Amazon Books

Scribbles on Hotel Stationery: 1966

Bill Burkett
5 min readApr 14, 2024

--

WHEN I CHECKED into the upscale Olympic Hotel in Seattle I showed them my military ID card, which garnered me a deep discount off a very nice room and no smarmy attitude from the desk clerk. The knowledgeable lifers at Fort Lewis tipped me off to the perk. I was still surprised when it worked the way they said, after my negative experiences in Tacoma.

Tacoma is a GI town, my sergeant said, that’s why; they’re all in business to fleece us, not respect us. Get the hell away from Tacoma if you want to enjoy a three-day pass. He gave me this advice after I made the mistake of trying to rent a car in Tacoma while in uniform.

The rental agent sneered and pointed to a newspaper page pinned to the office wall: a photo of a twisted car wreck. A necklace of beer-can pop tops had been strung together to hang from the same pin, together with a hand-lettered sign: “this is why we don’t rent to GIs.” In Tacoma, wearing an Army uniform makes you an instant nigger.

Which is why I was reluctant to ask for the GI discount in Seattle, the military ID giving the lie to my button-down Enro and Cricketeer tweed sport coat. But I got the red-carpet treatment, as if being a soldier here was something worth respect: go figure.

Emboldened, I called Avis from the courtesy phone in the Olympic lobby. The first thing they wanted to know was what credit card I had. Everybody in the world is beginning to want a credit card: American Express or Diners Club.

The only guy I ever knew who had one of these cards was an MP in Germany who was successful in business before his draft number came up. He told me about it after German employees of American Express at Landstuhl refused to honor my letter of introduction from the Jacksonville Beach Bank president, identifying me as a substantial account holder and guaranteeing my checks.

Letters of introduction is the way things were done in the old days, my businessman-turned-MP buddy told me; you need to get one of these; and showed me the green plastic card.

But I didn’t. Back in the U.S., I figured my bank letter should suffice. No, the Avis clerk said politely, a letter doesn’t constitute a “piece of ID.” Without a credit card, you need two pieces of ID, one of which is your driver’s license. It would be helpful if one piece had your photo on it.

I had two thoughts: one, based on my Tacoma paranoia, was that he was fishing for me to admit being a GI. My military ID was the only thing I’d ever seen with a photo on it. I didn’t want to show it and risk rejection again. My second thought: totalitarian America is coming on faster than I thought. In Sleeping Planet, the alien empire opposing humanity required photo ID of all its subjects, movement-control permits, constant surveillance — a science-fiction version of the Third Reich blended with elements of the Soviet Union and stirred together with technology designed to ensure total population control. I made it a plot point that my human heroes would rather die fighting than knuckle under to such crap.

Within two years of my book’s publication, minus conquest by either aliens or the Soviet Union, I need two “pieces of ID” (it would be helpful if one had a photo) to rent a damn car!

I almost said screw it and gave up on wheels for my three-day holiday from the Army. Then inspiration struck. The smartest thing I ever did was hang onto the Jacksonville Journal press card that Elvin Henson, the managing editor, handed me the day Dick Bussard, city editor, witnessed my signature on the Doubleday contract for hardback publication. A genuine press card still intimidates people.

Taken together with my Florida driver’s license, which requires you to list your occupation (reporter), Avis sent someone immediately to the hotel to pick me up and gave me a sparkling new yellow Dodge Polara, black leather interior, plenty of pep. Can you spell obsequious? (Must be a big story to bring you all the way from Florida, the Avis guy said. Too big to talk about, I said.)

With a fast car and time on my hands I decided to temporarily stay ahead of Earl in terms of foreign countries visited. As soon as Kearsarge leaves Yankee Station for liberty in Subic Bay, he will tie me again. I headed for Vancouver, straight up Interstate Five to the border, then King George Highway north of the line; no perceptible change to the pavement.

I strolled around a bit, put gas in the Polara. (They measure it in liters and gave me Canadian change for my American dollars. Buying gas by approximately the quart seemed pretty strange.)

I found The Oyster Bar on Granville Street, which offered up the best and freshest fried shrimp I have ever tasted since that place on pilings alongside the Edisto River, South Carolina, where the shrimpers unloaded right behind the restaurant. For some reason Granville Street reminded me of the Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg, where I feasted on venison at Perkeo’s.

I basically just walked around a while, letting the food settle, smiling at all the pretty Canadian girls, then headed back to Seattle. When I get back to the fort, they will ask me how drunk I got. When I tell them I had only one after-dinner drink in Vancouver, they will ask me which whore fished me for all my money, and was she worth it? When I say no whores this trip, they will be wondering what the hell I did. I guess I throw away money differently than these other soldiers.

Not sure they would get it if I said I spent my money pretending I am a civilian for a couple of days, entitled to all those automatic privileges and courtesies to which a civilian (especially one with a press card) is automatically entitled. It’s as good as suddenly being promoted to colonel.

Headshrinkers can make what they will of my pathological desire to “pass for white,” so to speak and hide the fact that I am (spit out the word like a Tacoma car rental agent) a GI.

--

--

Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.