Amazing Journey 4:1

Dames, Trains and Automobiles


I’ve had enough of being good

And doin’ everything like I’m told I should 

~ The Who

It was 5:00 on a blustery Friday afternoon in January. I was a senior in high school looking at the entire weekend in front of me with no homework to worry about. I didn’t have to work and the only plans I had was a Kenosha Flyers hockey game on Saturday night.

But I needed something to do tonight; after all it was Friday night. I wanted to have some fun. Little did I know how much this fun would end up costing me.

After a bit of deliberation, it came to me that there was a basketball game at school starting at 7:00. After the folks said it was okay to borrow one of their cars, I called up my buddy David to see if he wanted to go. He said sure, it sounded like fun. Yes! Fun, that’s what I wanted. I grabbed my jacket, jumped in the yellow 1970 AMC Rebel and sped off to pick up David. There was fun to be had.

When David got in the car he immediately asked if I brought anything. Being a bit naïve at the time, I asked him what he was talking about. He said, “You know, do you have anything to drink?” I told him no, not to worry, I knew where to go. Full disclosure number 1. Before going on, there is a “minor” detail that you should know. In 1975 the legal drinking age for the state of Wisconsin was 18. At the time I was only 17 years old.

There was an Italian restaurant (that shall go unnamed) on the northside of Kenosha that had a liquor store. Being rather large for my age, I never had a problem obtaining adult beverages at this particular establishment, even without a state ID. On that night, I picked up a 6-pack of Schlitz Tall Boys and a pint of Southern Comfort. We had about an hour before the game started to consume the purchase. We were going to have fun.

*   *   *   *   *

Having successfully accomplished the task of pouring all of the alcohol into our young heads, we arrived at Tremper High School with time to spare. Staggering up the bleachers, a loud “Hey Paul” greeted me. It was Lori, a junior that sat next to me in my typing class. She waved for David and I to come join her and her girlfriends, Nancy and Betty. Of course we obliged.

Full disclosure number 2. I had a thing for Lori. What can I say? She was quite fetching and on top of that she was Italian.

Most of the basketball game was somewhat of a fuzzy blur. I’d like to say it was the fluorescent lights in the gymnasium, but it was more likely the half pint of Southern Comfort and the 48 ounces of Schlitz that I had demolished in less than an hour. I can’t say I remember if Tremper won or not. Nonetheless, we were having fun.

Leaving the game, we “happened” to run into Lori and her two friends in the parking lot. With a collective smile, they asked us if we could get some more alcohol. Obviously they had detected that we were slightly intoxicated. I said sure and the three of them jumped into the Rebel. Heading back to my favorite northside Italian restaurant, I thought to myself, now we are really going to have fun.

After grabbing four bottles of Boone’s Farm Apple wine, I was back in the car as fast as my portly body allowed me. I know, I know, Boone’s Farm Apple wine. What was I thinking? It wasn’t my idea. It was the drink of choice for our three female guests. I wasn’t about to argue with them.

Unfortunately, the Schlitz and Southern Comfort that was already inside of me did argue with the Boone’s Farm. The toxic mixture of the three different types of booze quickly took effect of me in a bad way. Let’s just say my judgment quickly became alcohol-impaired. Severely impaired.

What happened next made this brutally evident. Having just passed the Parkview Tavern on north Sheridan Road, I turned right and drove up the hill, supposedly to cross the railroad tracks. But that never happened. Instead, I took a sharp left. For some unknown reason I decided to take the family Rebel and my four passengers for a trip on the railroad tracks. It must have been the Southern Comfort. And the Schlitz. And the Boone’s Farm Apple wine. But we were having fun. Weren’t we?

Full disclosure number 3. This railroad crossing no longer exists in Kenosha. It was eliminated a few years later. I guess timing really is everything.

The trip on the railroad came to a rather abrupt halt when the rear end of the car became hung up on the tracks. The five of us were stuck high up on the hill, directly across from St. George Cemetery. Kind of creepy, huh?

We did everything humanly possible to get the car off of the tracks. Nothing worked, not even the jack. It was getting colder and the cemetery was getting creepier. At that point, I was beginning to wonder if I was still having fun.

