Jeepin’ With Janelle

In my memory, I knew right where a picture of Janelle and Lynda from our excursion was — only it wasn’t there. Kind of makes you wonder about every other detail in this story.

I believe we’ve established I generally don’t know what I doing, technologically at least, when it comes to this blog, particularly after WordPress thought it was a great idea to switch to “blocks,” whatever they may be. Some of you have been kind enough to post comments after you’ve read an entry, and while I mean to reply to most I only reply to some, but have no idea if my reply ever makes it back to the original commenter.

The other day I got a comment from a gentleman who used to live in Gunnison, and his last name put me in mind of a story, one that still makes me smile 35 years later. This story may involve a relative of his; I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing it with you. But we do need to bear in mind that the story is old, with my memory cells being what they are and me not having had any contact with anyone involved for a long, long time.

When I got to the Gunnison Country Times, way back in 1984, there was a bookkeeper named Janelle. Janelle had two daughters from her first marriage, both of them older than me, each with one child. This is how young the grandchildren were: Jennifer, from Texas, would come to visit in the summer, and when handed Oreos, she would lick the cream off the cookie and then hand the less desirable remainder to her younger cousin Brady, who had no idea he wasn’t getting the best of the deal.

Janelle kept her eye on me, just out of college at my first professional job. Not a stern eye, no: she and her good friend Toddy and I would head to the Cattlemen’s for lunch, where we would laugh so hard we were sure we were going to get thrown out. A couple summers ago Janelle’s daughter who still lives in Gunnison wanted to go to lunch with me and a relative of Toddy’s to relive these uproarious stories, but unfortunately I can’t remember a thing about them except that we laughed until our cheeks hurt.

Janelle had a gold GMC Jimmy, and she and husband Jack were members of the Blue Mesa (I think) 4-Wheelers Club. I don’t remember why Jack wasn’t going, but the 4-Wheelers were planning a club excursion, and Janelle had three empty seats in her Jimmy. I signed on, and so did Stephanie and Lynda from our production department.

This was my only outing with this club, and I don’t remember a whole lot about the specifics, like where we were going. Although the route didn’t matter, because club leaders, whoever they might have been, had it planned and all everyone else had to do was follow along, single-file.

Before we even got rolling on this all-day trip, I needed to pee, so I ventured into the nearby woods. Which you might think is a detail you don’t need to know, but you do. I had no problem peeing in the woods.

Janelle let me drive, which was very cool of her, and we slotted in behind a Scout or Bronco belonging to Rial and Wilma Lake.

At Pat’s Screen Printing we have a customer who is very proud of being descended from John Gunnison, the man who gave his name to the place I live, but all the explorer really did was pass through on his way to getting killed by Indians near present-day Gunnison, Utah. Rial Lake, on the other hand, had serious Gunnison cred. His father Henry Lake, who gave his name to my elementary school, pedaled over whatever pass they were using in those days with a printing press strapped to his bicycle to bring the word — not the Bible, but a newspaper — to the citizens. Rial Lake was a dignified, eminently respectable man known all through the valley.

For awhile we rode along a relatively well-traveled road, remarking on the scenery and whatever else we might have talked about; but then we turned off (one of those roads less traveled that Mr. Frost was so fond of), and the ride got bumpier. It also got more forested, and as the convoy drove under a low-hanging branch, the CB antenna on the top of the Lake mobile, attached magnetically, fell over onto the roof.

The Lakes stopped; got out of their car; inspected the toppled antenna. Being not of the tall sort, they climbed up on the door sills from either side of the Bronco/Scout and stretched toward each other to get the antenna righted. Then they drove on, and so did I, following behind.

We went under another tree. The antenna toppled. This time it seemed a trifle funnier, as we watched them go through their whole procedure. We started up. And drove under another tree. The antenna toppled. It got even funnier.

In the meantime, the day was stretching on. Either Stephanie or Lynda, maybe both, had brought a large ice tea along, an ice tea that was a challenge to drink since I kept finding bumps in the road. This was funny too. As the day got longer and Stephanie ingested more tea, she needed to pee. But there wasn’t a bathroom around for miles, and for whatever reason, she was not about to pee in the woods.

No one else had an issue, neither Janelle nor Lynda, who had the remarkable ability at work to carry on an conversation while typesetting a story without a single typo. But Stephanie was not about to go there. So now as I drove over ruts, it was putting pressure on Stephanie’s bladder. Which should maybe not be something to laugh about, but we did anyway.

The convoy drove under another tree. And another. It was hard to keep count then and impossible today, but let’s guess this happened eight or more times. Each time the Lakes would patiently stop their vehicle, get out, climb up, reach across, set up. And each time the four of us would snicker, getting a bit louder every stop.

The road was uneven. Tea sloshed; bladders begged to be released; everything got funnier. Finally we rolled out of the trees and crested a long, barren hill sloping down below us. For some reason, way up at the front of the convoy, the jeeps stopped. So the Lakes stopped. And we stopped. There, on that hill without a tree in sight, their antenna toppled over.

We laughed, Uncle Albert style. Long and loud, we had to have been heard by the Lakes, although I don’t recall them acknowledging us in any of these antenna instances. We had been getting louder as the day went on; maybe they didn’t realize we were having a laugh mostly at their expense, although our timing was uproariously suspicious.

From there the antenna stayed put. Shortly thereafter we located a Forest Service outhouse that did not offend Stephanie’s rather desperate sensibilities as much as the great outdoors had. We returned to civilization completely worn out from laughing.

Within a year or two, Stephanie moved to Denver to pursue her career. Lynda married a man she met at the Cattlemen’s and moved to Oklahoma (she was from somewhere south of here to begin with). The Lakes, an older couple even at the time of this story, have passed on.

Janelle retired to one of those little towns by Cedaredge (Austin? Eckert?), went out on her deck one summer day and literally destroyed her bare feet. My friend Matt, his young daughters and I went to visit her once, and we enjoyed reminiscing. That was my last visit with her, but it was a good one. Because there’s nothing like a friend with whom you’ve had some great laughs.

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