Captain Mark and Suzanne
Time, Speed and Distance (Pt.1-Time) A Novel by Captain Mark T. Einstein
Ahoy Crew! I have decided to post my own novel, Time, Speed and Distance, onto our website blog and make it available to anyone who would like to read it. I had to divide it into three parts in order to save it onto the website. Unfortunately, the blog posting has changed the paragraph formatting from the original manuscript, but I think it is still readable. Unlike my previous collection of stories, "No Cruise No Crab Cake", TS&D is NOT about sailing, but, it is about many aspects of coming of age during OUR TIME. If you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it and I would be thrilled to receive any comments you might have. Cheers and Thank you! Captain Mark
TIME, SPEED AND DISTANCE
When studying navigation for a mariner’s license, we come to know the basic relationship of three important variables; time, speed and distance. In plotting a course between any two points, whether in a classroom or across the high seas, if two of these variables are known, then the third can be calculated by a simple mathematical equation. Piloting a passage through one’s life, on the other hand, is not as direct as navigating a boat.
This is not a story about sailing adventures, nor is it about navigating the magnificent oceans of the world. In fact, it is not a story about nautical travel at all. Nor is it a feeble attempt to unravel the complicated mysteries of the universe as best explained by one whose likeness to the author is mostly in name. Rather, it is a story about crossing oceans of time as measured in intervals - as small as a tick or a tock of a grandfather clock or a single grain of sand passing through an hourglass, or as vast as time-stamped generations continually coming of age at the speed of light. It is a story about new mornings, bold adventures and ordinary people doing extraordinary things, where time runs forward, not backwards in a world upon which the sun has yet to set.
These are stories within a story about time, speed and distance – in simple terms, like waking up and living out the day, and being lucky enough to do it again and again with accelerating pace. It is a story about a boy and a man; about who he is and who he was. It is His Story, in part, unwrapped and remembered, and colored by shades of time.
PART ONE: TIME
Chapter 1: Morning Boy
An alarm goes off. It doesn’t ring, but rather buzzes wildly as the small plastic electric clock dances in circles on the pitch dark nightstand. The dim light confirms that it is 4:00 AM and a new day is about to begin. What day is it? Monday – a very big day. The morning boy snaps to attention, fumbling for the clock and the metal pin that will cease its whining. He doesn’t want to wake the household. Rising from his bed, his dreams disintegrate in his head as he treads ever so lightly down the hallway toward the bathroom. Yesterday was not a dream, it was real! He had watched TV all day and into the night and he can hardly wait to read about it at the first light of day. He washes his face, brushes his teeth and puts on a pair of shorts. Then, his favorite tee shirt, the one with a fluorescent portrait of Bob Dylan from Milton Glasser’s iconic 1967 “Greatest Hits” poster. Finally, he buckles his watch onto his wrist. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
The rhythmic sound of breathing and snoring through the doors, slightly ajar, indicate that the boy’s mother, father and sister are still fast asleep. The boy makes his way down the flight of wooden stairs with his hand firmly gripping the rail. He has made this pre-dawn descent many times before. Reaching the kitchen, he is home free as he turns on the light. He pours a bowl of cereal and stares at the funny little spaceman on the box. Shaking off the last vestiges of sleep, he is ready to get started. It is summertime. School is out and the boy knows the light will be coming early. His routine is well established, having acquired his morning paper route several months ago, right in the dead of winter when cold and darkness fill the early morning air.
The Sun is Baltimore’s most widely read and respected newspaper. During the 1960s the Sun became the first major newspaper to run eight foreign bureaus, including one in Moscow. The paper’s motto is “Light for all.” The Sun is the only paper to publish two complete runs each day, the morning and the evening editions. For a young boy, a delivery route provides a remarkable opportunity to learn the most valuable lessons of life. Among these are courage, honor, self-respect, respect for others, and responsibility, as well as work ethic and challenging exercises in character building. The paper routes are managed by individuals who control large districts of the city and the suburbs. These individuals take full responsibility for selling subscriptions, providing delivery and collection of payments. The West Baltimore, Catonsville and Edmondson Heights areas are controlled by Mr. Arthur Yost, Sr. and his son Arthur Yost, Jr. Senior primarily handles the Evening Sun delivery while Junior handles mostly morning. For an ambitious young man, a morning route with Mr. Yost Jr. is the ultimate achievement, like becoming an Eagle in the Boy Scouts. With no Sunday deliveries and no collections required, the six day a week morning route is the most esteemed and highest paid of all the routes - $12.00 a week in cash. Having paid his dues for a year delivering evening papers for Senior, including the very heavy Sunday papers, as well as collecting subscription fees, the young apprentice was recommended for service as a morning boy at 12 years old when an opening arose in February of 1969.
Finishing his cereal and placing the bowl in the sink, the boy sits on the sofa, in the dark, waiting. Starting to doze, he remembers the events of the previous day. Then he hears the familiar sound of the red 1965 three-speed Chevy Suburban as it comes to a stop in front of his row house in Edmondson Heights. The Suburban is perhaps the oldest SUV of its kind and is perfectly suited for handling large newspaper deliveries. The Yost father and son have matching vehicles, except that Junior’s is red while Senior’s is green. Rising from the couch, the boy grabs his empty canvas newspaper sack that reads “The Sun”, complete with its “Light for All” logo and vigorously lopes down the pavement toward the red truck. He leaps onto the open tailgate alongside the slightly older, Joe, who usually gets picked up first. Mr. Yost turns in his seat and bids the boy good morning. Making sure both are holding tight, he drops the gearshift into first, lets out the clutch and disappears into the darkness.
Grinding through the gears several times, the red Suburban climbs up Harwall Rd. to St. Agnes Lane, turning from Masefield into the parking lot of Charring Cross Shopping Center on westbound Rt. 40. On the sidewalk just outside a well-lit storefront, a pile of newspaper bundles, each containing 50 papers is waiting. The Suburban stops, and the boys jump off to load the bundles into the back of the truck. Lots to do and no time to examine the paper yet! Mr. Yost remains in the driver seat until the boys are perched back in place for the rest of the ride. Two more boys are picked up before each is dropped off at the start of their route. There will be no bicycles or any other conveyances used to assist as each boy will be responsible for the successful delivery of at least 150 newspapers on foot. This is serious business and the expectations are high. Quite simply, there is one rule: “No complaints!” That means not from the customers nor from the delivery boys. Yet, there are many grounds for customer complaints. The most serious are missed papers, wet papers, opened papers, papers in the bushes and, perhaps the worst, papers slamming into screen doors, waking dogs and sleeping customers.
The morning boy jumps off the tailgate first. He begins at the intersection of Cook’s Lane and Edmonson Avenue. He takes his first bundle, removes the strap and fits all 50 papers into the sack. He has learned to fold and throw as he goes. If the paper is not too thick, it can be folded into itself from right to left with a little tuck and bend to lock it together. If thrown like a Frisbee in light air, it may withstand a flight of up to 30 feet before landing quietly on a porch just in front of the screen door. Bulls Eye! These are skills that come with practice and, by his fifth month of service, the morning boy is able to accomplish much of this job while jogging up and down both sides of the street without complaint. He loves his job! Reaching the end of each bundle, another waits for pickup beneath a streetlamp. This makes it easy to divide the route into three segments, one for each bundle. With a maximum of 157 papers, the boy can usually count on at least 10 extra copies. He keeps one for himself and one for his family. Others, he uses to barter with either the Sealtest or the Wilton Farm milkman, who will gladly trade for a box of donuts or a quart of chocolate milk.
The morning boy typically finishes his route before the rest of the crew and has to wait at the end of Winan’s Way for pickup by Mr. Yost. Sitting on the first of two sets of concrete stairs, beneath a streetlamp, the boy often finds sufficient opportunity to read the news each day. When school is in session, after being returned to his house, he finds his mother and sister up and about before changing into his uniform and walking with his sister up Forest Park Avenue to St. Agnes School, a distance of approximately one mile. The boy is never late for school and is always the first to read the news.
On this particular Monday morning in July, the weather is warm and clear with a high of 87 degrees expected. The low is 74 but it feels much warmer as the boy glides up and down Nottingham, Briarclift, Brookwood and Winan’s Way. There is a slight chance of showers later in the day, but nothing imminent to necessitate “bagging” the papers before tossing them. The manicured lawns and bushes are damp with dew, and crickets and birds come to life as he races against the rising sun in the east.
The morning boy finishes quickly today. The expanding light washes away the final remnants of darkness and the waxing crescent moon is no longer visible from his place on earth. In his sack are seven newspapers, a box of honey dipped donuts and a half quart of chocolate milk. The milkmen were most anxious to track him down for a trade this morning! He looks at his watch and verifies that he will have at least fifteen minutes to read while waiting for his ride home. The watch he wears is a gold Omega Seamaster fastened to a wide leather strap with fringes of suede hanging from the wrist – a hideous combination of class and crudity that perfectly symbolizes the rebellious debauchery of elegance so prevalent in the waning years of the hippie era. The watch belonged to the boy’s recently deceased grandfather who had originally worn it on an expandable gold wristband. The boy’s father never wore it, so he handed it down to his son.
The morning boy lowers himself to his familiar concrete step and removes a newspaper from his sack. There is much to read in this Volume 265 – Number 56 edition of The Sun: “Red Sox Down Orioles 6-5,” “Senator Edward Kennedy Will Face Charges in Leaving Accident Scene,” “Israeli Jets Stage Raids, Battle”… But the lead story is so much larger than the usual tale of worldly tragedy and woe. Today’s massive headline will shatter history and render a sense of extraterrestrial awe that will cast a momentary flash of unity in every crevasse and corner of the planet earth. On this Monday, July 21, 1969, the headline reads: “Astronauts Walk on the Moon after a ‘Very Smooth’ Landing.”
Chapter 2: Runaways
George Martin lays awake. He listens carefully to the familiar sounds that fill the house at 2:20 AM. He hears the faint tick-toc from an antique clock just down the hall and the steady drone from the New Jersey Turnpike, a quarter mile in the distance. Otherwise, nothing inside or outside the house is heard. Woodbury Heights is a quiet little suburb of Woodbury, New Jersey just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The house is situated in a recently built modern development tucked just off the northbound side of NJ Route 45.
Just up the hill, around the corner, a 15-year-old boy from Baltimore sleeps on a twin bed in an equally quiet modern dwelling. It is a bi-level home with a large window in the front of the house. His mother, father and sister are sound asleep and all doors and windows are predictably closed and locked. On the floor, beneath the window, two paper bags full of clothes, a six-string acoustic guitar and a Japanese twelve-string guitar are hidden just out of sight. The boy sleeps fully dressed with his long chestnut hair splashing down around his pillow. A gold Omega Seamaster hangs on his left wrist from an oversized, gold-plated stretch band. The boy’s wallet is stuffed in his pocket along with $22.00 that he had managed to squirrel away. Tied to his left big toe is a cord which leads out the window to the ground just six feet below. Many thoughts flowed through the boy’s head when he had closed his eyes to go to sleep and in a matter of moments, a teenager’s fantasy will become a parent’s worst fears realized.
George has ten minutes before the clock will strike a single chime on the half hour. All quiet now, except for the turning of the knob of his bedroom door. He sneaks from his bedroom to the foyer where he slowly opens the front door and slips onto the porch. It is late April and still rather chilly outside. He turns to assess the quiet darkness and moves along the sidewalk to the street. In front of the house, behind the family’s “main car,” a blue ’65 Buick Special is parked and packed with the Spartan supplies necessary for a road trip unlike any he has ever known. The seven-year-old vehicle belongs to George’s father, but George has a key. George has no driver’s license, but he knows how to drive. He is sixteen years old and a sophomore at Gateway Regional High School. He is new to the neighborhood and is much more sophisticated than most of his peers. Growing up in Michigan, George is the oldest of four children and has already experienced most of what parents generally dread for their kids. He is as polite as Eddie Haskel, and adults find it impossible to resist his charm. Behind the scenes, George smokes cigarettes, pot and other things. He is not afraid to hang outside the liquor store and wait for someone “cool” to come along and buy him six-packs of beer, wine and any other contraband that he might desire. George is cool and his younger sister, Hannah, is nearly as cool, maybe even cooler. George’s parents are usually busy with work and barely notice that George and his sister have been joyriding in the Buick for months, maybe even years.
