Jumat, 16 Maret 2012

Dime Toll – Portsmouth Bridge

My Uncle Russ grew in Portland, Maine. That Maine city's only excitement in 1940 was watching sailors fight East Yard workers in the harbor dives and this show grew old fast after a Portugee fisherman picked a brawl with Russ' friends. The old salt wanted blood. The teenagers ran for their lives and caught the trolley to the quiet safety of their homes.Adventure in Portland was deemed off-bounds. It was too close to home, but one weekend Russ' friends planned an excursion to Boston’s Sculley Square. The Old Howard Theater offered a closest taste of the wicked unavailable to anyone living north of the Charles River. “Always Somethin’ Doing’ was its motto.Russ’ friend borrowed his father’s Studebaker Champion on the pretext of an excursion to Sebago Lake.“I'll be back by 9.”Keys in hand the friend pointed the car south and drove the 100 miles to Boston. The teenagers spent the afternoon touring Scollay Square's various attractions. One boy hocked a gold ring at Simpson’s Loan to finance their adventures; haircuts at Tony Ruggiere’s Barber Shop, lunch at Waldorf’s Cafeteria, pinball at the Amusement Center, hot dogs at Joe and Nemos, and then they attempted to enter the Old Howard.They were 16. The manager considered anyone with money enough to pay for their tickets. The usher sat them in the darkness of the back row. Only bald men sat in the front row.Uncle Russ had never spoken about the show, however the afternoon had become evening and they ran to the car.Portland was a four-hour ride. The boys jumped into the car and the friend stomped on the accelerator. Traffic over the Old Charles Bridge was light. This Studebaker passed every car on Route 1. This was a race against the clock.80 mph through the hilly straight-aways of Topsfield.No stopping until they hit the Portsmouth rotary. It was 8PM. Curfew was one hour away. Portland was even farther. $2 filled the tank and the Studebaker picked up speed along Congress Street approaching the bridge spanning the Piscataqua River.“We have to stop to pay the toll.” Russ shouted over the roar of the engine and the whip of the wind.“Gimme one.” The driver took a dime from Russ and flung the coin at the toll booth.The booth collector ducked the toss. The dime plunked into the wood like a knife. Russ swore the sliver of silver was buried in a pine timber. The boys arrived in Portland around 9:30. "Thirty minutes is almost on time." Russ offered getting out of the car."Not to my father." The friend shrugged and stepped on the gas. None of them had gotten into trouble and none of them ever drove down to Boston again. World War II saw to that.Last weekend I was visiting Russ in Marblehead. I love this story and asked during lunch at the Barnacle, “How fast were you going through the toll booth?” “I don’t recall.” It was over 70 years ago.“80?”“No.” His memory was keen.“60.”“No, more like 70. Studebaker built a good car.”“I know. I drove a Studebaker Hawk across country in 1996.” Meg Grossendt was hot to be with her beau. I understood her need for speed. They're now married with two kids. “That was their last good car.” Russ knew his cars.“We blew a carburetor in Colorado. A mechanic had the part.”“Probably the last one in America.”“We made them extinct.”It was a good trip. Same as Russ’ ride from Scollay Square. Fast with a destination, which is the only way to travel.

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