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Tell Me a Story: A knapsack, a bus ticket and one lucky phone call

Tell Me a Story: A knapsack, a bus ticket and one lucky phone call

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Editor’s note: The following is part of the Gazette’s continuing series “Tell Me a Story,” in which we ask our readers to share tales from their own lives or the lives of close family members.

As my eighteenth birthday approached I began testing the reins a bit and approached some aunts and uncles for a cash present as the girl I was interested in at the time was leaving on vacation with the family of a family friend. They all lived outside of Philadelphia and I was in Fluvanna County Virginia about three or four miles from where I’m sitting right now.

I had amassed about $175 and informed my mom of my intentions. Catching a Greyhound Bus in Charlottesville and going to Ocean City to meet them. (It was a surprise for my girlfriend too.)

Mom, of course, forbade it. Said I hadn’t been invited, and about 10 or 12 very good reasons why the whole endeavor was foolhardy and would likely end in disaster. I sensed a flicker of doubt in her voice. Something in her inflection said she was unsure of her position. I softly reminded her of my approaching eighteenth birthday, implying, as subtlety as I knew how, that soon enough she wouldn’t have the last word. This whole conversation was occurring through her bedroom door at dawn with my knapsack loaded and my guitar case leaning against the wall. There was a long pause after my not-so-subtle reminder, and she said, “Call me when you get there.”

I walked out of the front door of my mother’s house in Fluvanna just as the sun cleared the pines on the horizon, feeling very emancipated and full of myself. As I reached the end of the short driveway, maybe 150 feet from the door, I realized what lay before me.

I was at least 25 miles from the Charlottesville Greyhound Bus Station. My hair was long then. I carried a knapsack and a guitar in a cheap cardboard case. It was 1973 and hitchhiking wasn’t as easy as it looked in the movies. I walked every step of the way to the bus station.

As fate would have it, there was a bus to Ocean City, Maryland leaving within the hour of my sweaty pedestrian arrival, with a bus change in DC. Just enough time to wash up some in the spacious rest room and board my bus.

Hours and hours later, maybe ten in the evening, I was getting off the bus when a sudden epiphany came over me and I turned and asked the driver if there was another Ocean City up the line. He said yes, Ocean City, New Jersey, and this bus goes there. I asked how much and he said seventeen bucks. So I paid him and got back on, not knowing if it was the right thing to do or not.

Sometime after two in the morning, I found myself in an empty bus station in Ocean City, New Jersey. In my youth-addled head, wanting desperately to start adulting, I grabbed a phone book and looked up the name of the family friend that my girlfriend had gone vacationing with. Nevermind the glaring fact that they were on vacation in a camper 300 miles from home, there was the name, right there in the book. So I called it. At three in the morning. And they answered. After a minute or two, both the lady that answered and I realized that I didn’t call the right people. But then she said that they lived close by, why don’t I come there and we’ll figure out what to do. So I did.

I walked the three blocks to their house and she made coffee while we laughed about my phone book faux pas.

So, it being now close to four in the morning, I borrow a bicycle, and leaving my stuff with them, head out to find the folks I’m looking for. They had told me of a couple of likely campgrounds close by and I pedaled slowly through the campground aisle by aisle, looking for a familiar camper.

Sure as anything, about the third aisle of the first campground I see a familiar face through the window of a camper. So I roll up all nonchalant and ask Bob (the family friend patriarch of the family my girlfriend vacationed with) “Hey Bob, what’s for breakfast?” And without any surprise whatsoever he says “Eggs and bacon, how’s your Uncle Bill?”

I stayed with Bob and his family for almost a month, returning home from Hatboro after I turned 18, and just in time for my senior year of high school, having become secretly engaged to Joan, Bob’s daughter Denise’s best friend.

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