The boy sleeping up the hill is also new to the neighborhood. He is a freshman at the same school but is very much at odds with his new surroundings. Growing up on the west side of Baltimore, his backdrop was one of row houses, transit buses, morning paper routes, crooked alleyways, small fenced-in yards and an overall sense of closeness to everyone in his universe. He grew up with many boy and girl friends, interesting hobbies, and a passion for rock and roll music that was way beyond his years. His earliest performances as a drummer can be traced to his toddler days when he would pull his mother’s entire set of Revere pots and pans from the kitchen cabinet and bang away with knives, forks and spoons until the noise was no longer tolerable. One Christmas morning, when he was four years old, he discovered a set of toy drums under the Christmas tree and, by the time he was eight, he was taking lessons and playing on a real, junior-sized set of drums. His mother and father always supported his love of music. On Sunday, February 9, 1964, he was one of 73 million people who witnessed firsthand, the transformation of music forever, live on the Ed Sullivan Show. While most Beatlemaniacs fell for either John or Paul, the boy from Baltimore was more fascinated by Ringo and George. Rock and roll evolved quickly with the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who and many others exploding onto the scene igniting massive record sales and driving a colossal wedge between parents and their kids- one that had been fomenting since the 1950s. The boy, along with his friends, Ricky, Bradley and Paul, quickly got to work forming a band of their own, “The Glaciers.” The lads spent most every day together trying to tune their instruments while pretending they could be just good and as famous as the Beatles. Ricky was the bass player, Brad and Paul played electric guitar. The boy’s mother, a volunteer at the local mental health center actually got them jobs playing at social events for the patients. He was surrounded by adoring grandparents, aunts, uncles and flash camera-wielding cousins who couldn’t believe how cute it was to hear four 10- year-old kids thump out hits like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “Satisfaction,” Sunshine of Your Love” and others. He started out wearing a Beatle wig and Beatle boots and, by the eighth grade, was growing some serious hair of his own.
All four of the boys lived within a few blocks of each other with alleyways leading to the rear entrances of their row-styled brick townhouses. The “alley” was where the kids played, rode bicycles, hung out and plotted their adventures. Each alley had an identity of its own with rules and reputations based on the characters that lived there. For example, it was generally understood that the bad kids hung out at the end of the alley between Kirkwood and Langford. Why? Because those kids were older, tougher and meaner. They might pick on the younger kids trespassing into their territory. Kids picking on kids up and down different alleys was nothing new or unanticipated. A respectable young man would never presume his parents would fight his battles, and a conscientious parent knew better than to get involved unless it was absolutely necessary. There were few options for a young person’s survival in the neighborhood other than to get tough.
Not far beyond the concrete and chain link fences of the alleyways, many pockets of towering trees reached high above the slate topped buildings, representing a mysterious wilderness, yet to be discovered by the young pioneers. Edmondson Heights Park, just a block away, was one such place where the boy could escape with his friends to experience the enchanting sights and sounds of the natural world. The park is actually a drainage spillway where five storm drains empty into a rocky stream that cuts through a series of small hills and cliffs. The stream meanders approximately two blocks, stretching from Harwall Rd. past Sunset Ave. between Forest Park Drive and Granville Rd. The drain pipes are large and open, inviting a curious young explorer to enter at his or her own risk. With a downhill trickle of water always present, the “tunnels” could be navigated by crouching forward, spreading one’s feet and venturing into the darkness. By the first turn, the dim light from behind shrinks away and the adventurer finds himself in total darkness. Ahead are thin beams of light that shine through the drainage grates positioned on the street above. At these points, the tunnel opens to a well-lit concrete chamber with plenty of headroom to stretch out and relax. Beyond that, the subterranean passageway continues to the next leg into the dark unknown. Activities such as these were the means by which the daring young man and his youthful cohorts first experienced the excitement of risky behavior. They would prepare him well for even bolder adventures ahead.
One spring day, as the boy approached his eighth-grade graduation from St. Agnes School in Baltimore, he came home to find his parents having a very serious discussion on the couch in the living room. His father was explaining to his mother that his employer, a very large insurance company, had offered him an outstanding job promotion managing the entire underwriting department in Philadelphia. A career opportunity that would enable the young family to seek refuge in the much calmer, safer, affluent surroundings of a modern single-family suburban home in South Jersey. This news, as congratulatory as it was, or should have been, landed like an atomic bomb right in the epicenter of the living room. New Jersey, although, less than a hundred miles away, was as distant and remote to the eighth-grade kid from Baltimore as Timbuktu, or the moon, for that matter. Except for occasional visits to relatives with his parents, his life as a Baltimore kid was over. Goodbye meant goodbye and, for the family, there was no looking back.
Now, fully dressed and fast asleep in Woodbury Heights, New Jersey, the high-school freshman from Baltimore is more than just linear miles away from the world he once knew. He is in a completely alien world - an anonymous soul, abducted by his parents, uprooted and reseeded into a neat little garden of transplants where rock and roll is a foreign language and short-haired teenage kids address each other as, ‘Yo’, and find more contentment playing street hockey in front of their houses than in participating in the “cooler” activities with which the boy had become so well acquainted.
George starts his father’s car, turns on the headlights and carefully navigates the corner toward the boy’s house. The neighborhood is still and dark as he turns off the lights and glides to a stop a half-block away. He cuts the engine, opens the door, exits the car, and moves stealthily in the direction of the boy’s house. He reaches the bush beneath the boy’s front window where he finds the cord hanging to the ground. He tugs the cord several times before the window is opened.
George and the new kid from Baltimore did not grow up together nor did they ever know much about each other, except that they were both unusually smart, rebellious, dangerously fearless and completely out of touch with the context of high school, parental expectations and pretty much every other conventional value that might equate with being “square.” Skipping school, hanging out, drinking beer, sleeping in a backyard tent and experimenting with a variety of entry-level drugs enabled the teens to form a close but superficial bond that was based solely on a mutual desire to escape the uncomfortable world they both now perceived. To the grownups, there was no excuse for a kid to view life this way. It was unthinkable that anyone with common sense might be discontent with the blessings of Shangri-La, with its idyllic perfection and luxuries such as open space, privacy, new cars, swimming pools and other fantastic symbols of happiness and success.
The Baltimore kid discovered his fascination with Florida when he was in the sixth grade. His Uncle Robert, the owner of a multi-million-dollar wax paper bag factory called “Bags Beautiful,” offered the family a free vacation at his luxury beachfront condo right on Fort Lauderdale’s Galt Ocean Mile. The two-day road trip from Baltimore was, perhaps, the most exciting part of this family vacation. His father drove the 1967 Chrysler Newport while the boy navigated from the back seat. He studied the map and its many highways between Baltimore and Fort Lauderdale. This was the family’s first taste of Florida and an experience the boy would never forget. Consumed by the warmth, the sunshine, the stunning arrangements of palm trees and every other aspect of South Florida’s tropical lifestyle, the boy from Baltimore was determined that one day, if he could, he would go back. Now, in April of 1972, his co-conspiratorship with George could not be more perfect. The boy knows where to go and how to get there. And George has his father’s car.
The six-string is the first guitar to be lowered out the window, followed by the twelve, then the bag of clothes. Everything else is on his back, in his pocket and his watch is on his wrist. Finally, George locks his hands together forming a step as the boy drops down from the window to the ground. Moments later, the taillights disappear into the remaining hours of darkness. The two young fugitives make their getaway completely undetected.
By all accounts, this is a dangerous mission. Two high-school teenagers on the run in a stolen car with no license or any other ID for that matter. Only a few bags of clothing, a little cash, a couple guitars, a gold Omega Seamaster, and a richly annotated map of the eastern United States. Their heads are filled with recalcitrant dreams of paradise, complete with the fantasies of the freedom it entails. There is no time to assess risk or to rationalize away any guilt brought on by simply disappearing into the night without warning. Leaving no notes or clues behind, it is pure, cold-blooded treachery and a firm resistance to the temptation to look back that must prevail.
The boys’ first priority is to get as far away as fast as possible. The second is to find gasoline in the middle of the night. Noticing the fuel gauge is on empty, the first two priorities are by necessity, swapped. Cleverly thinking ahead, the solution to this problem has been worked out beforehand. Finding and paying for fuel would become a recurring issue. Prior to departure, George secured a short piece of garden hose and a five-gallon can that could be used to siphon gas from parked cars. Though the young renegades have no intention of stealing anything other than the “borrowed” car, they do plan to do whatever was possible to stretch the few resources they had. However, in the case of an emergency, they are prepared to do anything necessary to keep their wheels on the road.
The Driver’s Ed cars are conveniently parked in an unlit lot behind the high school. As the Buick comes to a stop, the headlights are left on to illuminate one of the cars. George has done this before. He approaches the car with the hose. His companion follows with the can. The gas cap is located behind the flip down license plate frame. George sucks on the hose then spits a mouthful of gasoline onto the ground. His accomplice, who had much more experience throwing newspapers and hopping onto the backs of transit buses, now finds himself extracting gasoline from the school’s car and pouring it into the back of a stolen Buick. With just three refills of the can, the Buick is now fully fueled and an intrepid 1500-mile southbound endeavor awaits in the shadows.
The first leg, from Woodbury Heights to Baltimore is tense. Approaching the 295 on-ramp, George confesses that, although, he has been practicing his driving, he has not really ventured much beyond the neighborhood, let alone onto a super-highway. The traffic is light, just a few tractor trailers speeding in the right lane. Left signal on, “click click,” merging onto the highway, eyes glued to the road, George briefly looks down and verifies his speed does not exceed the 70 MPH limit. The headlights point directly between the lines and all systems are go. A perfect takeoff. It is just past 4:00 AM and there is no need to stop until they reach the toll booth at the Delaware Memorial Bridge, just 20 minutes away. Hopefully, there will not be a roadblock waiting to stop them.
“How much money did you get?” George asks.
“Twenty-two dollars,” replies the boy. “How about you?”
“Forty. How much do you think we can get for the guitars?”
“Probably a hundred each,” the boy guesses.
“There should be lots of jobs in Fort Lauderdale,” George figures. “There are lots of restaurants. Maybe we can wash dishes or something. We might be able to pawn the guitars.”
“What time is it?” The boy looks down at his watch. “4:25.”
The traffic slows and the road opens wide. The conversation stops as the bright lights from the tollbooth come into view. George picks a lane then reaches into his pocket. He continues looking straight ahead as he hands the man a dollar bill. The man takes it and then hands him sixty cents in return. No eye contact, no sweat, no cops, no problem. Here, the road is wide, and there are many lights and traffic lanes to contend with. This is where the boy’s navigational skill comes to the fore.
“You want to stay on 95 South all the way to 695, the Baltimore Beltway,” the boy instructs George. To him, all roads lead to Baltimore, and the runaway Buick becomes just one more car in the ever-swelling southbound set of lanes.
Reaching the Beltway, the boy is in complete control of all navigation. The map is spread wide between his legs. Having circumnavigated the city many times with his parents, he is quite familiar with nearly every exit on the west side of town.
“Take the next exit,” the boy directs. “Route 40 eastbound toward Baltimore.”
They exit past Westview Shopping Center and proceed toward Ingleside Ave. The old neighborhood. They stop at an all-night IHOP where they order coffee and a couple of pancakes. It is 7:15 AM and in two hours, they will call Ricky from a pay phone. They wait.
The boy had introduced the plan to his bass-guitar-playing childhood friend weeks before while in Baltimore visiting his grandmother who lives alone in the row house right next door. Long distance calls from New Jersey are expensive and are easily traced from both ends of the wire. Letters would be downright incriminating if discovered, so, it is imperative to make the call from a local pay phone on this specified date and time, Saturday, April 29th, 1972. Although, somewhat hesitant, Ricky had assured the boy he was on board.
Waiting outside a 7-11 store on Ingleside, the boy looks at his watch. It is just after 9:00 AM. He picks up the phone outside the store and deposits a coin. The phone rings twice, then Ricky’s voice is heard: “Hello?” There is noise in the background. He is not alone.
“Don’t tell them who you are talking to,” the boy warns. “Are you ready to go?”
"OK, sure! I can bring it over to your house and let you try it out. I will come over now!”
Ricky picks up a bag of pre-packed apparel and grabs his pride and joy, an uncased tobacco sunburst-colored Hoffner bass guitar. This is an authentic 1960s duplicate of Paul McCartney’s bass guitar. Ricky slips out the door, mumbling to his mother that he is taking his guitar to Bradley’s house, a temporary ruse which, although, on the early side, stirs no suspicion at first. The Buick is parked two blocks away. The boy has never been so close to his grandmother’s house without stopping for a visit. Not this time, for he has now embarked on an unexplainably cruel escapade that would defy any explanation as to how or why anyone with a good and wholesome upbringing could inflict such punishment on those who love him and on those he loves.
Ricky towers over six feet as he approaches the Buick. He wears a long black leather coat with long straight dark hair reaching nearly a foot below his shoulders. He does not look the Florida type. He carries a big guitar, a paper bag, and a broad smile as he loads his cargo into the back seat of the Buick. Then he folds his lanky frame into the space that remains. Now, there are three, and “POOF” from the dewy veil of the early springtime morning, they are gone.
Chapter 3: The Interrogation
There are no alarm clocks on Saturday at George’s house in Woodbury Heights. Everyone is relaxing in their beds at 8:45 when the phone rings. George’s father picks up the phone and listens gravely as a shaky woman’s voice sounds off from the other end. He listens for nearly a minute as George’s mother rouses to attention.
“Holy Christ!” George’s father growls. He hands his wife the phone and springs from the bed. George’s room is empty. The father bursts into Hannah’s room waking her from sleep. Looking out the window, “Where’s George?” he demands. Sure enough, the car is gone.
“How the hell should I know?” Hannah murmurs as she pulls her blanket over her half-dressed body. “What are you doing in my room anyway?”