As things were beginning to look hopeless, a station wagon pulled up at the bottom of the hill. Four guys popped out and asked if we needed some help. Relieved, we shouted back, “Yes, please!” They climbed the steep hill to offer their assistance.

While we were attempting to lift the back end of the car off the tracks, some bright flashing lights interrupted us. Looking behind us we saw a police car back at the railroad crossing. The cops had gotten out and were headed our way. I began feeling this wasn’t going to be so much fun any more.

Despite being somewhat alcohol-impaired, I did some quick thinking and was quite gallant. Not wanting Lori and her friends to get in trouble, I asked the guys in the station wagon if they would give them a ride. They agreed and quickly scurried down the hill with them. Good thing, the cops arrived at the car a few moments later.

The cops told us in no uncertain terms that we had to get out of there right away. It seems there was a train scheduled to be coming by in a little bit and the car needed to be towed away immediately. The policemen waited for the tow truck and instructed us to get into a second police car that was waiting for us at the bottom of the hill. Now I knew this wasn’t going to be any fun.

Stumbling down the hillside, I tripped and landed in a disheveled heap halfway down. Adding insult to injury, my glasses flew off my now throbbing head as I went head over heels.

A brief search proved fruitless, I couldn’t find them anywhere. Besides, the police were hollering at me to hurry up and get over to the car. The ride in the police car was less than pleasant. Needless to say, the officers were not impressed that we were underage and extremely intoxicated. They were rather persistent in their questioning about where we had purchased the alcohol. I am proud to say I didn’t snitch. I might have been only 17, but I knew all about omertà.

*   *   *   *   *

When we got to the police station, I was prepared for the worse. However, things weren’t as bad as they could have been. Sure, we received a stern lecture, but, remarkably, we didn’t even get a ticket. The officer told us he was going to strongly suggest to our parents that they take away our driver’s license for a while. Then he called our folks to come pick us up.

I guess things really could have been a lot worse. Especially for David. His folks weren’t home, so the police allowed my dad to drop him off. You guessed it. His parents never found out. He got away scot-free, unscathed and unpunished. The lucky bastard.

That wasn’t the case for me. I had to face my disappointed folks, which was pretty tough. Dad did what he always did when one of his children let him down. He was completely quiet. It was a stoic silence that seemed deafening. I hated it. Mom, on the other hand, was a hysterical mess. That was also to be expected. However, there was one refreshing moment that occurred during all of the drama. It seems, when Dad had left to pick me up from the police station, Mom frantically interrogated my brother Mike regarding when I had started to drink.

He replied with feigned astonishment, “Gee mom, this must have been the first time!” I love my brother. Evidently, he also knew about omertà.

Yes, my folks did take away my driver’s license. I also had to pay the towing charge for the Rebel. On top of that, I never found my glasses and had to buy a new pair. It was tough watching that Kenosha Flyers hockey game without my specs.

Full disclosure number 4. My parents gave me back my driver’s license as soon as they needed me to go to the store to pick something up for them. Who didn’t see that coming?

*   *   *   *   *

Not having my glasses for a while wasn’t the only thing I had to deal with after my trip on the tracks. I wasn’t looking forward to facing Lori in our typing class that following Monday morning. Remember, she sat right next to me. I fully expected her to act as if I had never existed.

When Monday came I made sure to get to class before Lori did. Nervously, I kept squinting at the door, anxiously waiting for her to arrive. Finally she entered the room and quietly walked to her desk, clutching her books tightly to her chest.

Before sitting down, Lori stopped directly in front of me. I thought to myself, here it comes; she’s really going to let me have it. After a pause that seemed to last an eternity, she finally spoke.

In a soft, almost timid voice, Lori said, “Paul, are you mad at me?” Before I could reply, she added, “I don’t blame you if you are. We should have never left you Friday night. I’m really sorry.” After the initial shock wore off, I managed to blurt out, “Aw, don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you didn’t get into any trouble.” With that, she smiled and sat down next to me.

As class began, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Do you want to take me to the basketball game in Muskego in two weeks?” I told her that I probably could. Then I thought to myself, yep, Paul Vagnoni was going to have some fun.