breakfast I discovered what “San Francisco” meant. Turns out Al’s last voyage had terminated in San Francisco and he’d bought the Ford to drive home to Detroit. He had financed it and admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that he’d been a tad casual about the monthly payments. In fact, the Finance Company was looking for him and the car!. So, would I do him a really big favour and drive his car to San Francisco and hand it over to the Finance Company for him.? Hoo boy, would I!
So there I was with a nearly-new, two-tone, red and black Ford Fairlane, all alone in beautiful southern California. Los Angeles was a lot smaller then. There were no freeways cutting up the city and people got around on streetcars and buses.
I bade John and Al farewell that afternoon, Tuesday, October 15, and started driving north on Highway 101. It was that late afternoon/early evening that I experienced one of the most vivid memories of my entire life. The sun was low in the west as I crested a slight rise and came upon the town of Santa Maria spread out before me. I can still see it. There were palm trees and shrubs and stuccoed buildings all casr in a golden glow. The scent of foliage was almost overwhelming. It was quite the most lovely scene I encountered all trip and seemed to encapsulate all the beauty one could imagine about California.
I stayed over in Santa Maria, then ambled up to San Francisco for the next two days. Quite honestly, I don’t remember much about that leg of my journey, but it must have been wonderful – it took so long!
I got into San Francisco Thursday afternoon the 17th, parked the car and got a hotel room close to the Finance Company’s office. Then I located a drive away car bound for Portland, Oregon in Oakland across the bay. When they heard I’d just driven from Detroit to Los Angeles, then up to San Francisco, they didn’t even ask my age!
The next morning, I was a little tense ’cause I had no idea whether I’d be in trouble for larking around in a ‘wanted’ car. So I rushed into the Finance Company’s office, handed a note with Al’s name, the car’s description and licence plate number, and its exact location in the parking garage to a guy at the desk nearest the door, then bolted right back out the door. I may have said something like,”Here’s your car.” I remember he had a rather startled look on his face but I didn’t hang around to help him lose it!
I caught a bus over the Bay Bridge to Oakland where I picked up the car for Portland. I don’t remember what kind it was. I took a couple of days to drive from San Francisco to Portland. I now don’t recall a lot about this leg, but, in a letter home, I mentioned the immense trees and mountains. Also, that the road was not very good and there was a lot of construction. (The start of I 5?)
Got into Portland Sunday afternoon the 20th, stayed the night, then picked up another drive away car Monday morning the 21st and drove all day to Seattle where I checked into the Vance Hotel at 10:00 pm. It was there that I wrote my first letter home since Detroit.
The next morning, I turned in the car then wandered around Seattle until the ferry for Victoria left at 4:00 pm. It arrived in Victoria at 9:00 pm.
The ferry to Vancouver didn’t leave until midnight so I had a couple of hours to wander around the harbour, see the lights on the Legislative buildings, etc.
The ferry to Vancouver was a real “red eye” so I caught spotty sleep on a VERY hard bench! It arrived at 7:00 am, Wednesday, October 23, 15 days after leaving Toronto. It had been an awesome journey!
My first day in Vancouver was – well, first of all it was raining! I swear, in all my ten weeks in Vancouver, there was only one day of sunshine. Every other day was either rainy or cloudy. But even more off-putting was my first experience with lodging. Allow me to quote from my first letter home from Vancouver. In fact, from now on I’m simply going to transcribe my letters home and do so in italics. Anything not in italics and brackets is current material for explanation or expansion.
Thursday, October 24. Got into Vancouver at 7 am (yesterday) & ate then set out for finding a boarding house. I finally got one – ‘A home away from home’ it said in the ad. On first look one can’t tell much. Anyway it looked not too bad so I paid for two weeks – $33. They called for supper at 4 pm & I had to go with that shift or not eat. It was boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes & boiled spare ribs with no meat. After closer inspection the room was small with 3 guys in it. One was Hungarian with no English. There was only a basin for washing clothes – no chair in room no iron no shower. All this added up to getting out of there in a hurry so I went to get my money back. Well brother you should have heard the explosion. In 20 years he’d never had a complaint. He didn’t have to give me back a cent. Legally I had to give two weeks notice no money back. This went on for 3/4 hour. He said he’d give me half back. Very quietly I told him he was running a pretty dishonest business & I wanted my money right then. He wrote me a cheque for $32.50 and I beat it and stayed at a hotel. That’s why I didn’t write last night as I wanted to give you an address.
So today I went to the P.O. & got your letter. It was really wonderful to hear from you & the news about Captain & Mrs. MacKenzie was a fabulous light in an otherwise very dark beginning in Vancouver. (Mrs. MacKenzie was a friend of Mrs. Dunsby, a neighbour back home.) Oh yes it’s been raining ever since I got here. I also went to cash the cheque & it bounced. I hot-footed it back to the guy & very loudly told him he’d passed me a bad cheque & he’d better make good or I’d call the police. Wow he tripped himself scurrying for the money. So that was settled & I got a place here.
‘(Here’ was 1676 Pendrell Street, a big, old house a block off Denman Street and three blocks from Stanley Park. It’s long gone now in favour of a high-rise apartment building. It was owned and run by two widows. It was a terrific place – very clean, with three meals a day and everything the first place didn’t have plus a TV. All this for $15 a week!)
Thursday,October 24 cont’d. My roommate is an unemployed lumberjack. He seems all right. And this will floor you. One of the fellows here is Arthur Van Lane of the St. Timothy Van Lanes. Pretty small world, eh! (Art had been with the Princess Pats in Korea, had been de-mobbed in Vancouver and decided to stay there.) And the other guys are all young and really friendly.
Tomorrow I’ve some clothes to wash & laundry for the cleaners. Then I’ll have to get around to see Mrs. MacKenzie & Mr. Crane & the Weirs & get a temporary job. (Gord Crane was ass’t Leader of our scout group who went to the Pan-Pacific Jamboree in Australia in “55-’56, and the Weirs were relations of scout Ross Gunn from Aurora. They had had him and me to dinner the evening we left Vancouver for home.) Everywhere I turn I hear the same news that there’s no work here & the want ads are absolutely bare. However I’ll get something. A lot of fellows here in the house are out of work. At least four are Scottish and they don’t seem to care too much about it.
Monday, October 28. .…I’ve been running around quite a bit. There’s a really good bunch of young fellows here and they’re sure a group of jokers. They’ve made me feel at home right away. The food is fabulous and the room is plenty large & clean.
I spent Friday & Saturday doing my washing, getting clothes to & from cleaners & going to the P.O. I got your second letter and brother is it good to hear from you.
Sunday I went to church at St. Paul’s Anglican just up the street. It was a high service – chanting the prayers, etc. – and I didn’t go for it too much. I then phoned Gordon Crane but he’d moved 3 months previously and left no forwarding number. Information had no listing for him either so I phoned the Weirs.
Well boy did they ever remember me and treat me nicely. John (second year Arts UBC) picked me up in his MG and took me on the grand tour of Stanley Park – the zoo, aquarium, gardens, forests, beaches, pool, and Prospect Point overlooking the harbour. It was really terrific. Then he took me to his place for supper. Boy have they got it nice! 3 cars in the family, a speed boat, a PLANE and a really beautiful house. (6350 MacDonald St., in the west end a block or so from Marine Drive.) The oven, cupboards, dishwasher, garbage disposal, freezer and frig are all set into the wall & the sink and flat-top elements with a grille are at the wall. All is in brown with pink kitchen walls. It really looks fabulous. We watched TV till 10 then John took me home. Boy are they a nice family and wonderful friendly people. They extended open house to me!
