I was reminded of something when reading another columnist’s essay about neighborhood bars.
When I was in high school, I worked at Britt’s Department Store in the Kingston Plaza and also at the local daily newspaper. That was the Seventies. The last I knew, that was now OTB and Hannaford’s. But back then, it was Britt’s, anchoring the plaza with Sears at the other end. And there was a young, vibrant bunch of journalists at the daily paper.
I lived in Zena, and my transportation back and forth to school and work was a Dodge Dart that had belonged to my late grandmother. It had a temperamental thermostat and was inclined to overheat for no reason we could ever determine, but it got me where I needed to go.
It also gave me the freedom to explore.
One rainy autumn evening I was driving down Sawkill Road (a more fun route to drive than boring old Route 28) to pick up my paycheck. No one was expecting me. I had time to kill. And somewhere along that route, in a place I couldn’t find now if you paid me, there was an intriguing right turn. So I explored.
It wasn’t much of a road, and as I continued on, it narrowed still further. I passed a few house trailers, dotted here and there, and then went by a small wooden building with a Budweiser sign lit in the window. Then the road turned to dirt. The dirt turned to mud. And at the crest of a hill, the road turned into a glorified walking trail on the way down. I hit the brakes, but the mud carried the car down the hill until it was wedged between two trees.
I was in trouble.
I got out of the car, in the middle of absolute nowhere, and walked back to that building with the neon beer sign. I hesitated on the porch. I was a 17-year-old girl, alone, walking into a bar in a very, very remote place. But this was the world before mobile phones, and if I was going to get help I was going to have to ask strangers.
I walked in and remember three or four men in the dim light, drinking beer at the bar. All heads turned as I walked in, and my heart sank.
But here’s the thing – they were lovely. One offered to pull my car out of the mud with his truck. The bartender gave me a phone, I called home to let my parents know what happened and where I was.
I ended up writing an essay about it for the local paper. I waxed poetic about how kind were the people of our area. I did not reflect on the actions that got me into that pickle.
Now, a very long time later, I think that girl was stupid. And very, very lucky.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.