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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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#35. I once road-tripped from Richmond, VA to Hilton Head, SC, overnight.

Of course, the worst part was that I’d made the same trip, in reverse, that same morning. Not cool.

Now, to be fair, I didn’t drive the whole way. But there were only two of us, so it was no picnic in the park, either. Here’s how it came to pass:

Six of us high school chums celebrated graduation by driving down to Hilton Head in our friend’s Chevy Suburban. If you haven’t seen a Suburban, it’s big. Huge. Imagine three Buicks crammed together. And that would be the trunk. Really, it’s fucking enormous.

So we had a fairly comfortable ride down. It was a twelve or fourteen hour drive, if I recall, but we took it in shifts, and got there on Saturday night with no incident. We were staying at a condo time-shared by the car owner’s father. So, really, we were kind of milking this guy. I mean, we were good friends with him — don’t get me wrong, we hung out with him quite a bit — but it started feeling to me as though he was the only one contributing to the trip. The car, the condo, and most or all of the gas. He was too nice to say it, but without him, we’d have never been able to go. Of course, he was the only rich kid in our group, so maybe he was cool with that. He was cool with pretty much everything; maybe I was the only one who noticed.

Anyway, a couple of hours into the trip, he sprung a surprise on us. His friend was graduating from high school in Richmond that week, and the ceremony was scheduled for Sunday evening. This is a girl that he’d visited many times — his grandma lived in Richmond — and he really wanted to see her. And what’s more, he needed someone to go with him. Like, oh, maybe the guy who felt like we all owed him a big favor and were semi-freeloading off his wealth and good graces? Somebody like that?

Why, yes, somebody exactly like that. So, I volunteered. How far could it be, anyway? We’d zip over there in a couple of hours, press the flesh and shoot the shit for a while, and be back in the hot tub by midnight. No problem.

Did I mention that I never did all that well in Geography class in high school?

So, as we turn in that first night at the condo (sometime in the wee hours, I might add), my friend asked me what time I wanted to get up in the morning. I said, ‘Eleven or so‘. He laughed. I asked why. He said that we’d have to be well gone by eleven o’clock to make the ceremony. I paused. ‘Isn’t the ceremony in the evening?‘ He replied that it was. I was starting to see what I’d gotten myself into. ‘So exactly how long does it take to get there?‘ I shut my eyes tight, hoping for good news. ‘About nine hours,’ came the reply. My eyes popped open on their own. Nine? Ni-ine? Shit. I was not a happy man.

But my ignorance of the distance between the Atlantic Ocean and central Virginia was not my friend’s fault, and so I kept my promise. We arose, early but none too bright, and set off from the beach we’d worked so hard to reach, and toward Richmond. At eight o’clock in the morning, or some ridiculous shit like that. Unbelievable.

Still, I tried to make the best of it. I did manage to get him into one of the bands I liked, and they were perfect for driving. The Screaming Blue Messiahs were funny, irreverent, catchy, and — most important — rocked at a mile a minute on just about every song. You name it — ‘I Wanna Be a Flintstone‘, ‘President Kennedy’s Mile‘, ‘Twin Cadillac Valentine‘, ‘Jesus Chrysler Drives a Dodge‘, and ‘55 – The Law‘. It was all good.

So we turned ’em up and took off down the highway. I think we switched once halfway, so he could navigate around the city, but all in all, the nine hours went pretty quickly, and we hit Richmond at six o’clock or so. The ceremony was at seven, so we drove to his grandmother’s house. We freshened up there, but politely declined her offer of dinner. I think we were still stuffed with drive-through burgers and fries at that point. But we did drop our overnight bags off, and soon enough headed off to the high school stadium.

It was an outdoor ceremony, which is pretty ballsy, if you ask me. One quick summer shower, and the memory is ruined for all involved. But on this occasion, the gods were smiling, and the event went off without a hitch. Well, for the seniors, perhaps. But there was much hitchiness in my mind, friends, and I was fretting and fuming the whole time.

I don’t know how many graduation ceremonies you’ve attended in your life, but I can tell you from my experience that they’re exceptionally boring. The only real blip in the monotony is when the person(s) you know actually walk across the stage, which is what? Four seconds out of two or three hours? Or in this case, zero seconds — since I didn’t know anyone there — out of three and a half hours (since this was the graduating senior class from Hell attending God Damn This Is A Big Fucking School High School). Maybe you can get an idea of my mood. Dark, and tortured, and not happy with the way this was turning out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t mean to anyone, or even impolite. These people weren’t the problem, and they were all nice enough, and happy to welcome us into the group. But I was on vacation, dammit! I was seventeen years old, and I managed to score a week at the week sans parents, or adult supervision of any kind. The last thing I wanted to do was spend two days of it there, not on a beach, with no bikini girls, and with nothing but parents all over the place. Even if they were other people’s, and I’d never see them again. It just isn’t right.

So, at some point, I got the idea to go back. That same night. I don’t remember exactly when I talked it over with my friend, but he wasn’t buying. Not at first, anyway. I had to slowly, gradually work on him throughout the night. We talked about it at the ceremony. The people he knew told us we should stay in town that night. I was not to be deterred.

We talked about it at the post-ceremony parties that we were graciously invited to. Friends and strangers there told us we should stay in town that night. I would not be denied.

We talked about it back at his grandmother’s house, where we were either going to hit the sack or hit the road. She told us we should stay in town that night. I wasn’t really listening. Frankly, I don’t know how the hell she let us leave. It was twelve thirty in the morning at that point. But she did.

We made a pit stop just outside of town, where we officially started the clock on the trip back. It was ten minutes till one. We gassed up the Suburban, and stocked up on ‘stay awake’ food, which consisted of Jolt cola, Pepsi, Ho-Ho’s, and sour cream and onion potato chips. I took the first shift. It seemed only fitting.

I can’t tell you how many times we switched during the night. All I can tell you is that I drove at least twice. When I was driving, I kept my window wide open and the Messiahs blasting just as fucking loud as they would go. Meanwhile, my buddy was on the floor between the second and third rows of seats, sleeping like a baby. And when he was driving, I was doing the same.

On one shift change, I pulled onto an off-ramp to make the switch, and drove downhill into a milky-thick fog bank. It took me a couple of minutes to get to a spot where I could see the damned ground under the car. With no cars or buildings around, the area looked like a moor, or a Louisiana swamp. I almost wondered whether I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, and meandered south instead of east. I shook myself wide awake and looked around in wonder. Then I woke up my friend, and gave him his turn at the wheel. I was asleep before he started the car.

And lo and behold, we made it. At ten am, the scraggliest, groggiest, sour-cream-and-onion-Ho-Ho-smellingest two teenaged kids you’d ever want to see (or smell) came rolling back into the condo parking lot. The other guys were already up; my friend and I collapsed into the Jacuzzi and explained what we were doing back so early. Nobody was all that impressed; we were seventeen, and there was cootchie out there on the beach. They left; we slept.

But we did not miss our second day at the beach, and that’s all I wanted. Sure, we drove through part of it, and slept through some more, but dammit, we slept at the beach. And in a Jacuzzi, no less. That beats the shit out of anything we were gonna do in Richmond. No, really, believe me — this guy was not gonna get laid that night. He wasn’t that type of guy, for one thing. And for another, if there was any possibility of a little ugly bumpin’ goin’ down, I’d have stayed right there and taken one for the team. But if I had, he’d have damn well better ponied up a friend for me, too. At least for a little lip-lockin’. I got no problem playing wingman for a night, dude, but if I have to do it nine frickin’ hours away from the beach I just left, there’d better be some damned action!

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