Today, I went to see Mrs. MacKenzie (the Captain is at sea). As I expected, Mrs. Dunsby hadn’t written yet. However as soon as I mentioned Toronto & Mrs. D I got the most effusive welcome I’ve ever had from anyone. She took me right in & in 5 minutes it was as though I was an old family friend. She’s a wonderful Irish lady & a bag of fun. She gave me lunch then took me downtown to see Captain Sylling, head of western division of Union Western Lines (a friend of her hubby’s) who’s going to get me on the first boat available as a steward. All I have to do is wait for the boat & when it comes I do not know. Mrs. MacK was sure nice to do all that for me eh!
I then phoned Scout H.Q. to see if they knew the whereabouts of Gord Crane & and he’s now in Colombo, Ceylon with his family doing some kind of work with the Canadian High Commissioner there. Well you could have knocked me over with a feather. That was sure a surprise.
Tomorrow, I’ll go to the P.O. again, look in on the Aussie Trade Commissioner, see Mr. Sylling then look for a job. Happy birthday Dad.
Thursday, October 31. Well the sun finally came out on Wednesday and at last I could see what Vancouver looks like. The mountains that ring it to the north are sure impressive and really make the view nice. I’ve been invited to Mrs. MacKenzie’s for supper Sunday and John Weir & I are going out somewhere tomorrow night stag. I don’t know where! I still have to look up Mr. Marsh’s sister & go to the Aussie Trade Commission. I went in to see Mr. Blackstock on Tuesday and he was very nice. I phoned Capt. Sylling on Wed. but he’s still waiting for a boat. I’m wondering whether I should go in & see Mr. Smeltzer’s friend or not.
Things look pretty black right now. I’ve walked an inch off my half-inch shoes looking for work & there just isn’t any at all! I’ve tried Eatons & the Vancouver Hotel and many other places. The ads I’ve answered are all filled. I can’t drive a cab or truck as I haven’t a BC licence and I can’t take on office work as I don’t expect to be here too long and I don’t want to get started on one then have to leave them. And the few jobs I could do that are advertised are ones that wouldn’t want just a few-weeks man. Thus I think I’d better get out of here in one hell of a hurry or I’ll be in a bad way.
It’s not a very cheery me right now because I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do & sitting around waiting doesn’t grab me too much. However things are bound to improve soon so I’ve just got to keep “a stiff upper lip” I guess. I’ve been out every day for the last 3 but nothing has resulted as you can see. Unemployment is a real crisis here. Most of the guys in the house are out of work. Ah well next letter will have good news I promise.
Saturday, November 2. Well I still have no job and the soles of my feet are beginning to cry in protest. I still have to get in touch with Mr. Marsh’s sister & when I went to see the Aussie Trade Commissioner. their office was being moved so I have to catch him Monday. There’s still no word of a boat so I’m going to phone Capt. Sylling on Monday to see if there’s anything on which I can take a round trip to Asia just so I can get moving.This sitting around is no good.
Yesterday, Mrs. MacK phoned & wondered if I’d help her sand her new ’49 Austin to ready it for painting. I went over & did the job. She’s really a skit & more like a girl than an older woman. She’s really been nice I’ll tell you. She has a friend, Mrs. (swimming pool in back yard) Baker who is equally nice. Mrs. Baker met me yesterday & invited me to her place for Sunday afternoon. She has two beautiful (apparently) daughters- 17 &19 – so away I go. I’m to Mrs. MacK for supper Sunday so I’m set for meals on Sun. anyway. (Forgot to mention that Mrs. MacK and Mrs. Baker lived in West Van.)
Last night John Weir rolled up in a ’57 Olds. He had got me a date & the four of us went out. I’d met her brother Ian before so we had a reunion. Brother was he ever friendly toward me. He plays rugger for UBC so we had a common ground. And John is a Phi Delta Theta brother here. How about that, eh! Anyway this girl was Allison and brother was she ever beautiful. Boy it was a treat just looking at her. And she has a very wealthy family but like the Weirs they’re really fabulous in making me feel at home. We had a very good time. We went to a show. (All those ‘brothers’ – Jeez!)
Both the Weirs & Mrs. MacK have extended open house to me & told me I could stay at their places if I so wished. They’ve actually asked me to stay with them! Boy without these people I think I would have given this place the boot quite a while ago. They’ve really been fabulous to me. Boy you could sure tell fine breeding in all these people last night and it makes me proud that your training has put me on an equal footing manner-wise with them.
Mrs. Dunsby still hasn’t written Mrs. MacK. I’m sure glad I went over anyway.
Monday,November 4. Well what a weekend this last one was. If you remember, on Fri. night I was out with the beautiful Allison, gratis, thanks to John Weir. Well Sat. I got my camera and a chap here, Harry Smith from Manitoulin Island, and I walked all through & around Stanley Park then across the Lion’s Gate bridge & took a bus up to the Grouse Mountain chairlift. We then went up the chairlift 1 and 3/4 miles then walked up some more to the summit of Grouse Mt. 4600′ high. Well I can tell you I’ve never in all my travels witnessed such a magnificent scene as that that was spread out before us. It was a beautiful clear day and we could see across to Vancouver Island & way down the coast of Washington. We could see Mts. Baker & Rainier in the Olympic Range in Washington. I got some fabulous pix that had better turn out or else. We came down as dusk was falling and the whole city spread out below us twinkled with millions of lights. It was very quietening up on top with not a sound to break the stillness. It really was a moment for looking at things and for realization. You have no idea how much good it did me to just stand there & look out over the world. I felt very satisfied & full of hope when I came down.
Sat. night some of the fellows were going down to the dance at the YMCA. (Every Saturday night, the Y on Burrard held a dance – no smoking, no alcohol. It was always packed full.) I got my way paid in (?) and straightaway started dancing with a beautiful brunette. She was Spanish from Barcelona & boy was she nice. I could notice a difference between her & any Canadian girl I’d ever met right away. She was a delight to talk to and was perfectly natural right through. We just talked about anything as naturally as breathing. It was pure pleasure. At 11 pm her sister’s escort suggested we go to a dance cafe. He was German & so was the Johann Strauss Kaffeehaus. Talk about continental flavour! I have no doubt I was the only Canadian in the place. The drummer in the band was a woman with tattoos on her arms who occasionally bellowed out the words to the songs they were playing. The sister was a beauty also & we just had a marvellous time. I can’t remember when I’ve had such a good time on a date. It was wonderful. We took them home in Kurt’s car. Kurt was the sister’s escort’s name – the sister’s name was Alicia and mine had the odd name of Pili. (The sisters were travelling the world, in Vancouver house-sitting in a very large house in Point Grey for a wealthy family who were on an extended vacation. The husband was a business associate of their father’s. The Spanish pronounce cee’s and zed’s as th’s. Pili’s full name was Maria Del Pilar Ruiz-Campazano. Her sister was Maria Alicia, I called her ‘Al’.) The whole thing didn’t cost me a cent – Kurt’s treat. He was trying to impress I guess whereas I was just basking in the pure pleasure of the company!!!
