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Have you ever looked back on your life and just shook your head as you remember something you did that was totally irresponsible? Probably, if your youth was as reckless as mine.

I have plenty of times that were minor slipups, but one really stands out. I was 19 and home from college for the summer. It was mid-May. I had a summer job at the refinery where my dad worked, but it didn't start until June 1. I had two weeks to do nothing.

It was a Sunday afternoon when my mother walked out to the screened-in back porch where I was stretched out reading some trashy novel and said, "Richard, I've been talking to Aunt Pearl, and she has invited you to visit her in Long Beach for a week."

"California?"

I was surprised. Aunt Pearl was not my aunt, but a good friend of the family. I figured my mother had called her and wrangled an invitation just to get me out of the house.

Of course, I was more than ready to go. I liked being home in Norphlet for the summer, but let's face it, Norphlet wasn't very exciting to a home-from-college guy.

"Yeah, when do I leave?"

"I thought you might want to go, so I went to the Greyhound bus station in El Dorado and bought you a ticket. We'll put you on the bus at 7 a.m. tomorrow, but you will have to buy another ticket in Dallas. A Greyhound agent told me he would call Dallas and have them hold a ticket to Long Beach for you."

I was on my feet in seconds, and in a few minutes had my college suitcase stuffed. Aunt Pearl would meet the bus in Long Beach. My only responsibility was to buy a ticket in Dallas and get on the right bus.

Before I knew it, I was boarding the Greyhound bus in El Dorado. The trip to Dallas went quickly, and soon I was wandering around the Dallas bus station, heading toward the ticket window, when a guy walked up and started talking to me.

"Where you headin'?"

"Uh, California."

"Really, that's where I'm going," he replied.

Then he said, "I'm driving, and I'm looking for a couple of guys to buy gasoline and ride out there with me."

I was interested, since I had hitchhiked back and forth from college, but riding all the way to California with someone I had just met had me shaking my head no. But he continued.

"I have one guy that's going to ride with me, and if you go, we can leave in the next few minutes. Shoot, you'll save $30 on your ticket."

I was tempted, but still wasn't sure the guy was legit. Then he waved at another guy in a sailor's uniform. He would be riding to Long Beach with us.

"Yeah, I've been on furlough here in Dallas, and I've got to report back next week in California," the sailor said.

Heck, I figured the two of us could take care of anything the driver might try, so I signed on, and we headed for his car.

We drove across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, only stopping for gasoline, and got to know each other. We were about the same age and were into the same music. It was turning out to be a great trip.

I guess it never crossed my mind that Aunt Pearl would be at the bus station waiting for me when the Dallas bus arrived. But this was a great adventure, and it started getting better when one of the guys said, "Hey, we'll be 50 miles from Las Vegas when we come to that next intersection. Why don't we take a break? Shoot, we can just spend a couple of hours in one of the casinos and get something to eat."

Yeah, that sounded like fun, so off we went. It was late when we arrived, but Las Vegas was wide open, so we parked and headed for one of the biggest light displays I had ever seen. It did have a sign that said "21 and older," but I'm tall, and we walked in without a problem.

Staying a couple of hours turned into nearly five, and after we had lost most of our money, we headed for California.

It was almost noon when we managed to find the address I had for Aunt Pearl, and I realized I was a very late in arriving--about eight hours late, and I hadn't arrived on the bus. But I figured she would just smile and welcome me.

We pulled up to the curb, and I started up the sidewalk to the front door. The door burst open and Aunt Pearl ran toward me, yelling about lost, or dead, or kidnapped, and, as I found out later, the Texas State Police were looking for me, but thank God, I was OK. Steely-eyed, she looked at me, shaking her head, and I knew what I had done was really irresponsible.

After everybody calmed down and told the Texas State Police to stop looking for me, Aunt Pearl called my mother, who yelled into the phone loud enough for me to hear her.

But the week in Long Beach was a lot of fun. Aunt Pearl's daughter Patsy Lee showed me around southern California, and one thing sticks in my mind. At an amusement park along the beach, we walked by one of the booths.

I looked at the game, which was using what as a young boy I called a bean-shooter. It's a forked limb with two strips of rubber and a pouch for a rock. I had one in my back pocket for years. The game was to break three plates with three shots. The plates were 15 feet away, and a few years back, I could hit a sparrow from at least twice that far.

"Want a big furry dog?" I asked Patsy Lee.

"Richard, don't waste your money. That's a lot harder than it looks ... but yeah, that big pink one would look great in my room."

"Young man, step right up! Only 25 cents. Break three plates and get your pick," said the man running the booth.

"OK, here's my quarter."

"Here's your slingshot and three shots .... Here, let me show you how to shoot it."

"That's OK. I think I know."

Shooting a bean-shooter is like riding a bicycle. Once you have mastered it, you don't forget. It was zip, zip, zip, and three plates were shattered.

"We'll take that big pink one," I said. I looked at Patsy Lee and said, "Want another one?" I started to dig out a quarter, when the man grumbled, "Only one to a customer."

Then, as we walked off, I heard him mutter, "Damn Southern hick!"

Email Richard Mason at richard@gibraltarenergy.com.

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