An In­cred­i­ble Jour­ney

A sim­ple favour turned into a trip this 18-year-old would not soon for­get

Our Canada - - Features - by Paul Cle­land, West Kelowna, B. C.

Mem­o­ries of a solo bus trip to the U.S. at age 18 are in­deli­bly etched in this con­trib­u­tor’s mind.

In the sum­mer of 1955, my sis­ter Mary got mar­ried in Toronto. She and Jim left on their hon­ey­moon to the United States, where their trip was to be­come a frus­trat­ing one for them and, in­ter­est­ingly enough, would lead to an in­cred­i­ble one for me. They ar­rived safely at our grand­mother’s home in Mary­land and en­joyed a won­der­ful visit. Head­ing to nearby Elk­ton on the next phase of their trip, how­ever, their 1950 Ford de­cided it’d had enough, and laid down and died! The car needed ma­jor re­pairs and would have to be left be­hind. They de­cided to con­tinue their trip and would come back at a later date to pick it up.

En­ter me. It was now Novem­ber and they got the call that the car was ready. The prob­lem was Jim had no va­ca­tion days left and couldn’t get off work to re­trieve the way­ward Ford. I was al­ways game for an ad­ven­ture so agreed to take the bus to Elk­ton and drive his car back to Toronto. Jim sent me money for bus fare, meals and the re­pair costs. In­cluded was a note ex­plain­ing the pur­pose of my trip in case cus­toms should need it, and au­tho­riz­ing the garage to turn the car over to me. Noth­ing to it.

I caught a Grey­hound bus headed for Buf­falo, where I was to trans­fer to an­other bus to Philadel­phia and an­other from there to Elk­ton. The trans­fer sched­ule in Buf­falo was a tight one: those of us who had to switch to an­other bus were very ner­vous about the long cus­toms line. Soon, how­ever, a cus­toms in­spec­tor came on board and started his in­ter­views down the aisle, ar­riv­ing at my seat fairly quickly.

At 18, this was my first solo trip across the bor­der and I wasn’t sure what the process was, but judg­ing by the speed with which the in­spec­tor was ap­prov­ing ev­ery­one ahead of me, I thought it would go smoothly. “Where are you go­ing?” “To Elk­ton sir.” “Why?” “To pick up my brother- in­law’s car.” “Why?” “It broke down and needed re­pairs and I’m pick­ing it up. I’ve got this note here from him.”

“Okay, you bet­ter go inside and ex­plain your story to the of­fi­cer in there.”

The other pas­sen­gers groaned as the bus pulled out of the line and over to a stall to await my pro­cess­ing and I ner­vously de­parted the bus to their au­di­ble mut­ter­ings! I headed inside and anx­iously waited my turn with the of­fi­cer. Fol­low­ing more ques­tions and ex­pla­na­tions, I was fi­nally al­lowed to re­board the bus.

Sure enough, ar­riv­ing in Buf­falo, we dis­cov­ered that we’d all missed our con­nec­tions and there was a dash to the ticket wick­ets. I fi­nally made it to the front of the line and dis­cov­ered there was a bus leav­ing in one hour for Syra­cuse. There, I would switch to an­other go­ing to Philadel­phia.


I took a seat next to a nice-looking young lady in a nurse’s uni­form. Be­fore long we were deeply en­grossed in con­ver­sa­tion, re­veal­ing all the ba­sic de­tails of our lives. I was 18, un­mar­ried, dat­ing, work­ing at my first full­time job, a Bap­tist and head­ing south to re­trieve my brother-in­law’s car. She was 22, a nurse, di­vorced, no chil­dren, liv­ing in Batavia and head­ing home for the week­end. “Ever been to Batavia?” “No.” “Why don’t you get off the bus

with me? I’ll make you din­ner and you can catch a bus in the morn­ing to Syra­cuse.”

“Oh, gosh, I couldn’t do that. I have to get to Mary­land in the morn­ing and then to my grand­mother’s and then back home to Toronto, all by Sun­day night.”

“Oh, come on. You’ll still have lots of time to do all that. It’ll be fun.”

