Saturday, August 13, 2011

3331 Color

Saturday, August 13, 2011

“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.”
-- Terry Pratchett --


I'm reading a book now wherein the events take place in the early '60s in the south. I had forgotten how it was then. Weird.

It was a tradition in my tiny Pennsylvania mountain high school that the senior class took a trip (after the graduation ceremony but before the diplomas were given out, to ensure that no one got too wild on the trip), a ten day bus tour of Philadelphia, Washington, Raleigh, Richmond, and points south, which included a tour of a cigarette factory, Luray Caverns, Skyline Drive, Natural Bridge, and some dead presidents' homes (Washington and Jefferson).

I'm not sure who paid for it. I know that few of the families of the kids in my class could have ponied up the money, and I remember only one class money-raising scheme wherein we sold light bulbs until the local shopkeeper objected that we were taking away his business. But back then, who paid for what was not something I thought about a lot.

Those kids, being mountain folk, behaved well on the trip. The only chaperone for the 30 of us was our homeroom teacher and his (or her) spouse, also traditional. Even our "hoods" were good. The only time anyone got out of line was when we stayed one night at a motel with a decent pool, and we all broke curfew for a midnight swim.

Anyway, back to "how it was then".

The graduating class before us, Obie's class, 1961, had the only African-American kid in the school, Rosetta, the daughter of a sergeant on the base. When they found out that on the traditional tour, Rosetta would not be allowed to eat at the same counters or dining rooms, or stay in the same lodgings, let alone share a room with other girls in the class, the class voted to change the itinerary. Instead of Virginia and North Carolina, they'd go to Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, and points between, and they were all excited about it.

Only one catch. Rosetta was not excited about it. She wanted the southern tour, and refused to go if they were going northeast. I don't know what she was thinking. That she wanted to make this her personal Freedom Riders bus, or that she didn't understand that it would be much more difficult to coordinate and much more expensive? With Rosetta, either was possible. Anyway, with that Catch-22, the class ended up going north-east, without Rosetta. There were a lot of people who were very angry about it.

So, the next year, it's our turn.

I don't think anyone other than me in my class of 30 had ever been out of the county, let alone stayed in a hotel. Of the 30 of us, I think there were maybe four or five who had indoor bathrooms, and three who had a real furnace. Most had woodstoves for heat and cooking, and bathed once a week in a steel tub in the kitchen. They ate a lot of game.

I know now that we stayed in some of the rattiest hotels and motels ever. Green scum on the pools (if they had one), paper peeling off the walls, mold in the bathrooms. And we ate in places with cracked and curling linoleum floors. But back then, for most of those kids, it was luxury.

One place we stayed somewhere in southern Virginia was billed as a resort. It was perched on the edge of a cliff. Coming up the drive it looked beautiful, three stories, with a two-story portico with tall fluted columns and spreading curving steps, and leaded glass doors. The bus driver went around the back, and parked at a two-story wing with peeling paint, and rickety stairs up to a tilting balcony. That's where our rooms were. The dining room was on the ground floor, cafeteria steam tables, peeling linoleum floor, Formica tables with napkins under the feet to keep them level. I think we stayed there two nights.

At one point, the boys decided to explore. There was a door at the end of the upstairs hall. We opened it, onto a hallway papered in white and gold flocking, with a double curved staircase with marble treads, and gilded banisters, and a crystal chandelier hanging down the middle. Below was a lobby with a marble fountain.

The door had opened in, so we were able to read the sign on it.


I suspect now that everywhere we stayed, everywhere we ate, we were in the colored accommodations. Oddly, there were never any other guests wherever we went. We always had the whole place to ourselves.

I don't know if that was true of every trip every year, or if it was just the reaction of the tour company to the previous year's fiasco. "Ok, you want to play that game? We'll fix you."

Interesting to think about it now.

About the differences.

Interesting to think about traveling with The Man. Then or now.

He does get nervous in Virginia, oddly more nervous than when we were in Florida or the Carolinas.

Interesting how we forget. Some of us, anyhow. Some of us don't.


I found out what the "whoop whoop" sound is that I hear so often at random times. It sounded so much like a ship that I thought maybe it had something to do with a drawbridge. Turns out it's the emergency "siren", for the fire department and EMS folks. The number and pattern of whoops indicates which area is being alerted.

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