Pit Stops on The Road Of Life
JUNIOR YEAR 1966-1967
Something happened in June of 1966, while I was in Atlantic City, which had a huge effect on my final two years of college. That far away, I didn’t go home at all until late August. Dad may have written to tell me about it but its true impact wasn’t realized until I got back to King’s. Dad had turned 62 on June 29 and decided to start collecting Social Security. I’m not sure how much he got, having been a lower-middle class earner most of his life even BEFORE descending to his current status of peon farm laborer. Receiving even $100 a month from SS, however, would have exceeded his 50 cents-an-hour sweat equity. I’d imagine he had to go to the SS office in Wilkes-Barre to sign up and, only while there, may have been told what added benefit his decision would have on me. [With no phone in our shack, he couldn’t have called in ahead of time, and this benefit wasn’t one regularly cited in a newspaper.] Amazingly, a college-age student was entitled to a separate SS check of HIS OWN if his parent was retired on SS! I have no earthly idea on what my benefit was based; it could have been related to my long-dead (since 1953) mother’s earnings for all I knew. All I was certain of was that, by the time I got back to King’s in September, a monthly check of $40, payable TO ME, had started arriving.
Back at school, I tended to my usual first order of business and visited the Business Office. I had already worked out a rough budget for the upcoming year. My tuition was already covered by my full Sordoni scholarship, leaving only room and board and books to worry about. Room and board for the entire year would be about $900 and books maybe another $200, a total of $1,100. I made a down payment of $570, comprised of $450 from working in Atlantic City and three $40 checks that had come in from SS for July, August, and September. That left $530 to go. From October through the end of school in May, another eight SS checks would arrive ($320) and I’d drop by with them as they arrived. I would have only $210 more to come up with. The school year lasted roughly 29 weeks, allowing for vacations. I could chip in a mere $7.24 a week from the cafeteria/The Boston Store and be totally paid off. I decided, right up front, that I would need to borrow ABSOLUTELY NOTHING this year and they agreed with me! As it turned out, I hated to ever be behind on paying a debt and, thus, got John McGovern to give me extra hours in the dishroom right away. By the time the Christmas rush rolled around, I went totally all out. I found myself working 32 hours a week selling clothes while, at the same time, carrying 18 hours of classes!! By January, I was way ahead of projections and was able to cut back at the cafeteria. The plan had worked; thanks to SS and a little extra work, I was going to finish three years of college owing only $1,025, all of which had been incurred during the first two.
First semester transcript.
BusAd 31 (Business Law 1) was taught by a local attorney, Mario Cipriani, who had the title of Instructor rather than Professor or Assistant Professor. Upon learning that I grew up on a potato farm, he took to calling me “Spud”. As usual, I paid fairly-rapt attention in class but didn’t spend a heck of a lot of time studying. When it came time for an exam, if the question was something like”Name three types of contracts”, I’d oftentimes end up writing “Curly, Moe, and Larry.” This would make Cipriani furious and he’d scold me to no end. It probably broke his heart to have to give me as high as a “C”. I’ll have more to say about our relationship in BusAd 32 during second semester.
Because I had taken two years to complete the full FIRST year of Accounting, I ended up having to double up somewhere to finish a full four years’ worth in three years. The doubling up came here in junior year, as Intermediate Accounting is NOT a prerequisite for Cost Accounting. Intermediate was taught by the department head, John Davis, and I did just about as little homework as I had for him in Principles 1 and 2, earning my third “C”. Cost Accounting was taught by Leo McMenimen and, for some reason, it came a lot more easily. It involved the basic entries for payroll (wages, FICA, FIT and SIT) and production (raw materials move along into work-in-progress and become finished goods.) It was quite interesting and I earned my first “B” in my major. (Second semester Cost, as we shall see, was a “whole other story.”)
