Sunday, July 13, 2008

On a wish and a dare...

HALLIE: I know Rosemary is going to beat us all to smithereens with this question, but what’s the most daring (or foolhardy) thing you’ve ever done? And getting married doesn’t count.

I am one of the most careful people I know. Even after I moved to New York, it was months before I could make myself cross the street on a red light. My nightmares as a kid involved being in the school hallway without a pass.
One of the dumbest things I ever did was hitch a ride home from with my best friend Carlynne Lampert (where are you, Carlynne?). We were maybe fifteen years old, and about a mile from home when we stuck out our thumbs. The car that stopped was a white Ford Fairlane with a Spanish-speaking family of four in it. We squeezed in and they dropped us four blocks from Carlynne’s house. The mother lectured us in Spanish before dropping us off.

“Nothing happened,” I later insisted to my mother. What were we thinking? It was just our lucky day that nothing did.

JAN: The foolhardy list is endless. Especially in my teenage years when it was a miracle that I wasn't the next Karen Ann Quinlan. I also hitchhiked, not just for transportation, but for sport.

But in terms of daring, where I actually THOUGHT about what I was about to do, there are two: Singing solo at the annual Follies production (a spoof of the news.)in front of one thousand people.The second is jumping off the bridge on Martha's Vineyard into the ocean on state beach. (remember the Jaws movie?) If you go there, you'll see a zillion kids doing this, but I am severely acrophobic, so this meant wrestling my biggest fear down to the ground.

RO: Jan's thrown down the gauntlet and now the pressure is on..
I'm tempted to say the most foolhardy/daring thing I've ever done is to send my book to an agent, but I don't think that's what Jan's looking for. In retrospect some of my African adventures have been...adventures. I did get frostbite climbing Kili, I did briefly take the controls of a small plane flying from Nairobi to Arusha. I/we did roll into a Tanzanian town after dark with no place to stay. But none of those things felt daring at the time.

OK, I got it...Bruce and I were in Zihuatenajo (I have a thing for Shawshank Redemption.) I think we were actually on the beach where Andy and Red meet at the end of the movie (Barra de Potosi?)and we had a few beers with this local guy who seemed very friendly. We told him the next day we were heading north to Michoacan to see the butterfly migration but connections were difficult. He offered to drive us - a short cut (!) and we said yes. It was eight hours of bad road and I bumped around in the back of a tiny rustbucket that had to be 20 yrs old. Pretty stupid..I don't know what we were thinking. He could have killed us and they never would have found our bodies.

ROBERTA: okay, if getting married to a guy with two kids doesn't count as daring/foolhardy, I don't know what does! But I'll play...after college, I decided I needed to really leave home. So I loaded up my Chevy Vega with a tent, a Coleman stove, a hatchet, and my clothes and set out for Boulder from New Jersey with a girlfriend. (Actually the hatchet was a gift from my dad at the last minute--can you imagine how much he loved this plan??) Along the way, my friend decided she was going to marry her high school sweetheart. Although she wanted to stay with me until I was settled, I was too pissed to take her up on that offer. And not so crazy about Colorado--too far from the ocean and the mountains felt claustrophobic. So I drove to California by myself, found a campground in Santa Barbara, and lived in my tent until I found a roommate and a waitressing job. Whew, I wouldn't do that today!

HANK: So, Rosemary, did you see the butterflies? Let's see. I hitchhiked from Oxford, Ohio to Cincinnati to hand out campaign info for George McGovern. My college roommate and I were picked up by a nice man who looked like someone's father--he yelled at us all the way to Cincy about how stupid we were and gave us bus fare to get back to school.

And it wasn't on purpose, but I was flying in a tiny plane from Boston to Vermont to cover a story on some alleged cult that was abusing their cult children. We were going to touch down, meet a local videographer, run to the court, get the story, leap back into the plane and get to Boston in time for the 6pm news.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and so much fun to fly. SO I was looking out the window, watching the ground below, and feeling kind of glamorous.

Until I looked over at the pilot. And realized he was FALLING ASLEEP. I mean, his eyes were closed. CLOSED.

Me. And a sleeping pilot.

I have never talked so much and so animatedly in my LIFE. It was like Scheherezade, keeping the guy interested. To keep myself alive.

I also sang the entire song White Rabbit, (pulling out all the stops, and with new lyrics I had written for the occasion) with a whole band in front of a pretty big crowd. I literaly almost fainted afterwards when my adrenaline plummeted or something.

HALLIE: I knew you guys would show me up to be the piker that I am in the daring-do department. Jan and Hank, next time we get togehter you guys are singing a duet of White Rabbit.


  1. Hitch-hiking? Oh my. As a kid I did it with my cousin a few times in the UK, where it was more commonly thought 'safe' in the 60s, but never, ever, ever in the U.S. You gals are much braver than I.

    Once you learn how to spin airplanes, I don't know if that's foolhardy or daring anymore. I guess it depends which side of the stick you're on, and how much experience you have doing it. As a flight instructor I'm required to do it. Maybe the most daring thing I've done was spun a plane that had, years earlier, had an incident where a wing sheared off. It was replaced and tested, but the wags on the airfield said that plane was like a spooky horse ever afterward, and that you could never tell when she wouldn't forgive a strong crosswind or a student's cross-controlled stall.

