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Have you ever looked back on your life, and just shook your head as you remember something you did that was totally irresponsible. If your youth was as reckless as mine, there are numerous times when you could have been called “Irresponsible”.

Well, I do have plenty of times that were minor slips, but one really stands out. I was 19 and home from college for the summer. It was mid-May and I had a summer job at the Refinery where my dad worked, but it didn’t start until June 1. I had two weeks to do nothing.

It was a Sunday afternoon when mother walked out to the screened-in back porch where I was stretched out reading some trashy novel and said, “Richard, I’ve been talking to Aunt Pearl, and she has invited you to visit her in Long Beach for a week.”

“California?”

Yes, I was surprised. Aunt Pearl was not my aunt, but a good friend of the family. I figured Mother had called her and wrangled an invitation just to get me out of the house for a week. Of course, I was more than ready to go. I liked being back home in Norphlet for the summer, but let’s face it, Norphlet wasn’t very exciting to a home-from-college guy.

“Yeah, when do I leave?”

“I thought you might want to go, so I went to the Greyhound Bus Station in El Dorado and bought you a ticket. We’ll put you on the bus at seven tomorrow, but you will have to buy another ticket in Dallas. A Greyhound agent told me he would call Dallas, and have them hold a ticket to Long Beach for you.”

Wow! I was on my feet in seconds, and in a few minutes I had my college suitcase stuffed. Aunt Pearl would meet the bus in Long Beach. My only responsibly was to buy a ticket in Dallas to Long Beach, California and get on the right bus.

Then, before I knew it, I was boarding the Greyhound Bus in El Dorado. The trip to Dallas went quickly, and soon I was wandering around in the Dallas bus station walking toward the ticket window, when a guy walked up and started talking to me.

“Where you headin’?”

“Uh, California.”

“Really, that’s where I’m going,” he replied.

Then he said, “I’m driving, and I’m looking for a couple of guys to buy gasoline and ride out there with me.”

Yeah, I was interested, since I had hitchhiked back and forth from college, but riding all the way to California with someone I had just met had me shaking my head no, but he continued. “I have one guy that’s going to ride with me, and if you go, we can leave in the next few minutes. Shoot, you’ll save thirty dollars on your ticket.”

I was tempted, but I still wasn’t sure the guy was legit. Then he waved at a guy who was in a sailor’s uniform. He was the guy that would be riding to Long Beach with us.

“Yeah, I’ve been on furlough here in Dallas, and I’ve got to report back next week in California,” the sailor said, as he walked up.

Heck, I figured the two of us could take care of anything the driver might try, so I signed on, and we headed for his car.

We drove across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona only stopping for gasoline, and got to know each other. We were about the same age, and were into the same music. It was turning out to be a great trip. I guess it just never crossed my mind that Aunt Pearl would be at the bus station waiting for me when the Dallas bus arrived, but heck this was a great adventure, and it started getting better, when one of the guys said, “Hey, we’ll be fifty miles from Los Vegas when we come to that next intersection. Why don’t we take a break? Shoot, we can just spend a couple of hours in one of the casinos and get something to eat.”

Yeah, that sound like fun, so off we went to Los Vegas. It was late when we arrived, but heck, on what I figured was Main Street was wide open, and we parked and headed for one of the biggest light displays I had ever seen. Yes, it did say “21 and older” but I’m tall and we just walked in without a problem. Well, staying a couple of hours turned into nearly five, and after we had lost most of our money, we headed for California.

It was almost noon when we managed to find the address I had for Aunt Pearl, and I realized I was a very late in arriving. Yes, about eight hours late, and I wasn’t on the bus, but I figured she would just smile and welcome me.

We pulled up to the curb, and I noted the house number as I got out and started up the sidewalk to the front door. Then the door burst open and Aunt Pearl ran toward me yelling about lost, or dead or kidnapped, and, as I found out later, the Texas State Police were looking for me, but thank God, I was okay… and then steely-eyed, she looked at me shaking her head, and I knew what I had done was really irresponsible.

After everybody calmed down, and told the Texas State Police to stop looking for me, Aunt Pearl called my mother, who yelled into the phone loud enough for me to hear her. But the week in Long Beach was a lot of fun. Aunt Pearl’s daughter Patsy Lee showed me around southern California, and one thing sticks in my mind: at an amusement park along the beach front, we walked by one of the booths. I looked at the game, which was using what as a young boy I called a “bean-shooter”. It’s a forked limb with two strips of rubber and a pouch for the rock. I had one in my back pocket for years. The game was to break three plates with three shots. The plates were fifteen feet away, and a few years back, I could hit a sparrow from at least twice that far.

“Want a big furry dog?” I asked Patsy Lee.

“Richard, don’t waste your money. That’s a lot harder than it looks… but yeah, that big pink one would look great in my room.”

“Young man, step right up! Only twenty-five cents. Break three plates and get your pick,” said the man running the booth.

“Okay… here’s my quarter.”

“Here’s your slingshot and three shots….Here, let me show you how to shoot it.”

“That’s okay. I think I know.”

Well, shooting a bean-shooter is like riding a bicycle. Once you have mastered it, you don’t forget. It was zip, zip, zip and three plates were shattered.

“We’ll take that big pink one,” I said. I looked at Patsy Lee and said, “Want another one?” I started to dig out a quarter, when the man grumbled, “Only one to a customer,” and then as we walked off, I heard him mutter, “Damn southern hick!”

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email [email protected]

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