The problem for Tony was, as usual, money. Not only was he still an undergraduate at 22, but he had only declared his major in Elementary Education the year before and so was unlikely to graduate before 1986. He had found himself attending one college after another as he moved from city to city in pursuit of romance, but about a year and a half ago he had finally found the woman of his dreams. When he had introduced himself to his current girlfriend at Wanda June’s, an upscale Homewood, Alabama night spot, she had extended her hand and said, “Jean Tierney, just like the movie star; no known relation,” and while he had found her endearing from the start with her generous smile, hips and bust line, he had grown more enamored with her with each encounter.
They had both been living in Birmingham, Alabama when they met, but first Jean had moved to West Hartford, Connecticut because of a job offer and then Tony had moved just north of D.C., to Silver Spring, Maryland, so he could live rent free with his parents while he attended the University of Maryland at College Park. Jean was slightly older, had been in the working world since earning her Associates Degree at the tender age of nineteen, was beautiful, athletic, and- so far anyway- had proven time and again that she was willing to put up with Tony’s immature, drifting through life, contrarian but humorous nonsense.
Tony drove his dad’s big, red, Oldsmobile Delta 88 east on U.S. 40, although he thought of it as north. In the back seat were his brother, John Kneel and John’s girlfriend Gerri Marginski. Gerri had been moaning and complaining for at least half an hour and her complaining was obviously starting to annoy John. Tony’s propensity toward saving nickels and dimes was partially the cause of the soft weeping and periodic whispering emanating from the back seat of the car.
“I need my ski pants,” Gerri whined again, greatly elongating the word skiiiiii so that it sounded as though it should be spelled with an additional dozen of the letter “i.”
John, Tony’s older brother, repeated firmly for what seemed the millionth time, “We can’t go back for you ski pants. We’ve already driven almost two hours north and turning around to get your ski pants would add well over four more hours to the trip.”
Tony drove without commenting. He surely did not want to turn around and head back to D.C. to retrieve Gerri’s forgotten skiiiiii pants but was feeling a little guilty. Part of the guilt was ingrained social conditioning; a young woman was in distress and he was the selfish bastard who refused to inconvenience himself and his brother in the name of the Chivalrous reuniting of the damsel with her needed accoutrement, but the other part was because Tony knew he could have driven up the Toll Roads and saved time at the expense of money. To Tony, using U.S. Highways to get to Hartford was well worth adding an extra hour to the six hour drive, but as he had not asked John nor Gerri their opinions on the matter he was now feeling a bit guilty. He had taken U.S. 29 to 40 and after crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge he planned to hop on I 295 to U.S. 130 and then on to U.S. 1 and then head up the Garden State Parkway to the Saw Mill Parkway, and then finish up on I 84, all this in order to save about $5.75 in tolls. At his pay rate the dollars to time ratio made sense as Tony knew he would need to spend some of his scarce and precious cash on Jean over the long weekend.
They were just north of Havre De Grace and the Delaware border was maybe 45 minutes in front of them. Tony had driven north to West Hartford half-a-dozen times in the last year, augmenting his monthly trek north by alternately using AMTRAK with borrowing his folks’ car when they would let him utilize it. John had a pickup truck and Gerri a little blue Pontiac hatchback but neither of those vehicles would have worked very well for the trip to West Hartford, especially when Jean would be an additional passenger to the Sundown Ski Resort.
In the past year Tony had tried various alterations on his route and had, through trial and error, discovered the cheapest if by no means the fastest route to Jean’s condo. There was even a gas station in Bordentown where 295 segued into 130 where Tony usually stopped for gas. He had everything planned out for minimal cost at the expense of efficiency.
Tony popped Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance” eight track tape out of the in dash player and inserted The Doors “Greatest Hits.” The eight tracks had been a gift from his oldest brother Michael after Mike had trudged to lot 10 at UMCP late one Thursday night only to find himself without the primo 1967 Ford Mustang he had purchased used two years earlier. Their father, Carl, had warned Mike to not drive it to school but one day he just couldn’t resist. The car had been stolen the very same day. When Mike found that he had eight tracks but no player at home he had generously given them to Tony who enjoyed listening to them on the long drive back and forth from Maryland to Connecticut. As the miles ticked by and the music filled the car Gerri’s whining became less frequent and less fervent. U.S. 40 merged onto I 95 in anticipation of the toll bridge into Delaware and Gerri asked, “Where are we?”
