Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chapter 1 – How Was I To Know Her Dad Owned the Place?

I went to a very small prep school during my 11th and 12th grades. My senior class only had 13 students. The school was very old, founded in 1754 — it is the 17th oldest non-public school in the USA. The school was located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, my home town. It was not a place that I was “sent off to” but instead I had my own car and drove myself to school each morning.

I truly hated school, as I think most young male students do. For some unexplained reason, all the female students I knew, and I knew a LOT of them, would say to me that they loved school. Mary Beth and Deborah and Susan would all say dopey things like “I can’t wait for summer vacation to end so we can get back to school!” Give me a break.

I had a 1967 Volkswagen during my senior year at school. It was bright red and very cool. A friend talked me into putting some kind of special spark plugs in it, and I swear that car could pull a wheelie. Both of my brothers had VWs too, but mine would run circles around theirs. I never told them about the spark plugs.

The car had an eight-track stereo and four speakers. I installed it all myself. I cut holes in the doors so I could recess the speakers, and behind the back seat I had a big enclosure for two more speakers. When Jim Morrison and the Doors were performing “Light My Fire,” my eyeballs rattled. It was hot!

The car had a 10 gallon gas tank. To put gas in the tank, you had to open the trunk, which is in the front because the motor was in the back. When I was in 12th grade, it cost me $3.10 to fill that gas tank up. I know that because I used to run out of gas all the time and I would have to push the car to the nearest gas station. The tank would be bone dry, and it always cost $3.10 and I’d be good to go. I got 32 miles per gallon no matter how slow or fast I drove, which meant I could go 320 miles before I had to get out and push again.

Now, my fellow seniors at my prep school all came from rather well-to-do families. I didn’t think about wealth and money at the time, which I think may still be the way it is for most young children from happy, wealthy families. When I was in high school, it never occurred to me that my father had a lot of money and that some people’s father’s did not. I just kind of went through life thinking that everyone’s normal was THEIR normal. I don’t think kids of 13 or 14 lie in their beds at night thinking “my dad’s rich, I’m different!” I certainly didn’t think that way, at least not until I was in the tenth grade.

In the tenth grade, I was not yet a student at the prep school, and I did not have a car. I was going to school at the local public high school where children from the township where I lived went to school. It was a large school, with about 1,000 students in the tenth grade alone. The school held classes for 10th, 11th and 12th grades, and there were around 3,000 teenagers in the school.

One day, when my parents were out of the country on one of their vacations, I told Ruby, our live-in maid and the person who watched over us while our parents were away, that I was going to drive my dad’s car to school that day instead of taking the school bus. I hated taking the bus, because I had to walk about a half-mile to get to the bus stop.

Ruby told me that my dad had specifically mentioned to her that I was not to touch his car during his absence. I should have listened to her.

My dad’s car was as cool as a car could be back in those days. It was brand new, jet black, and the very first Chevrolet Camaro to roll off the assembly line in Detroit. It had a 396 cubic inch engine and was an SS RS model. It would go zero to sixty faster than anybody else’s car.

This car was really cool. It only had one problem – the trunk leaked. After every rain, there would be a little water in the trunk. My dad took it back to the Chevy dealer several times to get this fixed, but apparently they could never get it right. One day, my dad filled the trunk up with water from our garden hose, threw about a dozen goldfish into the water, then drove over to the dealership, opened the trunk and begged them to get it right this time. Everyone laughed heartily, but when he got the car back, it never leaked again. Until I drove it to school.

School was only about a five minute 1967 Camaro SS 396 drive away, and I arrived there with about three minutes to spare before I was required to be in my homeroom. I parked the car in the student parking lot and began walking toward the school building when I was accosted by Randy, a kid who I knew years before from Cub Scouts. He started screaming at me, calling me names and hollered, “Just because you’re rich and your Daddy bought you a nice car, I’m going to beat you up!!”

I had never been in a fight in my lifetime, and I certainly didn’t want to be in one now.  I told Randy it wasn’t may car, that I had stolen the car, which technically, I had done. He didn’t hear a word, and punched me in the stomach. Within a second, a crown gathered around us, shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

I was always a lover and not a fighter, and I had a lot of friends. One of these friends, a rather large teenager named Neil, came up behind Randy and put his arms around him. Clasping him in a bear hug and squeezing Randy until he couldn’t breathe, Neil calmly said, “Fight’s over, dude.”

I went to all my classes that day, but I was afraid to walk back to where I had parked my father’s car for fear of a repeat performance from Randy or any of his friends. I asked Neil to escort me to the car, and I offered to drive him home. When he saw the car, he was blown away. “Let’s hit it!” he yelled.

We got into the car and drove out of the student parking lot as quietly as possible. On the way to Neil’s house, however, I showed him what the car could do. I laid a bunch of rubber and squealed the tires and was showing off and hit a very large pothole and broke a shock absorber that held up one of the back tires.

With the car leaning somewhat to the passenger side, I drove Neil home and began the drive back to my house, contemplating how I was going to get this fixed so that my father would not know about it

There was a brand new muffler shop a few miles away, so I drove the Camaro there, and they told me they could fix it in less than an hour. They said that it would only cost $20. I couldn’t believe my good luck! I had $25 dollars in my wallet, and the car was as good as new within 45 minutes.