Sunday I didn’t get to church unfortunately however I went over to Mrs. MacK’s and she drove me over to Dr. & Mrs. Baker’s in her Austin. They had 3 other couples who had just dropped in but they just brought me right in & in no time I felt like an old family friend. The Bakers are really nice people and they have two daughters! Marg is 19 and blonde & perfectly beautiful & perfectly shaped. A dream on wheels. She’s in 2nd year P.H.E. at UBC and is the most athletic loving yet least athletic looking female I’ve met. Anyway I drove her out to the West Van. Yacht Club where they have a 48 foot yacht. Her father drives a Jaguar & they also have a Vauxhall. I had to drive Mrs. MacK’s Austin. Boy what a trial that was. It had the power of a small sewing machine so I was continually shifting the thing. Brother I think I can drive anything now after that! We then went to Mrs. MacK’s for a very nice dinner (Marg & I that is the ‘we’) then I drove her home in the Vauxhall. She’s a real beauty I’ll tell you. I’ve got a walking date with Pili Tuesday night. (sic!)
If all this seems a little heavy on the female side of life you must remember I’ve been dry for nearly a month and was starting to climb walls. Anyway it didn’t cost me a penny any of the three times so who’s to refuse such free & beautiful merchandise?!
Today I phoned Capt. Sylling for a progress report & he’s still waiting for the boat to get in. He gave me the names of some other shipping Cos. so I went around to some of them. None of them had any boats that were going to Australia. One had a boat that gets in Wed. & leaves Thurs. for a tour around the Orient. I just might hop that one and return here & get another for Aus. later when I get back. We’ll see.
I went to see Mr. Murray Williams, Capt. Smeltzer’s friend at B.L. Johnson & Walton Steamship Agents, Marine Bldg. and he’d never been heard of there. They hadn’t even heard of him! Oh well. So I actually left Toronto with no leads & whatever progress I’ve made here has been through your first letter pointing me to Mrs. MacK. I also went to the Aussie Trade Commission & got a list of the lines that travel between here & Aus. Checked them out & they’ve got no ships in either. Things look better now.
Thursday, November 7. This won’t be too long as I’m really tired. I spent Tuesday calling on some more shipping Cos. that Capt. Sylling suggested & went to the Aussie Trade Commission and got the names of more Cos. & tried them & no luck. Wednesday I went down to the docks & went on board every English-speaking boat in harbour. None of them had any need for crew & they were mostly going to the continent. (Europe)
I went over to see Pili Tuesday night. She is really good company. Wed. night John went with me to take Alicia so the four of us went to see “The Man Of 1000 Faces”. He was also very impressed with their charm.
Wed. Mrs. MacK phoned & said Thurs. morning I should go in & see her neighbour – Mr. Kesseredy, Gen. Mgr. of Mercedes Benz here who wanted to talk to me. So bright & early this morning I was there & he talked to me & told me to come back at 1:30. I did & at 2:50 a Mr. DeToth showed up who runs the M-B used car lot. He has a job for me selling used cars. There are only 10 to 18 cars on the lot and it’s service rather than quick turnover that they demand. I won’t know much about it ’til tomorrow at 9:00 am, but I will get a wage plus commission. It’s long hours though ’til 9:00 pm but they understand I’ll only be there ’til I get the first boat.
I went to get a B.C. licence today. I passed the written test 100%, eyes okay, reactions okay. Then came the practical test ($2.00 for rented car) in a manual shift ’55 Pontiac. Stopped & started on hill, parked on hill fine, everything good except I went 25 mph through intersections & didn’t crane my neck both ways and I didn’t use hand signals for turns even though the car was equipped with turn signals which I did use! So no go. What a bastard! (I was really cheezed off!) Have to go again. Have to be 21 or parent’s consent or else fill out a whole batch of forms. Boy this city & province are dragging me down in the dumps. I gotta get out of here. Hope the job is all right.
Sunday, November 19. Boy doesn’t the time fly by. I went in for work at 9 am on Fri. Mr. DeToth (Ernie) was very nice but very vague as to exactly what I was to do. I’ve finally figured it out that I’m to hold the fort while he’s out which is quite often. We only have a small lot but the cars are all in the BEST condition. They take them into the service dept. & go over them with a fine comb. They have to do this so they can build up their reputation for good quality but boy are they expensive.
Saturday I had five nibbles. 3 wanted cars that were already sold. Another was still pondering. But the 5th. Well a man came in with his wife and kids. He was looking at a ’55 Pontiac Ranch Wagon $1695. It was in beautiful shape & he liked it. He drove it & looked all over it. He knew the price and had a ’51 Austin R.W. to trade. I said he’d probably only get $100 to $150 on it because it was in lousy shape. He said that sounded right & said okay let’s talk terms. Well that’s Ernie’s dept. for a while yet & Ernie was going to give him $200 on his Austin but when they emerged the fellow wasn’t going to buy at all! I don’t know what happened. Oh well.
I work 8 to 6 some nights & 8 to 9 (most!) others. But there’s a terrible lot of sitting around which kinda gets me down. I get $35 a week plus 1% commission so I’ll not get rich but still pay the rent. They give me a car every night & over the weekend & any time I want one. Fri. night I got a ’51 Chev in good shape & for this weekend I’ve got a ’53 Studebaker in brand new shape. So that’s the job. (On reflection, getting a job in a little more than two weeks was pretty spectacular given the conditions in Vancouver at the time. Thank you Mrs. MacKenzie!!!)
Fri. night I was out with Pili and Sat. we went to see the Delta Rythm Boys – a quartet. Boy were they ever fabulous. It cost $3.00 to get in & they were kinda cheezed off that we didn’t have anything to drink. Oh well they didn’t throw us out anyway. The D.R. Boys were really great. They were called back and I think they must have sung every song in their repertoire.
Today Art Van Lane & I went to the Christ Church cathedral. It’s a very beautiful church – all the windows have pictures in them. Its shape is very like that of St. Timothy with only minor differences. It was a high service but still very nice.
Later I drove Pili and Alicia up to the Grouse Mt. chairlift but it was raining so we didn’t go up. We then went to the airport & they got a big charge out of the planes. We then went to their apt. & we all talked ’til 11 pm. Really fabulous girls I’m not fooling but too old for me. (Pili was 27 and Al was 29. I didn’t realize until reading the letters that I had known their ages so early in our relationship.) Just good friends.
It is now really late. Oh yes, Ernie gave me M-B insurance for the car(s) & they fill it up with gas for me. Nice eh. Keep well & keep writing those wonderful letters.
Tuesday, November 12. On Sunday I went over to the MacK’s. (That must have been some Sunday – church, the MacKenzie’s and driving Pili & Al to Grouse Mt., the airport then their place in Point Grey! The only thing I can think of is that I must have taken Pili & Al with me to the MacKenzie’s in West Vancouver!?) Capt. MacK got in Friday & they had been on a continuous drunk ever since. As you can imagine they weren’t in the best of shape. Capt. MacK was friendly & talkative …. they have been very good to me. Their kids are Jamie 4 1/2, Anne 7 – really cute kids – & Bob 16 is very well-mannered. Capt. MacK’s boat is the Waitona, a newsprint & lumber freighter & it’s bound back to Australia this Friday.. He said though that he couldn’t do anything for me as the union had everything tied up as far as the hiring for ships goes.
