Bright and clear. Saturday if I'm still on earth time. Brew up a cup of the finest from my coffee making kit and if you've ever seen one of those electric plug in teakettles you know how muy bien the critturs are; they heat water in an instant and then you pour over the mexican beans already ground, drip through the one cup filter and that's all she drank.

Thus fortified, it's a hike up the Truckee River trail alongside the river and about a mile along the way here come a couple ladies ankling along and one has a USMC T shirt on and I give her the old Semper Fi and keep on trudging and later, when I'm heading back, here they come heading back, too, backatcha and I ask if they are here for the Pop A Smoke reunion and the lady with the Marine T says, "Yes, we were at the dinner last night," and I respond, "Of course, I knew that, I knew I knew you, harumph, guffaw," continue on, doesn't that coffee work for the memory as well as the constitution, now I'm scurrying quite rapidly for the motel and the bathroom; for the four sh's of proper preparation in or out of the Corps: shower shave shit and shine.

They tole me about the Pop A Smoke conference room at the Hilton and the Vendor's room where you could buy all kinds of Marine Corps gear and memorabilia. I'd been looking for a Marine officer's belt and belt buckle so I went there to see they had one. The room was jampacked with tables and booths ful of everything from shirts to hats to jackets to photos to books to patches to stickers to pins to insignia, sold by former helicopter pilots; reminded me a little of a Grateful Dead parking lot.

I found the belt and buckle and have been wearing it ever since. I ordered a squadron hat and a name tag for my flight jacket. I bought a squadron patch. I wandered and talked and looked at all the photos and paintings and books and when I was done it it was getting close to take off time. I had a cross country venture in store.

When I knew I was going to Reno and that there would be a BBQ on Sunday at one of the squadron mate's house on Lake Tahoe I called my friends Wally and Roseanna Lourdeaux in Marin. They have a place in Tahoe and much to my pleasant surprise they would be there on Saturday and I could come and spend the night.

I headed out through Carson City and west on Route 50 up over the 7,147 feet, the highest I've been on the whole adventure and my that air is sweet but this road is a winding twisting trial of mind and body and agile adaptation, good thing I am incountry trained.

A successful rendevous with the Lourdeauxs at their place which turns out to be an old stagecoach home station with overnight facilities from around 1861 so there are plenty of bedrooms in the totally restored house.
Mark Twain worked on his book, ROUGHING IT, while staying there. Ambrose Bierce and Horace Greeley were also guests. It was known as Friday's station and later became the Edgewood station. Here's Wally on the porch which runs the full length of the front of the building with pillars holding up a second story porch.

Out back is the log structure from the same eara, the pony express building where the drivers stayed and where they corraled their horses. One of the drivers was a man named Monk who brooked no insolence. Once on a cold wet night when Monk was sipping whiskey to keep warm on the driver's seat he spotted a robber up ahead and quickly poured the whiskey all over himself and lolled in the seat as he drifted to a stop. The highwayman, ready to shoot the driver, instead, once he saw the drunken situation, didn't give Monk another look and opened the door and pointed his rifle at the passengers. Monk immediately struck him over the head with the mail bag, laying him flat. He drove on, cursing, not because of the attempted robbery, but because he no longer had any whiskey.

Bad man Brown also roamed the area. He was a killer in the east and a killer in the midwest and a killer in the west. Cross him and he'd gun you down. He was mad at a man named Van because Van had once supplied a gun to a youngster who tried to kill Brown but the tables got turned and the youngster was the one laid out in the cold cold ground. Brown went after Van but too many people were watching so Brown rode on down the trail. Van got a gang together, took a short cut, and when Brown arrived at the next stop Van, with his cohorts covering him, shot bad man Brown dead.