BusAd 43 was, by its title, intended to be a senior-year course but taking it a year early was no detriment. (In senior year, I had FOUR courses whose numbers began with a “3” and that made no difference, either.) As a non-Catholic and not required to take Theology, in addition to taking two extra years of French, I also got to pick and choose some Business electives as I saw fit. Corporate Finance was taught by Frank Vacante and was quite interesting. We had already learned, over in the Accounting courses, the actual debits and credits involved with stock and bonds. Herein, we learned more about them. What is the difference between common and preferred stock? How do bondholders rank with respect to stockholders in the event of liquidation? Vacante also taught us a lot about the stock markets and how to read the Wall Street Journal’s pages. He even held a mock investment competition wherein we each got a make-believe $10,000 to invest any way we chose. Given that the Vietnam War (about which I’ll speak more later) was heating up, I decided to buy stock in defense contractors like General Dynamics and Rockwell International. My stocks did about fair-to-middling and I finished about halfway up the performance chart. Even though that competition didn’t count towards our grade, my usual “C” fit right in there.
Econ 33 was a Statistics course taught by another hard-to-understand member of the Econ Department, a Chinese named Dr. Wang. About all I recall of that class was arguing with him about the meaning of “100% probability”. “Why ISN’T that, therefore, a CERTAINTY? If there is any room at all for doubt, how can you say ‘100%’?”
French was again with Father Boyle and my usual “A” there gave me my best semester yet, out of five: a 2.50! My overall GPA rose from 2.23 to 2.28. Whoopee!
Somehow, during that first semester, and maybe into second semester, I managed to keep in fairly close touch with Lee, the beautiful Marywood gal I had met just before leaving AC. I’d take her on such “dates” as my meager budget could afford. That meant taking a bus to Scranton, walking up the steep Mulberry Street hill to her house, and then walking her down to the movie theater. Following that, we’d walk back up that darned hill again. I’d stick around her house for a while, then walk back down and take the bus back to King’s. Those times with her were absolutely magical for, not only was she beautiful, she was SMART, too. As I had with Joanne in the summer of ’63, I was able to discuss all sorts of world events and she kept right up with me. Like Joanne, Lee was also Catholic but not super-Catholic and I could hold out some hope of a long future with her. I think we must have gone on maybe ten “dates” when I started growing sad. Lee was certainly NOT the type of gal who insisted on being taken to fancy places but I did so want to do more for her. Alas, I came to a decision that I still regret to this day: I stopped seeing her. L As you will see in my following chapters, I certainly didn’t give up ANY hope of a long-term future with Lee, but I did, foolishly, put it on hold for a considerable period of time.
Junior-year housing found me back at Hafey-Marion, where I had spent my frosh year. There was no discernible rhyme or reason as to WHY King’s placed dormies as it did. The Sterling offered a great deal more freedom (no doorman to ring up to be let in after hours) but I was a good boy and didn’t complain. Again, I got my single room and was content.
Having made it through two years without much studying, I continued that trend. Just down the hall from me, I found a never-ending game of double-deck-with-partners pinochle. It was the room of one Mike Brown, a History major from Duncannon, PA. His roommate was John Taylor, an English major. Our playing surface was Mike’s bed, with John as my partner; he sitting at the head of the bed and I on a chair at the end of it. Mike had a chair on one side of the bed, and opposite him, was his partner, Paul Hancharek, a Philosophy major. We kept score but it really didn’t matter who won. We spent way more time discussing all sorts of subjects than paying attention to who was ahead. It was really terrific since we each had a different major and, therefore, had different perspectives. Listening to the viewpoints picked up from their courses was like taking a bunch of different courses without having to pay extra tuition, something the poor townies never got to experience.
Down the hall from my room were a couple of fellows whose names escape me but they were a wild twosome, always raising more hell than I ever would have dared. They managed to make some hard cider by throwing a cake of yeast into a gallon jug, screwing the cap back on, and leaving it for about two weeks until it was almost ready to explode. They seemed to always be discovering new concoctions. The wildest was filling a pony keg with every sort of alcohol-based liquid they could find, from after-shave lotion to deodorants and who knew what else. They then replaced the bung, let it cook, and lighting it off, turned that keg, essentially, into a rocket. They yelled, “Fire in the hole!” and lit it off. It flew down the hallway and put a hole in the plaster at the far end.
