Outplayed and outbluffed
By John Silveira
Issue #67 • January/February, 2001
It was maybe 30 years ago when Dave—that’s Dave Duffy—and I left Boston on a January afternoon to go play poker at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, almost halfway across the state. We left in pretty good weather and got to the University in plenty of time. It turned out to be a worthwhile trip for me; I made some good money that night.
But the next morning, when we left, snow was falling. The snowflakes were wet and heavy and the size of nickels, and Dave’s little VW Bug had a broken windshield wiper. Glops of snow stuck to the windshield and piled up on the highway making the driving treacherous. We traveled with our windows down and a piece of string leading from each window and attached to the driver’s wiper blade. As we drove along, Dave pulled the string on his side to pull the blade up, then I’d pull the string that went out my window to bring it back. It more or less worked, but every once in awhile we had to pull over to straighten the system out.
We hadn’t gotten far when we first saw the plows. They seemed barely able to keep ahead of the accumulation, and they pushed the snow into banks alongside the road creating the illussion we were driving through a valley. The further we went, the narrower the road was. More plows. It seemed as if, soon, there wouldn’t be any place to plow it. Dave wondered if it had been a good idea to leave that morning.
Then we saw them—two girls hitchhiking on what would have been the edge of the passing lane, had the number one lane not been piled high with snow.
“Should we pick them up? Dave asked.
“Pick them up.”
We would never have picked up two guys.
Dave coasted to a stop and I yelled out the window, “Where are you going?”
“Where are you going?” one of them asked.
“Boston,” I said.
She mentioned a town just outside Boston.
“We’ll take you there,” I said and got out of the car to let them climb in back. It was cramped back there. Had we been a pair of psychos, they were effectively trapped.
They were goddesses, but whereas one of them was quiet, the other was bubbly. I tried to make conversation.
They said they were from the college. We were older and I tried to impress them.
“Have you been listening to the radio?” the bubbly one suddenly asked.
“Did you hear about the plane crash?”
“There was one this morning in California.”
We hadn’t heard.
“The last guy to give us a ride said there was about 250 celebrities on board. They were going to a charity fund raiser. They think everyone was killed.”
“Bob Hope, Carly Simon, the Smothers Brothers…” She rattled off other names. The snow suddenly didn’t seem so bad. Dave turned the radio on and started going through the stations but all we were getting were top-40 stations: the Fifth Dimension wanted to go up, up and away on one station, the Beatles bemoaned Michelle on another, but no one talked about the crash.
I talked about how much I liked Bob Hope and the Smothers Brothers. They did too. I asked if they could think of any other people on the plane. The one who did most of the talking said she thought the guy had mentioned James Taylor. It seemed like John Wayne was on it, too.
This was a real catastrophe. But there was no news of it, just the damned music. I mentioned how I couldn’t understand why we weren’t hearing updates.
“Are you sure that’s what the guy said?” I asked.
She was sure.
“Did you hear any newscasts?” I asked her.
“He had turned his radio off before we got in,” she said. “He said it was just too depressing to listen to.”
On we went like this for several miles, Dave driving, me scanning for news while, at the same time, we tried to keep the windshield wipers going.
“We get out here,” she suddenly said.
I looked around. We had barely made it to the next town.
“We’re not even near Boston,” I said.
“That’s okay,” she said. “We’ve got to see someone.”
“We’ll wait for you,” I said.
“No, we’re going to be awhile.”
“We can wait,” I repeated as they got out of the car.
But the talkative one smiled and said, “No.”
Then they were gone. We hadn’t had a chance to ask them out. We hadn’t even asked their names. As Dave drove on I still manned the radio. Still no news. But the snow was letting up, so we didn’t do the wipers as often. We talked about how pretty the girls were. They were beautiful.
“Why do you think that guy told them there was a plane crash?” I asked. Dave shrugged and drove on. But I already knew the answer. And though I still checked the radio stations, just in case, I realized there had been no plane crash. Bob Hope, Carly Simon, the Smothers Brothers, and the rest of them were all safe in California or wherever they were at the moment. And the two girls had been safely dropped off in a town just outside of Amherst unhassled and unharmed. Even a psycho, like the Boston Strangler or Ted Bundy, would have become too caught up in their story to have entertained any thought of harming them. We didn’t talk about them much after that. But when I think about them today, I’m just glad the glib one hadn’t been in that poker game.