Race with Me

Hello again, all you good people.

A quick look at the calendar indicates that we have made it to the double deuce! Twenty-two days and counting means that when we all wake up tomorrow, it’ll be just three weeks until the big day! (Yeah, I know I tend to get overly-jazzed about this stuff, but hey, whatever works. Right?)

That said, let me ask you this:

When’s the last time you met someone who not only held your interest, but also somehow impelled you to do certain things; dare I say, things you normally wouldn’t do.

For the record, we’re not talking anything illegal here! (Not about to tell you a story of my arrest record or anything like that!!)

What I will say, though, is that I’ll bet each of you know – or have known – someone like that.

So, just for fun, take a shot at shaking loose a few of those old memories. And, of course, think about the people who helped you
make them.

For me, it was someone I had never met before that long-ago night and haven’t seen since.

I was nearly 25 years old when I decided to take an 11th-hour trip back to school. I was living in New York City at the time and decided to grab a rental car and speed on down to Richmond, VA to see some old college friends. It was still late winter up in NYC, and I remember ‘jonesing badly for spring’s arrival. (I figured I’d have a better chance at some legit spring weather if I headed south.)

When I got down to school, I headed straight for my once-go-to watering hole to wind down from the long ride.

My old standby seemed to have the same buzz it always did (entertainingly raucous and loud as hell), and I ordered a beer and looked for a familiar face.

As I searched the crowd for someone I knew, I was reminded of an all-too-true platitude: “You can’t go home again.” Can’t say it bothered me all that much, but at that moment, it quickly became my reality.

I looked for a place – call it a neutral corner, maybe – where I could sip on my beer and do some people watching. As I scanned the crowd briefly, I guess I felt a little old, realizing that this just wasn’t my place anymore.

I was about to hit the road and call it a night when I heard a voice over the din.

“Are you using that chair?”

Thrown a bit, I didn’t answer right away.

And she called me on it.


Now that “well?” didn’t sound anything akin to “Well, asshole, you using the chair or what?” But when she repeated the question – and a whole lot louder – I figured I should answer.

“No. It’s all yours,” I remember saying, and as politely as I could, I tried to move out of the way.

She grabbed the chair and dragged it to another part of the bar, and I figured that was my cue to get my tired hide out of there.

As I was getting ready to go, I actually spotted someone I recognized. I walked over to him to briefly catch up, once again, trying to yell over the noise. I hung around for only a moment or two and started back towards the door.

And then, even above the clamor, that voice again.

“Following me, huh?”

Childish I know, but in that instant, I decided to pretend that I hadn’t really heard her.

I put my hand up to my ear, doing my best not to seem quite so rehearsed and said, “Sorry. Can’t hear you.”

“I said, ‘are you following me?” Initially, her expression seemed one of concern.

And when I clammed up, thrown off guard again and now sufficiently embarrassed, she let me off the hook, offering me an
unexpected smile.

“Would you like to sit with us?” she asked.

I thought about politely declining, but then realized hanging around was probably a better option than checking into my hotel and watching some dreadful rerun on the tube.

I sat down with her three friends, doing my best to audibly introduce myself and get each of their names in return.

We did our best to carry on something resembling a conversation, and in the course of it, I learned that she and her friends (all of whom were seniors over at the U) were heading back to school.

When they invited me to join them, the thought of retreating to what was surely subpar lodgings for the night, was quickly taken out of the equation.

Without even thinking about it, I left my rental car behind, joining my four new pals in what looked like a beat-up Oldsmobile – with the tall girl, Sarah, driving.

School was close by, and soon after we arrived, we headed out to a party in one of the on-campus apartments. It was far easier to hear than back at the bar, and I did my best to blend – trying not to feel too self-conscious about being the “old guy” in the room.

I spent some time talking to a few of the people there (some of whom looked at me like they may have known me at some point, but didn’t care enough to probe further), including the girl who had invited me to tag along.

We played the compulsory name games for a bit, coming up with zero people in common, and then we just talked. Yeah, we talked for a while, actually. And pretty soon, though largely predictable, I had something resembling a crush.