“I just got a call from up the street. That new kid from Baltimore’s mother is on the phone. She says her son has vanished along with his guitars and a bunch of clothes. She’s pretty upset and thinks he and George are up to something crazy.”
The woman on the phone is shocked but not surprised. She is well aware of her son’s displeasure with his newly transplanted life. As a conscientious stay-at-home mom, she feels it too, big time. Maybe even more so than her son. Separation and isolation from a universe one knows and loves is depressing at any age. But, for the sake of harmony and her firm duty to support her husband’s noble ambitions, she would not reveal her dejection to anyone, except her mother. Her only hope is that time and God will guide each member of her family through the gnarly weeds of transition.
As reality sinks in, the boy’s mother knows this is no prank. Her son has most likely run away from home with his friend George. It was bound to happen. He has threatened it before. But, as always, her husband reassures her that, although the boy has done some crazy things in the past, he’d never attempt anything so foolish. Just silly talk. His father’s usual response is: “I’ll help you pack!”
Fathers and sons get along just fine on the TV shows the boy likes to watch. Father Knows Best, My Three Sons and Leave it to Beaver, for example, confirm that kids will do the damnedest things, and parents are always challenged with the vast complexities of child rearing. But, in the end, everything works out and great lessons are learned - by both the parents and their children. Together, the family rights the ship and gets ready for the next episode. But in the real world, the young person’s need for stability forms a precarious balance with an innate desire to become free of parental control. The scale usually tips in favor of the parents. Unwinnable battles between parents and their kids are hopefully settled with mutual understanding, but they often result in reluctant compliance or an escalation of the conflict.
Intergenerational lines were drawn during the 1950s and 1960s. Eighteen-year-old high school students had been drafted by the thousands to fight an unexplainable war in Vietnam. Hippies and rock stars sang songs of peace, freedom, sex, drugs, rebellion and discontent. Political assassinations, race riots, and wars in the Middle East desensitized even the most apathetic members of society, and nuclear Armageddon seemed more imminent every day.
Back in 1964, in Edmondson Heights, the seven-year-old boy had witnessed the complete excavation of a neighbor’s corner yard at the end of the block on Harwall Rd. From outside the chain link fence, he watched as a construction crew lowered a lead-lined canister into a giant hole that had been dug into the ground. The yard belonged to Harry Weber, a scientist, and the canister turned out to be a very expensive fallout shelter designed to provide personal protection from a Soviet nuclear attack. Bomb shelters became all the rage of the mid 1960s. Harry Weber was confident the neighborhood would soon be blown up, and he generously offered his closest neighbors an opportunity to invest in their own doomsday salvation. Prior to its construction, Mr. Weber visited each neighbor on the block, offering space in the shelter if they chose to pitch in for the cost.
Weber had it all figured out, “In the event of an attack, we remain in the space for at least two weeks following the nuclear blast.” He explained. “We can then leave the shelter for a few hours a day. We will store provisions in the shelter for at least three months.”
To the boy’s father, this sounded completely insane, and was an offer he could easily refuse. Mr. Weber continued, “The shelter package comes with a battery-powered radio, lanterns, sleeping bags and cots, first aid kit, Geiger counter, chemical toilet and waste-holding tanks. A heating system, an air circulation system, an electrical generator, are also included. We have our own firearms to discourage intruders and a two-way radio as well. You can bring your own variety of canned goods, bottled drinking water, reading material, recreational materials, cleaning supplies, extra clothing and writing materials.” To the boy, this sounded scary, but cool.
Indeed, these were horrific scenarios, especially to a generation that had experienced two world wars and a Great Depression. To many adults, these concerns might be better remedied with a hi-ball or two after a regimented day in the office. Or one of “mother’s little helpers” to get mom through the busy day. Yet, as the planet earth wrestled with its many problems, atomic fear, paranoia, warfare, generational chaos and cold war hysteria, America was able to keep its dream alive and solidify its preeminence as the greatest nation on earth. On July 21st, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first interplanetary pioneers to set foot on extraterrestrial soil nearly a quarter million miles away, then return safely to earth.
The boy from Baltimore knows all about these things. His daily readings of The Morning Sun at the end of Winan’s Way would serve him better than any classroom ever could. He was able to place current events into historical context and was quite sharp when holding up his end of a political discussion. These skills would extend to philosophical and religious conversations as well, but they did little to help his grades in school. His teachers all seemed to agree that his potential was being wasted listening to records, singing songs and playing his guitar. His fascination with rock and roll music guided him into the lyrical narratives of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” among others. Songs such as these, as well as post WW2 novels like Kerouac’s “On the Road,” William Goldman’s “Temple of Gold,” and J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” reinforced the idea that running away from home was not only possible, but a fanciful and daring solution to suburban disillusionment and alienation.
Although, both mother and father want their son to make new friends here in New Jersey, the boy’s mother has serious doubts about George. Not to say that George alone is to blame, but perhaps, through intuition, she senses the live wires being connected like a fuse that connects a spark to a stick of dynamite. The consequences could be disastrous.
The four parents quickly agree to meet at George’s house. They’d never had reason to meet before, but they now seem to instantly coagulate into a unified mass of mutual reassurance. A parent’s worst fears realized? No, not at all. At least not yet, if at all.
“Here’s to hope and prayer.”
“No news is good news!”
“Find out what is going on and make decisions wisely!” Above all…
“Do not give the boys a reason to panic”.
This means, be careful how the incident is reported.
“What about school?”
“Maybe wait and see.”
“Maybe they will chicken out, turn around and come home.”
“Or, maybe they will try to outrun the police.” “How long will their money hold out?” “What if? What if?”
They begin by interrogating Hannah. Very calmly, her father asks, “Hannah, please tell us what’s going on.”
Hannah knows everything and it kills her to keep her mouth shut. She is her brother’s shadow, an attractive 15-year-old who has shared many of George’s joyrides, and she is sworn to secrecy. In the preceding months, Hannah tried her best to convince George to let her come along. “No way!” George repeated over and over. ‘But, once we get settled’ he reassures her, “we will let you know where we are. Maybe you can join us then.” This, to Hannah amounts to a solemn promise truly deserving of her uncompromised loyalty to her brother. No threat or enticement will cause her to crack.
“I have no idea where he is,” she swears. “My God! He’s probably just joyriding in the car!” She rolls her eyes and twists her brown curls around her finger.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! My God! Leave me alone!” She retorts as her father shrugs.
The Baltimore boy’s father tries tightening the screws with a different approach.
“Hannah, if you know anything at all, you have to tell us. Do you know that if anything happens, and it turns out you knew about this, you will be in as much trouble as they are?”
“Like what?” Hannah snaps. She is chewing and cracking a mouthful of bubble gum, emphasizing her agitation.
“Like, where they might be going? Or what they are planning to do?” The boy’s father cajoles. “Well, just suppose…”
“Don’t say it!” The boy’s mother warns fearfully.
“Shhh!” the boy’s father continues. “Just suppose… they get stopped, or even worse, they try to outrun the police. Do you understand the seriousness here? Besides, driving without a license is a major offense and if they are traveling between states, they may be committing a federal crime. If you know anything at all and you don’t tell us, then you too, will be committing a crime. It is called being an accomplice.”
“Is it a CRIME if I don’t know?” Hannah shouts. “PLEASE, STOP!”
“OK, OK…” Hannah’s mother chimes in from a slightly different angle.
“Hannah, we all know how much you love your brother, but do you have any idea how dangerous it is for him to drive the car without a license? We only want to make sure he comes home safely and we can work these things out together, as a family.”
Hannah is way too smart to fall for any of these tricks. Meanwhile, George’s two younger brothers are playing outside. They have no idea what is going on.
The parents agree that if Hannah does know something, she’s not going to tell. And if they give her some time to think it over, she might come around. The next plan is to contact the boys’ friends to see if anyone is privy to their deviant agenda.
Paul? “Nope, wish I could help.”
Mike? “No, sorry, haven’t seen him.”
“OK guys, please ask around, let us know if you hear anything. Anything at all”
“Sure, will do!”
With school closed for the weekend, there is no way to contact the boys’ teachers. This will have to wait until Monday morning. Hopefully, everything will be just a bad memory by then. Finally, the boy’s mother picks up the phone and calls Nan, her mother who still lives in Baltimore. She fills her in and asks if she could talk to Ricky next door. He might know something. Nan recalls seeing Ricky leave his house early that morning. He was carrying a guitar and a bag full of something. Nan hangs up the phone and heads next door.
All of the houses in Edmondson Heights are connected butt up against one another. The brick walls are solid, but thin enough to hear loud noises such as TVs, people shouting, and other disturbances. It is simple etiquette that all dwellers in these row homes do their best to keep the noise down. Nan lives alone and has heard some doozies when it comes to arguments from neighbors on both sides. However, being the diplomatic type, she never complains or lets on that she is tuned in to many of her neighbors’ domestic affairs.
Nan rings the bell. It is just after 3:00 PM.
“Is Ricky at home?” Nan asks as Ricky’s mother comes to the door.
“No, he went out early this morning.” Ricky’s mom says with a puzzled look. “He said he was going to Bradley’s house to show him his guitar. What’s up?”
“I just got a call from my daughter. My grandson is missing, and she thinks he might have run away from home with his friend George. Maybe Ricky knows something.”
“Oh, my Lord, that’s terrible!” Ricky’s mother exclaims. “Come on inside, let’s find out.” Ricky’s mother picks up the phone to call Ricky who is supposed to be at Bradley’s house.
“What? You haven’t seen Ricky all day?” Ricky’s mother asks Bradley with surprise. “He left here early this morning with his guitar and said he was going to your house to practice!”
“Nope, I haven’t seen him all day, sorry.”
“Was that you who called him this morning?” She asks.
“No, I didn’t call.” Bradley says, sounding confused. Ricky’s mother turns to look at Nan who is hanging on every word. “He’s not there.”
Next, she calls Jill, Ricky’s girlfriend in Randallstown.
“Maybe he got a ride to her house. But why would he lie about going to Bradley’s?”
Jill has no idea where Ricky is either. At least not yet. Nor has she spoken to him in the past couple of days. Nan suspects there is more than random coincidence at work. She returns next door to call her daughter and report what she has found out. As the hours pass, it becomes evident that the conspiracy has widened to include Ricky.
Chapter Four: Pit Stop
Traveling southbound on I-95, the boys triumphantly reach the Richmond, Virginia, metropolitan area just after 2:00 PM. It is time to make a pit stop. The ride through DC had been tense with many navigational challenges. Now, they are ready to celebrate their second leg of the trip. Keeping well under the radar, they have transited numerous toll stops without incident. They appear to be home free, blending into the usual Saturday afternoon traffic. The boys are hungry and have burned through nearly a full tank of fuel by this time. They decide to exit I-95 into Downtown Richmond, first, to find a gas station and then to find a sandwich shop. They exit onto Broad Street, the center of the commercial district and pull into the first gas station they see. It is a Hess station with multiple pump islands and two young white-uniformed attendants who immediately descend upon the vehicle.
“Fill er up?” the first attendant asks.
“Yes, please.” The boys exit the car and begin to stretch.
“Where in New Jersey are you from?” the second attendant inquires.
“Bayonne,” says George. “Near New York.”
This is a clear indication to the other two boys to keep quiet and let George do the talking. A wise decision that would ensure they would not get their stories mixed up. The boys walk away toward the restroom together as the attendants wash the windows and fuel the car.
“Check your oil?” the second attendant shouts out as they walk away.
“Sure!” Says George “Thanks!”
The 1965 Buick Special is a four-door family sedan fitted with a 160 horsepower V-6 engine called a “fireball.” The fuel capacity is 20 gallons and the highway mileage is approximately 15 MPG. Although, the vehicle is designed as a family sedan, it has great potential to be transformed into a souped up hot rod. George will get his driving permit on his seventeenth birthday, in just seven months’ time, but he just can’t wait. He calls the car, the ‘four door rocket.’
While the boys are in the restroom, the second attendant opens the hood to check the oil. He pulls out the dipstick, cleans it off and then puts it back. He removes it again and sees that the oil level is fine. He wipes it off and lays it onto the top of the engine.
When the boys return, the attendant says, “Let’s have a look at that oil.” He reinserts the dipstick, but, this time, does not push it all the way down. No one notices. He removes the stick and holds it up for George to see. “Looks like you are a quart low,” the attendant says.
“Damn! It was full before we left,” George recalls.
“Would you like us to add a quart?” The attendant asks.
“Sure,” George agrees with chagrin.
“Forty, sixty or eighty?” The attendant asks. These are the costs of the three grades of motor oil.
“Let’s go with the sixty,” George says.
“Hey, grab me a quart of the sixty!” the attendant hollers to his partner pumping the gas. “Roger!” the partner replies.
The oil cans are positioned in three vertical stacks on a stand between the regular and hi-test pumps, one for each grade of oil. There are four cans in each stack. The partner shifts his eyes toward the boys making sure no one is watching him. He removes the bottom can from the sixty-cent stack. Unknown to the boys, the can is already empty. The partner slips the metal oil spout into the previously opened can and walks it to the front of the car. He removes the oil cap and dumps the sixty-cent can of nothing into the top of the engine.