I slept with pony express riders racing past the front door, gun shots in the woods, bears romping in the pond, throwing a stick back and forth, splashing on their backs. Morning found me ready to explore the famous spring. The water for the property flowed out of a spring and down into the pond next to the house. I had to climb over a fence next to a locked gate. With the Circus Circus acrobats in mind, I made every move slow and deliberate, carefully placing my feet on the wire, making sure my pant legs weren't tangled on a barb. Time didn't matter. I made it over and beat feet up the path.

It was a good hike up the hill with the sun heating down but the thought of the cool spring kept my rotors revved. I stopped for a while and practiced my slingshotting, aiming at a rusty can sitting atop a rock. Nary a hit but some came close and I knew if a terrorist came at me I could drop him soon as he got a couple feet away. A bear I figured I'd have to bomb with a heavy rock so I tried lifting a couple, just to make sure I had the strength. I'd better get him with the first rock, I doubted I could lift another.

The spring gushed out of the ground and into a pond lined with willows and grass. There was a small sandy mound and I lounged a while, dipping into the water, drinking and splashing it over my head and clothes before starting back down. I followed the stream, winding in and out of huge boulders, under tall firs and pines until I came to the fence and gathered myself together for the careful climb over the wire and then down to the house for a welcome bottle of cold beer. After a shower and shave we drove over to the golf course for lunch.

Everyone asked if Wally and I were brothers. Yep, brothers in the bond and now I look at the picture there is a resemblance. We won't say doofy. Wally's wife, Roseanna, completes the picture. Wally went to the University of Oregon and Roseanna worked at the Springfield Creamery. Whenever we took the bus Further to San Francisco, Wally and Roseanna put the whole crew up in their house in Marin.

After lunch we motored around the east side of Lake Tahoe to Incline Village where former Marine pilot Ed Madigan lives. He was hosting a squadron barbecue and had it set up on the deck in the back of his house.

When Bill McFall came up to me and we started talking I said, "Great shirt," and he answered, "I got it at Goodwill." Right, Bill, a sudden blast of goodwill melts them like butter. Bill told the story of how he went to Hanoi when the American POWs were released. One of our old squadron members, Jerry Marvel, transitioned into jets when we got back from Vietnam. He went back over and while flying an A-6 recce over Hanoi got shot down. He did six years in the Hanoi Hilton.

Bill escorted Jerry all the way back to his home on the east coast. During the trip Jerry bought presents for everyone and got a diamond ring for his wife, saying the one he orginally bought her was just a cheap little thing. He had Bill hang on to it so he wouldn't lose it. Jerry's wife had stuck with him throughout the prison ordeal and when they met after the long separation they were hugging and kissing in the back seat of the car and Bill heard her say, "Jerry, there's one thing you have to know. When I was washing dishes my wedding ring slipped off and I lost it down the drain." Jerry looked at Bill in the front seat and gave him a nod. Bill dug the box out of his pocket and passed it back to Jerry. Jerry gave it to his wife and when she opened it the tears and years fell away.

A sad ending to the story. Some years after Jerry got home he died of a heart attack. A few of the other pilots told some stories about Jerry. I had one.

Jerry Marvel was a basketball player. I was the player coach for our squadron team and my policy was to run up a big lead with the starters then let the rest of the guys play. If we lost the lead I'd put the starters back in again. One game we were ahead by twenty and I pulled the starters and we watched the lead dwindle and the clock tick down and it was a three point lead with a minute to go. Jerry was sitting next to me saying, better put the starters back in, then louder, put us back in, then yelling at me, you've got to get us back in there, while I'm telling his to stay calm, we're all right. He couldn't stand it any more and grabbed me around the neck. "Babbs, if we lose this game I'm going to kill you."

"Relax Jerry, we've got it in the bag," as the other team stole the ball, raced down and scored. Fifteen seconds left, one point lead, could we get it inbounds without losing the ball? A mad scramble. Ball loose. They get it. Too late, horn goes off. Jerry loosens his grip, glares at me, we congratulate the guys, good going, one point win.

I had put a poem together for the reunion but after the somber stuff about Jerry I was reluctant to read it-- too lighthearted-- but everyone said go ahead.

