“That car too raggedy to go way to New York and I sure ain’t givin’ you them car keys!” John Sr. remembers Mary’s words clearly. So far, the 1950 Ford rides adequately. Troy and John Jr. are asleep while their father maneuvers Ole’ Betsey through Indiana and Ohio. John Sr. had periodically stopped for gas, to use the bathroom and to purchase food for him and the boys.
Troy had even talked his father into buying him Pez candy and the dispenser that comes with it. Weeks before John Sr. had secretly made a set of car keys; therefore, Mary had no power to stop him nor did her protesting make any difference to him. Max Roach had given the okay for he and the boys to come to New York and the summer provided a perfect opportunity for them to seize their destiny. After all, had not Max invited them there? John Sr. had only to go to the
Musician’s local in New York City and obtain Max’s phone number; he had given him permission to do so. “Look me up in the union directory when you get there.” John Sr. remembers it distinctly. Now he and the boys are on the road following their dream. Careful not
to break any traffic laws, John Sr. changes lanes only after signaling and drives within the speed limit, for unbeknownst to Mary, his driver’s license had again been recently suspended;
therefore, he is extremely vigilant in keeping an eye out for “the man.” Seeing no reason for a highway patrolman to refuse a bribe, John Sr. brought along the usual amount of cash as a precaution to keep himself out of jail. It worked in Chicago and so he saw no reason for it not to work anywhere else. In his mind, policemen are the same no matter where you go. In John Sr.’s mind, the trip to New York is extremely important for it had been early spring since Max gave
the clinic and he wants to strike while the iron is hot. Over the years, it had been God’s fortification that provided the courage for him to go on such a precarious adventure, driving his two young sons over seven hundred miles with a suspended driver’s license in a less than dependable automobile. The drive through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio had been pleasant. John Sr. and his boys ate burgers and fries, talked about music, musicians and reminisced about past performances and experiences. But upon reaching the Pennsylvania Turnpike, John Sr.’s mood changed. His countenance had gone from that of joy to anxiety and John Jr. noticed the change almost immediately. “What’s the matter?” “I don’t know,” stammers John Sr. “I think the engine’s runnin’ a lil’ hot. I better stop and put some water in the radiator.” “See there!” thinks John Jr. “I knew we shouldna’ tried to drive way out here! We gon’ get stuck!” 153 “What’s the
matter, Daddy?” says Troy. “Nothing’, Egg. The engine just runnin’ a lil’ hot . I’m gon’ stop and put some water in the radiator.” “Oh. Okay,” says Troy. “Oh, no!” thinks John Sr. “I hope this car don’t break down on me! I know I ain’t got enough money to have it fixed! These mechanics out here on this turnpike gon’ charge a lot of money!” John Sr. takes the next exit and pulls into a Texaco gas station. He can smell the heat from the engine, and after raising the hood, he spots water dripping from the radiator. “The radiator probably got a hole in it,” thinks John Sr. “That ain’t too bad. I can fix that when we get to New York. Maybe Gene know a mechanic I can take it to. I ain’t gon’ trust none of these guys out here on this turnpike. I’ll just keep puttin’ some
water in it ‘till we get to New York.” The boys and John Sr. use the bathroom while the attendant fills the tank, pours water in the radiator, checks the oil, and wipes the windshield. He convinces John Sr. to purchase a radiator sealant. And with that, they are back on the road. The car putters its way onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike traveling through several tunnels. Troy is fascinated by
the big holes punched into the large mountains and he wonders, “How they do that?” John Sr. grips the steering wheel as Mary’s words reverberate through his mind. “That car too raggedy to
go way to New York!” He is overcome with a hybrid of fear and anger and hopes Ole’ Betsey will make it to New York. He is sure that Mary’s words were a prophecy that had jinxed his business trip and he now struggles to fight that prediction. It is impossible for him not to go
through the rolodex of his memory of the times she had been right. “How come she ain’t say ya’ll gon’ be alright or the car gon’ make it?” thinks John Sr. But he suddenly realizes that he had left for the trip in secret while the entire household was asleep. Mary had not given him her blessing nor permission to go. He had made a set of car keys and took it upon himself to make the journey even with a suspended license. Then unexpectedly, sprinkles of water drop on the windshield and John Sr. strains to see. “Oh, man! It’s rainin’!” Anxiety engulfs him and he feels as if a heavy weight had been placed on his chest. “This where Clifford Brown and the other
