The group from Yorktown was shaping up quickly. Besides myself, Jeff, Lloyd, and Mike were all going to make the trip along with a few other Broadcaster and Episode staff members. In total we had almost fifteen people including Terry and a few mothers acting as chaperones. The trip was almost the all-consuming topic during the last few weeks at school. Our impending graduation was almost as exciting.
I decided to do a little bit of research on The Big Apple to see what kind of trouble we could get into. Mom’s AAA handbook for the state of New York was the font of information I needed and it didn’t take long to find the most important information I was interested in. I couldn’t wait to tell the guys.
I strolled into Newspaper class the next afternoon confident that the information I had to share was going to be the biggest news of the semester. The period was just about half over when I finally had time to break away from my editorial job and go talk to Lloyd. We shot the bull for a few minutes before I finally dropped the bomb on him.
“Guess what I found out. The drinking age in New York is eighteen,” I said in a manner most nonchalant.
Lloyd’s head tilted forward an inch or two, his eyes bulged, and his mouth dropped open as if he were trying to ask “What?”
I nodded in silence to confirm that he had heard me correctly.
“Waaa ha ha ha!” he erupted, drawing the attention of Terry and the rest of the class. I hid my face with my left hand and looked out the window into the hallway.
“What on earth has you so excited, Lloyd?” Terry asked.
“Oh, nothing! No, nothing at all,” Lloyd replied as he tried to force back a grin.
Terry shot us an I’m-not-so-sure-about-that look, the same one that we had seen dozens of time before. It wasn’t that we didn’t trust her. She knew we enjoyed tipping back a bottle or two at parties and wasn’t the only teacher who knew it.
Word spread fast at Yorktown High School. The first time I got my drunk on was earlier in the school year on Halloween night with the guys. We were watching The Warriors on TV while eating chili and drinking Miller High Life and TJ Swann wine. The food was good and the drink was going down smooth. The big joke of the night, other than me losing my drinking virginity, as it were, was that I had to take the SAT the next morning at Muncie Central High School. Monday morning at school I was walking through the halls on my way to my first period class when I walked past my Calculus teacher, Mr. Kammerer. I bade him good morning before noticing the devilish grin on his face.
“So, I hear you had a good time Friday night,” he informed me. “How’d you do on your SAT Saturday?” His demeanor left me wondering if I should be frightened or amused until the grin returned to his face.
“Uhhhh, yeahhh, it was fun. I think I did okay on the test,” I told him. “Thanks for asking.” I continued on to my Physics class wondering how in the hell he found out. As it turned out he wasn’t the only one who knew as at least half of my classmates asked me about my good time. It seemed that the entire school knew by the time I reached Mr. Kammerer’s second period class. Welcome to life at Yorktown High.
Oh, and the SAT test? I did better on that test than on the first one I took. Word of that spread like wildfire as well. Several kids wanted to know what the magic combination was so that they might try the same.
Lloyd and I weren’t concerned with Terry knowing about the drinking age. She would have eventually learned that on her own. We held the tidbit back so as to not give her ulcers the last few weeks of school. She could get them during the trip and then we wouldn’t have to hear about it the rest of the summer. Terry’s teaching of critical thinking was too good for her own good.
Lloyd and I did share the news about the drinking age with Jeff. He let loose with his characteristic laughter. Few things at school brought a smile to my face like hearing that laugh. We all discussed the possibilities. One of the guys mentioned that their dad had a Playboy Club key and thought he could get a hold of it. I calculated the approximate age of Miss December 1971 Karen Christy and wondered if she might be found there at the club. I shook my head to get that long shot chance out of my brain.
We spent the last weeks at school cooking up ideas on what to do with our free time in New York. Terry caught wind of what we were up to and tried her best to rein us in. We loved Oz to death and would have done anything for her but it was about to get real. No matter what the responsible adults had in mind, one thing was certain. This trip was going to be epic.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We were several hours into the trip from Indianapolis to New York City and I was still wide awake. The whispers and giggles that could be heard told me that I wasn’t alone in my insomnia, but with every check of my watch there were fewer and fewer voices to be heard. With no one to talk to, I found myself alone with my thoughts. My mind lingered on the edge of falling asleep, allowing it to sift through memories in a dreamlike state.
Most of the memories were great ones: Kindergarten teacher and first love of my life, Mrs. Bauer; my first bike; JAA baseball championships; countless sleepovers; football and basketball games; the Blizzard of ’78; our “Go to Hell” hats; the chaos that was our graduation ceremony; all of the crushes I had.
Not all of the memories were good though: the Lucys at Yorktown Elementary who treated me like Charlie Brown; my baseball days coming to an end; lost friendships; four years of wearing a back brace; being too late to ask my biggest crush ever to the prom.
I checked my watch again and groaned at the time. We were just a few hours from reaching New York. I gave up on falling asleep and decided to just stay awake for the remainder of the trip.
Naturally, I was soon out like a light.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The sounds of chattering voices and laughter filled the bus as I woke up. When I opened my eyes to the bright light of the new day I found myself face-to-face with Mayor McCheese, whose visage was plastered on the side of a semi-trailer along with Hamburglar and Grimace. I peeled my forehead from the bus window, removed my glasses, and rubbed the sleep from my eyes.
“Well, good morning! Welcome back to the land of the living!”
I looked to my right to see what vile creature dared try to ruin the start of my day. It was the kid seated next to me. His exuberance had been like fingernails on a chalkboard at the start of our trip and was doubly so at the moment.
“Good morning,” I croaked through the cotton mouth. I put my glasses back on and looked back into the black pupils of the giant anthropomorphic cheeseburger. Realizing we were at a dead stop, I asked my neighbor, “Where are we?”
“New Jersey,” he answered. “We’re almost there!”
That jolted me awake. I scanned the area looking for the New York City skyline, looking out both sides of the bus.
Sensing what I was looking for, my neighbor told me, “If you’re looking for the city you’re too late. We’re getting close to the tunnel now. Isn’t this exciting?” He was shaking with giddiness. I rolled my eyes and looked to Mayor McCheese for company.
“Hey, Studebaker! You finally awake back there?” came the bellowing voice of Jeff. He and my other “friends” abandoned me by sitting several rows towards the front of the bus, leaving me to sit next to this ball of energy.
“Yeah, I’m awake,” I groaned.
“What was that?” Jeff shouted. “We couldn’t hear you!”
“YES! I! AM! AWAKE!” I gently responded. Jeff roared with laughter. Ordinarily I would have enjoyed hearing Jeff’s infectious laugh, but wanted none of it this morning. Making matters worse was that everyone else found his laughter infectious as well. Even Mayor McCheese appeared to be laughing. I shook my head while giving the good mayor the finger and consigned myself to being the butt of the joke.
Thank the Maker the laughter at my expense was short-lived as the bus suddenly lurched forward to a chorus of cheers. We were finally on the move and soon entered the tunnel leading into Manhattan.