I drove off and headed for the local Macdonald’s hamburger restaurant. I had a good friend, Phil, who worked there three days a week after school. The twenty five dollars that I had in my wallet actually belonged to Phil. I was supposed to buy some smoking material from my little brother and then give it to Phil. I had to let Phil know that this was not going to be happening now. I stood in line, waiting my turn at the food window. Macdonald’s had windows back in 1967. The employees were all inside, and the customer ordered and ate outside back then. When it was my turn, I quickly and quietly told Phil what had happened to me that day. He told me to order some fries, which I didn’t want. He gave me an evil scowl, so I gave him a one dollar bill to pay for some fries, and he gave me change back as though I had given him a twenty. I lost track of Phil a year or two after that. I think he may have gone to jail.

So I got back the money I needed, and some hot and delicious French fries to boot!

The parking lot of this Macdonald’s was always full of hot-rods and souped-up cars. There were so many teenage car owners that the management of the Macdonald’s put up signs in the parking lot that said you can only park here if we can see that you are eating!

I wanted to be as cool as the hot-rodders, so upon leaving the parking lot and pulling back onto the main road, I squealed the tires as much as I could. The car went out of control, skidded way off to the right, and the back end of the car bounced off a large oak tree. These days, they don’t allow big oak tress anywhere near main roads. I drove down the road so that the hot-rodders wouldn’t see me, and pulled over to survey the damage. The passenger side of the trunk was smashed in. I knew the muffler shop couldn’t help me this time.

I drove the car over to the Chevrolet dealer where my father had purchased the car and told them to fix it. I told them Dad would be back in five days. They actually gave me a loaner car to drive while they were fixing my father’s car – a brand new Corvette Stingray! Boy were they dumb. But I swear, I drove that Stingray home, parked it in the garage, and never touched it again. They did a great job fixing the smashed Camaro, but the trunk started leaking again.

When my parents got home, I was severely punished. I was not allowed to see anyone, do anything, eat any food, watch any TV, listen to any radio or even leave my bedroom except to go to school. I was quite grounded for 30 days.

The punishment lasted two days and my father said to me, “Tommy, I was a kid just like you once, and I wouldn’t want you to change the way you are.”

I told my parents how Randy accosted me and they figured it was time I was removed from public school and sent to the same private school that my father had graduated from way back in 1929. So in the middle of the school year, I stopped going to public school and began private prep school. The entire school had less than 180 students, and consisted of grades one through 12. The average class had just 14 students.

There were no busses that would take me to the prep school, so my parents had to get me a car. I got a really cool blue 1965 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible. It had an AM radio, four on the floor, and no seatbelts. It was a chick magnet, and I enjoyed every minute of it. A year or so after I got it, I let my friend Doyle borrow it, and he rolled it over coming down a mountain  and totaled my car. I thought VWs were great, so my father bought me another one. This was my 1967, bright red, souped-up spark plugs, VW Beetle, and the best car I’ve ever owned. Since those days way back in the 1960’s, I’ve owned Camaros, Nissan Z cars, Mercedes Benzes, even a Lotus Europa. But that 1967 Beetle was the best and most fun car I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

So now I’m a big shot senior at private prep school, and I’m hanging out with all the “right” kind of kids. Kids with a lot of money, nice clothes, nice cars. Heck, there was no dedicated student parking lot at prep school – the faculty and the students all used the same small parking lot. Parked during school days were Mercedes, Jaguars, Ford Mustang convertibles and even a Ferrari. These all belonged to students.

In a class of just 13 seniors, we all knew each other very well. I think I knew everyone in the entire school. Even the kids in first grade were my friends. I had convinced the Headmaster that the seniors needed a private place where we could study, interact with each other, and maybe just relax. He agreed and told us we could use the space downstairs, underneath the small stage that was located in the schools auditorium cum lunch room cum basketball court.

When we weren’t in class, most of us seniors could be found in our Senior Lounge. It was rather dimly lit, and we liked it that way. We had a record player, and Simon and Garfunkel or Crosby Stills and Nash were always coming out of the speakers. Here is where I learned that girls really WERE different than boys, and I loved that. In the darkly lit small space, with cool music playing  softly in the background, I sweet-talked Susan and Mary Beth every chance I got.

One of my fellow seniors, Mark, had a father who owned what Mark called a “hunting lodge about 60 miles up the river.” A bunch of us seniors made plans to drive our cars up to the hunting lodge next Saturday. I wasn’t going up there to hunt, I was going up there to make out with Mary Beth. She was very pretty and a lot of fun. She was a year younger than me and she drank a lot. I just knew this was going to be a great weekend.

Only Mark knew how to find the lodge, so we formed a car caravan behind Mark’s car. Mark had some girl I didn’t know in his car. Mary Beth’s good friend was named Shelley, and my friend Phil, from Macdonald’s, was dating Shelley. So Phil drove the 60 miles up to the lodge with Shelley in his car. I drove with Mary Beth in my car. The drive took about two hours, but we all made it there and we were ready to party.

