The pink flamingos were Pat’s idea, but he let Dale, Dennis, Captain Joe, and I share in the credit – but that’s the way life is in Atlantic Canada – everybody is like family.
So, on that morning, when Garth looked out his front window, he couldn’t believe his eyes!
Garth: Donna, come here quick!
Donna: I’m busy cooking you breakfast!
Garth: 47, 48, 49…. there are 50 pink flamingos on our front lawn! Come on, hurry!
Donna: Are you afraid they’ll fly away? Your breakfast is on the table.
Garth: Did you tell Dale it was my 50th birthday today?
Donna: No, your eggs are getting cold…
An hour or two later, we were on our way to Portland, Maine, for a weekend of stock car racing. It was Garth’s 50th birthday, and the usual posse had gathered:
- Garth Smith
- Pat Manuge
- Dennis Higgins
- Dale Fraser
Dave Potter and another guy, whose name I’ve forgotten (I’ll call him Corky), also joined us for the adventure. They both worked with Garth at MTT, although they lived in the Annapolis Valley.
Dennis was already fifty-something, and I think I was forty or forty-one. Pat was a few years younger than me, and I think Dale was in mid-forties.
I arranged to get a company van, and the boys would take turns sharing the driving.
I drove so much on business; it was a break to be a passenger!
We usually took our wives for the weekend, but the consensus was that Garth’s 50th, should only be celebrated by catching a few stock car races in Maine and New Hampshire. And although this sounds like the making of a weekend drinking festival – only Dale and I were drinkers. And I was the only smoker.
The drive from Bedford, Nova Scotia, to the USA Border crossing in St. Stephens, New Brunswick, usually takes the average driver 4 hours 48 minutes. But we never took that route. Instead, we drove further north to Woodstock, New Brunswick, and then crossed into Houlton, Maine.
If you’re wondering why we went so far out-of-our way to enter the States – let me explain in one word: speed.
There’s something else you should know about our excellent adventures – we never once looked at a map for directions. And Garth and Dennis knew all of the shortcuts along the way.
The beauty of driving to Houlton, instead of taking the shorter route to Bangor, Maine, via St. Stephens/Calais, can be explained in these four words: pedal to the metal.
If there is a more crooked, winding, boring drive in North America than that road from Calais to Bangor – I’d be surprised. And it was a two-lane road, with not many places where you could safely pass other vehicles.
But taking the Houlton route to Bangor is a four-lane highway all the way. And although the posted speed limit was 70 mph (that’s miles kiddies, not kilometers), we considered that as only a suggested speed.
We were all surprised at how smoothly the M-Van rode when the needle on the speedometer was buried (maximum).
We ignored speed limits and exciting sights along the way – we were on a critical mission.
I was sitting in the front seat with Pat, who was the driver. He took over the wheel from Garth, who drove as far as the US Border. I acted as the navigator – on the lookout for radar.
The peanut gallery sat behind us, and the radio played the latest country and western music. Dennis and Garth were huge fans of country and western music, and I’d often hear Dennis, softly singing along. He had an excellent voice and probably could have been a singer.
And although this all took place over thirty years ago, I still remember most of that weekend.
So, as we approached the city limits of Bangor, Maine, I looked over at the speedometer; the needle wasn’t visible, so we were going at least 90 mph. And as we came over the top of a hill, we saw them – State Troopers on both sides of the road.
It’s a miracle that Pat was able to slow the van down, but a trooper came out and pointed his finger directly at our vehicle – and motioned for us to pull over.
Suddenly, all was quiet. I quickly turned off the radio so that Pat could come up with an excuse. But all seven of us were speechless – wondering exactly how fast we were traveling when the radar gun caught us?
Pat put the driver’s window down, and the cop peeked inside and then straightened up to announce the following:
Trooper: Good afternoon, sir. That Cessna up above just clocked you at XX miles per hour. I need your licence, registration and insurance papers please!
He wasn’t pleasant – he appeared to be annoyed at us. Now Pat wasn’t an employee of the company I worked for, but the company’s insurance plan covered him. I quickly assured Pat that it was okay that he was driving.
The trooper went back to his vehicle and began writing a ticket.
Meanwhile, one of the guys in the back said that he noticed that the drivers of the vehicles we had passed along the way were laughing at us as they drove by. Yes, maybe we deserved it, but it was annoying, never-the-less.
Soon, the trooper came to the vehicle and handed Pat the ticket. He warned us that there would be more speed traps along the way, so Pat thanked him and assured him that we would obey the speed limit.
I don’t remember how fast the trooper booked us or the amount of the ticket, but we each reached into our pockets and handed Pat our share of the ticket amount.
