Sometime before I met Diana (see previous post, My Words Kissed Her Eyes), and shortly after my high-school Senior Ball, I found myself "truckin'" half-way across the country with "Ralph." Or was it "Butch."
I better explain.
I had a best friend in high-school, who I will call "Tony," (can I make this any MORE complicated?), who went on to become extremely successful in the corporate world. In fact, if I mentioned his name, or the corporation he became extremely successful over, you would know him right off the "bat" (which is another clue). But I digress.
Suffice it to say, Tony was an awesome guy. He was very smart and funny, and quite in-tune with pop-culture, the latter of which is mostly why we got along so well.
In fact, Tony and I once partnered on an awesome project for our Junior Year English class, presided over a very hot teacher (Hey, Mrs. Yorio!) that had to do with the effect of television on society. So, clearly, the seeds of my career, if not his, were being planted.
At any rate, Tony and I got along so well, and we both know pop-culture, inside and out, that we created, in our seemingly bored moments, the characters of "Ralph and Butch," who were some form of undercover cops or detectives, patterned after TV's then very-popular Starsky & Hutch (I guess.)
A few "R & B" adventures stand out in my mind, such one extremely cold day during the East Coast Blizzard of '77, when Tony gave me a ride home from school in his beat-up yellow Volkswagon. Whenever we'd go into our "Ralph and Butch" mode (and to this day, I'm still not sure who played whom), Tony would jump out of the car, and pretend to stick a flashing police light on the top of the car (again, as would Starsky & Hutch and, for that matter, as also did Karl Malden and Michael Douglas on one of TV's other very-popular cop shows of the day, The Streets of San Francisco).
Either way, one adventure had commenced.
We were clearly bored (and probably just a leetle bit too old to be playing cops and robbers - but at least we were funny and creative.
Especially on this particular winter day during the East Coast Blizzard of '77, when - in the deep blinding white-out that attacked us from the front, the back and the surrounding area, "Ralph and Butch" were not only stuck in the snow – but we were stuck in traffic.
I only wish I could remember the brilliant lines of humor that Tony vocalized that day.
Truth be told, not only was his wit pure genius, but he was a loyal friend.
After I gave that dance at the Senior Ball (again, please see previous post, My Words Kissed Her Eyes)?
Well, in many ways it was a nervous dance. And not just because I was performing before a crowd of bullies-would-would-later-turn-friends. But my "performance anxiety" had more to do with academic concerns, as opposed to peer pressure.
Even though I was attending the Senior Ball, I was somewhat uncertain if I was going to pass Senior Year! For some ridiculous reason, I had signed up for a course in Political Science in my final high-school semester mostly, I suppose, because it would have earned me college credit for the following Fall.
But getting to college was not gonna' happen if I failed high-school, which would have transpired if I failed Political Science.
So, in stepped my good friend Tony. That night at the Senior Ball, and right after I finished my dance, he excused himself from his date, and walked over to our Political Science teacher, the great Mr. Pilliter, who was one of the chaperones of the evening.
Quite pointedly, Tony asked Mr. P, "Is Herb going to pass Political Science?"
The esteemed instructor, who was dapper and sophisticated, paused a moment, then turned to Tony and answered, with a smile, "How can I fail a kid who can dance like that?"
Suffice it to say, I was safe.
Not so much, however, when some weeks later, Tony and I found ourselves on a cross-country truck adventure.
"Uh?" you ask?
Here's what happened:
The neighbors who held residence in the suburban townhouse next-door to where I lived (with my parents and sister), were planning to move. They were a retired, elderly couple, who were set on driving their beautiful new, big RV from Rochester to Cleveland.
But they needed help with the excursion.
So, I suggested that Ralph and Butch oblige. Well, at least Herbie and Tony.
And I made the suggestion because we were young, and this elderly couple were rich, or at least seemingly-so. Though there was no discussion of money between Tony and I, and the elderly couple, I assumed that we would be well-compensated for the time and effort that such a long-distance journey and job would require.
After some apprehension, Tony agreed to do it. Thing was, neither of us knew how to drive a stick-shift - which is what we had to do with the big-rig that the elderly couple had rented for us (to helm and follow them in their RV all the way to Cleveland).
So, picture it: two recently-graduated high school teens, neither of whom had much driving experience, in general, let alone driving a rented moving van with a stick-shift, were now about to literally truck half-way across the country.
I finally told Tony, "Look – I'm NOT gonna' drive this thing. So YOU have to."
Once more, Tony, somehow, reluctantly agreed.
So, for the entire trip, from Rochester to Cleveland, the truck kept "spitting" its engine, and clunking along – because Tony could not properly drive with a stick-shift...at least for the first couple of hundred miles.
After that, he conquered the technique.
But in the meantime, all I could do, as we spitted along, was make promises. "Tony," I'd say, "I'm telling ya'...it's gonna be worth it! These people got money. LOTS of it. And their gonna' pay us. And I mean pay us GOOD!"
Well, sure enough, THREE days later, - after the long, long trip, in the long, long trailer, following the old, old couple, we stopped at their destination, emptied the truck of their belongings, drove it to the nearest drop-off rental facility, and waited to be paid. We had showered, I think, at least only once. But other than that, things were pretty...well...hygienically-challenged.
But no matter - by this time, we just wanted our money. And as I had been promising Tony, "We were gonna'get paid. GOOD!"
Unfortunately, however, that kind of transaction never transpired.
For after we dropped-off the truck with the elderly couple, they drove us to the bank in their RV, made a withdrawal from their account, and paid us FORTY-BUCKS.
Tony was ready to kill me.
We made that long, clunky trip, all the way from Rochester to Cleveland, safe and sound.
But now - I was prepared to die.
Though not before the now-cheap elderly couple drove us to the airport, where they purchased plane tickets for our return to Rochester.
Thank God. At least they did THAT.
And then, fortunately, by the time they left the airport, Tony had calmed down, and we laughed a little bit about the whole thing.
That was the kind of guy Tony was.
Humor always trumped everything else.
Good thing, too – because once we had those plane tickets in our hands, I had suggested to Tony, several times, to please make sure he kept his ticket in a safe place, as not to lose it.
"Now, Tony," I pestered, "Please put that ticket away - or else you're gonna' lose it. I'm telling ya'!
Well, he heard all that "I'm tellin' ya'" stuff before," and it pretty much didn't work out for him. So, he wasn't gonna' listen to it this time around.
"I'm NOT gonna’ lose it, Herb," he said, quite aggravated.
"Ok," I continued to press, "but if you DO – I'm tellin' ya' - it's gonna' mess things up, and delay our trip.”
"I’m NOT gonna' lose it!' he insisted.
Well, guess what?
About twenty minutes before we were to board the plane, Tony, who was about 6'3', to my 5'7", came cowering up to me - 'er, down to me - looking very sad.
"Uhm," Herb..." he said, with his head bowed.
"Yeah?" I wondered.
"Yeah...what is it? Spit it out, would ya', Tony!"
"Don't tell me."
"You LOST the ticket!" I screamed. "I TOLD you to be careful!!"
"Would you stop!" he pleaded. "We're in a public place, for pete's sake."
And so went the adventures of "Ralph and Butch."
Or "Butch and Ralph."
Or Herb and "Tony."
Or Herb and "Whoever-Tony-Really-Was" - and remains...
A loyal friend with a with a great sense of humor – and a genius for corporate business, if not driving trucks.