In August 1987, before he left for college, Chris Champion and I decided we’d drive to Atlantic City and sleep under the boardwalk. We had no plan beyond that. It seemed like something 18 year-old best friends should do: the odyssey, iconic quest, scatter oats and all that.
We left Fairport early on a hot, cloudless day, with $85, two duffel bags and some chips. Our ride was my gray ’76 Toyota Corolla, which I’d purchased for $200. It wouldn’t go faster than 45 mph, the road visible through the rusted out floor. No air conditioning, just an AM radio. The odometer had rolled over at least once.
About an hour from home, the windshield was suddenly splattered with green fluid and the car lost what little power it had. We coasted to the shoulder. Ah, crap. We raised the hood, because that’s what people do, even if they don’t know anything about engines. Steam billowed. A pickup pulled over, the driver asked if we were OK. “I think you blew the head gasket,” he said.
What would Odysseus do? We found a dusty pay phone in a weed-strewn parking lot and called Missy, a year older than us, home on summer break from Princeton. “Missy. We’re broken down. Uh… Where are we?” I put Champ on the phone because I had no idea – he was the map guy. I got back on. “Missy, can you pick us up? And don’t tell your father.”
That last request wasn’t fair, of course. But Mike had recommended against the trip and we’d gone anyway. I’d lived in his house since the previous December, and I felt I was on thin ice. Missy arrived, drove us back to Champ’s house. She didn’t say much. “Missy, remember – please don’t tell. I’ll take care of it.”
What would Odysseus do? “Let’s go to a movie.” Hamburger Hill, the latest Vietnam film. We’d been wiped out by Platoon and Full Metal Jacket earlier that year. After the movie, we went to Perkins and spent the rest of our money on food. I slept at Champ’s.
The next morning, I called Missy. She put her father on the line. “Chris, Missy told me what happened. I wish you’d told me yourself.” We drove out to the car, still on the side of the road. Mike towed me back to Fairport, the Odyssey over.
My next car was a Honda Civic, $600 and a huge upgrade. I got nine months out of that one before it also stranded me in the middle of nowhere (although not on an ill-advised Quest.)
Mike towed me home.