I had told my parents where I was going. They knew I would be gone until late Sunday afternoon. But they certainly didn’t know that Mary Beth was going, too. They thought that Mark, Phil and I were going to do some hunting! Shelley told her parents she was staying at Mary Beth’s house. And Mary Beth’s parents never cared where she was, so she never told them anything.

Upon arriving at the lodge, we all got out of our cars, and we were impressed by beautiful views. The lodge, a huge log cabin with three bedrooms, was surrounded by very tall pine trees. It was very romantic, and I couldn’t wait to take advantage of that.

Mark found the secret rock where he said they always kept the key to the door of the lodge. But there was no key under the rock. I told him that maybe he had the wrong rock, and the six of us turned over every rock within 100 feet of the lodge. We never found the key.

I suggested that we break a window and let ourselves in, but Mark wouldn’t allow it. He was a lot taller and heavier and stronger than me, so he won that argument. After spending at least another hour scouring everywhere looking for the key, any key, we came to the conclusion that we were simply not going to get into that hunting lodge. By now it was beginning to get cold and dark, and we were in the middle of nowhere. Mark was embarrassed and upset, so he and his girl simply said “we’re going home” and drove off, leaving the four of us there in the cold. There would be no making out up here, 60 miles from home.

So I came up with an idea.

If we drove the 60 miles back toward home, we’d come upon a very nice motor hotel just before we got to town. They had an indoor pool, a Jacuzzi, a restaurant and a lot of rooms. Phil, Shelley and Mary Beth thought this was a good idea, so we got into our cars and drove to the hotel, arriving about 9 o’clock PM. Everyone but me stayed in the cars, and I went inside the lobby and asked for one room with two beds. The clerk barely looked up at me, but handed me the keys to the room. Mary Beth’s father had given her a Gulf gas credit card to use when she needed to fill up her car, and on the back of the card it had some hotel logos, too. You could use this credit card to pay for a room at Holiday Inns and some other hotel chains, too, including this one. I used that card to pay for the room, and walked out of the lobby, about 10 feet tall, and back to my car. I showed Mary Beth the key, and we all piled into room 215.

Phil and Shelley hopped onto the bed near the window, and Mary Beth and I took the other bed. The four of us had a wonderful time at the motor inn that night, a real ball! I will never forget that night as long as I live.

Early the next morning, around 7 AM, we all awoke. We opened the huge curtain that covered the almost floor to ceiling windows that looked out over the Susquehanna River to the right. Looking left, you could plainly see the new Interstate cloverleaf that cars could take to exit the highway and come to this hotel.

I cried “HOLY COW Mary Beth! I think that’s your dad’s car coming up the cloverleaf!” Mary Beth’s father had a very unique car and you could spot it a mile away. He had a pearl white Cadillac El Dorado convertible that glistened when the sun hit it. There weren’t many of those cars in our town back in 1969, and we were sure it was her father was coming up the ramp.

Within a second we were positive it was her father, because right behind him was a jet black, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS RS 396. My father’s car. Boy was I going to be in a lot of trouble this time.

Within ten seconds of seeing my father’s car, Shelley and Phil got dressed, said good-bye and split, leaving us there. Within three minutes, there was a very gentle knock on the door. I opened the door, and there stood my father, along with Mary Beth’s father. Neither said one word. Mary Beth’s father came into the room, took her by the arm and escorted her out. My father came into the room and shut the door behind him. I thought he was going to kill me.

Instead, he said I needed to be much more careful when I did these sorts of things so that no one would know. He said my mother was at home crying, and that she wanted me punished, but good. He also embarrassed the daylights out of me, asking me if I used a condom, because, he said, I was way to young to give him any grandchildren. He then told me to follow him home.

I drove behind my father all the way home, because I didn’t want to get near my mother until my father was there to buffer me from her. She was still crying. So I got grounded again. No car except for school, no TV, no radio, no records, no phone calls. For 30 days I would be a prisoner in my own bedroom. This time it lasted a whole week.

Many years later, my beloved father told me how we Mary Beth and I were ratted out. When I used Mary Beth’s Gulf credit card to pay for the room, the clerk noticed that the card had Mary Beth’s father’s name on it. Unbeknownst to me or to Mary Beth, it turned out that Mary Beth’s father was one of the owners of this hotel, and at 6 AM the next morning when the hotel manager arrived, the night clerk mentioned that someone other than Mary Beth’s father had used his credit card to pay for a room. The manager promptly called Mary Beth’s father to alert him to this potential fraud. Mary Beth’s father, at 6 AM, looked into Mary Beth’s bedroom and saw that she was not there and put two and two together. He asked the clerk to describe the person who used the card, thinking it was his daughter. When he heard it was a “young man,” he knew right away that it was me, and he phoned my father.

I learned a couple of important life lesson from this adventure. I learned that one should always pay cash for everything, if possible. And I learned that I could have a lot more fun on a sleepover with a girl than I could with a boy.


1 comment:

  1. Great story! Kinda reminds me of "Ferris Beuler's Day Off. :0)