Across from my room were two fellows who, as I didn’t truly figure out until senior year (watch for that chapter), were engaged in much more-nefarious hell-raising. I’m disguising their real names by calling them, collectively, “JA”. “JA” seemed to always have things to sell; things like jackets or gloves that came onto the market during the winter months but never during warmer months. Availability seemed to center around weekend nights, too. Wilkes-Barre isn’t that far from the Poconos. Poconos = ski resorts. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they probably were stealing from unlocked cars or maybe even breaking into locked ones at the resorts. Given that they were big-city boys from just outside New York City, it’s entirely possible that they had been engaged in criminal behavior since high school. I had my suspicions as to the origin of their goods, but I never bought a single item from them. I didn’t venture to turn them in, either, lest I get severely beaten up.
According to my yearbook, the first show the Players presented that year was “The Physicists” by Friedrich Durrenmatt. It took place in an insane asylum where the patients thought themselves to be famous physicists. Tom Harris from Dallas played Einstein, another was Isaac Newton, and one more actor, I think, was yet another. A problem arose when one of them killed a nurse. I had a bit part as a cop and my job was, along with another guy, to wheel the dead body out on what the gal THOUGHT was a hospital gurney. She didn’t notice the little trench that ran around the gurney’s edge or the several drain holes in the trench. We Players went all around town looking to borrow such props as we couldn’t build. In this case, we had visited a funeral home and borrowed an EMBALMING TABLE! The poor gal would have seriously freaked out had she known that.
Our children’s show was right before Christmas that year and we presented “Sleeping Beauty”, for which I was, again, a stagehand.
At some point during that year, we posed for a group picture.
The King’s Players, as of 1966-1967.
Second semester transcript.
Second-semester classes found me, mostly, up to my now-established norm: “C”’s in Philosophy and Intermediate Accounting, a “D” in History, and an “A” in French. What changed radically was Cost Accounting, where I dropped from a “B” to a “D”! The whole difference was that, from easy payroll and raw materials-to-finished goods, we were confronting by-product costing. Whereas, previously, we had needed to only mix in materials A, B, and C to make Product X, we now had to calculate a much-more difficult task. From leftover scraps of A. B, and C, we might fashion Product Y or maybe even Product Z, which could be sold for at least some profit. The trick was HOW MUCH of each one should we choose to have leftover, since Y might need a little more A but not as much more B or C. Product Z might need a different mix. Compounding that was the fact that McMenimen began giving exams that, within the allotted fifty-minute class period, were almost impossible for the BEST students to finish. I, of course, only got about 80% done when time would run out. He would give partial credit for being correct as far as one got but that didn’t save me from getting a “D”. It got so bad in that class that several of the top students approached John Davis, the department head, and told him “You’re going to feel funny at graduation next year, handing out one or two diplomas to Accounting majors. He’s gonna flunk out a lot of us!” Things did lighten up a bit after that but not enough for me to salvage a “C”. My second semester of Business Law (Bus Ad 32) was more of my same hijinks but, this time, I had even more to drive Cipriani nuts: I had a BEARD! As I’ve told you, King’s was a very strict place: no beards unless one needed to grow one for a show. I needed a beard for “Macbeth” (see pic below). Only a, I kid you not, “beard permission card” from Father Sheehey saved me from getting kicked out of class by Cipriani and others.
With TWO “D”’s, in Cost Accounting AND History, I had my worst-ever semester – a flat 2.00, which dragged my cumulative down to 2.24.
