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Apr 16
It was 1972 and my dad was sick.  Well maybe not sick in the usual sense of the word, but his hip was.  He was in Boston, it was mid-winter, and he was an orthopedic patient in the Robert Bent Brigham Hospital.

He had been selected as an early recipient of what was called back then a ‘partial hip replacement.’  It was called partial, because they only replaced the arthritic hip ball, leaving the original (and degenerative) socket in place.  Needless to say these procedures didn’t work long term, but for those unable to walk and in pain, they were all that was available at the time.

I was in State College Pennsylvania when the call came in from my mother, telling me my dad was in the hospital. He was in so much pain they had to rush him to Boston by ambulance and schedule surgery just two days from now. I was living in the small rural town of Houserville Pa. about five miles West of State College and there was at least eight inches of fresh snow on the ground outside. It was 439 miles from State College to Boston. Based on my mothers phone call, if I wanted to see my Dad before his surgery, I had less than a full day to get there.

It was now 5:30 p.m. on Monday night and my father’s operation was scheduled for first thing (7:00 a.m.) Wednesday morning.  That meant that if I wanted to see him before he went to the O.R., I really needed to get there sometime before visiting hours were over Tuesday night.  My mother had said they were going to take him to pre-op at 6:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, and we wouldn’t have a chance to see him before he went down.

My only mode of transportation sat covered outside in the snow on my small front porch.  It was a six-month old 1971 750 Honda Motorcycle that I had bought new the previous September.  Because of the snowy winter conditions in the Nittany Mountains, I hadn’t ridden it since late November.  I hadn’t even tried to start it since the day before Christmas Eve when I moved it off the stone driveway and rode it up under our semi-enclosed front porch.

My roommate Steve and I lived in a converted garage that was owned by a Penn State University professor and his wife.  They lived in the big house next door and had built this garage when they were graduate students over twenty years ago. They had lived upstairs where our bedrooms now were, while storing their old 1947 Studebaker Sedan in the garage below.  It wasn’t until 1963 that they built the big house and moved out of the garage before putting it up for rent.

The ‘garage’ had no insulation, leaked like a sieve, and was heated with a cast iron stove that we kept running with anything we could find to throw in it.  We had run out of our winter ‘allotment’ of coal last week, and neither of us could afford to buy more.  We had spent the last two days scavenging down by the creek and bringing back old dead (and wet) wood to try and keep from freezing, and to keep the pipes inside from freezing too.

After hanging up the phone, I explained to Steve what my mother had just told me. He said: You need to get to Boston, and you need to leave now.  Steve had a 1965 Dodge Dart with a slant six motor that was sitting outside on the left side of the stone drive.  He said “you’re welcome to take it, but I think the alternator is shot.  Even if we get it jump-started, I don’t think it will make it more than ten or fifteen miles.”

It was then that we weighed my other options.  I could hitchhike, but with the distance and weather, it was very ‘iffy’ that I would get there on time.  I could take the Greyhound (Bus), but the next one didn’t leave until 3:00 tomorrow afternoon.  It wouldn’t arrive in Boston until 11:20 at night.  Too late to see my dad!

We both stared for a long time at the Motorcycle. It looked so peaceful sitting there under its grey and black cover.  Without saying a word to each other we grabbed both ends of the cover and lifted it off the bike.  I then walked down the drive to the road to check the surface for ice and snow.  It had snow on both sides but had been recently plowed. There was a small **** of snow still down the middle, but the surface to both sides looked clear and almost snow free.

      I Knew That Almost Was Never Quite Good Enough

I walked back inside the house and saw Steve sitting there with an empty ‘Maxwell House Tin’ in his hands. This is where Steve kept his cash hidden, and he took out what was in there and handed it all to me. “ You can pay me back next week when you get paid by Paul Bunyan.”  Paul Bunyan was the Pizza Shop on ****** Avenue that I delivered for at night, and I was due to be paid again in just four more days. I thanked Steve and walked up the ten old wooden and rickety stairs to our bedrooms.  

The walls were still finished in rough plywood sheathing that had never been painted or otherwise finished.  I packed the one leather bag that my Mother had given me for Christmas last year, put on my Sears long underwear, threw in my Dopp Kit and headed back downstairs. I also said a silent prayer for having friends … really good friends.

