Monday, August 23, 2010

The Log of the Voyage of the H.M.V. Oatus, Epilogue:

Top, Chris Howie & Rick Tuel, circa 1973
Middle, Rick & Chris, July, 2010
Bottom: Chris & Rick discover Vashon and realize it is home, 1971

It is December, 1970, and our Vietnam vet/hippie heroes have arrived in Seattle in Oatus, Chris's house truck, and Family Dog, Rick's VW bug, and with their passengers Jeri Ann the hitchhiker and her small dog Metoo, and Rick's dog Nigel the collie and his black cat Felix. We join them:
In the week following our rescue we stripped Oatus down and had him towed temporarily to Lou and Rita's. During this time, out of curiosity I made note of the odometer readings on both Oatus and the Family Dog. Oatus' odometer recorded a little over 900 miles, which is about right for the distance between Marin County, California, and King County, Washington. What I found interesting was the reading on the Family Dog's odometer. It registered over 1800 miles, or roughly the equivalent of two trips along the same route.
The extra mileage represented the number of trips to various parts houses, repair shops, and junkyards that had to be made over the course of the voyage just to keep old Oatus running.
We remained with Lou and Rita for three weeks. Jeri Ann continued on to Canada minus MeToo, who went missing shortly after our rescue from the parking lot at Southcenter, or where ever that was. Chris and I and Nigel and Felix, found ourselves four castaways thrown ashore in a strange land, our vessel disabled by time.
We spent the winter moving, first to Capitol Hill where we found a job with the Seattle Repertory Theater building props and sets, and then we moved to the Central District where we got mugged by a street gang on our way to work one evening. We began planning our escape from the city and used the money from our stage hand work to restore the Family Dog to good running order. He became our shuttle craft as we began reconnoitering what we now considered to be enemy terrain.
I got Washington plates and removed all traces of the California plates, gave Family Dog a quick coat of hardware store spray paint and as an afterthought changed its name from “Family Dog” to “Wreckage.” The camouflage was effective and for the first time since leaving California the police were no longer able to detect us. We were now free to safely scout the terrain for a safe place to settle. As our confidence grew, we increased the range of our search area which expanded immensely once we discovered the ferry system.
February 10, 1971, was a pleasantly warm springlike day and we were enjoying the weather as we waited for a ferry to take us to the Kitsap Peninsula. Whole new worlds were opened to us for a car and driver plus a passenger ticket. Lou had whetted our curiosity with tales of rural outlying areas that he described as being similar to our former home in Marin County: forested, scenic, and fairly rustic, with friendly neighbors and a sense of community. A place that required a certain amount of self-motivation from its residents and where the lack of a few amenities would not pose a problem.
We got off the boat with eager anticipation but were surprised to learn that this was not Kitsap County after all, so we stopped at a restaurant on the end of the pier called the Dock and Dine to get our bearings. There, high on a hillside perched above the intersection between two roads were two sizable signs, impossible to miss by arriving ferry traffic. The highest of the two read, “Welcome to Vashon” but the one beneath it, to our eyes, only embellished the warm greetings of the higher one. It read, “DANGER! DO NOT DRINK VASHON WATER! CONTAMINATED!” It was signed, “King County Health Department.
We were delighted. We thought that no one would want to live here. As far as we were concerned, we were home at last.
It could have been The End, but it wasn't. It was another beginning. At this point in our lives Chris and I agree that we must have been crazy to think we could pull off a stunt like that. What continues to amaze me is that we did.
Oatus was towed to the island, and Chris lived in Oatus for a time, and later fixed the truck up neatly for use as a guest room or child's room as the need arose. In the mid-90s, Chris and his wife Irene moved to a small town south of Spokane to start a new life, and custody of Oatus was passed to Rick and Mary Tuel. Oatus lived peaceably in their yard for about ten years, a summer studio for Rick and a refuge for many outdoor cats year 'round. Then some anonymous someone complained to the County about this old truck, and Rick and Mary had to have Oatus towed away. Where? Well, that is a mystery we shall not divulge. You can see Oatus on Google Earth if you know where to look, but we aren't telling. And that, my friends, is the end.

1 comment: