Some teenage girls have best friends and cliques. I had accomplices.
Amanda, was one of my steadfast teen partners in crime. She and I covered a lot of ground in the years we ran together.
At any given moment we found ourselves on one end of Long Island or the other and anywhere in between, or in the city, and on various occasions out of state. It seemed we were on a quest for constant entertainment.
During the timespan of our juvenile misadventures we did occasionally split up when the situation warranted. However times apart were rare and usually didn’t last very long.
On one such occasion, I found myself in Kings Park. I was crashing there with my latest love, a sweet, but stereotypical Italian boy named John Giovanni.
Amanda, already having moved on from the roommate she had been head over heels for just weeks earlier, was staying in Huntington with some guy I didn’t know.
Early one morning after a heated exchange with John Giovanni I decided it was time for Amanda and I to regroup. A change of scenery was definitely in order.
Once he left for work I gathered a few of my things together and had a friend give me a ride to Amanda’s present location.
We mutually agreed on a road trip and in the spirit of go big or go home (going home not actually being considered) we concocted a plan to hitchhike across country. California seemed a fine goal for a final destination.
It was a warm day in late summer and we set out dressed comfortably in shorts, tee shirts, and sneakers. With us, a packed duffle bag holding the basic essential items…In our world that consisted of a couple pairs of sweatpants, a club outfit with the appropriate high heels for each of us, a hairbrush, some cosmetics, and a stolen gun.
Not being completely irresponsible, we thought it best to let someone we trusted know of our plans. Next stop, Joe and Timmy’s place.
Upon arriving there we found Timmy home alone. We confided in him our travel plans and while he expressed some minimal concern he thought overall it sounded pretty cool. As a caring gesture he gifted us a tiny bible he had received during one of his many incarcerations.
We gratefully accepted it, said our goodbyes and began walking toward the entrance ramp to the Long Island Expressway, armed with high heels, a gun, and a bible.
A box truck occupied by a couple of good natured delivery guys promptly offered us a ride. We happily accepted.
We squeezed in with them and they let us know they could take us as far as the Jersey Turnpike. The two-hour trip was filled with music and laughter. Good luck wishes and goodbyes were quickly exchanged as we hopped out at the toll booth.
Upon learning you are not allowed to pass through a toll booth on foot (learned that one the hard way) we quickly approached a car with a single middle aged man and asked if he could drive us through. He said he wasn’t going far and looked at us a little suspiciously. We promised to exit his vehicle promptly on the other side and though he still didn’t seem particularly sold on the idea we decided not to give him too much time to overthink it and we just jumped right in!
He drove us through and we kept our promise to not overstay our welcome. So here we were now, several hours after the idea of this journey had been born, all stemming from my morning disagreement with John Giovanni…
The sun began to set while we casually walked on the side of a major highway with our thumbs out. As the miles grew longer between us and our hometown, I briefly allowed myself to wonder if this had been a good idea.
My thought was interrupted as a car abruptly pulled to the side. A young guy jumped out of the passenger side with an air of authority and proceeded to chastise us for hitchhiking on the Jersey Turnpike, “in the dark no less”.
As he shouted at us the way a concerned father may have, with the question “are you crazy?” followed by the command “get in the car”, we obeyed with heads hung low in response to being caught doing something so clearly questionable.
Once safely in the back seat we explained our plans and could see they clearly thought we actually were crazy. We could see this because they said “you’re crazy”. While they were unable to convince us to abandon our mission entirely, they did manage to talk us into delaying it until morning.
They were local jersey boys and one had a mom who worked nights leaving him with his family home to himself. It was decided we would crash there, but not before changing clothes and checking out the local club scene. Knew we’d need those high heels.
The time frame was small between returning from the club to when we needed to vacate the premises in order to avoid a run in with mom. Enough for maybe two hours or so of alcohol induced unconsciousness, followed by quick showers.
Our new friends had agreed to drive us as far as the Delaware state line. They kept their promise and back in our sneakers, with sunglasses in place, we headed out into the brightness and continued the journey we had embarked on 24 hours and two states ago.
Thumbs once again extended, we walked at a slow pace southbound on the I-95. Only a short time later an 18 wheeler slowed as it drove past us. Eventually it came to a stop on the side of the road. Blonde ponytails bouncing, we broke into a slow run.
With wide smiles we approached the passenger side door of the massive truck. A young boy of no more than 15 opened it and hopped out to let us climb into the back of the cab…which was actually a bed.
This might have been cause for alarm, but it looked dark and comfortable and considering the driver of this particular rig turned out to be the young boys, very sweet seeming, grandfather, we felt comfortable in the assumption we had scored ourselves just about the safest ride on the highway.
We kicked off our shoes and sat cross legged on the bed as we excitedly told our ride we were heading all the way to California and we’d gratefully stay with them for as far as they were going in that direction.
Grandpa and his grandson exchanged glances and with a chuckle grandpa informed us we were on the wrong route. Apparently we had never thought to consult an actual map and something had put it in our heads that the I-95 was the way to go. We were mistaken.
This called for a quick reassessment of our plans since we were now in a vehicle that was actually Florida bound. It didn’t take us long to conclude that the simplest solution would be to change course.
We thought of a good friend Lenny, who had recently moved down to Raleigh, North Carolina. We had a phone number for him and decided a surprise visit was as good a plan as any.
Our trucker buddies were more than happy to have our company for the five or six- hour drive to the Raleigh exit.
As the miles rolled by we took naps, watched tv, conversed about the trucker lifestyle, and were treated to a greasy meal at a truck stop.
Having arrived at our newly planned destination and grateful for the time we shared with these two sweet generations of men, we sincerely thanked them as they safely deposited us back onto the highway.
We walked the actual exit ramp and found our next ride in the form of a compact car driven by a teenage girl.
Amanda took the backseat and as I entered the front, the driver while reaching under her seat to briefly expose a gun that was safely tucked away, said sweetly in a thick southern drawl “now I won’t have any problems with you gals, will I?” We assured her she wouldn’t and let her know we were traveling with our own protection as a precautionary tactic as well.
We told her we didn’t know exactly where we were going, but we had a phone number to a house somewhere in Raleigh and if we could just get to town and a payphone we could handle it from there.
She not only obliged in getting us to a local payphone, but then provided us with the necessary change to make our call.
Lenny got on the phone with excitement in his voice when it was passed to him and he was told it was “Deanna from NY”. His excitement turned briefly to disbelief and then back to excitement when I informed him I was with Amanda and calling from a local stripmall.
After describing the surrounding storefronts it was determined that as luck would have it we were actually right around the corner from the house he was currently staying in!
In a borrowed car Lenny pulled up to us just minutes after hanging up the phone. He looked the same as the last time I’d seen him in NY, which was pretty much the same as the first time I’d laid eyes on him one summer day four years earlier.
I was crazy about Lenny from that first moment. I had been hopeful he felt the same way about me and had invited him to a get together at my mom’s. He was about four or five years older than me and ended up hooking up with my mom’s friend instead. I was bummed, but we stayed friends. Eventually a year or two later we had our romantic connection, but like most of my relationships the fantasy didn’t match the reality and I lost interest quickly. Still he held a special spot when it came to being a friend.
If memory serves me correctly I think he may have had some involvement of the on again/off again variety with Amanda as well. The lines were frequently blurred during those crazy years.
He exited the car quickly and swept me up into a tight embrace. I looked up at him and pushed his long hair out of his sleepy brown eyes. He offered me a crooked smile as he shook his head at our surprise appearance. He greeted Amanda affectionately as well and off we went.
It took me by surprise to learn the house Lenny was staying at was actually pretty much a drug den filled with skinheads. Not so much the drug den part, but definitely the skinhead factor.
I was fairly certain it was out of necessity for a safe place to lay low since I believed it was more than likely a legal situation that had inspired Lenny’s desire to relocate out of NY.
Whatever the views of these housemates, they were certainly welcoming enough to two little *blonde white girls and considering there was at least a dozen of both males and females in various areas of the house, I was not about to vocalize my judgement.
Not until later that was. After feeding us, allowing us to take showers, and sharing their drugs and alcohol freely, they set us up in the basement with makeshift beds alongside Lenny’s.
***Hindsight affords me the opportunity to see how this was a clear example of white privilege in action. I’m not proud of my willingness that evening to blend into what looked like a scene from the set of American History X, but I’ll leave that acknowledgment here and continue on with the story.
Once the three of us had a chance to talk alone amongst ourselves I had to ask him “what the fuck are you thinking Lenny?”, “I know, I know, it’s not like I want to be here” he answered. We conceded that accepting their hospitality was a means to an end and we had no other current option. Or did we….
As we sat there catching up we told Lenny of our original plans for California. Lenny thought we should get back to that course of action and said he’d love to come along. He was welcome company, the only problem was how much more difficult getting rides would be having a 6’ something, hippie looking dude in tow.
This could of course easily be resolved if we had access to a vehicle. As luck would have it, Amanda and I were no strangers to the act of “borrowing” vehicles without permission.
The basement had bilco doors leading to the open yard on a corner lot and right outside those doors just so happened to be the car Lenny had scooped us up in only a few hours earlier. With soft voices, a plan was formed.
