Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Townies Get Pay Back

I'm second from lower left... the one with the big ears

Hear Pat read this entry 

Once the shock of the Kennedy assassination passed, things at Chanute fell back into a normal state fairly quickly.  We finished up our Basic Training and were awarded our first stripe.  This was a huge deal, it meant that we were no longer considered trainees but full fledged Air Force members, in other words, part of the team.  Classes would run from about 7:30 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, at which time we would take a bus back to the barracks and head over to the dining hall for supper.  Air Force dining halls were essentially huge cafeterias with a wide assortment of entrees and desserts, you could have as much as you liked.   The food was well prepared and, usually quite delicious.

For amusement we could zip over to the theater and take in a flick, go to the day room and watch TV or head over to the rec center for any number of activities planned and hosted by the staff.   Those with cars could run over to the base garage where a large assortment of tools and supplies were available to the mechanically inclined.  There was a Base Exchange, essentially a department store, where you could buy everything from socks to living room furniture. In town you could visit the USO where friendly Rantoul volunteers would serve treats, and local girls would come to dance with the GIs. 

But there was a darker side to Rantoul.  I already mentioned the pawn shops and loan sharks that operated there.  Unscrupulous car dealers would con unsophisticated GIs into buying junkers at exorbitant interest rates then repossess them when the kid couldn’t make the payments, only to sell them over again to another sucker.  There were check cashiers who would cash our pay checks for a high fee, the banks wouldn’t cash them unless we had an account there.  These “business people” wouldn’t hesitate a second to threaten a call to the base commander if they thought it would get them a buck or two from a strapped GI. 
This was allowed to continue until one day the base commander decided enough was enough and put the entire city of Rantoul off limits.  He lined up the entire fleet of Air Force busses, and put them at our disposal to circumvent the town and go down to Champaign/Urbana.  This worked out quite well for us since Champaign was a much larger town, and offered a great deal more in terms of shopping and recreation.

The howl from the city fathers was deafening, how DARE they do such a thing after the town had been so accommodating!?

Yeah, they were accommodating all right, as long as the accommodation didn’t require anything from them.  Without Air Force personnel shopping in town the merchants of Rantoul were losing thousands of dollars every day.  The commander was unrelenting however, and the ban continued for about 4 days during which special classes were set up to counsel us about the loan sharks and Shylocks.  Normally a complaint from a townie to a squadron commander could cause an enormous amount of grief for a fly boy.  No more, if someone had an issue with a local merchant, cop or any civilian for that matter, there would be an investigation into the matter. 
They weren't happy about it, the townies were used to getting anything they wanted from a compliant Air Force, but after 4 days they threw in the towel.   There would be an informal commission set up consisting of Air Force lawyers and representatives of the business community to arbitrate any issues that might occur, and the Shylocks were advised that their access to the commanders was hereby greatly diminished.

With a new dynamic between the town and the Air Force in place, relations quickly improved between the Fly Boys and the folks of Rantoul.   Only a small percentage of people in town were causing issues, and now that they knew their place life improved immensely.

It took about 9 months to finish up tech school, by which time I'd obtained permission to marry Judy, the girl from Owosso I'd been dating.  Love is blind of course, and neither of us could have anticipated the kinds of stress that living on a lower grade Airman's salary would impose on a relationship.  We settled into a little cottage just off base.  It reminded me of the chicken coop, more like one of those migrant worker shacks than a real house, but it had indoor plumbing and an oil stove so I guessed it would do.  With an income of around $170/Mo including housing allowance, the $50/Mo rent seemed like the deal of a lifetime. 
It didn't escape me that, as a musician back home, I could easily make a couple of hundred or more on a weekend.

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