“We’re just about to go over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and after that we’ll be in New Jersey,” Tony replied.
John said, “We’re gonna’ get on the turnpike in New Jersey?”
“Uh, uh. We’ll take 295 north a while. They’re both 55 mile an hour roads but 295 doesn’t have any tolls.” What Tony said was true, but at the same time completely deceitful. He had driven on both 295 and the turnpike well over a dozen times in the last five years in his travels up and down the Northeast Corridor and he knew that the speed limit was more of a suggestion on the turnpike while on 295 he had seen someone get pulled over for going 58 in a 55 mile per hour zone the previous fourth of July. The speed limits were the same but the actual rate of speed varied dramatically. “Plus there’s a place I like to get gas on 295. We can switch drivers there.”
“Okay, I can drive from there,” John answered. “How much farther?”
“Gas station’s gotta’ be at least another hour and a half from here. Why don’t you take a nap and we’ll switch then.” Tony stopped at the Bordentown Shell gas station on Farnsworth Avenue most trips. Once when he had handed the attendant $30.00 for $25.00 worth of gas the guy had given him back $15.00 in change. Tony had almost said something to him but decided to keep his mouth shut and pocketed the extra ten. Sometimes he wondered if he went back to the same filling station out of a sense of obligation for having taken the guys ten bucks or if he hoped they might make the same mistake and he could get lucky twice. Tony wasn’t sure which reason was the actual answer but he decided he liked the idea of his going back out of obligation better than looking to again take advantage of the attendant’s poor math skills.
“I’m hungry,” Gerri whined to John.
“There’s a place to eat right by the gas station. We’ll be there a little after twelve and we can eat then,” Tony informed them.
John said in a baby talk voice, “Will that work for you sweetie-pie, lamb-chop, honey-bunny?”
“I guess. But I need my ski pants.”
Tony rolled his eyes but then looked back at Gerri using the rear view mirror, “I bet Jean knows someone with ski pants. Her sister Marla lives about twenty minutes from Jean and Julie’s town house and she’s a big skier; I bet we can get you hooked up.”
“But I want myyyyy ski pants!” was the mournful response.
“We’ll get it worked out baby-cakes, don’t worry,” was John’s answer to her insipid insistence. He looked at Tony by using the rear view mirror and said, “This is gonna’ be your first time skiing, right?”
“Yeah. Jean has been bugging me to ski since I met her. First she wanted me to try water skiing down in Birmingham and now snow skiing up in Connecticut. Her dad used to be a gym teacher at Lincoln high school in Yonkers and he brought her up to be a big jock.”
“Yeah, I remember her telling me something like that. Didn’t she say she was one of six girls and her dad insisted that him and her mom keep trying until they had a son?”
“That’s about right. Joe really wanted a boy and Jean is the fifth of six girls. I bet he would have coerced Marie into having even more kids but the doctor said the sixth was it or there could be big health troubles for her mom.”
Gerri said, “I have seven siblings; three brothers and four sisters. Big families are kind of cool but they do create problems, too.”
“Yeah,” John said, “and one of the problems is noise. Why don’t you two pipe down so I can catch a little sleep before lunch?”
“Fine. I could use a little more sleep myself. Will you be okay, Tony?” she asked.
“Me? I’ll be fine. I’m not the one who was up late last night partying; that was you guys.”
“Late? We weren’t up late. What time did we get back to your place, Gerr?”
“We were in bed by two so it had to be a little after 1:30. Hey, speaking of which, who’s sleeping where at Jean’s?”
Tony said, “Well it’s only a two bedroom so I think that means that you guys get the hide a bed couch in the living room.”
Gerri pouted, “That isn’t fair. Why do they get to sleep in a bedroom together and we don’t?”
“Oh for crying out loud! Leave me out of this and let me get some sleep here!” was John’s quick response. John stretched across the long backseat of the 88 with his head in the far upper right section of the compartment and his feet in the far lower left and closed his eyes as Gerri stuck her tongue out at him, sighed, and then snuggled into his side and used his shoulder for a pillow. Tony continued to drive northward with the music from the eight track tapes providing gentle distraction for the long drive.