“No, no, that’s okay, but thanks any­way. Bye.”

As she was head­ing down the aisle, she turned back and, in a voice loud enough for the whole darn bus to hear, she sug­gested that there was still plenty of time to change my mind for a fun evening.

For­tu­nately, it was dark enough to hide my red face. How­ever, an el­derly cou­ple seated in front of me turned around and con­grat­u­lated me, “Good for you son. You did the right thing. You can get into a lot of trou­ble th­ese days if you’re not care­ful!” “Thank you ma’am,” I said. Soon, an­other young lady came over and asked if she could sit down. I smiled cau­tiously and said sure and slid over to the win­dow seat.

“I couldn’t help but hear your con­ver­sa­tion with that nurse. I had my fin­gers crossed that you would make the right de­ci­sion and you did. I’m proud of you.”

“Well, thank you. I know it was the right de­ci­sion.”

The rest of the ride to Syra­cuse was filled with more per­sonal trivia on both sides. She was 24, sin­gle, lived in Buf­falo and was head­ing to her par­ent’s home in Syra­cuse to house-sit for the week.

We fi­nally reached the city. I sus­pect that this girl must have suf­fered from a se­vere case of mem­ory loss as she asked, “Why don’t you have din­ner with me tonight? You can catch an early bus to Philadel­phia in the morn­ing and you’ll get in just a lit­tle later than you planned.”

I was flab­ber­gasted and wres­tled with my re­sponse. At that mo­ment, my girl­friend Bar­bara’s face loomed in front of me and I quickly de­clined the of­fer. She smiled, wished me a good trip and dis­ap­peared into the crowd, leav­ing me some­what stunned but feel­ing cu­ri­ously elated.

Once again, my se­nior friends praised my de­ci­sion and said they were also go­ing to Philadel­phia and re­al­ized they were go­ing to have to keep watch over me to pro­tect me from th­ese shame­less Amer­i­can girls.


I switched to my next bus, found a seat near the back and tried to sleep. The el­derly cou­ple took the seat in front of mine. I felt safe and se­cure. Sud­denly, I was awak­ened by the ur­gent nudg­ing of a young man ask­ing would I mind if he sat in the empty win­dow seat be­side me. I let him in and he im­me­di­ately slid down and tried to hide him­self in the leg area in front of his seat. As I watched in stunned si­lence, he threw his jacket over his head. He whis­pered that I shouldn’t look down at him. At that point, two mil­i­tary po­lice boarded and started check­ing ev­ery­one out. They got to my row; “Who’s that?” was the gruff ques­tion.

“I don’t know,” was my ner­vous re­ply.

I was roughly pulled out of my seat and they tore the jacket away from the guy’s head. A strug­gle en­sued and they hauled him off the bus. The MPS got their man.

I was be­gin­ning to won­der if I was just dream­ing all this weird stuff.


In Philadel­phia, my “guardian an­gels” said farewell and wished me safe speed on the bal­ance of my trip and I boarded the bus for Elk­ton. The garage owner picked me up and we went back to his shop, where it turned out I owed $250 more than the orig­i­nal es­ti­mate! What to do? What any young man in such a predica­ment would do—call Mom! She fig­ured Jim was go­ing to have to wire me the ex­tra money and she would call him and have him call the me­chanic to work out the de­tails. I was fi­nally on my way but was now five hours late—i was sup­posed to be at my grand­mother’s by now. She would be hold­ing din­ner for me...i hoped. I was so anx­ious to get on my way, I never called to say I’d be late, I just showed up. Well, after the hugs and kisses came the lec­ture.

“Didn’t you think I’d be wor­ried? You could be dead or in hospi­tal or lost! I was very up­set. Now, sit down and eat.” Then, she added with that sweet smile of hers, “I’m glad you’re safe and so happy you’re here, Paul.” We had a won­der­ful evening rem­i­nisc­ing, then off to bed for a well-de­served, rest­ful sleep. The drive home was to­tally un­event­ful, but that fan­tas­tic teenage ex­pe­ri­ence is in­deli­bly etched in my mem­ory. n

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