“Let’s check it again,” the attendant says. He reinserts the stick, pushes it all the way down this time and removes it to show the oil level is perfect. Like magic. These two have practiced this deception many times.
“OK, so that’s sixty cents for the oil and $6.75 for the gas.
The boy from Baltimore takes two five-dollar bills from his wallet and the attendant gives him $2.35 in change. With a full tank of gas and plenty of daylight remaining, the boys will stay at it for a few more hours. It is pure adrenaline that keeps them moving. They hope to make South of the Border in South Carolina where they can find a secluded place to park and sleep.
Not realizing they had been hoodwinked by the unscrupulous Hess station attendants, the boys stop at a sandwich shop on Broad Street in Richmond. They decide to purchase a large cold cut sub and split it three ways. George parallel parks the car perfectly in front of the shop. Wolfing the sub, it is now time to consider the economics of their escapade. With a sum of less than $60.00 among them, it is evident that, with the cost of food, fuel and oil, their funds will run out quickly.
Finishing lunch, the boy from Baltimore points to a neon sign flashing across the street, “Washington Pawn Shop LOANS.” There are many guitars in the window - an opportunity to liquidate some assets, maybe. The object is to keep the money coming in faster than it is being spent. Pawning a musical instrument, or any other valuable object, is not the same as selling it. The item is given up as collateral to secure a short-term loan, usually for a month. Upon presenting the original pawn ticket and repaying the loan with interest, the object is returned to its owner. In the event the loan is not repaid or no ticket is presented, the object then becomes the property of the pawn shop and goes up for public sale. The boy from Baltimore studies his two guitars in the back seat next to Ricky. He is aware that any loan made to him will not be repaid and if he pawns his guitar, it will be gone for good. Which one goes first? The six or the twelve?
The boy had taken up guitar just before the family moved to New Jersey. Although, he was rather new at playing the instrument, his experience with the drums and his time alone in his room enabled him to learn exceedingly fast. Within two years, he is playing pretty well. He is especially good at coordinating the vocals with the strumming. His repertoire includes numerous Beatles and Bob Dylan songs as well as some more progressive riffs such as Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung,” Grand Funk Railroad’s “Inside Looking Out” and others. Listening to records, strumming and singing became much more satisfying than banging on a set of drums. Entertaining oneself and others is not so easy for a solo drummer. The six-string is the most logical guitar to keep. It is made by Harmony, a cheap brand sold at E.J. Korvettes in Baltimore. It is probably the least valuable, but most useful of the three guitars. Ricky’s electric bass is the most valuable and is not yet on the bargaining table. Even though it is completely useless in terms of providing “unplugged” musical entertainment. Therefore, the boys will try their luck pawning the twelve-string guitar.
The three boys had already shed their jackets and long sleeves earlier. They are now clad only in faded jeans and short sleeved shirts. The temperature is in the upper 70s with plenty of warm air and sunshine flowing through the open windows of the un-air conditioned vehicle. They decide to leave Ricky in the car while the other two do the negotiating in the pawn shop. The boy from Baltimore will do the talking.
The pawnbroker rises to attention. “May I help you?”
“Maybe,” says the boy smugly.
He is confident he is about to make the pawnbroker’s day with a great deal on a twelve- string guitar. The pawnbroker ignores the uncased guitar as he sizes up the two boys. George is the shorter of the two, standing at about 5’7” with curly shoulder-length blonde hair parted in the middle. The boy from Baltimore is an easy 5’11” with dark hair extending down the middle of his back. Neither are “clean cut.” The pawnbroker is well-dressed and heavily perfumed. He is three times the boys’ age and thousands of times slicker in the deal-making business.
“We would like to pawn this guitar,” says the dark-haired boy holding it up to the man. “It’s real nice and almost new.”
“Lemee have a look,” says the man, eying up the neck of the guitar.
“How much you looking to get?” he asks.
“It cost over a hundred” says the boy, hoping to hi-ball the dealer and get maybe $75.00. The man strums the horribly out of tune guitar a couple of times producing a few dissonant chords then hands it back to the boy. He points to the window where a large quantity of lost and lonely guitars dangle, collecting dust, waiting to be sold or reclaimed. Names like Gibson, Fender, and Gretch far out value the boy’s cheap Japanese brand, no matter how many strings it might have.
“How much will you pay?” the boy asks, sensing he is not bargaining from a position of strength.
“Sorry kid,” the man replies, detecting the boy’s growing desperation. This guitar is worth nothing to me. You might try selling it outright.”
Detecting desperation is the trick of the trade for this dealer as well as any of his kind. He knows he could have that guitar for ten dollars in cash if wants it, but outright theft is not the dealer’s game. Preying upon a young man’s vulnerability is not fair play. The boy truly believes he possesses something of great value.
“However,” the man continues, “I would be interested in your watch…” There’s a long pause. “May I see it?”
It has never occurred to the boy to pawn his watch. He is completely blind to any value it might have other than as a means to tell the time. An adult dress watch, hardly fashionable for a desperate, long-haired, jean-clad runaway from New Jersey, is certainly not as useful as a twelve-string guitar. Sure, it belonged to his grandfather and he had worn it nearly every day since his father gave it to him. But he understands nothing about sentiment nor the value of gold; nor the precious significance of a genuine Omega watch.
There is much the boy doesn’t realize about Omega watches. He has no idea that the Seamaster, originally a dive watch, was introduced in 1948, making it the longest-running model in the Omega lineup. He does not know that a different model, the Omega Speedmaster Professional, was chosen by NASA to become the only watch ever certified for space flight. Or that on July 21st, 1969, at the very moment he finished delivering his newspapers in Baltimore, astronaut, Buzz Aldrin was wearing an Omega Speedmaster Professional on the moon, making it the first and only watch ever to be worn on the moon. Neil Armstrong purposely left his watch inside the Lunar Module as a backup in order to time the astronauts’ return to the mother ship. The boy is completely unaware that in 1970, Buzz Aldrin’s historic “moon watch” was mysteriously “lost in the mail” somewhere between his home in California and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, making it the most sought after watch in history.
Had the boy been aware of any of these facts, he might have picked up his guitar and walked straight away from the pawn shop. Instead, he removes the watch from his wrist and hands it to the pawn dealer who inspects it closely.
“Where did you get this?” the dealer asks.
“My father gave it to me when my grandfather died.”
“You didn’t steal it?”
“No sir, we don’t steal,” the boy says. George nods in agreement.
“Well,” says the pawnbroker, carefully hiding his enthusiasm. “Here’s how it works. I will give you $25.00 and a month to pay me back with 50% interest. But you have to leave the watch with me. If you don’t pay me back in a month, I get to keep the watch.”
The boy gives very little thought to the offer. He makes no effort to negotiate a higher price with the pawnbroker. The reality of leaving the shop with twenty-five dollars in cash AND his twelve-string guitar in hand, comes as a most pleasant surprise. The boy can barely contain his joy as he scribbles a fake name, address, and phone number onto the perforated, numbered, pawn ticket that is placed before him. No questions asked or ID required, the boy shoves the twenty-five dollars and his half of the pawn ticket into his pocket. He grabs his guitar then hastens out the door. Reaching the Buick, they all burst into excited laughter.
Chapter Five: Tacos, Beers and Souvenirs
George maneuvers the Buick on and off the main highway southbound into the twilight. Ricky sleeps in the back seat as the boy from Baltimore surfs across the radio dial trying to find a decent station to listen to. He finds mostly scratchy country music or radio evangelists coming across the air. He hears Kris Kristoferson’s hit “Me and Bobby McGee” for the first time, something like freedom being another word for nothing left to lose…” George is wide awake at the wheel. “Wow,” he says, listening carefully to the words, “This sounds familiar.”
The National Highway Act, signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1956, created the Interstate Highway System. The complex network of high-speed freeways forever transformed the national landscape, erasing many small towns and businesses from the map. The initial project cost the Federal government over 200 billion dollars. The southern states developed their portions of the freeway much slower than those in the northeast. Outdated roadside restaurants and motels would soon disappear and be replaced with official rest stops and clusters of service centers that facilitate fast, non-stop travel.
By 1972, Interstate Highway 95 is well on its way to making the direct connection between the northeast states and Miami, Fl. Traveling south into North Carolina, the highway often detours to alternate routes in construction zones. The distance from Richmond to the South Carolina border is just 257 miles, or approximately six hours if one can go non-stop. Clearing the traffic jams in Richmond at around 5:00PM, the three boys hope to make South Carolina before midnight.
The first of many highway signs appears at 200 miles. A caricature of a sombrero- wearing Mexican bandito, “Pedro,” who offers travelers refuge as well as a helpful mileage countdown to his world-famous highway oasis “South of the Border.” The kitschy traveler’s sanctuary is located just across the South Carolina state line, near the city of Florence.
“Keep Yelling Kids! They’ll Stop!” advises Pedro. “South of the Border 29 Miles”.
Then: “Pedro’s weather report - Chili Today, Hot Tamale!” – “South of the Border 23
Another sign appears at 10 miles: “You never Sausage a Place – You are always a
Weener at Pedro’s.”
Then, finally: “Welcome to South of the Border.”
The three audacious youths have covered nearly 500 miles on two full tanks of fuel before the end of a very long day. Bright, multi-colored lights greet them, as well as a giant-sized statue of Pedro, as the car approaches the beer stand. “Tacos, Beers and Souvenirs” reads the sign. George parks the car as Ricky rouses to attention. Cars and trucks converge as the boys exit the vehicle. The air is warm with a light breeze. Three short lines of people wait to place their orders at the busy fast-food counter.
“Look… palm trees!” Ricky exclaims, pointing to the landscaping around the building.
Taking a place in line, the boys survey the prices on the large menu that hangs over the counter. Two tacos for a dollar, and fifty cents for a 12-ounce draft beer. This is good!
The idea for South of the Border came in 1949 when Mr. Alan Schaefer built the original beer stand and later developed it into a roadside grill. By the late 1950s, he had added a motel with a swimming pool. By the 1960s, he found his complex right smack on the I-95 corridor, where it meets Route 301, the alternate southbound highway. The rest is easily understood as millions of tourists, spring breakers, and other travelers take to the road each year.
The boys finish their first beer before the tacos make it up to the counter. They each order a second beer then sit at an empty table to eat. They blend right into the small crowd. The clock on the wall says it’s almost midnight. They finish the tacos quickly and down the rest of the beer.
“One more?” Suggests George
Outside, there are many signs: Fireworks, mini golf, car wash, gasoline, motel, REST ROOMS. South of the Border seems more than just a rest stop, it is more like the Atlantic City Boardwalk. The boys use the restroom. They get back into the car, find a dark, secluded place and crash for the night. The four-door rocket has plenty of legroom and a large trunk. George slouches back behind the wheel and closes his eyes. The boy from Baltimore does the same on the passenger side. Everything else is loaded into the trunk and Ricky squeezes horizontally into the back seat.
Chapter Six: Where the Boys Are
By morning, all four windows are lowered, breezing out the claustrophobic air from the boy’s first night of sleep. Close quarters, but they all slept well. How everyone is doing remains unmentioned. What kinds of private thoughts are swimming around in each boy’s head? Has remorseful reconsideration set in? If so, no one is letting on. Have the three wayfarers reached a point of no return? They avoid any talk of what might be happening at home. There is no scenario they will even dare to imagine, let alone discuss. The only priority is to play it cool without looking back and to reach Fort Lauderdale as quickly as possible. A mileage chart Ricky picked up in the restaurant confirms they are just an hour and a half from Myrtle Beach and another five hours to the Florida state line. If they can get on the road by 9:00 AM, they should make Myrtle Beach well before noon then be back on their way to Florida by early afternoon. A little out of the way, but a very cool idea! The car takes 18.5 gallons of gasoline. That’s cutting it close. George breaks a twenty-dollar bill to pay for the gas. He buys everyone a coffee and a couple egg sandwiches then checks the oil himself, hoping there is no leak. The oil level is right on the mark. No leak.
The ride to Myrtle Beach was smooth with little traffic. Route 501 extends from I-95 to Route 17, the Coastal Highway. Pumped up with plenty of sunshine, gasoline and a renewed burst of confidence, the boys press on. The boy from Baltimore strums on his six-string guitar as Ricky plays muted bass notes in the back. Just like the old days. They play songs from Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album like “Day’s of 49,” “Alberta,” and “The Mighty Quinn.” Before long, after stopping to look at the ocean, they top off the tank and grab a couple hamburgers from a beachfront grill. They are back on the road to Florida just after noon. South Carolina seems to go on forever.
“How many more miles to Georgia?”
