Dennis and I worked out the details of our plot. We would pawn the sewing machine and buy bus tickets to San Francisco with the proceeds.
The night before we launched our escape, I snuck my brother’s canvas Boy Scout knapsack out of his room. I don’t remember what I packed except that my essentials included a couple of harmonicas in different keys—I’d been teaching myself to play “blues harp.” As it grew dark, I dropped the knapsack out the window into the bushes. Next, the sewing machine: I tied one end of Dad’s fire safety rope to the handle and lowered it carefully into the forsythia. Then I went outside, untied the rope, went back in, and pulled the rope back up.
Next, I had to compose a letter to Mom and Dad that would explain to them that I wasn’t running away from anything, I was running to a great adventure. (This wasn’t actually true, as I was definitely running away from the discipline of school.) I wanted to be free, I told them. That word had a great appeal. I would mail the letter just as Dennis and I were leaving Washington DC.
In the morning I said goodbye to Mom just as if I was heading off to catch the school bus. I collected the knapsack and the sewing machine—Mom was conveniently washing dishes in the kitchen—and walked to Glencarlyn Park, where I met Dennis. We lugged the sewing machine across the park and took one of the metro transit buses into downtown DC. As I recall, the Greyhound bus terminal was on or near 14th Street. And 14th Street, being a bit seedy, was also a good place to find a pawn shop.
I am astonished that we were able to walk into the pawn shop and dispose of what must have looked like stolen goods. But no questions were asked of these two school-age children carrying knapsacks.
There was only one problem, and a serious one it was indeed: the amount we were given for the sewing machine was a mere pittance. We did not understand that our only bargaining power would have come from at least pretending to reject the offer and strolling toward the door to take it to another pawn shop.
We went to the Greyhound terminal.
And there we learned that our proceeds weren’t nearly enough to buy us tickets to San Francisco. What a disappointment! Well, what could we do but buy tickets partway across the country and hitchhike from there. Our money would get us only as far as Chicago—not exactly where we wanted to go, but at least we’d be well away from home before authorities were alerted.
The bus trip took us through the afternoon and all through the night. Dennis amused himself by imitating the sound of the bus engine as it ground through the gears, which caused the other passengers to stare at us.
It was about nine the next morning when the bus pulled into the Chicago terminal. Now, all we had to do was walk to the edge of town and start hitchhiking. We studied a city map in the terminal and determined that we should walk through the South Side and pick up a major east-west interstate that ran south of the city.
Walking across the predominantly black neighborhoods of the South Side, we stood out like a sore thumb. We decided that we should destroy all forms of identification in case someone questioned us. I tore up my learner’s permit for driving into tiny scraps and buried the scraps underneath a park bench. Now we’d be ready in case the cops pulled up.
(To be continued)