We tasked Lenny with the job of going upstairs and lifting the keys. He accomplished this easily.
Meanwhile having done his laundry earlier that day without the convenience of a dryer, his clothes were strewn on a clothing line stretched across the basement. We began to pull everything down and hastily shoved it in his bag.
We rolled up a blanket to bring now that we had the luxury of a car and had everything just about ready to go when we heard the door at the top of the stairs open. We quickly sat on the ground and tried to act normal, my heart racing at the thought they had discovered the missing keys. Frantically I also realized where earlier there had been our belongings spread around casually, everything was now piled up ready to be carried out. Surely we had been caught.
As Brian, who turned out to be the last guy awake in the house, came down the stairs I concentrated on suppressing my laughter. With the combination of being stoned and having a long history of an inappropriate nervous laughter habit, I wasn’t a hundred percent successful at accomplishing that.
I was pretty certain that my inability to contain myself in what could potentially be a dangerous situation would seal our fates, however that didn’t turn out to be the case.
As he stood in front of us awkwardly trying to make conversation and clearly unaware of how we had just sat down as quickly as if the music had suddenly stopped during a game of musical chairs, I began to realize he was down here in the hopes of finding out which one of us was ‘with’ Lenny and to perhaps score some alone time with whoever that left available. He gave up relatively easy and excused himself to go to bed.
We waited for what seemed like forever and eventually worked up our courage enough to climb up the basement steps and cautiously open the bilco doors. The only sound was the rhythmic chirping of crickets as moonlight lit up our path from the doors to the car.
We quickly and more than likely not as quietly as one really should be under the circumstances, made our way.
With stifled giggles we shoved our belongings in, shifted the car into neutral and pushed it off the property. The car was small and light and with one of us steering this was easy to do.
When we considered ourselves a reasonably safe distance, we jumped in, started her up, and took off, finally allowing ourselves to erupt in laughter.
The next several days were spent doing our best to stick to a plan. However, we were easily thrown off course many times by various factors.
The first being we drove straight into a hurricane. Still not having consulted a map, we also neglected to glance at a weather forecast. We drove along on a mostly abandoned stretch of highway as sideways sheets of rain made seeing the road ahead of us challenging and high winds threatened to push our tiny vehicle across the empty lanes.
We occasionally passed a tractor trailer pulled to the side for safety which made us laugh defiantly about how we refused to stop. Stop we eventually did though when it became completely impossible to see and we then spent the rest of the storm sleeping in the car, completely oblivious of how dangerous our actions actually were.
Eventually the rain and wind ceased and the sun began to shine once again. The good weather proved to delay our travels just as easily as the bad.
We had made it as far as Georgia, although had we ever looked at that map we would have known we shouldn’t be in Georgia, but we decided it seemed like a fun place to stop and get some food and stretch our legs.
We ventured far enough off the highway that we found a town with a huge park. While there were beautiful stately homes on one side of the park, on the other was a more familiar element.
Not surprisingly we somehow managed to make new friends. One in particular was a young blonde haired, blue eyed hustler. He was pure southern charm and I enjoyed his company immediately.
We lost track of time as we partied the day away with our sweet new friend and as darkness chased away the bright sun that had made it so tempting to delay our travel we began to think about our destination once again.
As we discussed our plans in the company of the beautiful, young boy from Georgia, he chimed in with “If Y’all would be willing to go through Tennessee to make ya way to California I have a uncle there I wouldn’t mind getting a ride to, you know, if y’all got room for one more”.” We all agreed easily and I was particularly happy to be keeping him around a little longer.
We did a quick assessment of our funds between all of us and realized they were dangerously low. Amanda and I decided the best bet would be to sell the gun we had in our possession.
Georgia boy seemed like a capable candidate to facilitate a transaction like that and readily accepted the challenge. He brought me and the gun along with him as we went walking across town to where he felt he could best accomplish the necessary task. He was a seasoned street kid and pulled this off with ease. Less than an hour later we were walking back to where we left Lenny and Amanda, with cash in hand. Once again under the cover of darkness we hit the road.
I relinquished the front seat and climbed in the back with our newly added fourth. We drove a few hours until the days partying caught up to us and we all realized we were exhausted so we pulled over. Curled up on Georgia with his arms protectively around me I slept blissfully until the rising sun flooded the car with light. I buried my face against his chest to stay in the darkness, but Lenny was already up and ready to get back to driving.