So at noon today I went to the Seamen’s Union to try & get a card. It was the most obnoxious “no” I’ve ever had. He said there were 150 guys in the union that were out of work & why should I be privileged. These other guys got first chance & I didn’t need to even worry about trying. 150 worthless bums who couldn’t give a damn are lovely union babies but me I want to work but can’t do it. I called him a dirty son of a ….. & he was near to coming over the counter at me. But I was so mad I would have clobbered him so he stayed. I’ve never been that mad before I’ll tell you. That’s why I hate all unions. (It was a combination of his supercilious tone, arrogant attitude and my living with a bunch of guys who were happy to live on the dole rather than even try to find work.) I worked ’til 9 tonight & have 3 sales pending that will either wrap themselves up or fold tomorrow. Here’s crossing our fingers eh! It looks as though I’ll be in Vancouver all winter oh no. The job is getting more familiar thus a little easier to take thank goodness.
Thursday, November 14. Well I’m working ’til 9 pm tonight so I’m writing you in this time. There is absolutely nothing doing now as there are no people coming in so I’ve got the very easiest of times here. A good book and a soft chair in my office! There’s nothing like it. I have yet to sell a car although Ernie snaffled a deal off me yesterday when he arranged terms with a lady I’d primed. Oh well I’m getting more familiar with the routine and the various forms involved in the deals so that the next concrete prospect I get I’ll never let go of them. Aside from the low pay this job has all advantages. However I’m still most anxious to get out of here. Not having any spare days except Sun. means I’ve got to do all my searching for boats then.
You wondered if there was something you could send me. Well there is! You could send me my alarm clock as 7:15 am comes very early & I need a little extra encouragement to get out of bed. Thank you!
I phoned Mrs. MacK today & she’s got a cold now. I don’t wonder! Anyway she’s still casting about for a good job for me & a boat. She certainly has a heart of gold don’t you think even if her hubby’s presence veils her mind for a while!
I got Arthur’s letter today & it was a great laugh to read. He certainly has the Conn flavour in his humour hasn’t he!
I was out driving with Pili last night. She is a very natural girl and a lot of fun. It’s still Marilyn for me though.
There’s not much to tell you as work takes up my time. Art Van Lane & I are very good friends but he works as a garage mech. in North Van. & doesn’t get in ’til late for supper & I work so we don’t see each other too much. He’s a very good head though. I haven’t looked up Mrs. Weymark or Mr. Marsh’s sister yet as time is a very great factor. I will try hard though, especially the latter.
Monday, November 18. Your last letter, mom, was rather disturbing in that you seemed to have a lot to say about that union deal. He was what I called him and those guys were what I called them. You have to see these people to know. They’re all like Vogel my roommate or ex-roommate. (He got kicked out today for not paying rent.) (Vogel would belligerently question why he should work when some fancy-pants in Ottawa was willing to send him $30 a week to sit on his ass all day. Remember, room & board was $15 a week, movies were a quarter and draft beer was 10 cents a glass. I guess even with those prices, Vogel couldn’t make ends meet! He said he worked as a lumberjack for the six warm months a year, then went on U.I. in the city.) They would rather drink beer & draw Unemploy. Ins. & only go to work when this runs out. So please do not sound off like that again on something that I’ve seen & told you & of which you know nothing! Also you can be pretty terrific people with lots of money as well as with little & I’m not talking in terms of millions or even 100’s of thousands. It is very important to me to have security. With this you have more time to be nice to people & to meet a better class & intelligence of people.
And don’t worry about the gal sit’n either. Sat. night Pili suggested we go to the Y dance (50 cents each) & we did. There aren’t many girls that don’t know a guy very well that will suggest an inexpensive evening of their own accord. She’s a very fine girl. Her mother belongs to one of the noble families of Spain (castle) & they have been brought up very strictly & properly. Thus we are good friends & that’s all. (After all this time I still recall my one & only stumblebum effort to try for second base and being firmly cut off. It was made perfectly clear that there was no way I was going to be allowed to steal second. But first was so deliciously delightful I didn’t really mind!) Her sister also is a peach & a real joker. You do sound off at me sometimes unnecessarily you know. I love you very much & trust your training. Why don’t you?
As to Xmas gifts – I must say mercenarily that cash would be the most practical due to luggage facilities. The flask sounded very nice but I wouldn’t have too much use for it on this trip. Thanks an awful lot.
I phoned Mrs. Riley (Mr. Marsh’s sister) last night & am invited over there for breakfast on Sunday. She doesn’t go to church at all, which I thought was quite ironic don’t you, but she sounded very nice & friendly. (Mr. Marsh was the long time minister at our church in Toronto – St. Timothy’s, a low-service Anglican church.) I also phoned Mrs. Weymark & she’s going to Portland this weekend so I’m to phone her next week & see about the following weekend. She was very anti-Vancouver so we had a lot to talk about! Very nice also. Mrs. MacK has a bad cold so I’ll be going over to see her come Sunday.
This working 6 days a week doesn’t leave much time for visiting & looking for a boat however I was out Sunday to all the possible boats in harbour & none of them were needing a crew member. So I just have to keep on trying.
Sat. I was giving driving lessons to a Hungarian friend of Ernie’s who has just been here 4 1/2 mos. (Mr. Kesseredy & Ernie were also Hungarian refugees who’d managed to escape after the 1956 revolution.) He was an architect & a very talkative fellow. We went up to Stanley Park & practiced for 1 1/2 hours and he was telling me about life in Hungary how it’s all State owned & operated. Everything belongs to the State & one can’t talk to his friends for fear they’re informers. It sounds pretty grim & he was sure glad to be in Canada.
Sun. pm I went over to the Weir’s & as usual they were wonderful. They’ve offered to have me as a guest over the Xmas season if I’m still in town & offered before to put me up for nothing if I ever needed a place to stay. Pretty wonderful eh! She’d cooked shishkebob all herself & curried rice & was it ever good. We watched TV after & I felt right at home. They’re really wonderful people.
My financial situation is stable. Grandma sent me a $10 money order which was very wonderful. Haven’t heard from Jack or John or Paul. See if they’re still alive please. Am sending night letter to Marg K. for Nov. 20. Big day. (?) Am healthy as a horse & enjoying life.
I sold a car tonight .A 1954 Buick to a fellow who had a ’52 Chev to trade. The diff. was $900 + tax & he paid in cash!All done in 1 hour. Nice eh!. Boy was I ever happy. The fellows here were all really happy for me. The job is going very well & except for the hours I couldn’t wish for more. I’ve got a couple of good prospects lined up so the commiss. will roll in soon.
Thursday, November 21. You are now the parents of a 3-cars-sold salesman. Tonight 2 guys came in at the same time & wanted two different cars. I demonstrated both & sold both. They are both paying straight cash and finalizing tomorrow. (Subj. to Ernie’s consent which will be forthcoming as he’s been anxious to get rid of both cars.) One’s a ’53 Vauxhall like the Page’s the other’s a ’52 Buick. Pretty nice eh! Boy do I ever feel fine. I just hope I can keep that sort of thing up.
A boat came in yesterday – a Br. ship the SS Wearbreeze operating out of China – that’s bound for Australia then on to China. The perfect deal eh. So I went down last night & talked to the Chief Officer & he was slightly tipsy. Anyway he said there were no jobs but if I gave him $200 he’d let me work on her. Fair proposal eh. He could get sacked for that sort of thing. So if the boat’s still in Sunday I’ll go down again. (Later I reflected that, given the character of this guy & the condition of the boat, I’d probably have been tossed overboard before we passed under the Lion’s Gate bridge!)