                 When I Got Downstairs, Steve Was Gone

Sensing I might need a ‘moment’ to finally decide, Steve had
started to walk down to highway # 64 and then hitchhike into town.  He was the photo-editor of the Penn State Yearbook, and Monday nights were when they had their meetings to get the book out.  The staff had only ninety more days to finish what looked to me to be an almost ‘impossible’ task.

As tough as his project was, tonight I was facing a likely impossible assignment of my own. Interstate #80 had just opened, and it offered an alternative to the old local road, Rt # 322.  The entrance to Rt. # 80 was ten miles away in Bellefonte Pennsylvania, and I knew those first ten miles could possibly be the worst of the trip.  I called my sister at home, and she said the weather forecast had said snow in the mountains (where I was), and then cold temperatures throughout the rest of the Northeast corridor.  Cold temperatures would mean a high of no more than 38 degrees all through the Pocono’s and across the Delaware Water Gap into New Jersey. Then low forty-degree temperatures the rest of the way.

I put two pairs of Levi’s Jeans on over my long-johns. I then put on my Frye boots with three pairs of socks, pulled my warmest fisherman’s knit wool sweater over my head and finished with my vintage World War Two leather bomber jacket to brace against the cold.  I had an early version of a full coverage helmet, a Bell Star, to protect my head and ears.  Without that helmet to keep out the cold, I knew I wouldn’t have had any chance of making the seven and a half hour ride.  To finish, I had a lightly tanned pair of deerskin leather gloves with gauntlets that went half way up my forearms. Normally this would have been ‘overkill’ for a ride to school or into town,

                                   But Not Tonight

I strapped my leather bag on the chrome luggage rack on the rear, threw my leg over the seat, and put the key into the ignition.  This was the first ‘electric start’ motorcycle I had ever owned, and I said a quick prayer to St Christopher that it would start. As I turned the key I couldn’t help but think about my father lying there in that hospital bed over four hundred miles away.  As I turned the key to the right, I heard the bike crank over four times and then fire to life as if I had just ridden it the day before.  As much as I wanted to be with my dad, I would be less than truthful if I didn’t confess that somewhere deep inside me, I was secretly hoping that the bike wouldn’t start.

I was an experienced motorcyclist and now 23 years old. I had ridden since I was sixteen and knew that there were a few ‘inviolable’ rules that all riders shared.  Rule number one was never ride after drinking.  Rule number two was never ride on a night like tonight — a night when visibility was awful and the road surface in many places might be worse. I again thought of my father as I backed the bike off the porch, turned it around to face the side street we lived on, dropped it into first gear, and left.  I could hear Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’ playing from the house across the street.  It was rented to students too, and the window over the kitchen was open wide — even on a night like this.

                  Oh, Those Carefree Days Of College Bliss

As I traveled down the mile long side street that we lived on, I saw the sign for state road #64 on my right.  It was less than 100 feet away and just visible in the cloudy mountain air.  I was now praying not for things to get better, but please God, don’t let them get any worse.  As I made the left turn onto #64 I saw the sign ‘Interstate 80 – Ten Miles,’ and by now I was in third gear and going about twenty five miles an hour.  In the conditions I was riding in on this Monday night, it felt like at least double that.

I had only ever been East on Rt #80 once before, always preferring the scenery and twisty curves of Rt #322.  Tonight, challenging roads and distracting scenery were the last thing that I wanted.  I was hoping for only one thing, and that was that PennDot, (The Pennsylvania Department Of Transportation), had done their job plowing the Interstate and that the 150 mile stretch of road from Bellefonte to the Delaware Water Gap was open and clear.  

As I approached the entrance ramp to Rt #80 East in Bellefonte, it was so far; so good.  If God does protect both drunks and fools, I was willing to be considered worse than both tonight, if he would get me safely to Boston without a crash.

The first twenty miles east on Interstate #80 were like a blur wrapped inside a time warp.  It was the worst combination
of deteriorating road conditions, glare from oncoming headlights, and spray and salt that was being kicked up from the vehicles in front of me.  Then it got worse — It started to snow again!

                                             More Snow!

What else could happen now I wondered to myself as I passed the exit for Milton on Rt #80.  It had been two hours since leaving the State College area, and at this pace I wouldn’t get to Boston until five or six in the morning. I was tucked in behind a large ‘Jones Motor Freight Peterbilt,’ and we were making steady but slow progress at about thirty miles per hour.  I stayed just far enough behind the truck so that the spray from his back tires wouldn’t hit me straight on.  It did however keep the road directly in front of me covered with a fresh and newly deposited sheet of snow, compliments of his eight rear wheels which were throwing snow in every direction, but mostly straight back at me.