My time with Georgia was growing short and I was going to miss him. It was a short drive off the beaten path to where we were leaving my almost lover. We stayed long enough for some breakfast and to freshen up, but my traveling companions were anxious to hit the road. He discussed route options with Lenny and we felt like we had the general direction down. Him and I said a playful goodbye and I climbed into what now felt like a lonely backseat.
The novelty of our road trip began to wear off for me as I got my period. Amanda and I ran into a gas station convenience store somewhere in Alabama to get tampons and food, as Lenny filled the car with gas. Needing a bathroom, I wandered into the attached garage and asked four old timers sitting around a table playing cards if I could use one.
My thick New York accent seemed to immediately set them on edge as one responded in an equally as thick southern drawl “well that all depends on how long y’all are staying around these parts, if ya just passin’ through ya go ahead now and then be on yer way”. I assured him and the rest of these good ol’ southern boys sitting there behind a cloud of smoke that indeed we would promptly be on our way as I headed nervously in the direction he pointed me.
It didn’t take long for us to run out of money and it had been a while since we showered. The car was beginning to seem too confined and I was growing tired of Amanda and Lenny’s company, as I’m sure they were growing equally tired of each other’s and mine.
We continued to wing it direction wise and wound up driving through Mississippi and eventually hit Texas where we stopped to get our bearings.
While there I decided to call home. My grandmother answered and accepted my collect call. By this time, she had heard from the police, as it turned out the car had been reported stolen. With Lenny’s full name and mine and Amanda’s first, the police were able to identify us with minimal investigation.
Grammie said there was an APB out on us and we would be arrested if pulled over so I should come home. She offered to fly me home, but refused to wire me money just to further fund my trip. Not feeling ready to so blatantly abandon my friends I thanked her, but refused her offer for help and assured her I’d be fine.
Next I called my father, however that turned out to be pointless. He flat out refused to donate to this little escapade at all so I thanked him for nothing and hung up.
I hesitated as I went to walk away and then turned back around once again reaching for the payphone. I dialed 0 and another number, after a few rings Tony, John Giovanni’s roommate answered. He accepted the charges and passed the phone off to John.
“Where the hell have you been?’ he shouted into the receiver, “your grandmother won’t tell me anything”, “you pissed me off and I decided to go to California” I responded in a matter of fact tone.
He didn’t believe me at first when I told him I was calling from Texas. I understood why considering it was less than a week ago I was laying in his bed. I told him he’d believe me when he got his phone bill and left it at that.
His voice softened as he let me know he missed me and that after not being able to find me he realized he may even love me.
Not that I even remotely loved John Giovanni, but my need to be loved responded swiftly to his declaration. I promised him I’d figure out a way to get back before hanging up. I immediately began to formulate a plan as to how I could manipulate the current situation to suit my own needs.
As I approached my friends who were casually leaning against our stolen car I said “Bad news, I just hung up with my grandmother and she says the cops know who we are” <<< that was true. “I think they know we’re heading to Florida or California” I added <<< maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.
We stood there contemplating what this meant for us as it registered we had done something we could actually go to jail for.
I quickly offered a solution…”I think we should turn around and head back to NY, nobody expects us to do that”. And then just like that our California destination was replaced with a return trip home.
We began to drive for longer stretches, stopping only when it was necessary to panhandle for gas money. We went through fast food drive ins close to closing time and begged for leftover food. We stopped in churches during the day to ask for money or food.
We survived day to day and kept driving. There was nothing glamorous about our north east travels and with no more romantic excursions in sight I had only one goal, to get back to Kings Park NY and the Italian boy who might love me.
We arrived in the evening to a full blown party under way, which was pretty typical. The crowd was aware of our excursions and it had us operating at celebrity status.
We entertained everybody with stories and I lost track of my partners in crime as I ended up back upstairs in John Giovanni’s room for the night.
Lenny had a plan to drive to a cousin’s house in PA and ditch the car at some point. He never made it. He got picked up along the way and a string of charges caught up to him. Living by the code of honor among thieves and not being a rat, he took the whole fall leaving Amanda and I completely absolved.
We would go on to not have a bit of repercussion from our cross country venture and to this day I am still not fully able to conjure up an image of the last time I saw Lenny. It’s as if he just faded from my sight and was gone from my world for good.
In, what is more than likely not surprising news, It turned out having John Giovanni’s love didn’t fulfill me the way I had hoped it would.
I grew restless quickly and thought it time to leave the house in Kings Park for good. I never knew if I was running from something or setting out in search of something. I just knew I couldn’t stay still for too long.
I scanned the room for any forgotten items and spotted a small red leather bound book on the dresser. I picked it up and ran my finger over the engraved “Holy Bible” on the cover.
I stuck it in my back pocket and closed the door behind me.