Dennis O’Neil Goes To Kokomo

Denny ONeilOut on runway number nine, big 707 set to go / But Im stuck here on the ground where the cold winds blow • Gordon Lightfoot

You’d think, after all the trips we’ve taken, that we’d know how to get to the airport on time. But this day, we didn’t. So there we were, grounded somewhere in New Jersey, while an aircraft with our names on the passenger list soared west. Obviously, we had a problem. We were expected in Kokomo, Indiana, on the following day and I didn’t want to cancel the appointment, mostly because I’ve already cancelled an appointment or two this year and breaking promises is a lousy habit to get into.

Okay, now what?

We weren’t the ones who made the reservations, so scrubbing them and getting replacements would be unusually hasslesome, even if it were possible. What then? Train? No idea if there were trains running to Kokomo. Bus? Ugh – and Mr. Greyhound might not get there on time anyway, and where the hell do you catch a bus in New Jersey? Drive? Hmm.

Fifty years ago, give or take, a girlfriend and I were sitting around a St. Louis apartment on the day after Christmas. She was a senior at Webster College and I, recently discharged from the United States Navy, was eking out a living doing an occasional substitute teaching job. I don’t know why we decided to hitchhike to San Francisco, in the winter, through unfamiliar terrain, but we did, and we made the trip with maybe 20 bucks between us. Even in 1964, that wasn’t much. But somehow, it was enough, and we survived, and returned to our sundry obligations.

I wouldn’t have recommended anyone follow our example back then and I certainly don’t now. It is dangerous out there, and I think on a freeway outside Los Angeles, we dodged what could have been a malignant encounter. But sometimes the universe is kind to the foolish, and so it was that winter day a half century ago.

Back to Jersey and the departed airplane. Was it time to again be quixotic? Drive to our engagement in Indiana? It had been a while since we’d taken a road trip – a long while – and at our age, every adventure might be the last. So before we could realize how inadvisable our decision might be, we program the GPS and headed out for the heartland.

I’m glad we did. I’ve never met nicer, more helpful people than the Kokomoans. The motel was excellent, our vegetarian meals tasty and nourishing, and the hours I spent with an audience at a local university and with fans at a convention were pleasant.

Is there a lesson too be learned from all this? I don’t know. Maybe not. Probably not. But at our age we should care?