“Macbeth” was chosen to be our annual Shakespearean show in March of 1967. Mike “the Shike” Scheuchenzuber was now a senior and, having been in so many prior shows, had gained considerable seniority and he got the lead. In only my second year with the Players, I had previously only seen bit parts as a servant and a cop and, I, too, now moved up in the ranks. Let me set this up a bit. In the opening scene of “Macbeth”, the three witches (a\k\a The Weird Sisters) are encountered by Macbeth and Banquo. They prophesy to Macbeth that he will be king but they ALSO prophesy to Banquo that he, too, would be king and, further, that he would be “sire to a line of kings”. The prophesies mean little to either of them at the time but, after Macbeth does kill King Duncan, he recalls the witches’ words and starts to worry. Banquo could prove to be quite a problem, so Macbeth enlists the help of two murderers. I got the senior position as “the first murderer”, and Terry Kennedy, in his first and maybe only role with the Players, was “the second murderer”. Kennedy reportedly kills Banquo’s entire family to put the kibosh to the “line of kings” but that action takes place off-set and out of sight. I, however, got a scene with just Shike’s roomie, Nick Reale, playing Banquo. It wasn’t that much of a “fight” scene but I did get to flat-out kill him, using a humongous dagger which must have been a little over a foot long. We choreographed it perfectly: Nick would fall backward onto the steps of our thrust staging (projecting outward from the main stage, with audience on three sides) and I, leaning over, would stab him. Mr. Wagner taught me how to, as I stabbed downward, turn the tip of the dagger inward toward my torso and end up “stabbing” with, in reality, the dagger’s hilt. Were it in slo-mo, the audience may have spotted that maneuver but, in real time, it appeared like a real stabbing. MY biggest problem was that the dagger was so long, I had to be careful not to stab MYSELF right where a phlebotomist would draw blood, inside my elbow!
My costume proved a wee bit of a problem, too. Oh, chain-mail pants are neat but the doggone foot parts were about size twelve and I only wear a ten-and-a-half. It took some practice to pick up my foot and slide it forward, dragging the slack part behind while, all the while, trying not to look too clumsy or, worse yet, fall flat on my face.
My BIGGEST problem with “Macbeth” was something totally unforeseen. In the final scene, while Macbeth is having the duel-to-the-death with Macduff, I am downstage right, fighting one of Macduff’s men. The idea was that Kennedy was supposed to come up behind him, stab him in the back, and save me. Kennedy and I would exit, leaving the dead guy onstage. I, unfortunately, hadn’t sufficiently practiced the art of sword fighting. I swung my sword too directly toward the guy’s head instead of across his body. His sword did clash with mine but then slid off and dealt me a glancing blow on the bridge of my nose! I wasn’t supposed to fall but it stunned me and I did. Kennedy, surprised by all this, recovered and did his stabbing as he was supposed to and the guy fell right on top on me! Now, how to exit? I rolled the poor dead guy off the stage, about a four-foot fall to the floor, and got the heck out of Dodge. This happened at a matinee performance for a high school audience and I had another show to do that evening. I went to see the school nurse. She stopped my bleeding, gave me a tetanus shot, and patched me up with a band-aid. I didn’t remove my makeup, but went to dinner in the cafeteria as I was. I was the talk of the entire meal. “God, Hontz, you should be DEAD!” I later re-did my makeup a bit and the show went on. Mr. Wagner had taught me how to do my own makeup. Using spirit gum for adhesion, I’d add layers of liquid latex to my cheek and pinch it slightly to effect a withered look. A touch of rouge and it sure looked like a livid scar. All would be removed post-show, using cold cream. I still have the REAL scar on my nose.
Macbeth and his two murderers.
Hontz does his own makeup.
Macbeth and Macduff.
English professor Frank Swingle as The Porter.
Our fourth show of the season was U.S.A., by John Dos Passos and I, once again, assisted as a stagehand.