I’m off to Mrs. Riley’s (Mr. Marsh) place for breakfast on Sun. then over to Mrs. MacK for the pm. Mrs. Weymark is going to Portland this weekend so wants me over next weekend. The Weirs have asked me up again but with only one day a week free there’s not much time. I’ve been working ’til 9 pm every night this week & again tomorrow so it’s quite a struggle. Life revolves around Mercedes Benz now it seems. It’s very good though & all the men there are really nice guys. Ernie says that next week we’ll take it easier.
You mentioned that I don’t seem to comment much on your letters. Well don’t take that the wrong way. I just live for your letters & have the same reaction at the house as I do at home whenever I enter, ie; “Any mail?”. Honestly it does me a terrific amount of good to hear from you & get all the news. I was glad to hear Ruth was up tonight. You might ask her to ask Jack where his letters are. I wrote him a volume some time ago & he hasn’t answered yet.
I was out driving around today with Ernie delivering & picking up cars. Some fun. He was a lawyer in Hungary & had his own practice! Also you may recall a German expedition in ’37 ’38 from Fr. Guiana to the Amazon, the first white men to do this. Well Gerd Kahle a salesman here was the pilot & technical organizer on it. Some adventure eh. He’s a really good head & shares the office with Ernie & me. To bed.
Sunday, November 24. My how the time flies by eh.! Already I’ve been gone 1 1/2 mos. & it seems like hardly any time at all. Xmas is just around the corner now too so will have to start scurrying around in that direction.
I mentioned in my last letter about the two parties that came in last Thurs. night – one for the ’53 Vauxhall & the other for the ’52 Buick. Well the fellow for the Vauxhall signed & paid in full $736 via cert. cheque yesterday & will pick it up on Monday. The ’52 Buick fellow tried Friday to get a loan from the bank but they wouldn’t do it so he has to wait for about 3 weeks ’til some money from Germany comes in. Then he’ll pay straight cash $800 if the car is still on the lot. He likes the car & wants to buy it if it hasn’t been sold in the meantime. There was again much good feeling by the other salesmen as they are a really good bunch. I thus sold 2 cars last week & in token of appreciation I was given the ’57 Pontiac Deluxe sedan to drive over this weekend. What a beauty.
I’m the envy of all the guys in the house (because I had a car) so when we go out for coffee they all pile into it. However I’m careful to allow only 5 others in it & there’s no fooling around ’cause I’d be ruined for life if anything ever happened to it.
Friday was not exceptionally busy & I got off Fri. evening as Ernie decided not to go to a meeting so he worked for me. So Art Van Lane & I went over to the Ruiz’s (Pili & Alicia) & we went to the basketball game at UBC. The gym was built at the same time as, & right beside, the Olympic pool & is really modern & beautiful. The UBC Thunderbirds played the Seattle Buchans & lost 68 – 56. It was a pretty good game but the T’Birds were outclassed right from the start.
Saturday I was out with a man on a demonstration & he was driving and went right through a red light & made a left turn. He just didn’t see the thing. I was so surprised I couldn’t say a word for a while. Brother it really was a startling thing. Later on I had to go over to a lady’s place to get a car she’d bought, a Morris, as it wouldn’t start. So I pushed her in it & got it going & drove it to our service dept. Boy talk about cramped.
Sat. night Pili and Alicia & a guy called Pedro & I went to the Y. Cheap but wonderful evening. These gals are priceless.
It wasn’t ’til this morning that I noticed someone had taken $5 from my wallet. (All I had in it at the time.) My roommate had $7 taken and down the hall another guy had his wallet with money, papers, etc. taken from under his mattress. We called the police & they are going to investigate. I figure it must have been taken while I was having a bath last night as I left my wallet on my dresser for that time. (Curiously, my handwriting changed from my normal upright to a slanted style in the middle of the last sentence and continued that way for the remainder of the letters. Have no idea why. CWC) It’s a pretty lowdown thing I think. Last night the fellow whose wallet was taken woke up to the smell of something burning! Someone had lit a fire under his mattress while he was asleep & it had burned right through the whole thing. His roommate is suspected for that & the thefts but of course we have no proof so can do nothing.
This morning I went over to the Riley’s & had a wonderful breakfast of pancakes & sausage with real maple syrup! Mr. Riley is a geologist & has been all over N. America & Europe & has some really interesting relics of ancient civilizations of those places. He leaves tonight for Reno, Nev. They were very nice people & were very interested in my trip.
Would you please send me my winter coat. The one I got last year – beige with the hood. It is getting quite cool here & I must have something.
I miss you all very much & think about home quite a good bit of the time. Keep a bed warm for my return. I think I am getting wiser as each day goes by. The job is very good & I’m starting to settle into a life here. This will not do so give me all your thoughts & support me in your minds.
Wednesday, November 27. It sure sounds as if you’ve been trading the wheel hot & heavy lately. That was great that you got down to Tillsonburg on the weekend. Grandma’s well worth visiting if only for good times’ sake. The clock hasn’t arrived here yet & if you haven’t yet sent the coat could you do a rush job on it please as it’s getting quite cold. Also send my blue plaid scarf. This may sound like a lot of requests all at once but believe me they are quite necessary. Thanks a lot.
The weather these last 3 days has been the most miserable I’ve ever seen. Rain & wind & mist & cold. Brother it’s enough to make you want to die!
Mrs. MacK was in yesterday to see Mr. Kesseredy & I’m over to her place tomorrow night. I phoned Mrs. Weymark tonight & she’s busy again this coming Sunday so it’s the following Sunday to her place. I’m up to the boats & the Weirs this Sunday. Please don’t send me any more names of people as there are so many now that I have to keep up with & I’ve only got Sundays to do it in. I work about 65 hours a week, 6 days, & it’s pretty rough even though there’s not much physical labour involved.
I phoned Andy Schmidt last night & he was very surprised to hear from me as you can imagine. You remember him from dating days on doubles. He’s in 3rd year mining here at UBC. So we’ve made a date for Saturday night with Pili & Alicia.
Last night I didn’t have to work so Pili & I went to see “Around The World In 80 Days”. It was as fabulous as all the advertising says. I’m afraid to mention Pili anymore but I will say that she is a truly wonderful girl! There haven’t been any sales at all this week, in fact only a couple of phone calls. Business is dying just before Xmas.
Friday, November 29. First off I’ll comb mom’s letter of the 27th of Nov. Question 1. Yes I’d have to join the union to be a steward or anything else on a Canadian or American boat as it is this continent’s Seamens’ Union that handles all crew hiring. 2. Capt. Sylling hasn’t mentioned unions to me at all & I must say I’ve rather given up on him as his boats are all Canuck. However I’ll try him again Mon. 3. Yes I have my Aussie slides with me. I haven’t shown them yet, however I’m going to the Weir’s for supper Sunday & will ask them if they’d like to see them.
Now as to the parcel you’ve sent!! I have 2 sweaters with me & gloves are not necessary so I’ll send the sweaters & gloves back in my Xmas parcel to you. Thanks just the same for the good thought, mom!
No I haven’t forgotten Gordon’s birthday. His present will be in the mail tomorrow. I honestly thought Marg’s wedding was the 20th & I’ve got two (2) letters here from you to prove it. That’s why I sent the night letter when I did to catch them on the wedding morning. I did think a Wed. wedding was kinda funny.