Without a watch, the juveniles calculate the time by measuring their speed and the distance traveled. Presuming to make Savannah by midafternoon, they might be able to make Daytona by nightfall. Highway signs point to Peaches, Pecans and Stuckey’s restaurants as they hop back and forth between I-95 and Route 17 through Georgia. Finally, just before sunset, the blue Buick crosses the Brunswick River Bridge across the state line into the Promised Land. The fresh squeezed orange juice at the rest stop offers solid proof that the boys have finally made it. The long, straight, flat highway widens, stretching as far as the eye can see. The speed limit allows George to accelerate to a comfortable 80 MPH. There is still plenty of light in the sky as they navigate the confusion surrounding Jacksonville. Keeping on, they pass the exits for St. Augustine and plan to exit somewhere near Daytona for food, fuel and a second night of rest.
A brand new set of jumper cables, never used, or needed for that matter is stored in the trunk. George bets he can use them to bargain a full tank of gasoline at the next filling station. It is after dark and the boys exit just north of Daytona. Fuel is running low. Finding a full-service gas station on a back road, George asks the attendant if he will trade the cables for a full tank of gas. The attendant gladly agrees, knowing he is getting the better end of the deal. The car takes nearly $10.00 in gas so both parties are satisfied with the transaction.
Back on the highway, a few miles down the road, they pull into a rest stop where they park for the night. Finishing the last bits of sandwich, the Buick becomes one of many parked vehicles serving as an overnight accommodation. Perfectly camouflaged, all three boys are beat and ready for deep sleep. The twelve - string guitar is laid across the ledge under the rear window. No one notices as George stretches himself into position with his foot pressing firmly on the gas pedal.
The boys wake to a warm and bright Monday morning. They slept well. All the windows are open, but the air is not fresh. A strong poisonous smell infiltrates the vehicle. It is gasoline!
“Whoa! What the hell is going on?!” George shouts. The other two groggily rouse in a daze.
“Holy Shit! Is that coming from us?” George wants to know.
All three boys jump from the car to find a large puddle of gasoline pooling under the front of the car. George opens the hood. There is fresh gasoline pouring from the top of the engine.
“Holy Shit!” George cries out again. I must have flooded the engine while I was asleep. He had not taken his foot off the pedal for several hours. “See if it will start!” George turns the key and cranks the engine. It cranks fine but it keeps on cranking. He stops then tries again. The cranking starts to slow, and the Fireball sputters a couple of times. He cranks again. This time the engine turns even slower. Looking very worried, he gives it one more shot. No crank, just, click click click. Then nothing at all.
“Holy Shit! The battery is dead” George groans.
Cars come and go as the boys stare into the open hood. The liquid fuel has begun to evaporate, but there is nothing left in the battery.
“Hey mister” George calls out to a passerby. “Can you give us a jump?”
“Sure, kid! You got cables?”
This is truly a “Holy Shit” moment, thinking back that just a few hours ago, the answer would have been, “yes, we’ve got a brand new set!” Carefully sizing up the parking area, there are no Good Samaritans to be found. Just a hip-looking middle-aged woman who apparently works in the rest stop.
“Can you give us a jump?” George asks, I think we have flooded the carburetor and drained the battery trying to get started.”
“I’d be happy to, says the woman … Do you have jumper cables?”
There are no further references to consecrated excrement as the boys become fully aware of this portentous twist of fate. The woman turns to see the guitar resting on the panel behind the rear seat.
“Is that a twelve-string guitar?” The woman asks.
“Yes,” replies the boy from Baltimore.
“My daughter has always wanted a twelve-string,” she says.
Fearing they might be snared if they wait around too long, the boys glance back and forth at each other trying to relay telepathic signals to each other.
“Wanna buy it?” The boy suggests.
“How much?” Asks the woman.
“A hundred dollars.”
Discounting the advice of the pawnbroker in Richmond, the boy clings to the delusion that his guitar possesses extraordinary value. He waits for a response as he hands the guitar to the woman.
“Oh my, sorry, a hundred dollars is way too much.” The woman starts to walk away.
“Wait!” The boy calls out. “Does your daughter drive a car?
“Yes, she does,” the woman replies.
“Does she live nearby?”
“Yes, just up the road off the next exit.”
“Does she have a set of jumper cables?”
Without batting an eye, the woman replies, “Yes, I believe she does.”
“OK” the boy gives in. “If you can get her to come give us a jump, she can have the guitar for fifty dollars.” The woman keeps walking.
“How about forty?”
The woman smiles and goes inside the rest stop to make the call. She works in the reception area and gives the boys all the orange juice they can drink while they wait in the air conditioning for the daughter to arrive.
In less than an hour, a gorgeous brunette around twenty years old pulls her 1968 white Mustang convertible alongside the Buick. She introduces herself as Sandy. The hood is still open on the Buick. George pops the hood on the Mustang and starts to connect the cables. Sandy is all smiles and can’t wait to get her hands on the guitar. As George starts the car, Sandy tunes the guitar and begins to play softly. She starts to sing “Different Drum” sounding just like Linda Ronstadt. Her voice is stunning as her long thin fingers strum perfectly harmonious chords. The boys are no longer in such a hurry.
Sandy is a student at the cushy, upscale Rollins College in Orlando. Rollins is known as Florida’s first college and is where Fred Rogers earned his music degree in 1951. Sandy is a junior, also studying music appreciation. Her hair is long and is parted in the middle, fashioned very much in the late 60s “Woodstock” style. She hopes to record her own original songs someday and maybe be discovered. She is barefoot, well-tanned and wears frayed tight denim shorts. Her tie-dyed T-shirt has been deliberately cut low around the neckline, inviting obvious peeks from her audience of three. She is cool.
“Wow Sandy! You are really good!” The boy bursts out. [HJ1]
“Well, thank you!” Sandy grins.
“Where are you guys headed?” She is finger picking the guitar. The boy from Baltimore is not about to bullshit her, so he fires back before George gets a chance,
The girl flashes an even broader smile and then forms a perfect chord on the guitar, strumming hard.
“You just missed Spring Break. It was crazy down there. I mean CRAZY.” She speaks in a sultry tone as the wide-eyed boys lean against the trunk of the Buick hanging on every word. The motor is still running, but it doesn’t matter.
“Gotta charge the battery.”
Sandy’s melodic voice is no match for the boys’ feeble attempts to remain silent. They spill it all to her in great detail, each chiming in to interrupt the other as their excitement reaches a crescendo. Their story is not hard for Sandy to believe. She has just returned from Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale with three of her friends. It is only 11:00 AM but Sandy offers the boys each a beer from a cooler in the back seat of her car. She still has an open bottle in the plastic drink holder behind the stick shift. She finishes it off then opens another bottle for herself.
Sandy knows a lot about Fort Lauderdale. She has been there twice for Spring Break and is completely tuned in to the wild affairs of youthful excess that transforms the idyllic beach resort into a raucous spectacle every year.
“I hope you guys know what you are in for down there,” she warns with tantalizing caution in her voice. The place is a mecca for hippies, homeless adults, and runaway kids. It’s sex, drugs and rock and roll, man! It’s like the Summer of Love all over again. And all the beer you can drink. It’s a really cool scene but, YOU’VE GOT TO BE COOL if you want to blend in.” She starts to strum again.
“Here’s a song you might like.” She plays one of her original songs. It is a slow ballad called “Lost in the Crowd.” The boys are all eyes and ears as she softly sings:
“I used to be lonely – alone - and meander like a wandering cloud, but now we are lonely together. We’re all lost, Lost in the crowd.”
Sandy explains that she wrote the song while on Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale. She recounts vivid descriptions of her wild experiences. She advises the young vagabonds where to go, who to see and above all, how to avoid being caught. She recommends the more scenic route along Route A1A down the coast as the best way to get there.
“If you are expecting Paula Prentiss or Connie Francis, forget it!” She says, laughing. “Go back home. The freeway is right over there.” She points to the northbound entrance to I-95, laughing still.
The reference is to the 1960 hit film Where the Boys Are, a teen coming-of-age motion picture that glamorizes the wild times in Fort Lauderdale during spring break. The film completely transformed the traditional seaside community and truly established spring break in Fort Lauderdale as a rite of passage among America’s college age youth. Fort Lauderdale is the unquestioned spring break capital of the United States, and to the three young runaways, Sandy’s descriptions sound just like the Promised Land they had envisioned.
Sandy speaks of “The Strip,” the seedy stretch of Atlantic Avenue that crosses Las Olas Blvd. The strip is lined with sleazy hotels, honkytonk bars and fast food restaurants. The legal drinking age is 18, and nobody bothers to ask for ID! Nightclub owners like Crazy Greg Newell, one of spring break’s founding fathers, have opened bars like “The Button” where crowds are entertained with bawdy wet t-shirt contests and “banana eating competitions.” Drawn to the area’s many cheap motels, dingy bars, and infamy as a youthful haven, a sea of vagrants, prostitutes, teenage runaways, and drug dealers gradually inhabited Fort Lauderdale’s beach during the early 1970s. And now, even further enticed, the three teenage runaways are almost there. A mere 250 miles –four more hours or so on the road. The day is young, and they are anxious to get back on the road going south.
“By the way,” Sandy says, as she lays the twelve string onto the back seat of her car, “you will probably end up at ‘Captain Kidd’s’ right across from the beach. That’s where the runaways hang out. Be careful.”
She hands over four ten-dollar bills then climbs into her car. “Ask for “Pops!” she calls out. “He owns the place. Good luck!” She gives a wave as her top-down convertible peels away.
“Wow!” the boy from Baltimore exclaims after his twenty-minute encounter with Sandy. “I think I’m in love.”
Chapter 7: Old Enough to Vote, Old Enough to Drink
The so-called age of majority is defined as the age when a child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law. Nearly every state these days recognizes this age to be eighteen. However, until 1971, the legal voting and drinking age in most states was twenty-one. In 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War era, eighteen- to twenty-one-year olds made up the largest group of Americans being drafted into military service, fueling the debate to lower the national voting age to eighteen. The slogan, “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” became the rally cry for action. By March 10th of that year, the United States Senate voted unanimously in favor of the 26th Constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to eighteen. The House of Representatives quickly followed with an overwhelming majority vote on March 23. The states promptly ratified the amendment, and the new law went into effect in July of 1971. The change to the voting law logically pushed the argument for states to lower the legal drinking age as well. Constitutional “police powers” give individual states the authority to set minimum age requirements for purchase and consumption of beer, wine, and liquor, to collect taxes and to regulate the sale and distribution of all alcoholic beverages. By 1972, thirty US states, including New Jersey, Maryland and Florida, had lowered the minimum drinking age to eighteen. The relaxation of drinking laws triggered an exponential expansion of bars, nightclubs, and other sources of alcohol for a whole new class of legal drinkers as well as a dramatic spike in traffic deaths.
Flush with Sandy’s $40.00 and some added space in the back of the Buick, the three teenagers stop at a 7-11 and load up with sandwiches, snacks, cigarettes, and a Styrofoam cooler full of beer. No questions are asked from the boy working at the counter. The Buick falls into a slow-moving parade of southbound vehicles on A1A. There are license plates hailing from every part of the country. The boys witness stunning ocean views, tropical vistas, and luxurious public and private structures with wide eyes through wide open windows. They are absorbed into a world of colossal imagery sparkling with magnificent color and architectural design. The sunshine is warm and bright with Ricky in charge of the cooler as well as the bottle opener that is fastened to his belt loop.
“Hey Ricky, grab us a beer!” Says George. Ricky is diligent as he pops the lid from the ice-cold bottle of Busch. Pffft… He hands it up to George. Another for the boy in the passenger seat. Then, one for himself.
“Hey Ricky, can you pass the guitar?” the boy from Baltimore says. Thinking back to the song Sandy played, he recalls the chorus as he strums:
“I used to be lonely – alone. I meandered like a wandering cloud. But now, we’re lonely together. We’re all lost, lost in the crowd.” He wonders, what exactly was she trying to say?
Crisscrossing the Intracoastal Waterway between US 1 and A1A for the last 150 miles provides welcome relief from the monotony of I-95, despite the numerous drawbridges and traffic jams that slow them down. At 5:35 PM, on Monday afternoon, the blue 1965 Buick Special finally reaches the Las Olas Causeway and crosses the finish line to the Fort Lauderdale strip. “Arrive Alive” is Florida’s highway motto, and now all three underage passengers are fully intact and their spirits are high. They have journeyed over 1200 miles together in the past three days, conscious of nothing but the open road ahead. However, with a heightened perception of their freedom and new and unspoken anticipations, the reality of reaching an actual destination suddenly seems unsettling, maybe even scary.
Small groups of pedestrians loiter as the Buick glides to the intersection of North Atlantic Ave and Las Olas Blvd. Beach time is over, and it is happy hour up and down the avenue. Parking is free along the wide expanse of beach on A1A. Vehicles must park in a diagonal fashion following the grain of the northbound traffic. George finds a vacant parking spot just beyond the intersection.
“The Eagle has landed… at exactly…” By habit, the boy from Baltimore glances down at his wrist but forgets that he no longer has a watch. “Hey man, you got the time?” he asks a young passerby on the beach.
“Time for a beer!” the kid replies.