musicians drove off the cliff! They all died!” John Jr.’s eyes are wide and alert. A sense of doom invades his spirit as he looks out the window into the dark night and thinks, “Why he drag us out here?! We ain’t need to go to no New York!” Frustration seizes him and his eyes well with tears from anger. He tries to shape his large nose, something that he does during anxiety attacks. “It’s rainin’, Daddy,” says Troy, concerned. “Yeah, I know, Egg,” replies John Sr., trying to remain calm. Then after glancing at his son sitting next to him in the passenger’s seat, he thinks, “Ah no! He havin’ one of them spells again!” Cars and eighteen wheelers swiftly pass them by, and John Sr. feels Ole’ Betsey’s power waning as he presses on the gas pedal. The car had not over-heated since he filled the radiator with water and added the sealant so John Sr. reasons that the problem lies somewhere else and he thinks, “I hope it ain’t the fuel pump! That’s somethin’ else I gotta’ fix!” The possibility of their breaking down on the Pennsylvania Turnpike assaults John Sr.’s psyche and his heart races as he searches for the next exit to a twenty-four-hour truck stop. After fifteen minutes of heart-pounding apprehension, he spots a sign that reads, Truck Stop, twenty miles. John Sr. is jolted and what seems like a surge of an electrical current travels through his veins, thrusting him into full panic mode, and in his spirit, he shouts, “You mean to say I gotta’ go twenty more miles before I get to a gas station?!” Ole’ Betsey is losing power and because of his driving with a suspended license, John Sr. is in constant fear of calling attention to himself and being stopped by a Highway Patrolman. Driving in the slow lane far to the right, he putters along hoping providence will be kind to him. After only several minutes of idling along, another sign that reads, Truck Stop, fifteen miles, comes into 154 view. “I only went five miles?!” screams John Sr. to himself. And with desperation resting on his shoulders, he continues to idle along, tense like a tightly wound spring franticly trying not to unravel. He grips the steering wheel even tighter hoping to reach the station without incidence as he recites to himself, “I gotta’ look out for the man!” Although John Sr. was sitting on pins and needles, in his mind, he was making progress. He had driven ten more miles and was getting closer to his exit. But reaching the Truck Stop was but one of many obstacles he had to overcome. There would be no mechanic on duty of night and what would be the cost? There is the cost of labor and only God knows what parts he would need to replace. How long would it take to repair? And what would he and the boys do while Ole’ Betsey is being repaired? Even though he is encouraged by having only five more miles to go, John Sr. knows that his problems have only just begun and holding on to Ole’ Betsey would only add to his distress. Then like a weary marathon runner unable to finish the race, Ole’ Betsey coasts with John Sr. pressing the gas pedal to the floor. “What’s wrong with
the car, Daddy?” questions Troy, his voice trembling. “Everything alright, Egg,” replies John Sr.
He steers Ole’ Betsey to where several trees and bushes stand in formation. Surrendering to exhaustion and five miles before the finish line, Ole’ Betsey expires. John Sr. had realized this earlier and had been searching for a secure spot to put her down, for after mulling it around in his mind, Ole’ Betsey would not be worth the expense. Not only did he not have the money to have it towed, he was sure to attract a patrolman and what would he tell him when he asks for his driver’s license? “We stoppin’ here?!” cries John Jr. “It’s gon’ be alright,” quivers John Sr.,
trying to camouflage his fear and he says to himself, “Mary done prophesied again!” while sitting at the wheel. Dejected and discouraged, he regrets having to break the news to the boys; they must walk five miles to the Truck Stop in the dead of night not knowing what to expect. Reasonably confident that Troy will be somewhat acceptable to this inconvenience, he knows that he will have a hard time with John Jr. and therefore braces himself for the battle. After a moment of gathering courage, he begins. “We gotta’ get out and walk to the gas station.” “Huh?!” complains John Jr. “I ain’t goin’ out there! Why can’t we just get it towed?!” John Sr.
shakes his head, then answers, “It’s gon’ cost too much to get it fixed. I’ll be wastin’ my money. ” “Jr., we gotta’ go with Daddy!” “I’m gon’ stay here!” cries John Jr., folding his arms. “You can’t stay here, Big Bill ‘cause I’m gon’ leave the car here,” says John Sr. calmly. Troy is confused, but John Jr. is stunned. He can’t believe his father is going to abandon his car and drag him and his brother on foot to a gas station. He reasons that his father may have been drinking, but he quickly dispels that theory for his ring and baby finger are not curled upwards, which always signifies that he is inebriated. John Jr. glances at his brother and notices he is wide-eyed and visibly shaking. “How you just gon’ leave the car here?!” cries John Jr. “How we gon’ get back home?!” “We ain’t goin’ back home. It’s only four hours to New York. We gon’ make it
there,” replies John Sr. And with that, he opens the glove compartment, takes out a screwdriver, exits the car and begins removing the license plates. 155 Engrossed in anger, John Jr. bites his bottom lip and begins the ritual of shaping his wide nose to circumvent his rage for he is a thirteen-year-old with few options, having no other choice but to go with his father. John Sr. retrieves the three suitcases from the trunk. To combat the cool mountainous air, the boys put on their nylon windbreaker jackets to go with their summer shorts and John Sr. dons his zip jacket to accompany his pleated fifties trousers. With each having to carry their own bag, and with no clear plan, they set out for the five-mile journey to the Truck Stop.
coming of age