Adventures in Elizabeth City
One of the advantages of being an older baby boomer is that your mind can easily wander back to days of your youth and every detail of those experiences can be seen as clearly as if you were still that age.
I spent seven years of my life in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
Elizabeth City is a great place; it sort of is like the mythical “Brigadoon,” The city that only appears every 20 years and only for 24 hours.
Nothing every changes in Brigadoon, and nothing changes in Elizabeth City.
The seven years I spent there was almost like a lifetime.
I was honored to be named man of the year; I ran for political office and lost because I insisted that the local pool be opened again. The pool had been closed because African Americans wanted to use it to. I bought my first house and I belonged to the greatest volunteer organization of its day, the Jaycees.
Elizabeth City is located on the coast of North Carolina, about forty miles from Norfolk, Virginia and about 40 miles from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is situated on the beautiful Albemarle Sound, whose water the color of cola as result of the cedar trees growing on its banks.
About eight years ago I visited Elizabeth City for the first time in over 30 years. As I walked down the street people stopped and talked to me as if I had never been gone; like I said, nothing changes in Elizabeth City.
I had a lot of interesting adventures in Elizabeth City; one of them involved my friend Ed, a fellow Jaycee.
Ed was the type of guy whom could pick up a handful of sand, and in a little while he could convince you that he was holding a handful of gold.
It seems to me to have a talent like that would help make you become one of the most successful people in the world.
But people such as Ed, who have this magnificent power of persuasion, never can seem to channel that talent into an honest living.
I was the circulation manager of the Daily Advance in Elizabeth City at the time I knew Ed, and I knew he had gone through a series of jobs, but I always thought he would be a great salesperson.
So I convinced the grizzled old advertising manager of the paper at that time to take Ed on.
He spent hours telling me that people like Ed would never be a success, but I prevailed by going over his head to the publisher.
I think Ed lasted about a month, and during that time we lost a few loyal advertisers, and I think some collections came up short.
Ed was unceremoniously dumped, and my already shaky relations with the advertising director became even shakier.
Ed didn’t care. He just caught on with the next person who thought that they could harness that magnificent talent.
One particular fall Monday morning, I was looking through the Associated Press wire stories when I read that a local man was arrested for robbing a gas station in Raleigh over that weekend. Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and is a three-hour drive from Elizabeth City.
As I read farther, I saw Ed’s name. I was in total shock.
I raced a couple blocks over to tell the boys at the Colonial Restaurant coffee klatch what I had read. Every day a group of us met religiously for coffee and solved all of the world problems.
Everyone was in shock. Why would he do that?
As the chatter got louder, in walked Ed; the same cocky Ed as always. He assured us that he was not guilty. It was all a big mistake, a case of mistaken identity.
So of course we all believed him. After all, he was one of us.
Ed told us he had a court case in two weeks and he needed some great character witnesses to testify for him, so sure, we would do this for our friend.
We were pumped. We believed our friend had been wronged, and more importantly, we were going to go on a road trip.
During the next two weeks, Ed acted as if he had no worries as we did our usual Jaycee stuff, such as selling jelly and candy and running a Halloween carnival, and of course spending every night at the local Holiday Inn bar talking about our daily accomplishments.
So the afternoon before Ed’s big day in court, eight of us loaded in to our friend Brantley’s big van. As we headed up the road, we stopped at the local grocery store and loaded up on beer and ice.
After all, it was a long drive. And off we went to save Ed.
That night, we toured Raleigh nightspots and practiced our disco steps.
By the next morning, nobody was ready to go help Ed.
In fact, some of us didn’t even care if he was guilty or not, but we rallied, and soon were swarming all over the courthouse in Raleigh.
We had a mission. We were there to save our friend.
By the time Ed’s turn came up, it was 4 in the afternoon and the judge postponed his trial until 8 a.m. the next morning. So we waved to Ed, who was staying with his family, and off we went to another night of seeing the historic spots in Raleigh.
The next morning came soon enough and we were at the courthouse bright and early at 8 a.m. sharp waiting for Ed to get his day in court.
The prosecution started, and by noon, when the judge took a lunch break, we all thought Ed was guilty.
But Ed was our friend, and we were behind him.
The problem was no one wanted to perjure themselves by praising Ed’s character, so we started flipping coins to find out who was going to take the stand when we came back from lunch.
In those days there was nothing to do in Raleigh at lunch time, so we hung around the courthouse. It was so boring, some of us even went into the law library and read. Our friend Froggy was reading, and lo and behold he hops up and shouts that he had found something and took off looking for Ed’s lawyer.
When we entered the courtroom, Ed’s lawyer was holding the law book that Froggy had been reading.
Soon he asked to speak to the judge. The judge read the book, called the prosecution lawyer up, and soon Ed’s lawyer was smiling and the prosecution lawyer looked gloomy.
The judge then announced that the case against Ed was dismissed.
We all were in shock again, but soon we were so excited we hugged Froggy, we hugged Ed, we hugged his family, we hugged his lawyer, and we would have hugged the judge, but he was gone.
I can’t remember what it was that Froggy found, but he was our new hero, at least for the next week or so.
The truth of the matter was that we all thought Ed was guilty as sin and we spent the next couple of years trying to figure out what he did with the money.
Ed, well, he still stayed a good Jaycee, always looking for his next job.