It is a quarter to six and the hot breeze is beginning to cool. Across the avenue, dozens of signs and solicitations invite the fledgling Floridians to enter a labyrinth of uncertainty, punctuated by the more well-established hot spots such as “The Elbow Room,” “The Button,” and the “Marlin Beach Hotel.” Through the thick of the crowd, the open doors of the strip’s most vagrant-friendly haven, “Captain Kidd’s Restaurant and Arcade” now becomes visible.
“There it is!” The boy from Baltimore shouts out.
“Yeah, let’s go get lost in the crowd,” George says.
Locking all their possessions in the trunk, the boys leave the car and cross the street. The familiar odor of marijuana permeates the evening sea breeze. It soon becomes evident that the small bands of occupants are neither tourists nor are they made up of the wild and crazy college kids that have branded the strip with its notorious reputation. It is clear that this frontier has been resettled by a colony of hapless, homeless, freedom-seeking drifters such as themselves.
Inside “Captain Kidd’s,” a short queue of customers waits in a cafeteria line, very much like the ones the boys know and despise from school. Greasy fried chicken, hamburgers, French fries, hot dogs and slices of pizza steam from a succession of Sterno-powered chafing dishes on display in the open air. Behind the counter, several underage male and female attendants buzz back and forth in shorts and tee-shirts loading customers’ orders onto paper plates. Around the outskirts of the room, twenty or so four-top tables with fixed benches provide space for eating, drinking, and socializing. Situated around the tables is a variety of coin-operated vending machines, arcade games, and pinball machines. It seems like a busy conference center for hip-looking, tie-dyed, wayfaring remnants of the hippie era. Maybe, they are runaways…or maybe they are Woodstock wannabees who have found less trouble here than anywhere else they have been.
The three boys find a seat across from the counter. George wants to take inventory.
“How much money do we have left?” George asks. “I’ve got twenty dollars.”
The boy from Baltimore counts his. “I’ve got thirty eight.”
Ricky, who started with fifteen, is down to ten. All told, the boys have arrived in Florida with sixty-eight dollars. They have economized well. A scrawny long-haired greasy-blonde boy around seventeen years of age watches from behind the cafeteria counter. It turns out that “Captain Kidd’s’” does not sell alcoholic beverages, but many customers bring their own. The management does not seem to mind.
“Hey Ricky, how about getting us a couple beers from the car?” Says George, tossing the keys. Ricky heads out the door. This is the first time the boys have separated since Saturday morning. The boy from Baltimore speaks up.
“So, what do you think of Ricky? Pretty cool eh?”
“Yeah! He seems pretty cool, but he doesn’t have much to say. And he shakes a lot.”
“Yeah, he’s got some nervous problems. He doesn’t like to talk about it. He’s really cool though when you get to know him. He knows pretty much everything about guitars, amps, and music. We used to pretend we were the Beatles when we were kids. He was George and I was Ringo.”
Either they are getting comfortable, or the adrenaline is wearing off as both boys start to slouch at the table.
“I think he’s got something on his mind—like he’s hiding something,” George says suspiciously.
“Don’t we all? This is a big ass deal, man!” the boy from Baltimore retorts. Any pangs of regret at this point would only open a dangerous can of worms. No one wants to crack it open. “You think he’s chickening out?”
“No, I think it’s more,” George persists.
“He probably misses his girlfriend. Her name is Jill. He says he’s been getting it every weekend and he is probably missing all that action. He’ll be okay.”
“He didn’t tell Jill where we were going, did he?”
“I don’t think so.”
The boys really have no idea what their next move will be, but they will soon get busy figuring something out. But not today. George sits up straight and opens his eyes wide.
“How are you holding up?” George asks, looking at the boy. “You aren’t starting to get chicken, are you?”
The boy thinks for a moment. “I’m fine, I mean, shit! I can’t believe we did it! You know, just like we planned.” The boys slap each other five. “I’d really like to call home, though, just to let my parents know we’re okay.”
“Nah, I don’t think we should do that yet,” George says. “They will track us down for sure. And when they do, we are dead! They probably have the police looking everywhere for the car. I wonder how things went today in school. Let’s talk about it later.”
Ricky returns with three beers. He tosses the keys onto the table and sits down.
Live entertainment at “Captain Kidd’s” is provided by anyone who might have a guitar. A few people sit around singing and playing just outside the door. In the absence of music, the din from the pinball machines and the clamor from the cafeteria provides enough noise to require very loud talking. The long-haired greasy-blonde kid steps up to the table. He had seen the boys counting their money. “Hey man! Can you spare a dollar?” The boy from Baltimore avoids eye contact then slips him a single dollar bill. He quickly stashes the rest back into his wallet. Grateful for the charity coming from someone presumably as destitute as himself, the panhandling teen sits down at the table with the boys.
“BE COOL,” the boys silently communicate with each other.
“Thanks man! Where are you guys from?” The boys glance at each other signaling to George.
“Up north,” George mumbles.
“Everybody’s from up north man!” the blonde bursts out. “Like whereabouts?” he presses with hopped-up vacant eyes and an apprehensive smile. The boy from Baltimore recalls Sandy’s advice: “YOU’VE GOT TO BE COOL IF YOU WANT TO BLEND IN.”
They’d come a long way without blowing their cover. No hassles so far, so they engage the boy carefully.
“We’re all from Baltimore,” George says. “We left Saturday. Not sure where we’re headed. What about you?”
“You running away from home?” the boy asks smiling. The boys glance at each other again, reassuring each other there is only one of him and three of them.
George replies, “Yes.”.
“Me too,” says the teen. “Six months ago.”
He bums a cigarette then unfolds his pitiful story to the attentive boys. His narrative is quite different than theirs. It is a story of divorce, parental abuse, failure in school, alcohol and drugs. He introduces himself as Keith, originally from Detroit. He has been traveling south by himself. He is almost 17 years old. Keith took a Greyhound to Raleigh, then hitchhiked his way to Lauderdale. He has been “crashing” all over town with a band of runaways calling themselves “the family” ever since. Like lots of the other kids, Keith works the food line, washes dishes, and does any other jobs that “Pops” might ask. Keith is far less interested in hearing the boys’ story than he is in telling his own. It is tragic story with all kinds of physical and emotional motivations that are completely unknown to each of these boys.
Keith goes on. “You guys ever do acid?” Referring to LSD, the most popular and unpredictably dangerous hallucinogenic drug of the time. All three boys shake their head no. They admit to drinking lots of beer and to smoking a little pot now and then, but LSD is strictly forbidden, even by their own feeble collective conscience.
“Seriously?” Keith laughs. “Are you kidding?” The keys to George’s father’s car are laying on the table. The GM key is easily recognizable.
“You guys drive here from Baltimore?” Keith asks, looking down at the keys.
“Sure did,” George confesses.
“You got a license?”
“Yes,” George lies.
The boys silently communicate that no more information will be given about the car or any other part of the big adventure from Baltimore. George shifts the conversation back to Keith who is eager to continue with his own tale. The cafeteria line starts to lengthen then a loud voice is heard from behind the cash register.
“Hey Keith! We need you back here, NOW!” Keith gives a wink as he gets up from the table.
“Okay, Pops! On my way.”
Chapter 8: School Day
Mr. Malcolm is the first to get the call Monday morning. He is the freshman vice principal at Gateway Regional High School. He was the first official from the school to meet the new family when they moved from Baltimore. Mr. Malcolm is very popular with the kids and the parents as well. He sips his coffee then scratches his beard as the woman on the phone details the frightening events of the weekend. He puts her on hold.
“Mrs. Haywood, can you hand me the attendance sheet from this morning?” As expected, both boys are listed as absent. The fact that two of his students are truant from school is not surprising, but the rest of the story is something completely unmatched by anything he has encountered as a high school administrator. He goes back to the call.
“They’re in a car? Jesus! Did they leave any notes or tell anyone where they might be headed?”
“No, but we are pretty sure they have gone to Florida. We know they picked up a friend in Baltimore and they have not been heard from since. At least we haven’t gotten any bad news. We have decided to sit tight and pray for a break.”
“Did you contact the police or the Division of Youth and Family Services?”
“No police because we’re afraid they will try to run with the car. We think George’s sister, Hannah, knows something, but she isn’t talking.”
“Okay,” Mr. Malcolm says. “Try to stay calm and I will ask around on my end. Maybe somebody here knows something.” Malcolm knows that as soon as he starts his investigation, the rumors will fly.
Gateway High School was established in 1964. It is one of the first of its kind, a “regional” school, drawing students from four geographically disconnected municipalities in South Jersey. The student population forms a social and economic stratification that ranges from the mostly affluent white-collar boroughs of Woodbury Heights and Wenonah to the more blue-collar river towns of Westville and National Park. While theoretically a melting pot of sorts, in reality, the student body is sub-divided into cliques, making it very difficult for a newcomer to find a social compass. Without the benefit of common roots and history, there is little room for the newcomer to fit in, unless he or she carves out a space of his or her own.
The boy from Baltimore has taken a passive approach since his transplanting, spending more time listening than talking, and for the most part not liking what he hears. The “Heights” kids are mostly jocks who speak of little other than Philadelphia sports and their sports heroes. It is all Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, and 76ers. The Colts, the Orioles or the Bullets symbolize enemy teams from the other league.
The Heights kids emulate idols like Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent as they play hockey in the street right in front of his house – non-stop.
“They don’t even have a hockey team in Baltimore,” they taunt.
“Sure, they do! What about the Clippers?”
“Ha… minor league.” There is not much to like among these new “friends.”
The boy hates hockey anyway, but he has taken a liking to Paul, also a freshman at Gateway. Paul lives just around the corner from the boy. Paul is an energetic and talkative sports fanatic. He is considered somewhat goofy by the more popular jocks on the block. He is very tall and strong with close-cropped blonde hair. He likes to ride a big red bicycle around the neighborhood, but he also keeps a 250cc Suzuki dirt bike in his garage for weekend off-road thrills. When his parents aren’t paying attention, he sometimes takes to the street just to show off. The motorcycle sings like a chain saw, popping wheelies on and off the driveway, tearing up his mother’s flowers, sending divots of sod flying through the air. Like a slapstick comedy routine reminiscent of the Keystone Kops, his mother runs out the front door with a broom, “Paulie! Paulie! You get back here!” Chasing him around the house and down the block with the broom. The kids just say, “Man, he’s got balls!”
Paul’s family brought him to Woodbury Heights from Tom’s River when he was nine years old. Paul is the youngest of three. His two older brothers are much older, in their thirties, married with kids who all live in Toms River. Paul is a big talker. He tells, then retells, hyperbolic accounts of his fantasized glory days with not just sports, but women as well. In the process, he seems to have earned some obvious resentment from the others who exclude him from their less braggadocios fraternity. He is eager to impress the new kid on the block - someone who will listen to his tall tales about championship games and the women he has had.
The two boys walked to school together often, each wishing they could be a little more like the other. Once, Paul wore a pair of the boy’s knee-high fringed leather Indian moccasins to school only to wind up stranded without shoes[HJ2] after someone stole them from the gym locker room. He eventually got them back after an embarrassing hide and seek that wound up in the cafeteria. Paul wants to play the organ, but he does not have a musical bone in his body. He gives it a shot though. So, his parents bought him a beautiful Hammond C3 with a matching Leslie speaker.
“Paulie!” his mother hollers out the door. “Get in here and practice!” Paul ignores her as he flops down in front of the hockey net trying to block a goal. He hates being called “Paulie.”
“Yo Paulie! Good save!” somebody shouts.
“Only Jesus saves like Bernie Parent!” somebody shouts back.
None of the hockey players know what to think of a long-haired, guitar-playing, cigarette- smoking new kid on the block who knows absolutely nothing about hockey. So, they leave him alone.
One day in early April, the new kid invited Paul to cut school and hide out in the woods with him. George and Hannah arrived later with some pot. They did not expect another person to be on the scene, but the new kid assured them that Paul was cool. Paul was immediately attracted to Hannah’s practiced and persuasive smile. He had never smoked anything before and was reluctant to give the forbidden weed a try, but, suspended in Hannah’s steady gaze, he finally gave in. He took a very long drag from a joint Hannah had rolled.
“Hold it in,” Hannah told him. Paul started to cough. He took another puff then inhaled the smoke again. After a short cough, he smiled back at Hannah, passing the joint back to her.
“Feel anything?” asked Hannah.
Paul is big and with his extra body weight, it would take a few more hits before he finally started loosening up. His eyes started to glaze over with both THC and testosterone.
“Oh, man!” Paul exhaled. “Oh, man!” he said again. He began to giggle, causing the other three to burst into laughter. Paul was on the verge of becoming cool. He now had something new to add to his scoreboard. He was going to be cool.
George and the new kid went over their plans for the upcoming break to Fort Lauderdale.
“Are you guys shittin’ me?” Paul wanted to know, being quite familiar with the fine art of fabrication.
“Do we look like we are shittin’?” George said. “Listen Paul, you’ve got to swear to Christ that you won’t tell anybody about this, you hear? Or else, we’ll have to rat you out for smoking pot.” They laughed some more, like they were joking.
“Come on, man...” Paul said nervously. “Why would I tell?”
