They often say that the most exciting part of a trip is the journey and not the destination. I’m not sure who “they” are, but they probably never broke down in the middle of nowhere late at night.
In the Fall of 1992, my brother Sean and I were both attending Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, MO. I was a Sophomore, and Sean was taking a “bonus” semester before he graduated.
Sean and I had plans to take the three-hour trek back home to St. Louis for the weekend to do laundry, eat something other than Cashew Chicken and visit our family.
Sean was working as a shuttle bus driver around campus and wasn’t set to get off of work until around 9 pm, so our plan was for me to wait for him in the disgusting basement room he shared with two of his fraternity brothers and head home late that evening.
But fate, and the clutch in a 1982 Datsun B210 with 150,000 miles on the Odometer, was against us. Driving through the Ozark Mountains outside of Springfield, it became apparent that we would not be making it home that night.
The exit at Phillipsburg, MO now boasts The World’s Largest Gift Shop (I’m not sure how official those ranking are), but in 1992 it was home to a single gas station which closed at 7:00.
While the Datsun could still drive in reverse, our plan to drive backwards on the highway to the next town was deemed “unfeasible.” So the decision was made to walk the 10 miles to Lebanon. A town which looks like Chicago next to Phillipsburg, by flaunting both a Long John Silver’s and the Walnut Bowl Outlet.
Using the payphone at the gas station, we placed a collect call from “It’s Sean and Scott, don’t hang up!” to our parents. The one casualty of the cell phone that I truly miss is the late night collect phone call. What better way to scare the hell out of your parents while also costing them a fortune.
So we were on our way. Armed with the tire iron from the Datsun for defense and a Hostess Fruit Pie from a vending machine for sustenance. Just like the early settlers.
With ten miles ahead of us, we started things off right, with me slipping on a beer bottle in the grass and immediately injuring myself. But luck was still on our side as I didn’t smash the Fruit Pie in the spill.
While the prospect of a motorist slowing down to pick up a guy wearing a trench coat and another wielding a tire iron seemed slim, Sean made it clear that he would not accept a ride from anyone even if they did stop. “How do we know that some guy that pulls over to help us isn’t Al Bundy?,” he said.
Despite Sean’s reluctance to get into a stranger’s car, that did not stop him from cursing out the occupants of cars which sped past us for their lack of human decency and compassion.
That anger led to some minor vandalism, as I’m sure many of the mile markers along the route still retain dents from the Datsun’s tiny tire iron all of these years later.
We spent the next several hours walking and talking about all of the things that life had in store for us. All the while being cruelly mocked by billboards which advertised the Walnut Bowls outlet only eight miles ahead. Seven miles. Six miles….
When we finally got to a hotel well after one in the morning, Sean waffled on whether or not to spring for two beds, since the credit card he had came with strict instructions from our parents to only use in case of an emergency. I let him know that despite the lack of locusts, this would definitely count as an emergency.
We were exhausted, we were sore and we had only a handful of hours before our Dad would arrive to tow us home. Despite all of that, as was mine and my brother’s way, we turned on the TV to find that “The Outsiders” had just begun. So instead of going to bed like sensible people, we spent the next hour and a half watching Dallas and Soda Pop.
In the morning, my Dad arrived in exactly the way we would have expected. With a plan to tow the Datsun home hundreds of miles with an old rope he found at a junkyard tied to the back of our Malibu.
I immediately volunteered Sean to take the wheel of the powerless Datsun, which he was happy to do as long as he could still listen to the radio.
I can still see him drumming on the steering wheel and singing at the top of his lungs as the Datsun got smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. The first of only three times that the junkyard rope broke before we made it home. Who would have guessed?
I don’t get to Springfield very much anymore, but any time I am on that stretch of road, I always remember our long walk. Just walking and talking without a care in the world (aside from passing serial killers).
It was an experience and a story that I only really shared with one person, and now maybe I can help it to live on here.
I miss you Sean. Stay gold, Pony Boy.