Hitch-hiking Tale of Long Ago…

Sitting at the MacBook, desperately trying to make my current story “work,” I got to reminiscing  (as frequently happens as I gracefully age), and my old memory bank clicked in on one completely unrelated–and foolish–“adventure” that happened during the Christmas/New Years holiday back in 1972, when I was a student at Kent State. At the time, I was student teaching in Warren, Ohio, and living with a friend who was part owner of a bar. (The trouble that stemmed from that fact, is reserved for another post!) Suffice it to say now, all these years later, that I was damned lucky to have made it through my student teaching experience, let alone 35 years of a teaching career!

That being said, the memory involves what happened beginning the day after Christmas, in a cold and blowing snow, in northeast Ohio. A very rare and unheard of event was scheduled to take place in just a few days: Kent State’s Golden Flashes football team was actually going to play in a bowl game! And it was going to be in the sunny climes of Orlando, Florida! Anyone who is familiar with Kent State football certainly knows that even coming close to qualifying for any bowl game is as rare as members of Congress getting anything accomplished for the benefit of the people they represent. But in the fall of ’72, Kent State had some pretty good players: Jack Lambert, who went on to a Hall of Fame career as a Steeler; Nick Sabin, successful coach at many places. Plus, the Flashes’ coach at the time, Don James, would move on to big-time fame at the University of Washington. For whatever reason, Kent State simply had the players–and a good coach–and the unexpected happened.

And so it was that my friend and bar impresario came up with the idea for him and me to hitch-hike down to the Tangerine Bowl (predecessor to the Citrus Bowl) and enjoy some holiday fun and sun. Of course, I jumped at the chance, although I was a bit concerned about the distance (1,044 driving miles from Warren to Orlando…I checked it out just now!) But of course it would mean being away from my family for the holidays, and I knew that they would never be comfortable with the idea of me hitch-hiking.

With that thought in mind, I created a “tale” (LIE) that included several of us fraternity brothers traveling down to Florida in a rented RV and that we’d be back in plenty of time for the start of classes after the holidays. I was, after all, twenty-two years old and could make the decision. Call me wimpy, but I wanted–needed–my parents’ support. I’ve always felt a bit guilty and just a little sad, too, that I wasn’t able to be “up front” with them. But I think, over the years, they learned the truth about the whole adventure anyway. Well, I’m sure they don’t know all the details, because only my friend and I truly know those. And there’s material enough for a book that’s still working away in my mind. (Stay tuned for that one!)

We were ready to go early on that snowy December 26. As it happened, we were going to ride along with another friend who was returning to Duke University, stay overnight at his place, and then set out in hitch-hike mode the next morning. In my mind, I pictured us being just a hop-skip-jump to Florida. Wasn’t North Carolina just a blink away from the Sunshine State? I would learn just how far those hop-skip-jumps really were! Once it was just him and me out there on an entrance ramp to I-85, I realized that the “adventure” was on. Little did I know then that so many strange and curious things would come our way in the next twenty-four hours. Those things will be explained and discussed in the story I’m writing about our adventure.

Sitting in my cozy writing room today, thirty-nine years later, I have to smile and give a deep sigh of relief at the memory of things that seemed pretty frightening at the time: Getting picked up by a South Carolina State Trooper; seemingly freezing to death while standing alongside I-75 near the Atlanta airport in the wee hours; getting picked up by a drunk who promised us a place to stay in his small office in Macon, Georgia. Then he sobered up the farther he drove down the interstate and would eventually change his mind; delivering rural newspapers somewhere in the Georgia darkness, with some old guy in a rickety pickup, off the interstate completely! The bank of incidents we experienced is full–as I said before, stay tuned for the rest of the story!

For now, know that my friend and I made it there and back, with lots of unplanned side adventures.  And just why this particular “moment” in my many holiday memories should pop up now is a mystery this morning, especially since the weather is more November-like than late-December. It’s foggy, gray, snowless, and rather mild all over. Not even close to the cold and snow of that day long ago! It’s a most curious road I tread today. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, fellow travelers!…MLA


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