An Incredible Journey
A simple favour turned into a trip this 18-year-old would not soon forget
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.
DODGING THE LAW
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.
END OF THE LINE
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