CONGRATULATIONS GORDON ON GETTING YOUR FIRST STAR. CHUCK.
It was good to hear John Knox is back in the fray with the older guys. What’s his address anyway. (For Xmas card.)
There mom, you can consider your letter combed!!!
I got a Mercedes Benz lapel pin today from Mr. Kesseredy so it looks like I’m in here. I’m going down to the boats on Sunday again. I was over to Mrs. MacK’s last night for supper which was lamb chops & really delicious. I forgot to tell you (no I didn’t, hmmm) that on Tues. night Pili & I went to see “Around The World In 80 Days”. It was even more fabulous than the publicity says. You should try to see it. The photography alone is worth the price.
Tomorrow night Andy Schmidt & I are taking Alicia & Pili out, probably to the Y again as I’m saving money!! YES
Business has been terrible this week, in fact nil. No cars have been sold and very few people have even phoned inquiring. Ernie is getting slightly excited about this! The weather this last week may account for part of the reason. It’s been rainy & cold & windy & just plain lousy all week. Brrr what a terrible place to live this is.
I phoned John tonight & got Mrs. Weir. [Mr. Weir is the Weir in “Bourne & Weir” – the largest tire dealers in Vancouver – a bigger plant than Can. Tire on Yonge.] Their plant is at present going up in flames along with a paint factory next door. All that rubber & paint has made a real blaze. John & Mr. Weir were down at the fire so I didn’t get many details. It’s all covered by insurance but their operations are dead for a long while. Boy I was really shocked. It was so surprising as I was over there to get some tires for one of our cars just on Wed. Boy, life eh.
Tuesday, December 3. Well as you can see I’ve graduated from the small paper to the large. A big sign eh! The weather has as usual been lousy lately and I’m getting sicker of it by the hour. Sat. was the dullest day customer-wise they’ve seen here. Since the Sat. before last there’s only been one car sold, by Ernie, & that was a prospect he’s had for months. So as you can imagine he’s getting slightly worried & it seems that all the cars need fixing all at once right now.! What a headache. However I’ve got two very good prospects on the fire right now – 2 women after 2 different small cars & by gese I’ll sell them if I have to give them away! (Hmmm that doesn’t sound right does it.) So let’s hope eh!
Sat. night Andy & Al and Pili & I went down to a place called ‘Dante’s Inferno’ in a small town called White Rock 1/2 mile from the Yankee border. It was a special University night so Andy got us in free! It was fairly nice but the entertainment & decor were very amateurish somewhat like what you’d find in Muskoka. We had a good time though & Andy & I had a lot of experiences to relate to each other.
Sunday I went down to the docks again – no luck – then did some washing – then went to Pili & Al’s place to take their pix (on another guy’s box camera as they wanted some snaps to send home for Xmas) then buzzed over to the Weirs for the rest of the day.
They are truly wonderful people and were able to treat their disaster calmly and still had their usual cheery composure. They are truly the nicest people I’ve known. The fire caused $700,000 damage, all insured of course, but Mr. Weir won’t be able to get back into full operation for quite a while. The offices in front were protected by a firewall so they can carry on administration. However he’s having moulds trucked in from San Francisco & will be able to go into operation this week in his brother’s plant just behind him. (A major part of Bourne & Weir’s volume was in the retreads they fabricated in house.) All his big contracts with construction firms & the city bus lines phoned & said they would stick with him and to not worry about deadlines, they’d wait. His only competitor – Goodyear – phoned & offered him their mould & floor facilities for nothing so he’s in a pretty good way for help. That’s the kind of man he is – people will go all out to help him out of a pinch ’cause they know he’d do the same!
Yesterday I got a letter from Jack & all’s well there. Today I got the coat & extras. Boy did they ever look good. I shall send the sweaters back in the Xmas box also the diary & New Zealand book. I get my commission tomorrow & must start at once on my Xmas cards & presents. Confusion! I’ll phone Mrs. Weymark tomorrow night & Mrs. MacK & John. I’ve tried Marg Baker several times but she’s been out. She asked me to a party at her place Sat. night but I was busy darn it. (Good grief Charlie, you were out with Pili Sat. night!) However one of these days. She starts exams next week.
P.S. Please send addresses of 1. Liz & Pete 2. Carolyn & Bob 3. Ruth with all possible speed. I’ll send the presents for Granmas & Marilyn all wrapped & in the same box to you then you can send them off.
Friday, December 6. Boy is the coat ever standing me in good stead now. It’s turned fairly cool & believe it or not the rains have stopped!! As to business it is what you might say highly hazy! Of the two prospects I mentioned in my last letter the one for the Volkswagen took one look at the mileage (91,000) & fled in haste. (It’s now sold though by Ernie.) The other lady decided to sell her other car for $950 cash & use that to pay $850 cash for either our Hillman or Vauxhall – she hasn’t decided which yet. So all I’m waiting for is her word on whether she’s sold her car!A young chap at UBC was in yesterday on our ’56 Chev Bel Air & I sold him on it so he’s waiting for his dad to get back in town. The latter promised he’d lend him a thousand & all he needs is a couple of hundred more so here’s hoping the dad is in a good way eh!That’s business. In the last 2 weeks only the two cars have been sold by Ernie to dear friends at wholesale price so we are well stocked with everything from a ’57 Mark VIII Jaguar 4dr sedan to a pile of junk in the form of a ’51 Nash. (We had a ’53 Jag sports car and a ’53 Austin Healey. I couldn’t fit in the Jag – my left elbow kept hitting the door handle and threatening to dump me out on the street, but I could & did fit in the Healey and got to tool around town a few times in it. Talk about feeling special!)
I got a letter from Grandma (Conn) today & she squelched my appeal for her to get a TV by saying the hockey wasn’t too good this year & the Leafs were lousy. I tried, Dad.
Last night I was off so Art & John McCluskey & another guy & I went to a show then a hamburger. Nice guys poor show! I’m over to the Weymark’s definitely this Sunday & I phoned Mrs. MacK night before last. Pili did a wash for me Wed. night. I worked tonight & wrote this letter to you & one to Marilyn. I have all my Xmas cards addressed & mailed except the 3 whose addresses I asked for and all the Xmas presents bought. They’ll be mailed to you tomorrow & in the box will be Marilyn’s gift & the two Grandmas’. Will you distribute them please. Very tired so bye for now.
Tuesday, December 10. Well there’s not much to tell as far as the used car business goes! In the last 2 1/2 weeks there have been only 2 cars sold, both by Ernie to old friends of his that he’s been working on for months. He’s very disturbed about it all & tries to think of crazy ways to build up business such as going out to driving schools & offering them cash for any customers they steer our way. I had the job of going around to them all & did all right in all but one where the secretary wouldn’t let me get past my first line before she verbally threw me out the door! Suffer, suffer!! So you can get the picture. I’ve got several prospects in my little book but they are all waiting to sell their present cars or to borrow some money. On Sat. I had two English men come in who seemed all hot for two different cars. I phoned them back & pht, both of them decided they’d wait for a while. So you see it is discouraging. Just to keep plugging away & to have patience is the byword in this business. (I must insert some reality here – I was not a very good used car salesman. One day, early on, a young couple came in and became interested in the ’53 Studebaker. I had driven the gutless thing and they seemed so nice and fresh and young I suggested they spend the same money on a brand new Volkswagen. They were grateful for the recommendation and took off for the VW dealership. P.S. I didn’t tell Ernie. CWC)
Sunday we had to deliver one of the cars Ernie had sold to a little town called Cloverdale, about 35 miles southeast of Vancouver. I made him promise before we left that we’d be back by 3 pm as I had to be over to the Weymark’s at 4 pm. Also the Weymarks were having another dinner guest, a Mrs. Grace Stuart, who lived near me & I was to pick her up & take her over at 3:30 pm. Well these people were, as I said, friends of Ernie’s, German, & they got to talking & talking & coffeeing so that by the time I got to the house, changed, shaved etc., I didn’t get to Mrs. Stuart’s ’til a quarter to five. I should have known Ernie wouldn’t be very dependable time-wise but I had stressed it to him. I felt really terrible about keeping Mrs. Stuart waiting & even worse when I found out she had phoned Mr. Weymark & he was on his way over to pick her up.
