Earlier this week on a late-night walk, I was overcome by a strange feeling.
It wasn't exactly deja vu, but something eerily familiar from my past hung in the air.
I stopped and looked around, and then it hit me - on a night like this, almost exactly 45 years ago, I left home.
I'd been away from home before, but had always gone to some place with friends, structure and security. This time I was pretty much on my own, except I'd be riding to Washington, D.C. with one of my high school classmates, Bruce McNamara.
We were going in style in his '48 Willy's Jeepster - a classic '60s teen's first car. Bruce had bought it from Hugh Sutphen for the lordly sum of $150, and it was in good shape, especially considering it had more mileage on it than Jerry Lee Lewis.
The Jeepster had only one major quirk: The starter was kaput. This was no hassle as long as the car was running, but once it was stopped and turned off, a problem presented itself, namely how to get it up and running again. Actually, the solution was to get it down and running. Bruce always parked it facing downhill, so when he'd get back in, he only had to depress the clutch, turn on the ignition, and take off the E-brake. Then gravity'd take over and the car would essentially jump-start itself.
For reasons that seemed to make sense at the time but that completely elude me now, Bruce decided to set off from Our Home Town at night. I guess it had to do with traffic flow - by leaving when we did, we avoided potential midnight gridlock in such megalopoli as Chestertown, Pottersville and Glens Falls, and could thus arrive in the middle of the D.C. rush hour which we did.
On the Beltway and in the arms of Morpheus
D.C. rush hour would've been bad enough by itself, but Bruce had upped the ante: He refused to let me share the driving. So by the time we hit the Beltway, he looked like the world's only living brain donor. His mouth hung open; his eyelids were half shut, and his eyes stared straight ahead into the middle distance. His hands clutched the wheel with a grip that would've done Fritz Von Erich proud.
I looked at his chest and I noticed his breathing - it was soft, light and regular.
And then I put it all together - he was sound asleep at 60 mph.
"Yiiii-heeee!" I screamed.
In one quick jerk his head snapped up and he jammed the brake pedal.
The tires squealed, the brakes shrieked, the car shook like a Chihuahua pooping peach pits.
Some good citizen who'd been tailgating us hammered his horn and flashed the Hawaiian peace sign as he flew by.
"Whew," said Bruce.
"Ugh, ugh, ugh," I gasped, my pulse pounding in my ears.
At that point we were juiced on enough adrenalin to power the entire Sixth Fleet, and we stayed that way to the boarding house where Bruce was staying. However, once we got inside the door, my energy fled like a thief in the night and all I wanted to do was sleep. But that was easier said than done.
I'd planned on spending a day or two in D.C. before I hitch-hiked out to All Points South, but the landlady said she only rented by the month.
"How much?" I asked her.
"Thirty dollars," she said.
I did the only thing I could - I took out my wallet and handed her three sawbucks. What the heck, the house was spotless and well furnished; the Nation's Capital was right at my doorstep, and I was so roached out I would've paid 30 bucks for a night's lodging, let alone a month's.
I slung my duffel bag over my shoulder and went upstairs to my room, where without removing my shoes, I dropped on the bed, unconscious before my head hit the pillow.
Twenty-three hours later, I woke up. The sun was streaming in the window, the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee filled the air. I looked outside at a bright blue sky, dotted with a few picture-book-puffy clouds.
It was a day full of promise, and I immediately made one to myself: I swore I would never ride overnight in anything but a Greyhound bus.
It an easy promise to makeand an even easier one to keep.