Now is as good a time as any to describe how our dishroom crew operated. Students were required to bus their own trays and they’d first toss the silverware thru a hole in the wall, down a chute, and into a metal pan in the dishroom. They’d then move along the line, deposit their plates and cups through a window and, finally, stack their trays outside the window. The entire dishroom was comprised of stainless steel “furniture” and the floor was tiled: both features affording easier cleanup. We had a four-man crew. The first two stood on, essentially, a “bar rail’ about a foot off the floor, and worked on a stainless steel table. The first guy’s job we called “Slop”. He would bang the plates, saucers, and cups against a thick rubberized collar that surrounded a hole in the table, causing the food to slide down into a garbage can beneath the table. The dinnerware would then pass to his left, to the second guy, whose job was called “Rack.” That fellow would place the dinnerware into racks for their trip through the dishwashing machine and he’d slide the filled racks downhill to a third guy who we called called “Douche”. “Douche” would add the silverware to the racks and, using a hose that dropped down from the ceiling, he’d give the entire mess a pre-wash and then insert it into the machine. Emerging from the machine, the racks would be in the hands of “Stack’ who would empty them and place the dinnerware and silverware onto columned stacks aboard a dolly for transport back to the kitchen. We got to be very proficient: Slop, Rack, Douche and Stack, all working together as a well-oiled machine. At the end of a shift, we’d steam-clean the tile floor and even run the rubber floor mat thru the machine to clean it. I would usually get to take the garbage out, setting the metal can onto a dolly and wheeling up through the kitchen and through an exterior door, where I’d leave it at the bottom of a stairway. At least once a day, a local farmer would haul it away: free food for his hogs. From time to time, a worker wouldn’t show up for his shift and just three of us had to do the work of four. In that eventuality, we had convinced McGovern that, since we had worked harder, we deserved to have that guy’s pay split up between us and he complied. After all, it didn’t affect his budget. For the most part, we dishwashers were a happy lot, singing, joking, and generally carrying on while we worked. The only exception I recall was in October, 1966, when I was being picked on because my beloved Dodgers were in the midst of losing four straight World Series games to the Orioles. I threw a bowl at my tormentor.
As I’ve previously stated, my customary dishroom hours were the supper meal on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Sometimes, though, I’d pick a couple extra hours elsewhere in the cafeteria. I served some meals right on the line, stepping away from that only briefly to re-fill the milk and juice machines. When the meal ended, we’d clean up and haul back to the “walk-in” such food as could be served as leftovers. I made a mistake, once, in clearing the desert display. There were a measly two pieces of strawberry-rhubarb pie remaining and, since I loved it, I chose to eat them instead of walking to the rear of the kitchen to store them. These were in addition to the one piece I’d already had with my meal. I’ll NEVER make that mistake again – I got “the runs” for two days! The easiest job in the “caf” was “taking names and/or cash” as students or others exited the food line with their choices. Every dorm student, upon paying for a semester’s room and board, had been assigned a three-digit number. They’d cite it to the number collector, who would then check it against their ID card and tick it off on a prepared sheet. At most every meal, there would be a part-time evening student or maybe a faculty member who’d stop by for a bite. They, of course, wouldn’t have a number. From them, the collector would get cash. Of course, that is how the system was SUPPOSED to work. More honored in the breach than the observance was when the visitor was someone known to the collector. They’d just call out whichever number they wanted to make up and it would duly be crossed off.