The party broke up, and we all headed out, my new friend, once again, encouraging me to join her and some of the others.

We ended up at another small party on the other side of campus, with my brand new crush seemingly distracted by something out in the courtyard of the building.

She walked outside, encouraging me to join her, and I figured I might actually find the courage to try to kiss her. While I was contemplating whether or not I had the chops to do just that, she smiled that same smile again – yep, just like the one at the bar.

“Hey, John. ‘Wanna steal a bicycle?”

Before I could respond, she was suddenly at the bicycle rack, hastily making her selection.

“Here. You take this one.”

Not quite sure what to make of this, I nonetheless complied quickly, preparing to ride what looked like it might have been on loan from a young Bobby Brady.

I’m 5’11” at best (at least I was back then!), but the only way for me to ride it was up on my haunches. (If it had been the aforementioned Bobby Brady’s bike, it was surely the model he had back in grade school.)

We started out, and I came to the realization that I had, in fact, stolen a bicycle. I guess I wouldn’t have thought too much about it, except for the fact that it had a tag on it, bearing the name and the address of the owner. (My memory is good, but it ‘aint that good! That was a lifetime ago, and I can’t really remember too many specifics.)

What I do remember, though, is that it had three numbers on it – yeah, two old-school-looking decals, both with the numbers “222.” (When I was a kid, there was a weekly TV drama entitled Room 222, and I watched it regularly. Yeah, the one with a then-very-young Karen Valentine and the recently-deceased Michael Constantine. That’s how I remembered the numbers from the decal. But I digress.)

Anyway, we quickly rode away on the two stolen vehicles, my new friend, Jan, urging me to drive faster.

Within a few minutes, we were heading off campus. In retrospect, I’m not exactly sure what I was (or wasn’t) thinking, but I didn’t say a word. I just played along, atop a stolen bicycle, following an attractive stranger down a quiet suburban road.

We rode for about 15 minutes, with yours truly struggling to peddle along, looking like something out of a bad sketch comedy. We ended up at a local hamburger joint and sat down to for some quick eats.

Nothing like a fully-loaded burger in the late hours (and just for good measure, a large black & white milkshake) to make you feel like you just fired down a couple pounds of lead.

We ate and laughed, as she playfully tooled on me for not being able to keep up with her torrid cycling pace.

When it was time to go, she took the check, stuffed it in her pocket, and walked right out the door, encouraging me to follow her.

I remember being a little torn – ashamed even – but it didn’t stop me from doing exactly what she asked.

To this day, it’s the one and only time I’ve ever skipped out on a bill.

Fresh off not one, but two, acts of petty thievery, we got back on the bikes and headed back to school.

It was very late at that point, and when we returned, she said that she needed to go back and find her friends. To my  surprise, though, she carefully put both of the stolen bikes back on the rack, each of them going into the precise spot from which they
were taken.

We laughed some more, she once again giving me a hard time for not being able to keep up with her, with me trying to be as self-deprecating as possible, yet still somehow endearing.

When it was time for us to part ways, I figured this was probably my last chance to try to kiss her. I moved in, and she obliged me, kissing me very lightly, though almost perfunctorily, on the mouth.

Then she said (and I swear I’ll never forget this), “Well, that was fun.” And she smiled again (a smile that after all these years was empirically sexy, but in the same breath, sort of devilish) and walked back to find her friends.

In retrospect, it was almost like I was part of some weird agenda that night. Lucky for me, it was basically harmless fun. (Everything except for the check that we skipped out on, which I went back and paid the next day.)

Guess that probably made me a pretty sorry Clyde Barrow as compared to her somewhat reckless Bonnie Parker, but what
can you do?

In terms of a brief postscript, I did look for her. In fact, I asked around about her, calling on some of the younger guys who might have known her, maybe had a class with her, etc.

My search didn’t really amount to much, though. After all, I never knew her last name.

So, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, if you’re up for it, try sifting through your  memories. And see if you can recall any “Jans” from your own past. (And if you’re so inclined, please feel free to share your own story with me. Would love to compare notes!)

Well, that’s countdown day 22, my friends.

Back again manana with some more musings.








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