The Best Trip Ever
Growing up in my little-bitty home town in south Texas, I pretty much wanted nothing more than to get out of the state.
Of course, a town in south Texas was pretty much a hillion-jillion miles from the state border, so getting out of Texas was just something people didn’t do where I grew up.
I had been across the border to Mexico a few times. There was church camp in Oklahoma. Once, we drove to pick up my step-sister in Alabama after she visited her grandparents. But other than that, I hadn’t been anywhere.
That’s why I was so excited to learn about a theatre tour to New York City for high school students sponsored by the American Thespian Society. I was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school and desperately wanted to go.
The tour would take place in the summer after school let out. It consisted of three days in Washington D.C., five days in New York City and two days at the Shakespear Festival in Stratford Ontario. It also included hotels, theatre tickets every night including five Broadway shows and travel (by Greyhound bus). We’d have to pay for our own meals and spending money.
The price? A whopping three hundred dollars!
My mom said I could go if I could raise the money myself. (She and Dad would help some, of course, but not much).
I had a job after school and weekends at the local Dairy Queen making a staggering wage of $1.80 an hour. I worked as many hours as I could. I flipped an awful lot of Hung-r-busters.
I finally made enough money to go and off I went with about twenty high school students from various high schools in south Texas. I was one excited kid, let me tell you.
The first night we were in Washington, we went to see Death of a Salesman at a small theatre-in-the-round. Guess who was playing the lead of Willie Lohman? It was George C. Scott. That was my first exposure to the “theatah” and it was a stunning experience, needless to say.
Since this theatre tour was sponsored by the American Thespian Society, it was not a school-sponsored tour. Even though we were all teenagers, we weren’t under any restrictions that a school-sponsored tour might have imposed.
For example, we saw Equus on Broadway. (Leonard Nimoy played the psychiatrist). That was pretty heavy stuff for a 16 year-old country bumpkin to be exposed to and I’ll admit that I didn’t understand a lot of it. But I felt so grown-up and sophisticated, seeing actual nudity on stage and all.
We also saw Bette Midler in The Divine Miss M as well as Grease, Chicago, and Pippin.
In New York City back in 1975, the drinking age was (are you ready for this?) sixteen for beer and wine. It wasn’t school sponsored, so we could drink with the caveat that if any of us got drunk, we’d be flown home at our parents’ expense. We behaved for the most part.
I had my first Heineken beer and loved it, mainly because it was something different than Lone Star Beer. (I had lots of Heineken beer on that trip, by the way).
Oh, and this was 1975 Manhattan; back in the day before Times Square was all sterile and Disney-fied. It was gritty, grungy, full of sleaze, and XXX-this-n-that, just like God intended.
I remember that the subway was 55 cents in New York back then. The subway in D.C. wasn’t even built yet.
One high school girl from a nearby school (Port Lavaca) had sort of crush on me and kept wanting to do naughty things with me on the bus. Like kissing, for crying out loud!
Aside from Jackie-from-Port-Lavaca-with-the-crowbar tongue, it was an incredible experience. That trip definitely had to be the best time I’ve ever had.
Upon arriving back to my little-bitty home town, I went back to work, slaving away at the Dairy Queen.
Only this time, I was saving up to go again the next year. . .