November 5, 1960
The next morning the sun was up and so were Brian and Chuck. They took turns using the bathroom near where they slept and then went downstairs. They found the owner of the shop already at work.
“Sleep well boys?” she asked.
“Yes” said Chuck.
“Yes, thank you” said Brian.
“Your bike’s ready. Here’s your bill. I didn’t charge you for the room.” She winked at Chuck. Brian didn’t know what that meant but he wasn’t going to ask.
With the handle bars now on the motorcycle, Brian’s ride was even easier. They left the shop and went toward the west where the highway would pick up, occasionally stopping at an intersection.
“What’s her name?” Brian asked.
“The woman at the bike shop.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask her.”
They left Buffalo and were now going south. They passed through a very depressed looking area with old warehouses and factory buildings that looked unused. The windows hadn’t been washed in many years and the bricks had long since lost all color.
Brian had never seen an American wasteland. Bob had told him of certain places in New England, old mill towns that had abandoned buildings and junk yards next to them. Brian fantasized that buildings like that could be renovated and turned into something splendid and profitable. Maybe some day, he thought. Meanwhile he imagined finding a building like one of these he was seeing now along the side of the road and turning it into a film studio.
They passed into more attractive areas as the road spread out, and the intersections became less frequent. They got occasional glimpses of the lake. And they soon crossed the state line into Pennsylvania. They were on the outskirts of Erie. Chuck pulled into “Maries Dinner – Fine Food, Good Company” and they went in to have some breakfast. While they were there Chuck went to make a phone call. When he returned he said “I called my girl, Tasha, to tell her we would be coming in this afternoon. You’ll like her. She’s cool. And she’ll like you.”
“Are you sure?”
After breakfast they made their way quickly through Erie to the suburbs. But they stopped for a traffic light and when they started up again Brian was flung from the motorcycle on to the grassy area beside the road and tumbled over three times.
When Brian looked up the motorcycle was lying on its side just off the road. There was a car next to it. Chuck and a man were talking. Chuck took something out of his pocket and handed it to the man who then got in the car, made a right turn and drove on. Chuck righted the bike and then went over to Brian.
“Did you survive that?”
“I think so” said Brian. “What happened?”
”He didn’t’ see me. I didn’t see his signal. We collided. But there’s no damage except to his tail light. I gave him 5 bucks for it. He was cool. Let’s go.”
They got on the bike and headed on toward Ohio. When they crossed the state line they moved along next to the lake. The view was nice and not depressing. Soon they were approaching Cleveland and Chuck’s destination, perhaps his destiny. When they came to the college campus, Chuck knew exactly where he was going and drove the bike right up a ramp into the ground floor at the back of the graduate student’s dormitory.
Within a few seconds three girls came out and gave hugs to Chuck. On of them gave him a big kiss. Brian assumed that was Tasha and he was right. Chuck swung his leg off the bike and he and Tasha disappeared somewhere. One of the girls said “Hello Chuck’s friend. What’s your name?”
“Come with us Brian.”
They moved into another back room where there was a bathtub. One of the girls turned on the water and said “Take off your clothes.”
Brian stood perplexed. “Come on” said the other girl. “We’ll clean your clothes while you take a bath. Wash off the highway.”
They waited. Brian wondered if he should do a little Chili Pepper dance but just went about stripping down in as discrete a manner as possible and stepped into the tub while the girls watched. Then they took up his clothes and disappeared.
As the bathtub slowly filled with delicious warm water, Brian lay back and closed his eyes. In his mind he saw neighborhoods going by, trees, houses, buildings, people, towns, cities and the scenes along the side of highways. So far the journey had been one of great purpose to get somewhere with few stops along the way. But it was Chuck’s journey. Brian was only a passenger, not the driver, not the decision maker. Now his motorcycle ride was over and the journey would be his alone.
This was an alien experience for Brian. He was a guy who always wanted to stay put, to settle down wherever he was. But now he was on the road, yet sitting in a bathtub in a place he’d never seen before and knew nothing about. The strangeness of it baffled him.