Well we finally got there! The Weymarks have a really beautiful house high up the mountain with a fabulous view of Vancouver. It’s all landscaped into patios at the back to provide the view! Really beautiful. They are certainly very well off which one can tell by the furniture, appointments & service at dinner but they are either not used to it or very conscious of it as I spent a somewhat cool & much too careful an evening. They were very nice & Mrs. Weymark looks just like Mrs. Dafoe (another Toronto neighbour) & she certainly is a good cook. I’m sure you’ve been places where you felt a certain restraint has been imposed on your behaviour simply by the conversation & the decor. Then you know how I felt. As I said they were very nice but too distant for my liking.
They had other friends over, Mr. & Mrs. Bill Walker from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He works for Brazilian Traction & has met, but doesn’t know well, Frank Armstrong. Small world eh! According to him Frank Armstrong is now retired. (TRUE OR FALSE?) He was up on leave & his wife is just about due for her second bundle of joy. They have one son 7. The Weymarks have 3 kids, 2 girls & a boy, 7 1/2 to about 2 1/2. Very nice kids & cuter than buttons.
I mentioned Mrs. Stuart before. She is the most fascinating character I’ve ever met. She is 72 & as active as any woman 30 years younger. She is a champion International bridge player & has won 15 cups all over the world. She has been to practically every country writing and/or buying for businesses at trade fairs. Or else she goes to a country for a firm here in order to buy materials for that firm. On the last trip just 3 months ago she went to Madeira for lace, then the West Indies for something else, then to Britain & back here. She’s been to Pakistan, India & all over the Orient & has the keenest, liveliest, fun-lovingest mind I’ve ever encountered. She was a very bright light in the evening. She regaled us with tales of her bridge experiences & her poker games. She’s been raided twice !!! but didn’t get caught because she hid in a bathroom or a fire escape. She loves poker & always wins. That’s how she makes her money. She goes to summer hotels & clips the rich Yankees, or she wins it at bridge. But most of her money comes from her writings. She has such a style that the Vancouver Sun (B.C.’s biggest paper) won’t deliver a paper to her because of some articles she wrote about them! You must have heard of her. She certainly is a fabulous character. She invited me to dinner at her place next Sunday but unfortunately I’m already committed to the Weirs. But I hope to see her again soon.
Monday, December 16. Well this is the longest it’s ever been between my letters isn’t it. I’m awfully sorry but it just seemed to creep by me. Last Wednesday I drove the Ford 1/2 ton pickup we had on our lot, out to Chilliwack (65 mi) to a Texaco service station there that’s going to sell it for us. We figured it’d be easier to sell in the country. Ernie drove out with his wife to pick me up so we spent practically the whole day on the deal. It was a rainy day so the scenery was spoiled a bit but it was a welcome break and driving the truck (automatic) was some jolt. Lots of fun though. I was off Wed. night so I did a washing of fair magnitude in that it included pajamas and pants and shirts.
Thursday a TAXI company brought in two of their ’56 Plymouths that they had traded in on two M-B diesel cars. Were they ever wrecks. One had 97,000 miles on it, the other 80,000. The 97’er ran on only 3 cylinders & the transmission was shot. The bodies weren’t too bad except for the holes from the signs. Ernie was pretty sad about the whole thing. One of the new car salesmen had taken them in without telling him. So we had these two lemons on our hands. It was decided to sell them as is to any buyer just to get rid of them. Well a guy named Stewart came in Thurs.(that same afternoon) & looked them over & said he’d take them both off my hands for a total of $1700. Well I was pretty happy as you can imagine & so was Ernie. So all there was to do was wait for this guy to come back in the morning with his money. I called him twice on Fri. and he said he’d be in Sat. I called him 3 times Sat. & he said he’d be in Mon. By this time I was pretty teed off & felt like telling him where to get off. Well lo & behold what should occur but he comes in this morning with his cheque for $1700 & takes them away all written up in 2 hours. Was I ever surprised. So I’ve sold two more cars. Granted they weren’t much in the way of money makers but they were taken off our hands so all here were very happy for me. I guess persistence counts. On Sat. I phoned another chap I’ve had in my book for weeks & he’s coming in tonight to look at our ’51 Nash. Let’s hope eh. I’ve now sold one more car than Ernie this month, a fact which causes me no little inner glow of satisfaction.
Business is terrible in the used car lots all over town. We’ve been phoning the big lots all over the city & they’re only moving one or two a week themselves. What you hear on the radio & read in the newspapers about the lack of money in B.C. is no idle gossip. It’s really grim.
The weather has been lousy with rain every day except yesterday. I think I’m slowly drowning here. I sure don’t feel Xmas’y this year with no snow & no crisp cold air. I sure miss it.
It’s this coming weekend that Art & I are going down to Mt. Baker for the skiing. Mt. Baker is in Washington so it’s back to the U.S.A. again for a spell.
On Sat. night John & his girl and Ian (Allison’s brother) & his girl and a guy named Carl (friend of John’s) and Pili & I went out to the theatre then back to John’s for some Chinese food. We had a really good time & Pili was quite the attraction of the party.
On Sunday I was down on the docks again and met with no luck as before. I tried every boat ….. (the B.C. economy was so bad that crew members on foreign boats were just not jumping ship as many were inclined to do in previous and subsequent years) There’s a German boat coming in the 29th with a load of Mercedes Benz’s so I’m going to try & get on that one!
I then went to the Stanley Park Pitch & Putt golf course. Its holes (18) are only are only 50 to 110 yards long so you only need an iron & putter. On the first nine I got 48 but on the second nine I got 36 with the 10th being a 6 and the 15th a 5. The rest were 3’s a 2 and a 4. It was a lot of fun. Four of us from the house went. John McCluskey (Scottish) Bobby Jones (Welsh) Bill Howard (Okanagan, my roommate) & me (Canadian). It took us an hour and 3/4 to play it & we were going right along too.
I then went to the Weir’s where as usual they were overjoyed to see me. A delicious meal, and a really nice bunch of people. They’ve really been pumping me to stay there for Xmas & were really genuinely happy that I’m staying. Yes I’ll be here for Xmas. It’s a bit different action from what I originally intended however. Love to you all. I miss you very much at this time of year.
Thursday, December 19. First off I’m sorry for not sending you the Weir’s address: Mr. & Mrs. Fred Weir, 6350 MacDonald St., Vancouver 13, B.C. I’ll get them a plant from you!