I didn’t have to use the brakes in this situation, which was a real plus as far as stability and traction were concerned.  We made it almost to the Berwick exit when I noticed something strange.  Motorists coming from the other direction were rolling their windows down and shouting something at the drivers going my way.  With my helmet on, and the noise from the truck in front of me drowning everything else out, I couldn’t make out what they were trying to say.  I could tell they were serious though, by the way they leaned out their windows and shouted up at the driver in the truck I was following.

Then I saw it.  Up ahead in the distance it looked like a parade was happening in the middle of the highway. There were multi-colored flashing lights everywhere.  Traffic started to slow down until it was at a crawl, and then finally stopped.  A state police car came up the apron going the wrong way on our side and told everyone in our long line that a semi-truck had ‘jack-knifed’, and flipped over on its side, and it was now totally blocking the East bound lanes.  

The exit for Berwick was only two hundred yards ahead, and if you got over onto the apron you could make it off the highway.  Off the highway to what I wondered, but I knew I couldn’t sit out here in the cold and snow with my engine idling. It would eventually overheat (being air-cooled) even at these low temperatures which could cause mechanical problems that I’d never get fixed in time to see my dad.

I pulled over onto the apron and rode slowly up the high ramp to the right, and followed the sign at the top to Berwick.  The access road off the ramp was much worse than the highway had been, and I slipped and slid all the way into town.  I took one last look back at the menagerie of lights from the medivac ambulances and tow trucks that were now all over the scene below.  The lights were all red and blue and gold, and in a strange twisted and beautiful way, it reminded me of the ride to church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

                  Christmas Eve With My Mom And My Dad

In Berwick, the only thing I saw that was open was the Bulldog Lounge.  It was on the same side of the street that I was on and had a big VFW sign hanging under its front window.  I could see warm lights glowing inside and music was drifting through the brick façade and out onto the sidewalk. I stopped in front of the rural Pennsylvania tavern and parked the bike on its kickstand, unhooked my leather bag from the luggage carrier and walked in the front door.

Once inside, there was a bar directly ahead of me with a tall, sandy haired woman serving drinks.  “What can I get you,” she said as I approached the bar, but she couldn’t understand my answer.  My mouth and face were so frozen from the cold and the wind that my speech was slurred, and I’m sure it seemed like I was already drunk when I hadn’t even had a drink.  She asked again, and I was able to get the word ‘coffee’ out so she could understand it. She turned around behind her to where the remnants from what was served earlier that day were still overcooking in the ***. She put the cup in front of me, and I took it with both hands and held it close against my face.

After ten minutes of thawing out I finally took my first swallow.  It  tasted even worse than it looked, but I was glad to get it, and I then asked the bar lady where the restrooms were.  “Down that corridor to the right” she said, and I asked her if she would watch my bag until I got back.  Without saying a word, she just nodded her head. As I got to the end of the corridor, I noticed a big man in a blue coat with epaulets standing outside the men’s room door.  He had a menacing no-nonsense look on his face, and didn’t smile or nod as I walked by.  His large coat was open and as I looked at him again, I saw it – he was wearing a gun.
                                   He Was Wearing A Gun

As I went into the men’s room, I noticed it was dark, but there was a lot of noise and commotion coming from the far end.  I looked for the light switch and when I found it, I couldn’t believe what I saw next.  Someone was stuck in the window at the far end of the men’s room, with the lower half of their body sticking out on my side and the upper half dangling outside in the cold and the dark.  It looked like a man from where I stood, and he was making large struggling sounds as he either tried to push his way out or pull his way back in.  I wasn’t sure at this point which way he was trying to go. Something else was also strange, he had something tied or wrapped around the bottom of his legs.

It was at this point that I opened up the men’s room door again and yelled outside for help.  In an instant, the big man with the blue coat and gun ran almost right over me to the window and grabbed the mans two legs, and in one strong movement pulled him back in the window and halfway across the floor.  It was then that I could see that the man’s legs were shackled, and handcuffs were holding his arms tightly together in front of his body.  He had apparently asked to use the facility and then tried to escape once inside and alone.

