“Oh please go, and I’ll go with you,” said Helen, eager to attend Doug’s going away party, but not willing to go alone. She was 50, divorced, manager of the accounting department, and we knew each other through interactions between our two departments.
Doug was an engineer who was leaving the company to take a position with a larger company in Chicago. His boss was hosting a party Friday after work at Brennen’s Pub in nearby Marina del Rey. Brennen’s was the home of the Wednesday night turtle races.
Divorced with four young children I had worked my way from secretary to manager of the export department in my three years at Wangco, a small manufacturer of magnetic tape and disc drives.
It was 1974, and the computer storage devices we manufactured ranged from the size of a microwave to a refrigerator, with their storage capacity expressed in megabytes.
Bill, Todd, Kortney & Whitney in 1974
“Sorry, Helen, but I need to go home and relieve the sitter and fix dinner for my kids. Besides, I don’t enjoy going to bars.”
In spite of my answer, the experiences I’d had that week clearly screamed for a night out.
Monday: A tooth loaded with old fillings had shattered during lunch, and I learned I needed a root canal and a crown. With no dental insurance, and my salary of $250 a week soaked up by a mortgage payment and the needs of four kids, how could I swing that?
Tuesday: My annual physical exam had revealed the need for a hysterectomy by summer, and my doctor said I would need six weeks to recover. Six weeks with no salary? The $200 my ‘ex’ sent each month
wouldn’t be much help. Would my job wait for me? Who would take care of my kids while I was recovering?
Wednesday: I received a notice from Southern California Edison threatening to turn off our power if I didn’t pay the electric bill in ten days. I was trying to follow a budget, but my car had needed repairs I hadn’t planned on.
Thursday: I was distracted in pouring rain and drove through a red light launching a young fellow on a motorcycle into the air and then watching as he crashed to the pavement. Panicked, I pulled my car to the edge of the road and raced over to him, yelling to anyone within earshot to call an ambulance.
The kid got up slowly, waved that he was ok, and said he didn’t need an ambulance.
He dragged his twisted motorcycle to a nearby gas station, spoke briefly with the attendant, then grabbed his helmet and turned to me.
“Can you take me to Kaiser for an X-ray?”
“You want to ride with me!?” I was flabbergasted. “Shouldn’t we call the police?”
“The police? What for? I just want an X-ray or something to make sure nothing’s broken, and then I’d appreciate a ride to work. It’s not far.”
He limped over and eased into my car as I got behind the wheel.
I was shaking so badly that driving wasn’t an option. I turned to him with tears spilling over.
“I am SO sorry. It was all my fault. I’m glad you don’t seem badly hurt, but when you get home, your family will convince you to sue me and I can’t even pay my electric bill and I’ll probably end up in jail and who will take care of my kids?” I was blubbering.
“Looks like the bike’s totaled and my new jeans are ripped, but boy am I lucky!”
Wait, what? Did I hear him correctly? Had I suddenly fallen into an episode of the Twilight Zone? Who was this young man, and what must his life be like if being hit by a car was lucky? I stared at him, mouth gaping.
“My name’s Jerry, what’s yours?”
“Marcia, I’m ok, really. Just take a deep breath, calm down and you’ll be fine.
He was concerned about me? Was he in shock?
“You gottta understand,” he went on. “Every day when I leave for work, the helmet my parents got me sits by the front door, and every day I walk right past it. For some reason, this morning I stopped, looked at it, picked it up and strapped it on. Look. See the big dent? If I hadn’t worn it, that dent would be in my skull. I’ll never ride my bike without a helmet again. Don’t you see? I’m grateful. My folks will be too. Now, will you drive me to Kaiser, please?”
Jerry was 19 going on 50. His X-rays were negative and except for a few bruises, he was fine. I drove him to his job, and he thanked me, suggesting I take aspirin when I got to my office. He even called later to check on me.
(My insurance did pay for a new motorcycle, and a new pair of jeans, and I never heard from him again).
The sitter had already started dinner when I got home and was available to stay if I wanted her to. On a whim, I called the office and asked Helen if she still wanted to go to Brennan’s.
“Absolutely!” She was excited.
We were surrounded by the guys from engineering when we walked into Brennan’s and the drinks flowed freely. They considered it a rare
treat to have us join the party. One drink, and my troubles began to fade. Helen and I were having a great time soaking up the attention.
Home of the Turtle Races – Marina del Rey, CA
After a while I noticed a tall bearded man on the other side of the horseshoe shaped bar looking at me. He looked away quickly when our eyes met. A few moments later he did the same thing, only this time he had moved a few bar stools closer. He wasn’t part of our group, and even in my mellow state, I wasn’t in the mood.
(to be continued)
Marcia Orland, Afterglow Media 310.918.0577