    But I did take a couple of flight lessons with a pilot on the U.S. Aerobatic team in 1991. That was hot, hot, hot. Scary sometimes, to watch the Atlantic plummeting UP at you as the plane went divergent and tumbled every which way, but quite the rush, too. Who needs drugs after a Pitts S-2B?

    The one that gives my mother a bit of the willies is my love of working aloft on tall ships. The higher the better, particularly when the ship is working strong seas. It's like being on the end of the pendulum in a falling clock! A fantasy: I have a real jones to climb the mainmast of the Constitution or the Victory. Won't happen -- those lovely ships are profoundly protected from civilian sailors, but...

    I have worked the (formerly) HMS Rose, now renamed the HMS Surprise (for the movie), and one of my dearest memories is going aloft to clear the mainmast pennant on her. I loved to do it so much that on that particular voyage, I got to do it every time. The world is very, very sweet up there, with the wind making songs in the rigging and the wooden ship a steady thrum underneath.

    The ship:

    And me up there clearing the pennant!

    When I retire, if body-able, I swear I'm going to take a year and run away to sea.

    (Hank, the sleeping pilot story is priceless.)

  2. My first job out of business school was as a junior construction manager for a shopping mall in Albany, New York. The mall was shaped like a dumbbell, with anchor stores at each end, but at the last minute we had to angle the Caldor store 45 degrees to protect the privacy of a rare breed of butterfly that nested on the site.

    The steel for that section was late in coming, so I was charged with buying a humongous tarp to cover the open area. It was January and it was cold and snowy the night all the construction managers climbed to the top of the steel skeleton to lay out the tarp.

    I was wearing cowboy boots that slipped and slid over the metal trusses, and it's a wonder that none of us fell off the roof while trying to tie down that dumb tarp.

  3. S - OMG is that really you? I can't even watch people do that in movies. I don't think it's the height as much as the water. Even though I know it was all done with computers, the end of (the movie)The Perfect Storm freaks me out.

  4. Yes -- it's really me! That photo was taken by a shipmate of mine (Hallie and Hank met her last March). This shot was taken about 15 minutes later, on the way down from clearing the pennant, sitting on the maintop--a more sociable height.

    The water in the background is the Hudson. We were headed up to re-enact the Battle of Kingston.

    I've been thinking about this thread since I posted, and I realized that I'm willing to do some weird things when it involves nerving myself up to do something, but I am far less trusting of other people -- which is maybe why I find the idea of hitchhiking with a stranger so absolutely scary. And even though I fly for part of my living, it's not hard to imagine what it would be like to be a passenger in a small airplane with the pilot falling asleep, and how vulnerable and alone that would feel.

  5. I flew 3,000 to California--no job, no car, to move in with a woman I'd met briefly three months before. She informed me she'd just had an abortion and was moving in with her boyfriend and I could live with them, too.

    Why I didn't jump on the next plane home is beyond me.

    I did end up going home five months later, after my "new" roommate left me in the lurch with a lease, all the utilities in my name, and took all the rolls of toilet paper and my only hair brush.

    I survived, but was an emtional wreck with trust issues for a couple of years after. Fodder for good stories, eh?

  6. Susannah: Show off.
    Neil: Cowboy boots in Albany in January?? What were you thinking (as your mother would have said.)
    Lorraine: Taking the toilet paper is the ultimate insult. Love the photo...that must be you when.

  7. Heh. ::thhhppbt!::


    Now ... ask me if I'd ever by any stretch of the imagination have *elective* surgery of any kind. And watch me turn white and run as fast as my trembly pins could take me.

    The idea of surgery,any surgery, scares the lillylivers out of me.
    I'd do it if I *had* to, but Whoa Nellie, I'd be terrified. And I absolutely would not hitchhike to get there!

    currently reading: Jonathan Miles, Dear American Airlines
    next up: Chang-rae Lee,Aloft
    and Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain

  8. Hope you don't mind that I'm posting this anonymously.

    I once spent a year undercover in a drug ring, courtesy the FBI and the Office of Naval Intelligence (an agency now defunct, I think). It was interesting and dismaying, and after it was over, I realized that the bad guys liked me and were more concerned for my well being than the FBI was. More competent, too. Sorry, FBI.

  9. I used to (up till a couple of years ago) pick up hitch hikers. One night up near the Canadian border, just at Christmastime, I picked up a guy on I-35. We were driving along, and a bulletin came over the radio about some murder suspect. Description matched the hitcher. I'm into statistics, and new the odds were that my guy was not the suspect, and it was extremely cold and lonely out there, but he said, Just let me off here, and I did, but I worried a lot about him out there in that cold, black, bleak night.

    I could write a book about the hitch hikers I've picked up. But it always seemed wrong to me not to share what I had with those who didn't have it.

