Steve Rector was one of the regulars at the Black Forest Inn when I was bartending there in the late seventies. He had gradurated from Carleton the year before I came as a freshman. He was an English major who wrote poetry. At that time no one was hiring poets, so he got a job as an inhouse copywiter for Honeywell, at there corporate headquarters that was near the bar. He hated it and after a stint living in the woods, he came back to the cities and started working at the Black. At that time he was the only person who worked as a cook, a waiter and a bartender at different times. In ’73 he decided that if he was going to go back to living in the woods, he needed a reliable way of making a living so he went back to school. Medical School.
We became pretty close during his Med School years. We played tennis, basketball and softball together. We fished and we spent a lot of time exploring the countryside. He had a friend in Arizona who had some connections with the Indians down there. He had a bag full of capsules of ground peyote in his freezer. Peyote is excellent for playing tennis and for bartending. Fishing too.
Once, we were driving around rural Wisconsin, four of us, his future wife and my future wife in my Ford F-100 pickup. We saw a dirt road that wound through a cow pasture and drove right past the “road closed” sign. The road was pretty much all clay and it had been raining. After a few miles it started winding it’s way up hill through the woods. We came to a sweeping right hand turn and about half way through it, it became apparent that there just wasn’t going to be enough traction to get around it. The truck started sliding backwards toward the ditch. I finally got it stopped, with the rear tire inches from the edge of a four foot drop off, which, had we gone down into it, there would have been no alternative other than to go get the farmer and have him pull us out with his tractor. Pull us out with his tractor back onto the road that he’d put a road closed sign on. We really weren’t in any shape to be dealing with irate farmers.
The road bent into the direction that the truck was pointed so there was no chance of just letting gravity back us onto the road and backing down to level ground. We had spent a few minutes looking over the situation and shaking our heads when I came up with an idea. We needed to add a foot of width to the road. There were plenty of flat rocks in the ditch and I’d help build a wall our to flat rocks to support a pipeline at a mine site in Idaho. We decided that we needed to build a wall, five feet long and four feet high and just wide enough to get the truck turned into the middle of the road. So Steve and Nancy and Beck and I worked for about an hour and a half, stacking rocks until we had a nice little rock wall built up against the side of the ditch. I got in the truck and carefully backed it out of danger. And then backed it the rest of the quarter of mile down to level ground where we could turn around and drive away. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so good about an accomplishment. It was particularly sweet because I admired Steve so much and felt like he was the smart one in the group and the one who could really jump in and solve problems in a tough situation.
When he graduated from Med School he did his internship at the University of West Virginia Hospital’s emergency room. Beck and I went out to visit him there once and we had a great time romping in the WVA woods. After his residency he travelled in Sri Lanka and Nepal and then came back to the Twin Cities and married Nancy, another Carleton grad who waitressed at the Black. They returned to West Virginia and the ER, bought and remodeled a hunting lodge that was built into the side of a cliff, with five levels the lower four of which were tucked into a crevass in the side of the cliff. The lower level walked out onto the valley floor. I never saw it but his poetic talents gave me a vivid picture of it. They had a couple of kids and he went on to become the head of the Emergency Room at the University Hospital.
In the early eighties one of his coworkers notice that he was acting irrationally and he replied that he’d been suffering from headaches. They decided to do a CAT Scan and discovered an inoperable malignant tumor. He died nine months later. I talked to him on the phone once after I heard about it. His first word were, “The bad news is, I’ve got brain cancer and there is no good news.” We talked for a long time. I told him how much I admired him, and he thanked me for that, because he was kind of feeling that his wicked wit had made people dislike him. I really never heard anyone say anything bad about him. In fact he was kind of a folk hero the BFI crowd. The next time I called Nancy said that he had lapsed into incoherence and couldn’t talk.
Here’s to you Steve. Where did you put that peyote?