Thanks an awful lot for the Xmas money. It was a very welcome sight. I just hope I can cash the cheque without too much trouble. It’ll probably cost me a few dollars for them to phone or wire the bank in TO however maybe not. Anyway thanks an awful lot folks. It sure means a good deal to me. Thanks for the info on the Johnstons. I’ll try & look them up shortly after Xmas!
Nothing much exciting has happened. It’s all set up for the skiing this weekend. This is the bluest holiday season I’ve ever spent. Everyone here tells me I haven’t a snowball’s hope in hell of getting my boat so it doesn’t make for much cheer in my spirit.
I’ve got a couple of business deals cooking on our cars. Now all I have to do is sit & wait it out. The manager, Mr. Kesseredy, has been down our necks (Ernie’s & mine) to cut advertising expenses & to get on the ball & get some cars sold. My position here is thus very shaky if some good breaks don’t turn up & I’ll be left absolutely stranded!!! However things are now so low that I can see bottom thus there’s only one way for my fortunes to go & that’s up!
I was over to Pili’s lat night & we went for a drive. Aside from that there’s been absolutely nothing doing at all. Andy Schmidt leaves for Toronto via TCA tonight. He said he’d phone you over the holidays. My love to you all & MERRY XMAS.
Monday, December 23. Merry Christmas. I guess you won’t get this for a few days after it since you’ll all be in Kingston. Therefore Happy New Year! The weather is lousy so that finishes that part of this letter.
Business is terrible. Ernie sold or rather gave away two cars over the weekend just to get his name on the sales chart. I guess Mr. Kesseredy has been giving him a very hard time & his position here is quite shaky. Mine is absolutely bending double in the breeze! He fired one of the secretaries on Friday because she was “laughing behind his back and being too friendly with the rest of the staff”, ie; she smiled & enjoyed the company of the rest of us & didn’t give the high nose every time she saw one of us. Also on Sat. he fired the best new car salesman here because he’d promised delivery of a M-B this month & it got fouled up & won’t be here ’til next month so he gave the customer a ’56 Mercury Station Wagon to drive ’til that time from our lot. Mr. K. thought that was too expensive a car to loan out so he fired him. That’s the sole reason. Merry Xmas for those two eh. I doubt if Mr. K. has a heart really. I find it very difficult to work in such an atmosphere wondering if I’m in one day & out the next. I’ve suddenly realized that far pastures aren’t greener and you’ll find me quite a different fellow when I get home.
I’ve decided that if in this week I don’t get a boat, I’ll leave here Friday night by bus & will probably be in good old Toronto Tues. sometime. I dread the remarks about the “Great Traveller” that will probably pass behind my back but I cannot see much point in continuing this senseless business. I believe I’ve achieved some sort of stability & know I can count on you & Marilyn to back me up so that’s it. This has been a beautiful mistake but one fact remains that I made it myself so I feel a little easier about it.
Art & I and Marg Baker & a girl called Tina something or other went to Mount Baker Wash. yesterday. Dear Mr. K. wouldn’t sign a slip allowing me to take a company car over the border so I borrowed a car from Tom Hare at the boarding house, a chap from Toronto, & down we went. No trouble getting across the border & we started to climb. Well Tom had no chains on his car but we did get within 5 miles of the summit. Then we got stopped behind another car & couldn’t get traction again. So another car took us up the rest of the way & we left the car on the road. There was a bloody great blizzard raging & we couldn’t see 10 ft. in front of us. We tried for 2 hours but it was so windy and snowy it wasn’t very pleasant so we headed down. It was only $2.50 for the boots, skis & poles. (Pretty good eh.) Well I got the car turned around (no mean job on a windy, one lane, ice covered mountain road) & we drove around N. Wash. for the rest of the day. then back to Van. by 7 pm. Marg turned out to be a washout as a date being more interested in giving her name & phone to 3 strange guys (in a restaurant where we’d stopped for a bite) than in being my date. Oh well otherwise it was a lot of fun.
And then I fled.
The reader will have detected an accumulating dissatisfaction with my inability to secure work on a ship – the basic reason for the entire adventure – along with the deterioration of the work environment at Mercedes Benz and perhaps above all, the incredibly rotten weather. And I have to admit I missed my southern Ontario, home environment.
In the last letter from home I learned that Grandma Conn was dying of cancer and had been hospitalized. That may have been the “last straw”. Anyway I did use that as the reason for my precipitous departure. I had spent Christmas Eve with Pili and Alicia & her latest ‘escort’, and Christmas dinner with the Weirs on Wednesday. Friday I quit Mercedes Benz & Mr. Kesseredy was sorely miffed. Mrs. MacKenzie and the Weirs, both of whom had been so amazingly hospitable to me, said they understood. Pili did not understand, didn’t buy the ‘Grandma Conn’ reason and wavered between sounding hurt and sounding angry when I phoned her. That’s right, I didn’t even have the nerve to face her. I had really fallen for Pili but I had also retained enough common sense to realize that there couldn’t be a future in which we would be together and I was beginning to feel seriously guilty about misleading her. She didn’t know I was only 19, eight years her junior. She was warm and lovely and elegant and quite the most wonderful girl I’d ever been out with. I was an unformed, unfocused neophyte with no immediate prospects. The first thing I did when I got back to Toronto was write and tell her my age, among other things. I never heard from or saw her again.
The train was too expensive so I went by bus. There was no road through the Canadian Rockies then (now there are three) nor was the Trans-Canada north of Superior complete. Thus the bus had to go down to Seattle and turn east, probably on U.S 2, and travel all the way to Windsor through the northern U.S. states. It took 3 days and nights and the sun never shone. Drivers changed every eight hours and the bus took a pit stop every four. All I remember is non-stop gloom. Dad met me at the bus station where it had all begun nearly 12 weeks before. Looking back, many many times through all the years of my life, I’ve recalled this truly fabulous adventure. Charles W. Conn Hastings, Ontario,
Spring – Summer 1958 As soon as I had recovered my wits, after my gloomy, mid-winter flight by bus across the northern U.S., I rushed over to see my Marilyn. She met me at the front door with the news that she had been dating my good friend John King, was going to continue doing so and handed me my ring.
We had started going out in Grade 11 and started going steady in January 1954, four years previously. To say that I was knocked off my feet is a mild understatement. Betrayal! – by who I had thought was a stalwart friend and the girl I had thought I was going to marry. In hindsight, Marilyn was a year older than me, was already teaching and probably felt unwilling to wait for this unreliable travelling man to grow up and settle down. Ah well.
I quickly got a job as a filing clerk in the auto policy division of the Norwich Union Insurance Company. After three weeks, I was given the fleet policy desk, under close supervision at first, and grew to enjoy the experience a lot. And I became pretty good at it. When I gave my two weeks’ notice to leave for Queen’s, my boss had a little difficulty understanding my decision as he felt I had a considerable future with the company.
I had bought a dark blue ’47 Pontiac for $125, painted the front fenders a light blue to cover the rust and used it to tool around town. One day, going east across the Bloor viaduct, the gas pedal jammed and the car accelerated like crazy. Fortunately, traffic was light and I was able to turn off the engine and coast to a stop just over the bridge. (No DVP then.) Close call! I was able to sell it for $125 before going to Queen’s..
I went on a ski weekend at Limberlost, enjoyed a super office party, escaped the clutches of a voluptuous Canadienne, but otherwise had a fairly quiet eight months’ interlude between my second fabulous adventure and my years at Queen’s.