“Come on guys,” Hannah gestured with a peace sign. “We’re all cool here, right?”
“Okay, George said. I think he’s cool.” They finished the joint together then went on to talk about other things.
That was the first time Paul and Hannah formally met. Lately, they have been seen together often. She has since become a noticeable distraction to both Paul’s hockey playing and his musical organ.
Mr. Malcolm calls Hannah and Paul out of their separate classes into his office. They see each other in the hallway on their way to the office. They know what is about to happen and they know how to handle the situation. They both agree to play dumb: deny, deny, deny! Their contention is that they know nothing and are as surprised as everyone else that the boys have disappeared. Malcolm applies every psychological twist of the arm he can legally muster without gaining an inch of ground. After nearly an hour of inquisition, he comes up with nothing.
The phone rings and the boy’s mother answers right away, hoping for good news. “Yes? Hello?”
“It’s Malcolm,” sighs the voice on the other end. “Sorry, no luck here. We’re still at square one.”
Chapter 9: Lost in the Crowd
Evening comes and a cavalcade of newcomers—“the night crowd”—swarms the Lauderdale strip. Twilight dims and the avenue glows bright with backlit signs, headlights, and streetlamps. The “Captain Kidd’s” crowd is diminished as the boys head for the Buick which is parked diagonally facing the beach.
“Home sweet home,” George sighs as he lays across the hood of the car.
“Can’t beat this!” the boy from Baltimore remarks taking a seat in the sand. “Waterfront property.”
There are no parking meters nor any evidence of time-limited parking enforcement. Looking around, no one seems to bother anybody sleeping in their vehicles. Several spots are occupied by custom vans and pick-up trucks with caps. Surely, they are being slept in.
“What do you think? Should we try to sleep here tonight?” George says. “There are no signs of anybody getting hassled, nor are there any vacant parking spaces remaining. If we leave now, we will have no place to come back to. Cops only pass by in case something serious happens. They don’t have time for little guys like us. Spring Break is long gone, and we are just like everybody else. Nobody is looking for us here and if they were, they’d have a hell of a time finding us.”
“So, these are your wheels, eh, man? Nice! Damn! You guys are traveling in style!”
It is Keith and he is carrying a large brown paper bag full of something. Keith knows there is no room in the car for him, but he continues, “You know, down here, we take care of each other. Like a family.” Ricky is asleep in the back seat, but the other two indulge Keith in conversation.
“That’s cool,” George says. “So, you work at ‘Captain Kidd’s’. How did you get the job?”
“Yeah, man! It’s great! Just finished up for the night.”
“Pops is the MAN! You know?”
“We heard about him,” says the boy from Baltimore. “What’s the deal?”
“Tell you what, he is the coolest guy in Florida, man, and he helps all of us out. He’s like a father figure to us, you know. Tell you what, if you’re cool, he will help you out too.”
“So, how did you get the job anyway? Don’t you need working papers or anything?”
“Fuck no, man! We work for food. Any cash we get comes from bummin’ the tourists. Listen, if you guys are still here tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to him. Sound cool?”
“Cool,” says the kid from Baltimore. He recalls Sandy’s reference to Pops up in Daytona.
“You guys crashing here in the car tonight?”
“Yeah. We’re beat. What about you?”
“We’re crashing on the roof of the Marlin tonight. It’s cool after spring break. Nobody hassled us last night so we’re going back again tonight. Nice breeze, and a great view.” He laughs.
“The Marlin” was built in 1954 and was one of the first beachfront hotels to cater to the spring break crowd. By the late 1960s, it had deteriorated and was closed for renovation by 1971. The dilapidated hotel, once famous in Where the Boys Are, has become a clandestine hangout for the wayward crowd with as many as 50 kids crashing on the roof and in some cases, in open rooms.
“So, who’s ‘we’?” George asks.
“’The family’, man! That’s what we call ourselves. There’s a bunch of us and we’ve all come here from somewhere. Nobody asks any questions once they know you are cool. Nobody wants to know. We just hang out together during the day and find places to crash at night. There’s guys, girls, druggies, hookers… you name it. But nobody hassles anybody. Nobody steals from anybody and nobody gets hurt. It’s like we are all cool together and, if somebody’s in trouble, we all help out. Like, I’ve got a bunch of stuff here to take back.” He opens his large paper bag and lets out a steamy aroma of fresh fried junk food. “Pops lets us take the leftovers if we do a good job.”
Keith heads off, agreeing to meet the boys the next morning. The boy puts his guitar into the trunk, not feeling much like playing. A small crowd of people remain on the beach drinking beer and smoking. The night wind whistles through the open windows bringing with it the sound of breaking surf. The boys crawl into the car and stare at the ocean until they are fast asleep.
Chapter 10: The Old Cool Guy
Iconic symbols of alienation can be found on the flip side of nearly every cultural generation in American history. The twentieth century is interspersed with numerous counter-cultural images and heroes that have sought either to change the world they live in or escape its trappings. For example, the “Roaring Twenties” are characterized as an age of unprecedented conservative optimism and prosperity while a lawless society of gangsters and bootleggers, together with a “lost generation” of writers and nonconformist flappers revolutionized the status quo. The “jazz age” broke all the rules, setting new standards that would be challenged, yet again, by the next generation. The 1930s sent hobos and drifters on a quest across the country looking for “Big Rock Candy Mountain” during the Great Depression. Then, in the late forties, post-war era disillusion and atomic hysteria fashioned a shadowy flip side known as the “beat” generation. The beats were the eccentric hipsters whose nonconformity was shaped by a belief that the modern world was both joyless and without purpose. Typically, the heroes of these literary and social movements either drop out, burn out, sell out, or die trying to champion their radical ideas. Few people, like Pops, can lay claim to actively promoting the unconventional lifestyle for over a half a century, with no end in sight.
George, Ricky, and the boy from Baltimore are stirred early, first by the hot, stale, sweaty air hanging inside the Buick, and then by the intensity of the sun rising in the east. There are no clouds, and the sky brightens quickly. It is a new day. They had not swum in the ocean yet. Seeing the beach deserted for the first time, all three boys run to the water fully dressed wearing the same t-shirts and faded jeans.
“Sweet Jesus! Now this feels like Florida!” Ricky says as he wades in and ducks his long dark hair into the ocean. “Seriously guys! I could spend the rest of my life just floating right here,” he says flipping onto his back. The water is crystal clear and tinted with teal. The smooth sand bottom drops away as the three boys paddle with their hands and feet.
“Wow! It goes on forever,” the boy from Baltimore says excitedly, this being far from the first time he has swum in the ocean. He has done it many times - in Atlantic City, Ocean City and even right here in Fort Lauderdale, even though it was on a private beach on the Galt Ocean Mile. But this is the only time he has truly sensed the complete vastness of the open sea. He swims off by himself and is alone for a moment with his thoughts. George and Ricky porpoise back and forth closer to the beach. The boy gazes at the horizon clear and steady in the distance. He knows there is plenty on the other side, but what? Where? How far? Three days ago, he was in New Jersey, in a home full of familiarity, locked up and secure with a daily routine, expectations, like it or not. He reminds himself of his father’s famous words: “If you want to live under my roof, then… fill in the blank.” Or: “Oh yeah! You’re going to go out on your own, eh? Well, I’ll help you pack.” Now, after covering an ocean of highway in a stolen car, he is here in this exotic world of wayfaring strangers. What has he proved?
Gazing back at the shore, the boy sees the beach starting to fill with people. Joggers, metal detectors, bicycles, and cars begin to outnumber the elegant palm trees along the strip. Food and beverage distributors unload fresh supplies as garbage dumpsters are emptied into large trucks. He turns again to the horizon, realizing the beach behind him is the only boundary between a world that makes sense and one that does not. He feels a tap on his shoulder. It is Keith.
“Hey man, let’s go dry off and I’ll take you to meet Pops.” The sun is getting higher and warmer. All three boys and Keith lay down on the sand to dry. Ricky isn’t feeling well and stays on the beach as the others cross the street to meet the “coolest guy in Florida.”
“Hey Pops! How’s it going this morning? You gonna need me today?” Keith says to the old man setting up the cash register. Pops peers up through a pair of wire frame glasses at Keith and the two boys. He wears a faded Hawaiian shirt and a pair of cut-off shorts. His thin white hair is tied back into a narrow ponytail that hangs between his hunched shoulders. His frame is small, and his face is leathery and worn. He lives in an apartment above the restaurant/arcade which he has owned since 1968.
Pops’ actual name is Byron Kalb. He was born and raised in New York City and lived on New York’s Lower East Side. He was born a long time ago, around 1900 and grew up through both world wars and the Great Depression. Kalb played saxophone in a jazz band during the 1920s and 1930s, frequenting many of New York City’s speakeasies. Then he got to know pretty much everyone in the Greenwich Village folk and jazz scenes. He became a regular at Max Gordon’s famous club, “The Village Vanguard,” where he played alongside such jazz greats as Lester Young and Ben Webster. He never got married. By the 1950s, Pops’ interests drifted from jazz to the “beat” folk and poetry scene. He had met many of the icons of the day, including Thelonious Monk, Woody Guthrie, and Jack Kerouac. He eventually bought a small coffee shop where he served everyone, including blacks and gays.
Pops claims to remember the day Robert Zimmerman showed up in the Village with his guitar and harmonica. It was in January of 1961, one of the coldest winters on record. The young boy from Minnesota had nowhere to go and didn’t know a soul in New York City. The boy would become better known as Bob Dylan. Pops introduced him to his friend, Manny Roth, the owner of “Café Wha” and the rest is history. Pops has been smoking pot since the 1920s and, by 1961, may have been one of the earliest pioneers to experiment with LSD. Now a successful businessman at the age of 71, he still occasionally smokes pot and drops a tab of acid now and then as he looks after his “family” of vagrants on the strip.
“We’re okay for today Keith,” Pops answers. “Just getting ready to open now. Thanks!” You closed last night, didn’t you? You can take the day off if you want.” There are other kids hustling about behind the counter.
Keith gestures to his new friends, hoping to get them an audience with the “old cool guy.” “Hey Pops, got a minute to talk to my new friends? Maybe you can help them out a little, they just got here and are looking for something to do.”
“Like work, I suppose?” Pops says with a cool smile.
“Yeah, maybe,” Keith says. He lets them introduce themselves. Pops sizes them up.
“Well,” Pops says, you know, it ain’t spring break anymore, and things have slowed way down. But I can always use some good help when we get busy during the rush. If you can come in and help out, we’ll make sure you get plenty of food and that nobody hassles you. If people know you are cool with Pops, then you’ll be cool with them. But, if I catch you drinking behind the counter, doing drugs, or fucking around with the cash, then you’re out of luck,” he warns. “I don’t want to know where you come from, why you’re here, or who’s looking for you. That’s your business. But if it comes down to my ass or yours with the cops, it ain’t gonna be mine. So, here’s how it works…”
Pops runs through the drill explaining each station in the line. He’s got people to handle the major things and, when the boys are needed, someone will tell them what to do. Their duties will include cleaning tables, dropping fries and onion rings into the grease, washing empty dishes, filling chafing dishes, scrubbing the floor, and a myriad of other grunt jobs.
“You see,” Pops says. “We start you out as a pilot.”
“A pilot?” George asks inquisitively.
“Yeah, you pile it here and you pile it there,” Pops laughs. Everyone starts to laugh.
“You learn as you go. You’ll get the hang of it.” Above all, Pops expects “honesty, hard work, and no bullshit.” He says, “You can hang out on the beach or inside or outside the building as much as you want. If you see we’re getting busy, come back behind the counter and help out. If I need you, I’ll find you. If you’re hungry, take whatever you want to eat. If you hang out til’ closing, you get to share the leftovers with your friends. Got it?”
“Yes sir, I think so.” George says out loud. “Wow! This is too good to be true,” he thinks to himself.
The boy from Baltimore nods his head in agreement. The boys wait until they are outside the building before slapping each other a very high five. The boys return to the car to find Ricky hasn’t moved.
“Hey Ricky, you OK?” George says as Ricky airs himself out by the hood of the car. The boys are bone dry now, and their faded jeans are stiff from the salt water.
“I think I had too many beers last night,” Ricky says. Both of his hands are shaking, and his face is very pale. “Maybe it’s the heat.”
“Maybe you need a real good breakfast and a good sleep,” the boy from Baltimore interjects.
“Hey Ricky, we just got a job at ‘Captain Kidd’s’. We can start today if we want, during the rush.”
Keith is standing alongside and suggests Sambos if the guys want to get a good breakfast cheap. “It’s a half mile north of here,” he says. George suggests they take the car to Sambos.
“Wanna come with us?” George says to Keith. “We’ll pick up the tab.”
Sambos has its own parking lot, and space is limited. There is a short line at the hostess station with a sign “HELP WANTED – DISHWASHER.” The four boys seat themselves by the window.
“Hey, Ricky, why don’t you ask about that job?” The boys don’t want to press their luck with Pops, trying to add another guy. And it is time Ricky starts pulling some weight. He ties back his hair and goes up to the hostess stand. He is greeted by an Indian man who takes him back into the kitchen. After about fifteen minutes, Ricky returns with a big smile. He leans into the table and whispers, “I got the job! I can start tomorrow night.”