Who are those girls who took his clothes away? And would they come back? Where was Chuck? What if some stranger walked in here and wanted to know who he was and why he was sitting in the bathtub. The girls had taken his pants with his wallet in them. He wouldn’t even be able to identify himself. He imagined what it would be like to be picked up and arrested by the campus police without a stitch on his body.
The water was warm and the bath was relaxing and Brian decided to enjoy it and stop worrying. He thought about the events of the last few days. He thought about Bob and Marion and the bottle of champagne. He thought about the confrontation with the Massachusetts State policeman in Worcester. He thought about crossing the state line and the Empire Seafood Palace. He thought about the Buffalo Burlesque and Chili Pepper. He thought about the accident in Erie and how he went suddenly tumbling on the grass. And now he was sitting in a strange bathtub in the suburbs of Cleveland with no one else around. The story had been quite an adventure so far. He wondered what was next.
A moment later the door opened and one of the girls came in with a paper bag. “Hi” she said.
She pulled a stool over to the tub and sat down. “I’m Della. You want a beer?” She reached into the bag and took out a six pack, pulled the top off of one can and gave it to him. She put the bag on the floor next to the tub and said “Your wallet and stuff are in the bag. Your clothes are in the dryer.”
“Thank you Della.” He sipped the beer and said “This feels quite luxurious.”
“Yeah” said Della and giggled.
”How do you know Chuck?” she asked.
“He’s the roommate of a friend of mine in Boston>”
Brian was beginning to feel comfortable lying naked in the bathtub under the scrutiny of this pleasant young woman.
“How long you staying around?”
“Not long. I’m hitchhiking to California.”
“Oh. Do you have a place to sleep?”
“I don’t know if Chuck thought about that.”
“Well, we’ll find you a bed.”
“How old are you?”
“Are you married?”
The side door opened and in came Chuck and Tasha. ‘Hi Brian” he said. “I see you’re right at home. Meet Tasha. Tasha, Brian. He usually wears clothes.” Tasha came over to the tub looked in and said “Hi Brian. You look nice.” Brian was beginning to enjoy being an exhibitionist.
The other door opened and the other girl came in with a pile of clothes and set them down on a stool. “There. Everything is cleaned and dried. And here’s a towel.”
“Claire, Brian needs a place to sleep tonight. He’s hitching to California.”
“I didn’t even think of that” said Chuck.
We’ll fix him up” said Claire.
“We’re going to dinner” said Chuck. “When you’re finished with him bring him over to the cafeteria.” They left, Claire followed them. Della stayed behind.
“Well, since you’ve already seen all there is of me I might as well stand up, dry off and get dressed.”
“Might as well” she said.
Brian pulled the plug, stood up, stepped out onto the linoleum floor, picked up the towel and dried himself off. Della watched. When he was done she handed him the paper bag and he fished out his wallet and other things and picked up his back pack. Della tucked the remaining 5 cans of beer into the bag and said “For later. Let’s go.” She led him outside and after a short walk they entered the cafeteria.
After a basic meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas and coffee, Chuck said “Come on, I’ll show you the theatre.”
They all stood up. Della said “I’ll catch your later Brian.” She turned and walked off. Brian wondered what they word “catch” was going to mean.
The theatre was a high tech, state of the art, establishment with elevators and electronic sliding walls. It was in so many ways a dream theatre. Brian was amazed. He’d never seen such a place. The shop was furnished with all the latest equipment for building and painting scenery. The stage manager’s area was enclosed in a booth with wide windows that looked down on every part of the stage area. One could sit there and see the stage and both of the wings. The curtain opened and closed automatically. Chuck took him to see the costume shop which was filled with racks of clothes, all types of garments imaginable. Every area of the building was immaculate and designed for efficiency and with the comfort of audience and actors in mind.
But Brian felt a little sad. He realized that the students were getting an opportunity to work in a theatre the likes of which they would probably never see again. If any of those graduates came to New York City to work, even on Broadway, they would have to go through some very difficult adjustments. The real world of theatre was not like this.
