Copyright© 2015 by Bill Offutt
It seemed like a good idea at the time and it did not take much persuasion for Bud to talk his parents into letting him stay behind when they packed up their family and headed for the beach just after the 4th of July.
"We've got a big game Saturday," he had said. "And I'm the only catcher left."
"OK, it's against my better judgment, but I understand it's important to you," said his father, worn down by the boy's heartfelt pleading.
"Not just to me, Dad, the whole team. I guess we'd have to forfeit if I wasn't there."
"And you're sure you can get a ride with the Crandells?" Sammy asked.
"Yes sir," said Bud, "they've got plenty of room. Charlie's their only kid."
"We'll take your clothes down," his mother said, "and I'll give you the address and the phone number of the rental agent. We aren't sure which cottage we'll get."
"Don't worry; I'll be there before dark, you'll see." Bud felt relieved although in the back of his head he wondered how he was going to explain having to hitchhike to Ocean City since Charlie Crandall and his family were going down Friday night. But then Charlie was only a second string right fielder.
The ball game, a 10-0 laugher, ended before noon, and the coach dropped Bud off, noticing the closed sign on the store's front door.
"We're going on vacation for a week," Bud explained. "I'll be back Friday."
He quickly changed his clothes, ate some lunch, and the first car that came by when he stuck out his thumb on Rockville Pike took him all the way down to East West Highway, Route 410, which would get him most of the way to Route 50, the road to Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay ferry boats.
Three rides and more than an hour later, he was on Route 50 at Peace Cross in the middle of Bladensburg, watching the traffic whiz by. Then a beautiful, white Packard convertible stopped beside him at the traffic light where he was thumbing. "Hop in," said the driver, reaching across to open the door. The top was up but the back window was open and Bud plopped himself down on the tan leather seat and asked, "How far are you going?"
"Naval Academy," the man said. "I work there."
"No kidding. You don't look like a sailor."
"No, I'm a doctor actually and a lieutenant commander when I'm in uniform."
"Oh," Bud said. "Well, I'm headed for Ocean City, so that's good."
"All by yourself?" the man asked, putting his right hand down on Bud's knee and patting his leg. "Isn't that kind of risky?" The man's hand went back to the steering wheel as the big car effortless passed a string of trucks on the winding blacktop road.
"Boy, this is some car. What is it, a '38?"
"Thirty-seven actually, straight eight. Slide over a bit; see the speedometer goes to a hundred and fifty."
"Whew," said Bud as the man put his hand back on his leg and squeezed gently. "How fast have you had it?" He moved back toward the door and saw the driver glance at him and smile.
"Oh, I've done eighty a few times." He pushed the gear lever up into second and pressed the accelerator to the floor. The engine screamed briefly as Bud was pressed back into the seat. Then the lean driver slowed, shifted back into high and eased into the slower moving traffic.
"Have a girl friend?" he asked, offering Bud a cigarette from a silver case.
"Nope," the boy said, accepting the cigarette and noting it was stamped Benson & Hedges. He pushed in the lighter on the dashboard.
"I'm sure you've kissed a few?" the doctor said, patting Bud's leg again. "Ever been cornholed?"
Bud lit his cigarette and blinked. He had heard that word but was not sure what it meant; he just knew it was dirty.
"Come over here," the man said very calmly, "let me hold it until it gets hard, and I'll take you all the way to the ferry."
"No, no thanks," Bud said. "You can let me off at the next light."