“Yeah, man, it’s the graveyard shift. Eleven to seven!”
Chapter 11: Welcome to the Family
Like a rising tide, the prospect of three runaway teens each landing a job in a single morning, well over a thousand miles from home, restores hope that dreams float. Idle time is sure to incite thoughts of turning back, if not guilt, shame, deep regret and worthlessness. But conscientious occupation is the key to attaining success and self-respect—something to feel good about, a reason to take pride. The boy recalls the utter joy that consumed him as he landed morning newspapers right on target back in Baltimore, and how a single complaint was cause for a full analysis of what he did wrong and what he needed to do to make it right. Industry, on any scale, is the backbone of achievement, and adversity is the anvil on which character is forged. All these things are good.
Keith decides to hang with the boys. “Captain Kidd’s” remains light into the afternoon. The boys pop in and out, performing small and easy tasks like wiping down the counter and generally looking busy, then go back outside. They sit on the beach, play guitar and sing, meeting and talking to lots of strangers. They find a new sense of security and acceptance in a universe that is completely unknown to the people back home. The girls here are cute and enjoy the music and conversation. Most have run away as well. There are so many stories to be told, mostly depressing and tragic.
A girl named Marjorie seems especially keen on the boy from Baltimore. She had taken some acid earlier in the day. She dances up to the boy as he strums his guitar. She knows the songs he plays and she sings along.
“Hey Mr. Tambourine Man, could you play a song for me…?”
After they are alone, she throws her arms around his neck and pulls him onto his back beside her in the sand. They lay flat looking up at the sky.
“Isn’t it amazing?” she says.
“Isn’t what amazing?”
“The sky, you know. It just goes on and on and on and on. And then there is nothing. Then, more and more and more nothing. How can there be so much nothing?” Marjorie starts to laugh out loud then slowly opens and closes her hand in front of her eyes. She watches for long moments as her fingers leave fluorescent green trails across the sky. “Everything’s in your head,” she says. “Everything, right… there!” She says pushing her finger to the side of the boy’s head. “Wow! Did you feel that?” She says with humorous delight. “I just pushed my finger into your brain.” The boy laughs uncomfortably.
“Uh, okay…” the boy says, looking puzzled.
“Wow! I actually touched your thoughts,” she said. “So cool…!”
“Oh yeah? What did it feel like?”
“You’ve got a lot of layers in there, Mr. Tambourine Man! Really deep. You must be really smart.” She is smiling and waving her hands in the air watching the trails. Then abruptly, she repositions herself bolt upright. “Oh my God!!” She groans out of nowhere. She suddenly jumps to her feet clawing vigorously at her naked midsection. “Get ‘em off me! GET ‘EM OFF ME, PLEASE!” she cries out.
“What? Are you joking around?” She is wearing a halter and her sweaty back is covered with beach sand.
“Get what off?” the boy answers back, surprised. “What? What’s wrong? I don’t see anything!”
“The glass! The glass! Oh my God!!” she cries out in terror. “Please help me! Somebody… please help me!!” Marjorie’s midsection is covered with broken glass that cuts deep into her skin. She can see the glass and feel the pain as it slices into her flesh. She smears fresh blood onto her clothes and then onto her tormented face which is now covered with shards of bloody broken glass. She begins to cry in a panic. The boy sees the tears rolling down her cheeks. He looks her over and sees no sign of any blood. There is only sand sticking to her face and back.
“It’s okay! It’s okay!” he says, not knowing what to do. His heart is racing. “There’s nothing there! Nothing but some sand from the beach. See?” She sobs hard as two older girls jog over to help.
“Marjorie... Marjorie...! It’s cool, baby! Shhh!” The girls embrace her and Marjorie settles down.
“It’s okay, man,” one of the girls says to the boy. “We got this. She’s just freaking out from the acid. She’ll be okay.” The three girls walk off and disappear onto the strip. The boy had never encountered a person on an acid trip before.
“Whoa!” the boy thinks out loud. No matter what he’s ever done –drinking, smoking pot, or whatever –he has always preferred to maintain a conscious awareness of reality, no matter how unpleasant it might be. He feels sorry that his reality is so much different from hers. But he is sure glad that his reality is not the same as hers, at least right now. He wonders what the thrill of completely losing control of one’s reality might be. He doesn’t ever want to find out.
Later that evening, Ricky does some exploring on foot while the two boys help close “Captain Kidd’s” for the night. It is just after 10:00 PM. Keith is long gone. At least a dozen kids get to work scrubbing the floor, polishing the counter, and cleaning the glass on the pinball machines. The crew had kept up with the trash pretty well throughout the day and make quick work of anything left behind. By 10:30, the entire place is spic and span and ready for the next day. Each person is given a large paper bag that they are permitted to fill with whatever leftovers they want to take with them.
“Where are you guys crashing tonight?” asks one of the girls.
“We sleep outside in our car,” George responds.
“Yeah, after tonight, I get to sleep in the back seat by myself,” laughs the boy from Baltimore.
“We’re all headed over to the ‘Marlin.’ We crash on the roof. Why don’t you come join us?”
“That sounds like a cool idea,” says George. “We can get Ricky and come over in a little while. What do we need to do?”
“Okay,” says the girl, “just come over to the hotel. It’s right over there.” She says pointing down the strip. The hotel is closed for repair, but you can come around to the back. There’s a set of stairs that goes up to the roof. That’s where everybody goes. Just be real quiet, and if anybody says anything, tell them you work for Pops.”
“Got it!” George says.
George, Ricky, and the boy from Baltimore lock the car and walk the block to the “Marlin.” They are exhausted. The rooms are unlit, but a series of porch lights are visible as well as a few adjacent streetlamps. There is a smell of fresh cut lumber as well as old garbage and stale beer. The boys circle the building looking for the stairway. George points to a tall, steel flight of stairs with concrete steps. The hotel is four stories high and is surrounded by balconies and palm trees. The night is quiet, and no sound is heard as the boys approach.
“Shhhh… go easy up the stairs.” Not a sound is heard.
“This is weird,” the boy from Baltimore whispers. He leads the way, reminiscent of his pioneering days through the dark and daunting tunnels of Edmondson Park. Ricky is next in line and then George. Silence is all that is heard, except for the rustling of the tall palms that surround the building. At the top of the stairs, there is a gap around six feet leading to the edge of the roof. It is necessary to either climb up onto a metal railing then get a boost from behind or else get pulled up by someone who is already up there. There’s no other way to get over the edge. It is a dangerous maneuver.
“Who’s there?” A muted male voice breaks the silence. Four or five shadowy silhouettes crawl to the edge of the roof, peering over one at a time.
“There are three of us,” the boy from Baltimore whispers out. We just got done working with Pops. He said we can crash here tonight.”
“Hey, man, we’d love to make room for you, but it is crazy crowded up here. There’s just no room. Sorry man.”
“Is Keith up there?” George interjects.
“You know Keith, eh? That’s cool! Hey, listen, if you go down to room 211 on the second floor, Keith is in there with a bunch of others. They got into an empty room. When you find him, tell him Brady sent you from the roof. They’ll let you crash there.” By now, the boys are completely drained. They have spent three days on the road, three nights sleeping in the car and two days in the hot, Florida sun. They have just worked the closing shift at “Captain Kidd’s” and are ready to sleep anywhere.
The boys descend the stairs to the second floor quickly and quietly. The room is situated in the back of the building with a concrete balcony overlooking the parking lot. Approaching the room, many voices are heard. They seem to multiply as the boys listen closer. There is dim light sneaking through the tattered window shade and marijuana smoke escapes through the bottom of the door. Now George is in charge. He gives a slight knock on the door. The room goes silent. The door cracks open. It is Keith. The door swings open wider revealing a dimly lit room filled with crashed out male and female teens, either smoked up or drunk, dressed up or naked, hooked up or alone, asleep or awake, or just plain there or not there. Marjorie and some guy are passed out on the floor.
“Hey Keith, a guy named Brady says maybe we can crash here tonight,” George says.
“Welcome to the family,” Keith says. “I guess today is your lucky day.” He is obviously stoned.
The room is an abandoned efficiency with a full eat-in kitchen, a bathroom, and a living room. It is furnished with two outdated, shabby plaid easy chairs and a short torn up sofa. There is not an inch of space that is not occupied by someone. Bottles, cans, and a vast assortment of trash litter the floor and the countertops. Faint light emanates from an old, cracked ceiling fixture that has been covered with some kind of paper to keep the light low.
The boys have no interest in food or getting high tonight. Eating, drinking, and socializing must wait for another day. Keith invites the boys inside and leads them to a locked door. He jiggles the lock and pushes the door open. The doorway leads to a completely dark and vacant bedroom adjoining the efficiency. There are two large beds and a private bathroom.
“It’s yours for the night,” Keith says with a smile. “Nobody will bother you in there.” “Wow!” Says George. “How’d you manage this?”
“You can thank Pops,” he says.
The boys are way too tired to be amazed. They just sleep. The overnight accommodations at the “Marlin” are anything but luxurious, but the water is working and the beds are empty. Although just inches away from the overfilled crash pad next door, the boys find themselves quite alone. All three stretch across the beds fully dressed and ready to bolt in the event of a raid or any other emergency. Within seconds, however, they are dead asleep.
Chapter 12: Freedom’s Just another Word
The boy from Baltimore is the first to wake in the morning to the sound of loud voices and power tools grinding outside. The day is bright and the room next door is silent. He has a vague memory of the previous night. He opens the door to the adjoining room and there is no one there. The room is completely empty, except for loads of trash that litter the room. “Where did everyone go?” he wonders. The bright light of the morning unveils the full scale of ruin that has befallen this once proud monument to the glory days of Fort Lauderdale. A power saw screams from the floor below, stirring the other two but they quickly fall back to sleep. He looks around. Everything is broken. The walls, the ceiling, the floor. Everything. “Don’t worry,” the boy thinks, as if speaking to the derelict hotel room. “They are coming to save you.” The boy steps into the grimy shower stall and a thin stream of lukewarm water spits out. He stands beneath the water and begins to think. He wonders how things can get so broken before someone comes to the rescue. He thinks back to the events of the days and nights before. Crazy! Who are these people? Are they all broken, too? Who will come to fix them? Pops? Keith? Marjorie, the girl on the acid trip? Whoa, how long can she survive in her world of broken glass? Can someone really gaze at the sky and see nothing, then more and more nothing? Marjorie said she felt many layers in the boy’s head. He wonders what she meant by that. Sure, he is smart about most things, and maybe a little crazy too. But what else is in there? How deep do the layers go? All she said was “really deep.” The boy hopes to see her again when she’s not tripping. Maybe he can rescue her. But first he has to rescue himself. He can see his reflection in the mirror. His hair is long and it strings below his shoulders. He is glad he no longer has to fight with his parents about haircuts or hide it inside his collar. He stares into his own tired eyes and watches as his mouth forms a hesitant smile. He wonders if this is what freedom feels like. He recalls the song on the radio and wonders. “Is freedom just another word?” By the time he gets out of the shower, the other two are awake. They too, have discovered the empty room and figure there’s a reason everyone took off so early. The boy dries himself with his t-shirt and the three boys bolt out the door unnoticed. Getting back to the car, Ricky reminds the others that he will be working at” Sambo’s” from eleven that night to seven the next morning. It is Wednesday. They have been gone five days.
People often say, “the older you get, the faster time passes by.” Or, “time flies when you’re having fun,” as if the rate of time is completely imagined. This is not an illusion, but it is a subjective fact. The perceived acceleration of time is a mathematical proportion that explains how time actually does pass more quickly as one gets older. Quite simply, one’s perception of time is directly related to the length of time a person has lived. For example, the first day of a person’s life is mathematically, the longest day. Why? Because it amounts to 100% of the person’s life. Certainly, no one is cognizant of that first day, but if they were, the day would seem to last forever. The second day would then be half that because it amounts to 50% of the person’s life. Every day, then on, becomes a smaller percentage of the total life experience, therefore, accelerating the person’s subjective perception of time. This theory explains why time is perceived to pass more quickly at the end of any experience than it does in the beginning.
Hanging out with new friends, swimming at the beach, playing guitar, working at Captain Kidd’s, dropping Ricky off at Sambo’s, etc., the boys begin to find familiarity in their new surroundings. Familiarity breeds routine and routine tends to erase small details. Neglecting details is dangerous.
On Saturday, early in the morning, the boy from Baltimore hears someone calling his name from inside the arcade. It is Pops. The boy jumps up ready to get to work. “There’s someone on the phone for you,” Pops says with a look of concern. The boy hesitates. By habit, he looks down at his empty wrist for a watch that isn’t there.
“You’d better take the call,” says Pops. The boy follows the old man inside. The room seems quiet as the boy looks around at the now familiar scene of empty faces. Pops steps behind the register and hands the boy the phone. ““Nothing left to lose,” says the boy, he knows what is coming next. They both know it’s over.
END OF PART 1