Brian was glad he had learned his trade at a place where you made lighting instruments out of number ten tin cans, with cardboard cutout gel frames, where there was no room stage left, where the curtain would sometimes get stuck and where you couldn’t flush the toilet during a performance. At least everything from there was a step up.
After the tour of the theatre they walked around the campus for a while, and then Tasha said “let’s get some beer and munchies and have a party.”
“Great” said Chuck. “Brian?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Uhh. No, I guess not. I have some work to do.”
“What about Della?” asked Brian.
“I’ll find out” said Claire, and left.
They followed Claire back to the dorm, where Chuck and Tasha got on his motorcycle and took off somewhere. Brian decided to wait for them right there.
In a minute Della came in. “Oh. I heard the motorcycle. I thought you’d gone somewhere.” Somewhere like the Buffalo Burlesque? Brian thought.
“No” he said “they went to get some beer. We’re having a party. You’re invited.”
“Okay. By the way, you’re sleeping with me tonight.”
“What does that mean?”
“My roommate is away for a couple of days. You can have her bed.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks. Will that be making Claire jealous?”
“Ooo! I hope so.”
“She won’t be back until Monday, it you want to stay another night.”
“Thanks. I’ll think about that.”
Soon the motorcycle came up the ramp with Chuck and Tasha. She was holding a case of beer in her lap with a paper bag on top of it. “You coming?” she asked and without waiting for an answer went through a door at the side and started up some stairs with Chuck following. So Della went for the stairs and motioned Brian to follow.
Once inside her room Tasha said “Frankie, put those stupid books away and have a beer." A nice looking young woman with glasses turned around from the desk and said “Hi.” Looking at Brian she said “Who are you?”
“That’s Brian. Brian meet Francine. We call her ‘Frank’.”
“What’s the occasion?” asked Frank.
“A good time.” Tasha said. “We’re showing Brian how much fun we have so he’ll stay.”
“Why won’t you stay?” asked Frank.
“I’m on my way to California.”
“Brian” said Chuck, “tomorrow is Sunday. I’ll take you out to where you can get a good road into Cleveland. There’ll probably be a lot of traffic. People coming home from the weekend.”
“Great. Thanks.” Brian gave a quick glance at Della, who didn’t say a word or bat an eye.
The party was a good time as Tasha said it was. Everybody had plenty to say and stories to tell.
When the party broke up Della took Brian down the hall to her room, where there were indeed two beds on opposite sides. “That’s your bed” she said pointing at one of them.
“Okay” he said and dropped his back pack on it. The beer was getting to him. “I gotta piss. Cn I use yer toilet.”
“Sure. I do it all the time.”
When he came out of the bathroom Della had changed into her bathrobe. She was sitting on her bad with the brown paper bag she had brought to him when he was in the bathtub downstairs. She pulled out the beer that was in it. “Nother beer?” she asked but didn’t wait for a reply. She cracked it open handed it to him and took one herself. Brian sat on the bed; Della sat on hers and looked at him. They looked at each other. She smiled.
“Whacha gonna do in California?”
“Me and a buddy are gonna start a film shtu, studio.”
“You’re gonna meet a lotta famous movies stars.”
“You’ll forget all about us.”
“Oh, I dunno. It’s nice here.”
“Well. I finish my bee” she said. “I’m goin’ to bed.”
“Okay.” Brian stripped down to his underwear, pulled down the covers and got into the bed.
“Night” she said.
“Good night” he answered. She turned off the light.
Brian lay awake in the dark thinking about this strange girl he had just met, about the other girls, about the theatre building and the campus. Then he began thinking about getting on the road again.
He heard a rustling noise and a few seconds later the covers were pulled back and Della got into the bed with him. “Hi” she said.
Soon lips found lips, hands found places to caress, fingers found things to stroke and investigate, clothing was removed, mouths and tongues went to work and the inevitable, and age old connecting of hungry passionate human bodies took over the night.
It was followed by delicious sleep.
To be continued.