I have mentioned my talented, wonderful pal Jason here a couple times before, but only in passing, I regret to say. In an effort to breathe some life into my dormant stories series, I thought I would try to think of a few stories that remind me of various friends. It has been my standing policy with my writing here not to cover topics and episodes that people might find embarrassing, so this of course limits some of my options, but I figure I can proceed with this one, as the moron in the following story is me.
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The first Christmas after college, I ducked out of an invitation to attend a local Christmas party so I could drive up to Philadelphia and see my friend Jason, meet his roommate(s?), and admire his apartment. As I was still living at home at this point, I am certain that no matter how modest his abode was, it filled me with admiration and envy. After this, we went out, lifted a pint or two, discussed the grievous shortcomings of long-distance relationships, felt deep nostalgia for college which was but seven months behind us, and had a grand time. As the evening came to a close, we said good night, and I headed home.
The goal was to take the Vine Street Expressway to I-95 south, and back to home. Sounds simple, right? I merged onto Vine, and thought I was in good shape, but an accident had just taken place and the one policeman on the scene had placed flares across the I-95 south exit, and before I knew it I was fired across the Benjamin Franklin Parkway into New Jersey. I figured I would execute some kind of u-turn at the toll plaza, but the toll collector made it very clear u-turns were forbidden, and he gestured towards a half-dozen New Jersey state trooper radio cars idling in the cold, clearly waiting for the chance to write me up if I were to venture such a thing. So eastwards into New Jersey I went. These days my geography of this area is good enough, I’d be fine, and even if it weren’t, I would simply fire up my phone and follow its directions back home. But back in the deep, dark ages of the nineties, there was no clever phone in my pocket to save me from my ignorance. And thus I was dumped onto the Admiral Wilson Boulevard (named for Adm. Henry B. Wilson, by the way) and all the delights Camden has to offer around midnight in the depths of winter when you’re lost, have no phone, and left the house with about $12 in your pocket.
My basic plan was to find an exit where I could clearly see a place to turn around and re-enter the roadway westbound to cross the Delaware back to Philadelphia and I-95. Given that I didn’t know I could follow 676 down to the Walt Whitman Bridge, that was not such a bad idea. Still, I passed a whole series of exits that gave no indication of where they led, and so I plunged deeper into terra incognita. After several more exits and a few more uncomfortable minutes of driving as slowly as I thought safe, I came around a curve and saw a warehouse ahead of me, with featureless cinder-block construction and a floodlit parking lot beside it. It looked just like a carpet store in New Castle, and I thought it also looked like an ideal place to stop and look at a map, with adequate sight-lines around me that I felt safe enough doing so. So I pulled into the parking lot, shifted into park, and rummaged in the glove compartment for the AAA New Jersey map. Sure enough, I had one, and as I unfolded it, I could see a female security guard approaching me in a brown uniform. I lowered my window (actually rolled it down on this old car), and greeted the woman in a friendly way, explaining that I was lost, and that I just needed a moment to consult my map and orient myself. In the back of my mind, I was wondering why a warehouse like this needed a guard. The woman smiled warmly in return, and kept approaching, making me fear she would tell me to leave immediately. She leaned over bringing her face close to mine, and as she did so, I could not help but notice her blouse was unbuttoned very low. She told me how sorry she was I was lost, and suggested I come inside to warm up and get everything straightened out. She called me Sugar and Honeypie, rested her hand on mind, and her words all came out in a purr.
Now I know about young and dumb. I knew then that I was young and dumb. But I was neither young enough or dumb enough not to find her suggestion completely nuts. I stammered out a “no thanks, I’m really all set,” shifted the car into gear, and got back on the highway with true alacrity. She looked startled at my rapid departure, and waved a friendly goodbye. As I continued east into the night, still lost and thoroughly rattled, I looked in the rear-view mirror to see her still standing there. As I got farther away, I could see the base of a sign coming into view, and as the distance crew, the sign itself became visible, advertising “Live Nude Girls” in very large letters.
I had not seen that sign as I approached, and it turns out I had parked right beneath it. The warehouse I had taken for a carpet store was a strip club, and the security guard’s incongruous proposition turned out to be not incongruous at all. Once it dawned on me, I have to say I burst out in peals of nervous laughter, and only after they subsided did I get back to the business of turning around, which I did soon after. On my way west, I drove right by the place a second time, and this time it was so clearly marked that I could not believe how I had missed it the first time.
I crossed the Delaware, merged on to I-95 (it looked so welcome), and was home about twenty-five minutes later. When I arrived at home, my parents were in bed, but awake and wondering what had kept me out so late, so of course I had to tell them the whole stupid story, and they laughed even more nervously than I had at my stupidity. I also had a good time calling my friend Jason the next day and telling him all about my adventure. I think we all agreed that it was better to be lucky than smart.
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I have since looked on Google Maps to see if I could identify the establishment, and I have not been able to do so with any certainty. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported about a place called Showgirls being shutdown in 1998 following allegations of prostitution (!), and maybe that was it. Or maybe it was closed when New Jersey was cleaning things up for the Republican National Convention in 2000. I don’t know.
So there you have another story to add to this list, and I promise to see what else I can come up with as the summer proceeds.
[Update: I wrote this knowing nothing about this week’s Daily Post challenge, but dear Britt pointed it out to me, and so here is my link to connect this to that.]