I reminded them of the time we put together a show in the funky bamboo sided thatched roof officer's club we had at Da Nang. During the show I had read a poem. I never kept it and couldn't remember it but I tried to recreate it as best I could.

Ode to the Squadron Reunion
by Ken Babbs

O proud left foot
that kicked the
winning field goal
at the squadron reunion
when the C.O.
opened his mouth
once too often
and got booted
into the pool
they thought him the fool
and gawked as he sank
to the bottom of the tank
but the end of his speech
was not out of reach
from a surfacing bubble
was heard "thanks for your trouble"
eliciting a heartfelt de nada
and an outthrust finger
as I gave him the stinger
for the colonel that hound
had us Laos bound

Skipper is trippin
his words are flippin
out his mouth drippin
like hot grease skippin
across the skillet dippin
through the squadron whippin
them into a mad frenzy zippin
through their minds and hippin
their addled brains into lippin
wild crazy thoughts nippin
a taste of fine wine sippin
so good they be tippin
the scales of decent grippin
my raging id into something
so ballistic the patriot act

will have to be enforced.
In Whiskey Creek
the booze is weak
it is all greek
what we speak
inherited by the meek
extolled by the freak
'cept in his lore
where his dates
were left wanting more
jazz and less opera
for the soaps are a bore
and he couldn't keep score
when they're breedin' in the sewers
where the rats hold sway
on a great day for the race
they think it's the rat race
but, ha ha, it's the human race.

That's where marathoners rule!
they of the true school.
While others bluster
they answer the muster.
Some made it, some didn't
was writ on the headstones
of the pilots against time
and the squadron flew on;
though the gatorade was spoil'd
the flavor lima beans, boil'd
can you change that
to whirled peas, please
a sudden blast of good will
melts them like butter
may I recommend
spaghetti ferlinghetti
or do you have no thyme
for another bad rhyme?

These are troubling times
but it iz my lone foot
trying to get in the door
and it wasn't you who
slammed the door on my foot
it was the doggone dog
practising his stupid trick
and then with a turn on the heel
exiting left to the automobile
goodbye to the squadron reunion.

Everyone enjoyed it. I could tell when one of the wives called out, "Could you explain what it means?"

And when Bill Waters grabassed with Bill Phillips the years slipped away and we went all the way back watching a DVD of an 8MM film Dave Moore shot while we were in Vietnam. While looking at pictures of pilots mingling with the Vietnamese I said, "It's the same problem as now. You can't tell the good guys from the bad guys." Carl Davenport said, "But the difference between then and now is the suicide bombers. We didn't have them." Chilling.

It was getting late. Time for me to go. I said goodbye to everyone and headed north, away from Lake Tahoe, to Truckee, for a turn east to catch 395, then the return trip home. I had a lot of time to reflect on things. How I was glad to see everyone. I felt badly I wasn't there with them when they did second -- and some, third-- tours in Vietnam but like I told them in my introductory rap, I wasn't cut out for the military, I had other goals. But the time I spent in the Marines was a wonderfual time and I still use the lessons I learned: how to get along with one another in spite of differences in order to get the job done. The Marine pride: we do more with less. That stood me in good stead the many years I went native in Oregon and lived off the land as much as I could stand. And it's never bothered me not to have great gobs of money, for, as Kesey said, "We may be broke but we aint poor."

I drove through some pretty country. Was at my highest when I left the reunion: 4,179 feet going over the pass to Truckee. But nothing can beat the sight of cresting the Willamette pass and descending into the Western slopes of the Cascades. On foggy, misty mornings when the clouds are hanging low and I sit drinking coffee and looking out the window it reminds me of Vietnam at the end of the tour when we would stare out the window at the clouds hanging low hoping they wouldn't go away. If by ten it hadn't cleared we could hang up our gear, put away our pistols and blood chits, climb on the bus and go back to the relative safety of our hooch, spared another day.

-- Ken "Capn Skyp" Babbs