The large guard said “Jimmy, I warned you about trying something like this.  I have half a mind now to make you hold it all the way back to New Hampshire.” He stood the young man up and went over and closed the window. He locked it with the hasp.  He then let the man use the toilet in the one stall, but stood right there with him until he was done.  By this time I was back inside and finishing my coffee.  The guard came in, seated his prisoner at a table by the wall, and then walked over and sat down next to me at the bar.

“You really saved me a lot of trouble tonight, son” he said, “If he had gotten out that window, I doubt I’d have found him in the dark and the snow.  I’d have been here all night, and that’s ‘if’ I caught him again.  My *** would have been in a sling back at headquarters and I owe you a debt of thanks.”  You don’t owe me anything I said, I was just trying to help, and honestly didn’t know he was a prisoner when I first saw him suspended in the window. “Well just the same, you did me a big favor, and I’d like to try and return it if I could.”

He then asked me if I lived in Berwick, and I told him no, that I was traveling to Boston to see my father in the hospital and had to get off the highway on my motorcycle because of the wreck on Interstate #80.  “You’re on a what,” he asked me!  “A motorcycle” I said again, as his eyes got even wider than the epaulets on his shoulders.  “You’re either crazy or desperate, but I guess it’s none of my business.  How are you planning on getting to Boston tonight in all this snow?”  When I told him I wasn’t sure, he told me to wait at the bar.  He went to the pay phone and made a short phone call and was back in less than three minutes.  The prisoner sat at the table by the wall and just watched.

The large man came back over to the bar and said “my names Bob and I work for the U.S. Marshals Office.  I’m escorting this fugitive back to New Hampshire where he stole a car and was picked up in West Virginia at a large truck stop on Interstate #79.  Something about going to see his father whom he had never met who was dying on some Indian reservation in Oklahoma.  He’d have made it too, except he parked next to an unmarked state trooper who was having coffee, thought he looked suspicious, and then ran his plates.”

“I’m driving that big flatbed truck outside and transporting both him and the car he stole back to New Hampshire for processing and trial.  I’ve got enough room behind the car to put your bike on the trailer too.  If you’d like, I can get you as far as the Mass. Pike, and then you’ll only be about ninety minutes from Boston and should be there for breakfast. If you don’t mind ridin with ‘ole Jimmy’ here, I can get you most of the way to where you’re going. I don’t think you’ll make it all the way on that two-wheeler alone out on that highway tonight.

The Good Lord takes many forms and usually arrives when least expected.  Tonight he looked just like a U.S. Marshal, and he was even helping me push my bike up the ramp and onto the back of his flatbed.  He then even had the right straps to help me winch it down so it wouldn’t move as we then headed North through the blinding snow in the dark.  Bob knew a back way around the accident, and after a short detour on Pa. Routes #11 and #93, we were back on the Interstate and New England bound.

The three of us, Bob, Jimmy and I, spent the first hour of the ride in almost total silence.  Bob needed to stop for gas in Stroudsburg and asked me if I would accompany Jimmy to the men’s room inside.  His hands and feet were still ‘shackled,’ and I can still see the looks on the faces of the restaurant’s patrons as we walked past the register to the rest rooms off to the left.  Jimmy still never spoke a word, and we were back outside in less than five minutes.

Once back in the truck Bob said “Jesus, it’s cold out here tonight. You warm enough kid,” as he directed his comment to Jimmy.  I still had on my heavy leather bomber jacket, but Jimmy was wearing a light ‘Members Only’ cotton jacket that looked like it had seen much better days.  Jimmy didn’t respond.  I said: “Are you warm enough kid,” and Bob nudged Jimmy slightly with his right elbow.  Jimmy looked back at Bob and said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.”

Then Bob started to speak again.  “You know it’s a **** shame you got yourself into this mess.  In looking at your record, it’s clean, and this is your first offense.  What in God’s name possessed you to steal a car and try to make it all the way to Oklahoma in weather like this?”  Jimmy looked down at the floor for the longest time and then raised his head, looked at me first, and then over at Bob …

“My Mom got a letter last week saying that the man who is supposed to be my father was in the Choctaw Nation Indian Hospital in Talihina Oklahoma.  They also told her that he was dying of lung cancer and they didn’t expect him to last long.  His only wish before he died was to see the son that he abandoned right before he was shipped off to Seoul during the Korean War. I tried to borrow my uncle’s car, but he needed it for work.  We have neighbors down the street who have a car that just sits. They have a trailer in Florida for the winter, and I planned to have it back before anyone missed it.  The problem was that their son came over to check on the place, saw the car was missing, and reported it to the cops. I never meant to keep it, I just wanted to get down and back before anyone noticed.”

