Road Trip

When I landed my first job after college, it was in Columbus, Ohio, and I was living in Cleveland at the time. I had picked out an apartment during one visit, but I needed to return there to sign the lease. On a warm, sunny Friday in August, I borrowed my father’s Delta 88 and drove to Columbus.

Two friends accompanied me, Ron and The Swan. Our plan was to sign the lease, have some lunch, maybe bum around, and then return to Cleveland. It’s a two hour drive, and I was happy with the company. Ron I had met at school, and The Swan was from the old neighborhood. We all played hockey together. At the time, we thought we had everything figured out.

Signing the lease was trivial. By 11 am, we were all done. The Swan then suggested we go downtown, because it turned out there was a girl who worked there whom he had met at Put-In Bay earlier that summer, and he wanted see her.

We all tramped into the Treasury Building, and wound up in her office space. The Swan bought flowers on the way, and she was impressed by that, but couldn’t get away at the time.

The three of us decided on lunch at a T.G.I. Friday’s®. I don’t remember exactly where, but those places were everywhere then, and all the rage. The staff wore the red striped shirts and suspenders, as they still do. The menu is still probably the same, but I don’t remember what we ate.

What I do remember is that the bartender was a handsome, thickly built, blonde woman. She was friendly, but, then, those people are mostly paid to be friendly. She seemed friendlier, though, as we began to drink.

We passed the time telling stories from our hockey days, and from our school days, and from the old neighborhood. The Swan had quite a few conquests with women (more than I’ll ever achieve — not that I’m keeping score) and he regaled us with those stories even as he became friendlier with the bartender.

When happy hour was announced, we were feeling pretty tight already. The bartender — I believe her name was Diane — was feeding us drinks without charge. She poured one horrible drink, a Green Lizard, made with 151 proof rum and Green Chartreuse®. It was awful but effective.

Ron was inspired to blow fireballs with 151 proof rum, which, it turns out, is frightening indoors, but quite a crowd pleaser (other than the woman whose jacket was singed).

At six p.m., Diane’s shift ended, and she had the bright idea of joining us on our trip back to Cleveland. First though, she wanted to stop by her place and get some pot. Nothing says “What the heck” quite like a drug run with a strange woman after six hours of drinking.

Without much more thought or discussion than what has been presented here, we started back for Cleveland. Because I was driving, I passed on the doobies (safety first kids!). Ron just completely passed out. From the exhaustion of the day’s activities, conversation became a little more strained. The last hour drive was quiet.

There was also the little problem of Diane. Having spent the afternoon with her, I wanted nothing more to do with her. I didn’t even want her in my father’s car, let alone smoking fat ones in the back seat. The Swan had actually been the most friendly with her, but there was no discussion of where she would stay, or how she would return to Columbus. I began to suspect that Ron’s unconsciousness was something of a convenient way to stay clear of trouble.

I pulled into The Swan’s house, and hoped for the best. I helped Ron go inside (he rented a room from The Swan). Swan bid me good night, and Diane followed him inside. I drove the rest of the way back to my father’s house with the windows down, hoping to air out the car.

When I moved to Columbus two weeks later, I made a point of never returning to that T.G.I. Friday’s®.