I haven’t yet said much about Vietnam, aside from the fact that a few of our dormie veterans had been there and didn’t have much good to say about it. We younger fellows were, of course, draft-deferred as long as we were full-time students. Here, however, in school year ’66-’67, we’d been paying close attention to the news and realized that this war didn’t seem likely to end anytime soon. “Underground FM” radio stations had started popping up around the country, playing “subversive” stuff we would have never heard from Cousin Brucie on WABC-AM or Harry West on WARM – the “Mighty 590”. Guys coming back from vacations in Jersey and NY would bring albums with them. Throughout the dorms could be heard such album tracks as Phil Ochs’s “Draft Dodger Rag” and “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” and Country Joe and The Fish’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag”. Some of our guys took to carrying anti-war signs on the streets of Wilkes-Barre but I never joined any “organized” groups. Oh, I DID make a couple of signs and stood outside the dorm but MY signs were more silly than truly “anti-war”. Mine read like “Throw Dung on The Cong!” or “Would You Let A Cong Marry Your Sister?” At one point, our guys went to a rally on the square held by our congressman and other local officials, featuring flag waving and patriotic music to “support our troops”. Our guys stood over in front of Pomeroy’s department store with THEIR signs, evincing “Yeah – we support them, too. Bring them the hell HOME before they get killed!”. Somehow, the “straights” of WB didn’t seem to allow the very freedom of speech their boys were supposedly dying to protect, and they threw eggs on our fellows. The police kindly escorted the Kingsmen back to the dorms before any violence could break out. I guess I’m lucky I didn’t attend that rally. Had I gotten arrested, I may not have gone on to a career with Uncle Sam.
In the Spring of 1967, shortly before school let out, fellow King’s Player Bob Milder offered to sell me my first motor vehicle, his Czechoslovakian-made Jawa motorcycle. He wanted $300. I think I scraped up $50 from my work and talked Dad into giving me the other $250. I had been a good bicycle rider as a kid and it didn’t take me long to master the basics but finesse came at a price. In Sweet Valley, I convinced my brother Cliff to hop on the back for a ride down Aunt Loretta’s driveway. The middle of her gravel driveway was maybe 10” inches higher than either of its two tire-track ruts. I tried to ride that center strip and slipped off into a rut, dumping us both, fortunately, onto her lawn.
I was quite brave in those days and, luckily, the Jawa wasn’t that big of a “motorcycle”. It couldn’t zip me down the highway at much more than 55 MPH as I got better at handling it. It was only a 150 cc affair and, when I wanted to fill the gas tank, I had to bring along a quart of oil which was basically the same weight as was used in lawnmowers. My pal Jeff says that adding oil in with the gas meant that it was a 2-stroke engine and I never did understand exactly how they worked. To me, if just meant I had to tuck the oil container inside my belt and bringing it along “behind” me.
I’d imagine Dad was constantly amazed at what I’d choose to do each summer. I had gone, after all, from caddying to waiting tables. In this summer of 1967, I had an even different idea. I’d be a stock boy in a grocery store. My freshman-year roomie, Bill Biondi, had now just graduated and his family had long owned a grocery store in Wildwood, NJ. He’d talked his Dad into hiring me for the summer season. I and my trusty Jawa took off, quart of oil and all, for the long trek back to the shore where I’d spent the prior summer.
This was in May and the summer season at the shore really wouldn’t kick into full gear until the high schools let out and family vacations started. I really didn’t get that many hours at Magio’s Market, maybe four or five a day, and it was just as well, for I made a lousy stock boy. I was simply too slow. Just putting a can of peas on a shelf took me maybe five minutes for I was very careful to not smear the price I had to stamp on each can. As a checkout operator, I was no better. If an item was “3 for 49 cents” and the customer bought 2, it took me too long to do the math. In the produce section, trying to split apart a large bunch of bananas, I’d manage to get one started peeling and, armed with a knife to help, I managed to cut myself. Bill, of course, had done all this since he was a child and grew quite frustrated with my ineptitude. My housing was his aunt’s garage that had been converted to “living” quarters but was too cold and damp for my liking. Despite my less-than-full-time hours, Bill’s aunt still wanted her full rent and had Bill press me for it, which I didn’t like. I think I lasted only ten days or so and then I was on my way back to Sweet Valley.
I honestly wasn’t all THAT upset at having to, once again, change plans. I couldn’t see what graduation would bring me one year thence. It would probably mean leaving home for a career position or, more likely, service to my country as my draft deferment ended. I hadn’t spent any time with Dad over the past two summers, so I may as well stay with him this one. Now that I had transportation, I could find employment locally.
