During this period, Pop had reached elite status among colored newspapermen. He had coached basketball on a few different levels, and when the call came for a referee for Central Interscholastic Athletic Association (CIAA) games, he was on the short list. When he went to Richmond to referee a game at Virginia Union, I was his trusted sidekick.
This was a great experience, but in hindsight I think I am lucky to have survived. Everyone who has been to a sport event or even sat in the family room and watched a game on TV, knows that the ultimate villain is the guy in the striped shirt. When the boos started, and there were calls to kill the referee, my hackles arose and my mouth started writing checks my butt couldn’t cash. Fortunately the boo-birds recognized me as an 11-year old kid and they ignored me.
One night after the game we were on the way home and Pop doubled over with stomach pain. His condition was so severe, that I was called upon to make the drive home. Driving wasn’t new to me because Pop had let me put in quite a bit of wheel time in a safe environment. But, I was 12-years-old and called upon to drive 100 miles. I was on a major highway, and motorists were whizzing by seemingly at 90 miles per hour. If someone had looked into that car they would have seen this kid peeping over the dashboard with eyes as big as saucers.
We made it with no mishaps, and the next day Pop was admitted to the hospital with a severe case of ulcers. I wonder if he just had a stomachache, and my driving had transformed a simple malady into a full blown ulcer.
This experience may have planted the seed for my love of cars and driving. As a teenager, some of my buddies and I put together a drag-racing team. We would attend the different events and put our car to the test. I had an aptitude for speed shifting, and was able to keep from crashing, so I was the designated driver.
One Saturday I came home with a trophy. Forgetting to put it away, it was still on the dining room table when Pop came home. The lecture that followed this discovery was enough for me to decide I had better select another career path.
When Pop got warmed up, I started feeling like a Christian who had just been notified he was next up for the lion’s den.
I didn’t know anything about déjà vu, but I remember having this feeling before. We lived just a few blocks from the U.S. Soldiers’ Home, a military retirement installation in Washington, D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood. Soldiers’ Home had all of the makings for adventure for a bunch of 10-year-old knuckle heads.
Of particular interest to us was a pond. In this pond were fish. (Know where I’m heading?) My crew had a meeting, and we decided to hook school and go fishing (It was good enough for Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn).
We planned well, and the next morning we met and it was off to this great adventure. In the woods there was a pond, and in the pond was an island. With a running start we could leap across the water to the island. After a wasted day of fishing, it dawned upon us that there was no room for a running start off the island. It was either give it a try, or set up camp on that island for the rest of our lives.
There were five of us who emerged from that pond soaked to the bone. The only thing to do was hurry home and change before our parents came home. On the corner near my house was a gas station. As I sloshed through the gas station, I heard a familiar voice. I couldn’t make out the words, but it translated into, BUSTED!!!
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