It was about January 20th 1986 that I packed what few belongings I owned into my 1969 poo brown Chevy Impala. On the back I had stuck some black on orange numbers and letters to read NCC-1701 USS Enterprise, why not the car was almost as big as a starship. I tried to stuff a full sized floor console TV in the passenger seat, but alas the TV was too big. My tires were bald; I had a rear main seal leak and less than $10.00 in my pocket, but I was determined to cross country. I departed from Dallas Texas and pointed my car to Livingston Tennessee, wherever that was. Although I strongly disliked my birth-dad, I had no other place to go. I was now homeless.
It was a sunny day when I left Dallas, warm enough that I did not need a jacket, but piled in the back seat was all the clothes I owned and several blankets. I took one last look around at my cousin’s place and pulled out of the driveway to get on 35-E north so I could hit I-40 East. It did not take long before I ran into winter. It got bitter cold quickly. By the time I hit Little Rock I was running low on gas, oil and had no money left. I had however learned of a ‘driver in destress’ program sponsored by some churches along major Interstates, I approached the first church door with much trepidation. I explained my situation and was handed a gas voucher which also included two quarts of oil and given a coupon to a local fast food restaurant. I was set to go for about another 150 miles.
It was a very frosty morning and a snow storm was moving in when I hit West Memphis Arkansas. On the radio was a talk debate over the American Government doing away with a National Holiday in favor of adding Martin Luther King as a National Holiday. I had just passed a sign letting me know I needed to change lanes to continue East on I-40 when I thought ‘why all the fuss’, George Washington has one, why not, I also remember they should make a National Holiday for American Indians.
As I got into Memphis I looked at a sheet of paper that listed the names of the churches that assisted drivers, I made my way to the next one on the list. I was again handed a voucher for gas and oil, but instead of giving me a coupon for a meal at a restaurant they gave me a small brown bag of food. I thought this was much better as it would last me a little longer. I was still homeless.
I hit another church in Nashville which allowed me to make it all the way to Livingston Tennessee. I had turned off I-40 and got on TN-42 North. About midway a car passed me in the opposite lane doing about 90 mph, not long after he spun sideways and another car impacted the driver’s side, basically crushing the driver into the passenger, their mangled bodies crushed into one. Later I was to learn that the driver had just broken up with his girlfriend and he was drunk and upset. That girl would be a part of my life, but for a short time.
When I arrived in Livingston I had no idea where to start looking for my dad so I pulled into an old service station that had a shed behind it. I asked the attendant if I could park beside the shed, and explained why. She allowed me and told me I could also use the bathroom to clean up. I pulled in tight next to the shed and locked the doors, it was now in the single digits and the snow was falling large and heavy. I grabbed all the blankets from the back seat and put on as many layers of clothing that I could and stretched out on the front bench seat. It was now the 22nd and I had not slept since the 19th, having bipolar does have a few minor advantages. I slept deep and heavy.
The next morning I awoke to a landscape covered in several inches of snow, eight or perhaps more. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and exited the car via the passenger door. As soon as I stepped out I felt a lion scratch the right side of my face, blood was now coloring the white snow. I quickly brought my hand to my face to assess the damage, when I pulled it away it too was now covered in bright red, dripping drops on the pristine white snow. The lion was no longer anywhere to be seen, but the low hanging roof covered with shingles was next to me, its claws still showing. I had run into the shingled roof of the shed and with the bitter cold, exposed skin and exposed shingles my face had suffered as if a lion had clawed me. I went inside and the same attended was there, she owned the small station and managed it herself. She saw my face as I made my way to the bathroom where I cleaned up as best as I could. I do not remember if she gave me coffee, but I am sure she did. I asked her if she knew Doc Watts, nope. I asked her if she knew of a way to reach out to someone in town. Again she said she did not.
I exited the small wooden service station and stood under the roof overhang. I could not live in my car for too much longer, I was out of resources. I looked around at the small pathetic town, my visibility had been reduced to a few feet, and the snowflakes were fat, thick and blowing sideways. Next to the station was a Pizza Hut, no doubt it would remain closed for the day, but across the street was a tan building with the call sign WLIV, a radio station. I carefully ventured across the street and entered the building, having no idea what to ask. Inside it was warm, and behind a desk sat what I hoped was a kind young woman. I noticed the office had never left the early 1970’s and neither had her desk, this radio station was not raking in the money. ‘May I help you she asked?’ What on Earth should I say? I begin by explaining where I had come from and why I was there and asked her of there was some means to put on the air that I was looking for a man named Doc Watts. Her reply shocked and terrified me. “Is he the man standing behind you?’ I turned to find myself looking in the face of my dad, I nearly peed my pants. He asked what I was doing in Livingston and I told him I was looking for him, he told me to follow him to his house.
Once there he told me that he was out looking for work, I think more likely cigarettes and something to get drunk on, and he had seen me cross the street. He and his wife told me I could have the upstairs, she resented me showing up. The next day the snow had stopped and the sun made an appearance so I started looking for a job, but in a town as small and depressed as Livingston that would take time.
On the morning of January 28th I was walking downstairs when I heard on the TV that the Challenger had blown up. I stopped near the landing and sat on one of the steps and watched the news as it showed the shuttle taking off and then coming apart. My tears fell unabated. After I had seen enough I went back upstairs. The rest of the day I felt lost and alone. I had placed great value on the space program and trust in the science of mankind, and now it had somehow all come apart. At that time in my life I had no other hope.
So do you remember what you were doing this day of January 28th 1986?