I decided to drop by King’s. The student work-study program had been good to me during three school years, so possibly they knew of something for the summer. Sure enough, they DID – one of LBJ’s “Great Society – War On Poverty” programs, the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). It was a full-time, 40-hours-a-week position at minimum wage ($1.50 an hour) and its office was, I think, on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre. It wasn’t a matter of being interviewed and accepted: they took whomever the college sent over.
My initial assignment was to go out into the community and stir up folks to take action to help themselves. With my white shirt, tie, and briefcase full of pamphlets, it was easy to see how most folks took me to be a salesman knocking on their door. A lot of doors never opened even though, from cars out front, it appeared someone was home. I soon learned that if I DID manage to get a door opened, I’d best have my spiel ready to deliver quickly before it could close. I also learned that NO ONE wanted to hear the word “poverty”. “Hello, I’m with the Federal Government. Did you ever wish things were better around your neighborhood? Well, by forming local citizens’ groups and approaching your elected officials, you might get improvements, like more street lights.” I was only at this task for a few days. I don’t recall exactly where I made my initial stops but the one in Mocanaqua was definitely my last. A wizened old babushka answered the door, listened to my spiel, and only then said “No speak-a da English.”
I reported back to my superiors that this wasn’t working out. Seeing that I wasn’t much of a “salesman”, they re-assigned me to office tasks. I spent the rest of the summer helping produce a report on the extent of poverty in Luzerne County, which was considerable since King Coal had died back in the 1950’s. My superiors had found something I WAS good at: taking statistics they gave me, converting them into pie charts, and then running off multiple copies on a mimeograph machine. A few times I got a break from the office and, along with other summer interns, would take a bunch of inner-city kids “swimming” at Harveys Lake. I was far from being a qualified lifeguard but we never let them wade beyond knee-deep. Not bad work: sit around a beach and watch kids wade for $1.50 an hour and then get home even earlier because I wouldn’t have to go back into the city at day’s end.
That summer with my Jawa had its moments, though, and I managed to dump it twice more and once barely missed getting killed in the city. One morning on the way to work, a fellow with a car was driving me nuts. He’d go about 53 MPH and my 55 MPH would put me right up behind him. Still, I really didn’t have enough speed to get very far in front of him if I did manage to pass him. For a long stretch of Route 118, there was no passing, anyway. I was forced to devise a plan. While I couldn’t pass him once we both got up to speed, I figured I was faster off the line. There is a stop sign at Whitesell Brothers, where 118 intersects with 415 and we were both turning right toward Dallas. I snuck right up on his rear-left bumper and, as soon as be pulled out, so did I with my “pedal to the metal.” I didn’t bother even glancing back toward Harveys Lake, for he wouldn’t have pulled out if anyone was coming. ZOOM! went I, and just as quickly, PLOP! onto the pavement. Sitting behind him, I hadn’t spotted the oil slick found right near most stop signs, caused by each stopped car dripping a few drops. L Lying there, I was approached by a couple of cars but they saw me in plenty of time and stopped to check on me. I wasn’t hurt much, just a few scratches on my right leg, but I did manage to shred my pants on that side and it took me about half an hour to re-start my flooded-out Jawa. Then, too, as soon as the Boston Store opened, I had to buy a new pair of pants.