  10. I want to hear more about Roberta's hatchet...

  11. Susannah,
    You and I must be opposites. I CAN'T imagine getting up the nerve, EVER, to spin planes or working aloft in ships. I won't even go up on the bridge of my husband's boat when we're underway, but stay at sea level. But I'd still probably risk hitchhiking if I've had to. And I'm scheduling elective foot surgery as we speak (neuroma).

    And Xcribbler, you should write a short story at minimium on that experience. I'll still pick up hitchhikers on Martha's Vineyard, where all seems safe, And always feel guilty when I pass someone trying to get a ride in a more urban area.

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  13. In my mid-20s, I traveled from Quito, Ecuador, to Sao Paulo, Brazil, on my own, just me and my backpack on trains and buses, landing in towns not knowing where I was going to sleep that night. Hair-raising at times, to say the least.

    To me, pursuing a writing career also counts as hair-raising at times!

  14. Lisa, so amazing. YOu'd never consider that, now, right? Do we just feel--immortal when we're young? Driving fast? Sitting on the backs of convertibles?

    I mean--diving in a plane, puh. I IRONED my hair. Now that's scary.

    Anonymous--I'd sure love hear the rest of that story...

    And xcribbler--you KNOW that was the guy. Don't you?

  15. Hank--yep, I saw that typo or spello after I'd posted the comment. That's another topic, though--the things we mistype. For instance, sometimes I'll type "won" instead of "one." I KNOW the difference, but my fingers sometimes are just phonetic little devils.

  16. I do think it's an immortality thing. And now that I'm older (and would never travel that way again), maybe I get my immortality fix by writing?

  17. xcribbler--
    Oh! How hilarious. I wasn't correcting you--in fact, I was baffled about what you meant until I went back to look at your post again.

    No no--I meant, I think that absolutely *was* the bad guy. You were saying you knew the stats would be on your side that it wasn't him--but now, don't you think it was? I know it was.

  18. The stupidest thing I ever did was get in a van with a bunch of college friends when I knew the driver had had too much to drink. We crashed into a tree, fortunately at low speed because he just wandered off the road and over a curb. We were all tumbled around on the floor of the van, but noone was hurt. The idiot still didn't want to give up the keys, but this time we, the bigger idiots, made him.

    My mother, with four daughters, tried to instill in sall of us a healthy fear of hitch-hiking, and with me it stuck. I even made good money on it. My first published mystery was a story called "Roadside Roulette" about a college guy hitching though Vermont and six drivers on the road who might just pick him up. BSP here: That was the story that won the Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine award for best mystery story by a previously unpublished author.

    Susannah - I could barely look at the photo. I have nightmares about being on high, unstable surfaces: tall trees, trapeze platforms, flagpoles. I never know how I got up there in the first place.

    Hank - Can I have a recording of your "White Rabbit" performance to play when I get sleepy in the car? My other option is to nibble nonstop on those baby carrots (true).


  19. Interesting, Mo! The dreams about unstable surfaces.

    My nightmares are all about flying in fog and suddenly having high-tension powerlines spring up before me, too close for my airspeed and angle-of-attack to evade. No time for regret. I wake feeling sick with that horrid geometry.

    I don't remember what shapes bad dreams took before I learned to fly.

    I would like to read 'Roadside Roulette'--is it available now? I keep thinking that Anonymous' post would make a great basis for a novel, and xcribbler's a wonderful opening scene.

  20. Wow, Susannah--very interesting about the nightmares and how your daily life influences them. For me, the worst dreams have to do with the children. Brrr! The worst! Otherwise, it's just the old, I'm-back-in-high-school--naked--taking an-exam. I'm really sweating it, then I yell out, "Wait just a minute here! I have multiple college degrees! I don't have to take this stupid test! So there!

    Don't most people fly in dreams? I often do, and enjoy it immensely! Up in the clouds like Superman, well, Supergranny, then diving down to buzz a cabin or a cow. Wonderful dreams, those. Or zooming along the sidewalks just at knee-level to the pedestrians. Makes me wonder if people dreamed of flying before there were airplanes and Superman? Hmm.

  21. Oh--I've had just one flying dream. It was pretty recent. And I loved it. (Usually my dreams are about being late for a class I never knew I had, or that I didn't study for a test, things like that.)

    In the flying dream, I knew all the rules. You could not take off from a building, you had to be on the ground and go up. Someone asked me to take something, like a big envelope, to someone else--and I remember vividly--I said, very annoyed, "Oh, you can't CARRY anything."

    And xcribbler, along those lines about flying dreams: I've always wanted to do a paper on the anxiety dreams of other cultures. Do people in say, Afghanistan or Mali, have the dream about missing their important test?

    Dream books say flying dreams are about trying to escape, right? I competely disagree. I think they're freedom.

  22. Just passing by and saw this interesting post.

    Was that "daring" or "stupid?" Mine was most definitely "stupid" and it involved confronting someone I was dealing with who was carrying a shotgun. I was not armed, just very ticked off. Nothing I would EVER recommend to anyone else and afterwards, I realized just how stupid it was. I'll blame the whole thing on hormones and count my blessings I came out of it unscathed...

    Felicia Donovan

  23. "Roadside Roulette" is, by the way, a helluva story.

    Thanks for letting me take a peek, Mo.

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