Pat began driving again, and nobody said a word. It was quiet – even the radio remained on mute. The first person to speak was Corky:
All I can say, is that Cessna had to be flying very fast to have been able to keep up with us!
It was what we needed – some laughter to take away the pain of getting a ticket. Speeding, after all, is an important ritual that boys of all ages enjoy. And part of the thrill of speeding is never getting caught. (Boys and their toys!).
Pat kept the speed at the 70 mph limit.
After about five minutes, the silence ended was broken by a voice from the very back of the van:
Corky: Hey, pass this quarter up front to Pat.
Corky passed the quarter to Garth, who passed it forward to Pat.
Pat: What’s this for?
He looked puzzled.
Corky: The parking meter. Oh, sorry, I thought we were parked!
We all broke out laughing at the same time. We continued to laugh until we reached the hotel in Bangor.
But the excitement wasn’t over – we were just getting started!
June 21st Update:
Before I continue with the story, I need to make a confession.
Last night, while fast asleep, I suddenly awoke in an almost terror. I realized that I might have opened a ‘can of worms’ with my big mouth (or pen) by my mentioning Pat Manuge getting the speeding ticket in the States! His wife Claudette probably just learned about it and I know she’s got a temper.
But more about Claudette and the other wives in a later chapter. I guess I’m a hypocrite for betraying a ‘secret that I should have been taken to the grave, with me.’
Anyway, to continue with the saga…
Usually, when we traveled to the States, we had our wives with us and we traveled in separate vehicles. Garth, Donna, Pat, and Claudette, were the most frequent visitors to the States and knew all of the best places to stay, eat and shop. The women shopped while the boys found ways to entertain themselves – usually related to visiting the pits at the race track, etc.
Dale and I needed our wives to provide driving instructions, including constant reminders about the speed limit, and giving directions on when to turn. It’s almost as though they think we’d get lost without them or their silly roadmaps!
Dale is an engineer and one of the smartest people I know – and neither of us has ever felt the need to own a roadmap or to stop to ask for directions.
So, I guess I might as well betray another secret: Why we went to the States to celebrate Garth’s birthday, without our wives.
Well, picture this: seven grown men – all of them would-be-stock-car-drivers, in one vehicle, spending the weekend together, without any supervision whatsoever. Got it? (women readers are rolling their eyes, while the men are cheering!)
And despite what you may have heard about Maritimers’ ability to cuss and swear – I was the only one who preferred to use swear words when anxious or stressed. I don’t remember Garth, Dale, Dennis, or Pat, ever swearing – and that’s the truth.
The guys and I had decided to save money and to prevent loneliness, we’d share rooms and split the cost. As I recall, Garth and I shared a room; Pat and Dennis did too. But I’m not certain who the other guys shared rooms with.
But Garth will never forget the experience of sharing a room with me. More about that later – remind me if I forget.
So, I remember Garth and me, waking up (in separate beds, Spanky) at about 3:00 or 4:00 am on the first morning. Neither of us could sleep. We were excited about being on the trip and couldn’t wait for the sun to come up.
Danny (whispering): Are you awake, buddy?
Garth (whispering): Yeah, can’t sleep. Why are we whispering?
When I’m traveling on business, and can’t sleep during the night, I’ll sometimes get dressed and drive to a Tim Horton’s Donut Shop, grab a coffee, and just drive around, listening to music on the radio.
Garth: Do you want to go for a coffee and a spin around town? I’ve had enough sleep.
Danny: You don’t have to ask me twice!
We quickly showered, shaved, and got dressed (separately you perverts) but before leaving the room, I phoned room-to-room, to the other guys’ rooms, and told them to get up, we were leaving shortly. As I mentioned, it was about 4:00 am but we had no intention of leaving – we were going to go for coffees, while they were getting up.
Garth drove to a Dunkin Donuts coffee shop down the street and we grabbed a couple of coffees and did a tour of Bangor. About an hour later, we went back to the hotel and met Dennis and Pat in the hotel lobby.
They were shocked to see us walk through the door, as we passed by them on our way back to our room. I not sure, but we may have put a Do Not Disturb message card on our door.
I’ll need to continue this later, as the pain meds are now kicking in and I’m starting to blabber…
To be continued.
UPDATE June 30th: Sorry, but I’ve not been able to write during the pandemic. I am particularly concerned for my dear friends in the United States and worldwide and ask that you keep them in your thoughts and heart.
In the meantime, why not have a listen to some of the songs that I’m listening to today. Scroll down the page to view the selection.
Dedicated to the late Dennis Higgins
I hope my stories are a gift to your head and heart.
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