My second Jawa adventure occurred at night, while rounding Harveys Lake. I don’t recall where I had been that kept me out after dark, but I was heading in the direction from Hanson’s Amusement Park toward Sandy Beach. I had been around the lake hundreds of times but always as a passenger. This was my first time as a driver. I wasn’t going all that fast but still managed to “outdrive my headlight” as I reached the road coming in from Noxen on the right. I seriously misjudged the severity of the curve to the left at Sandy Bottom. I would have slowed down even more but I could see there was loose gravel at that intersection and loose gravel advocates against traction, for sure. Braking would have certainly caused me to dump it and my only choice was to let up on the gas and HOPE I could negotiate the curve. Well, I didn’t, and left the curve on a tangent. My front wheel lodged in a ditch, stopping my progress VERY abruptly and I launched forward off the bike, a la Superman, in a prone position. I executed a 3-point landing, on both toe-tips and my left hand. Luckily, the only thing that hurt was my left middle finger and I was back on my feet within 30 seconds. The Harveys Lake Ambulance just happened to be coming back from a call and witnessed my faux pas. They stopped to ask if I was OK and then continued on their way when I responded affirmatively. I can’t tell you how I got home that night but, the next day, Bob Gross and I loaded the bike into his Dad’s pickup and took it home. The only damage to it was a dent in one front fork. We pretty much hammered out the dent but, from then on, I heard a “sproing, sproing” sound at each bump as the spring rubbed against the inside of the fork.
I came even closer to serious injury in the daytime on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre. I was headed South and a northbound lady hung a left in front of me as she turned onto Academy Street. Dang! I had been traveling, as required by law, with my headlight on even in daylight but she simply hadn’t seen me! I made a quick lean to the left and an even faster lean back to the right and just barely missed her right-rear fender. I hope she had her window down and got to hear the choice words I threw back toward her. From then on, I always made sure to remember that cars just don’t give much respect to two-wheelers.
I had obtained a driver’s license at some point along the way, as Jay Ruckel’s Dad, Ellwood, had graciously let me take the exam using his Corvair but, for a good deal of that summer, I had driven the Jawa with a New Jersey license plate. Milder hadn’t given me the title immediately upon selling it to me and I had to keep bugging him by mail. I knew that I had to get the bike inspected but, absent a title and PA plate, I couldn’t. The title finally arrived, I changed my title and set about to ready the bike for inspection, which meant getting a new taillight bulb. I’d learned that a VW dome light bulb would work on this Czech-made vehicle. Jay and I were aboard, headed for a VW dealership over town. A cop pulled me over on the Sans Souci parkway for, I thought, speeding. I proceeded to tell him “No way I can go over 55 MPH – my clutch plate is worn! Climb on and try it yourself!” Then he said that my infraction was not having a PA inspection sticker. He didn’t buy my story about JUST having gotten my title after more than a month of driving without one, so I ended up paying. I guess PA hadn’t, at that time, enacted mandatory insurance requirements on all drivers, for he certainly could have nailed me for that, too.
Dad had made a good investment in giving me $250 to buy the bike, for he surely had no money to help with my college expenses. With the bike came my ability to commute to a job and earn my own funds. I made sure to re-pay him as best I could, which meant, during that summer, saving him the two-mile round trip walk to get groceries. I had a cloth “diddy bag” with drawstrings which I hung on my handlebar to hold the groceries. Knowing I’d had more than one “adventure” with the Jawa, he bravely accompanied me a couple of times. We made quite the scene. Dad hung onto my waist with one hand while, with his other hand, made sure his pith helmet didn’t fly off. I’m not sure he ever had the nerve to drive it himself after I graduated from King’s and left Sweet Valley.
On August 17, 1967, I turned 21. I was now eligible to collect from the insurance policy my Mom had left behind when she died in 1953. It had been a $1,000 face-value policy but, with 14 years’ interest, it had grown to $1,800. The most obvious use for it was to buy my first car but it made no sense to be in a hurry to do so. I’d made it through three years at King’s with NO transportation so why should I need it now? The cost of insurance, upkeep, and even storage for it in Wilkes-Barre would be prohibitive, given my current income level. The Jawa would do just fine to save hitching out to see Dad and get to the few other places I really needed to go. I found an old lady with some garage space on a side alley up the hill from the courthouse. I could park the Jawa right next to another student’s car, for it took up hardly any space at all. For a measly $5 a month, I was set. The car could wait until Spring when I had a career position and considerably higher income lined up.
Ronald E. Hontz
33 Whitcraft Lane
cell phone (717) 309-1402