By Mike Kelley
After a rather hair-raising out-processing through the Oakland Army terminal, I staggered out of the service ... a 122 lb., gangly scarecrow of skin and bone rattling around inside the Class A uniform the Army had insisted I wear at release. Somehow, I found my way to a Greyhound terminal in the East Bay.
Much later that night the bus delivered me and my duffle bag to downtown Sacramento but still some ten miles short of home. It was O'Dark-Thirty and much too early in the morning to wake up the family at home. I stood alone on that deserted street pondering the next step when a cab drove by (the only car to pass in the 20 minutes I'd pondered away); so, I waved him down. I had about $250 of unused leave pay burning a hole in my pocket, so a cab was within my means.
The cab pulled over, and I threw my duffle in the back seat and climbed in front with the driver. His face was almost lost in the steam rising from the Thermos of java he was nursing, and there was only silence for a few moments. He looked me over carefully before saying a word. "You just back from the war?" he asked; and I told him that, in a way, yes, that was true.
I braced for what might follow, that he might deliver a lecture on the morality of my obvious profession and boot me out; but all he said was, "Where you headed?" and I told him the address.
He thought for a second; then, as his cab maneuvered from the curb, added, "Okay, this ride's on me; so you scrunch down as low as you can in the seat 'cause the cops will pull me over if they see me carryin' a passenger, but the flag ain't down."
It took a few moments for the meaning of his words to sink in. Uncertain, I even fumbled some bills from a pocket; but he reached out and pushed my hand down, shaking his head no. I didn't know what to say to the man; nothing seemed adequate to express what I was feeling, but I think he understood that his gesture was not what I had anticipated and that I was in mild shock at the turn in events...
We drove down Hwy. 99 to the Mack Road exit with that pre-dawn, pinked-streaked eastern sky our only companion, each of us lost in our thoughts. Not another word was spoken until he pulled to a stop in front of my folk's house and offered me his hand. "Thanks," he said. "Good luck, kid." And he was gone.
It took me a while before I found the composure to quietly let myself in and start again the life I'd left behind. I sat there in the living room, all alone except for the family's beloved and equally delighted Irish Setter, hugging and stroking him incessantly while he licked my face clean of the tears that had found their way down my cheek ... tears coming not from the joy of being home, but from the memory of the cabbie's simple offering of welcome and thanks.
Then I fell asleep in my Dad's easy chair with the dog at my side, knowing as I drifted off that I would never forget that morning or the kindness of that wonderful man.
It was the 29th of June, 1971. It finally felt as though I was really home; a small victory in a long war.