“Dumb, Dumb, Dumb, Bob said!  Don’t you know they make buses for that.”  Jimmy says he never thought that far, and given the choice again that’s what he’d do.  Bob took one more long look at Jimmy and just slowly shook his head.  Then he said to both of us, “how old are you boys?”  I said 23, as Jimmy nodded his head acknowledging that he was the same age.  Bob then said, “I got bookends here, both goin in different directions,”

Jimmy then went on to say, “My mom my little sister and I live in a public housing project in Laconia.  I never knew my dad, but my grandma, when she was alive, said that he was a pretty good guy.  My mother would never talk about why he left, and I felt like this was my last chance to not only meet him but to find all that out before he passed.”  I glanced over at Bob and it looked like his eyes were welling up behind the thick glasses he wore.  Jimmy then said: “If I got to rethink this thing, I would have stayed in New Hampshire.  It just ‘seemed’ like the right thing to do at the time.

We rode for the next hour in silence.  Bob already knew my story, and I guess he didn’t think sharing it with Jimmy would make him feel any better.  The story of an upper middle class college kid on the way to see his dad in Boston would probably only serve to make what he was feeling now even worse.  The sign up ahead said ‘Hartford, 23 miles’. Bob said, “Kurt, this is where we drop you off.  If you cut northeast on Rt # 84, it will take you to the Mass.Pike.  From where you pick up the pike, you should then be no more than an hour or so from downtown Boston.

During those last 23 miles Bob spoke to Jimmy again.  I think he wanted me to hear it too. “Jimmy,” Bob said, “I’m gonna try and help you outta this mess.  I believe you’re basically a good kid and deserve a second chance.  Somebody helped me once a long time ago and it made all the difference in my life.”  Bob looked over at me and said. “Kurt, whatta you think?”  I said I agreed, and that I was sure that if given another chance, Jimmy would never do anything like this again.  Jimmy said nothing, as his head was again pointed down toward the floor.

“I’ll testify for you at your hearing,” Bob said, “and although I don’t know who the judge will be, in most cases they listen when a federal marshal speaks up on behalf of the suspect.  It doesn’t happen real often, and that’s why they listen when it does.

    More Than Geographical Borders Had Now Been Crossed,
             Human Borders Were Being Expanded Too!

We arrived in Hartford and Bob pulled the truck over. He slid down the ramp and attached it to the back of the flat wooden bed. Jimmy even tried to help as we backed the Honda down the ramp. They both stood there as I turned the key and the bike fired up on the first try.  Bob then said, “You got enough money to make it the rest of the way, kid,” I said that I did, and as I stuck out my hand to thank him he was already on his way back to the truck with his arm around Jimmy’s shoulder.

The ride up #84 and then #90 East into Boston was cold but at least it was dry.  No snow had made it this far North.  My father’s operation would be successful, and I had been able to spend most of the night before the surgery with him in his hospital room.  He couldn’t believe that I had come so far, and through so much, just to be with him at that time. I told him about meeting Jimmy and Bob, and he said: “Son, that boys gonna do just fine.  Getting caught, and then being transferred by Bob, is the best thing that ever happened to him.”  

“I had something like that happen to me in Nebraska back in 1940, and without help my life may have taken an entirely different turn.  My options were, either go away for awhile, or join the United States Marine Corps — Thank God for the ‘Corps.”  My dad had run away from home during the depression at 13 and was headed down a very uncertain path until given that choice by someone who cared so very long ago.

“It only takes one person to make all the difference,” my dad said, and I’m so happy and grateful that you’re here with me tonight.

As they wheeled my dad into surgery the next morning, I couldn’t help but think about Jimmy, the kid who was my age and never got to see his dad before it was too late.

On that fated night, two young men ‘seemingly’ going in opposite directions had met in the driving snow. One was looking for a father he had only heard about but never knew.  The other trying to get to a father he knew so well and didn’t think he could live without.


      Jimmy Was Adopted That Night Through The Purity
                        Of His Misguided Intention …
                       As So Few Times In Life We Are!
Kurt Philip Behm
Written by
Kurt Philip Behm
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