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Over Here: 52 - The Ohio State Fair

Ron Pataky recalls the day he and a friend hitched a rie to the Ohio State Fair.

I'd gone over to Wesley Beck's house. It was a Tuesday morning in the summer of 1948, and neither of us had to work that day. Wesley lived with his family directly across from John Simpson Jr. High. Although it was summer and school was out, we were sitting on the school front steps contemplating both the day and the ultimate fate of humanoids. Out of nowhere, he casually remarked, "Why don't we hitch-hike down to Columbus and take in the Ohio State Fair?" I remember the moment. I wouldn't have been more flabbergasted if he'd suggested we fly out to Guam for some palm wine and crab-cakes.

Neither of us knew anything about Columbus, but Wesley had been to several Ohio State Fairs with his parents. He said he knew the layout. (Right! And I was intimately acquainted with the well-mapped surface of southwestern Pluto!).

The next thing I remember was phoning my Mom with a whopper-doo. I told her Wesley and his family were going down to the Fair and had asked me to go along. I added that I had eight dollars with me (true enough), and asked if I could PLEASE go with them for the day. She knew Wesley, and assumed the family of a "good kid" would be safe enough. She said yes. She added that I should "be careful," an admonishment that carried roughly the same weight as a parental caution against ever sneezing again in public.

We were set for the road. Wesley had slipped into his house, and had been able to add a grandiose fifteen dollars to the fund (we were both working regularly), and we wasted no time in lighting out for the highway. Old Route 42 was the logical starting point in those days, so that's where we headed. (Actually, come to think of it, old 42 was pretty much the only starting point!).

We got to the Fair in good shape (i.e. with all of our limited faculties, no apparent allergies, and no obvious rips in our clothes), and eventually had a wonderful day - a pair of 13-year-olds, who, like the fabled Whiffenpoofs, were "off on a spree" for an entire summer day. Getting a ride back to Mansfield that evening was no problem at all. There were literally dozens of cars headed that way around nine o'clock. I think we had lined up a ride back home within five minutes or so, and nothing would do but that the kindly couple deliver these two nice kids all the way to their respective front doors, once we'd arrived back in Mansfield town.

Ironically, the only eventful thing of the entire day occurred with our very first ride out of Mansfield on our way to the Fair. The first guy to stop for us was driving a very old truck. That was OK, but we learned within minutes that the geezer was drunk. At 10 a.m. yet! After rolling down that first hill with the right wheel in and out of the gravel, we told him to stop. He did. That was that, and the remainder of the day turned out just fine. I was dropped off at home before 11; and for the rest of my junior high days, Mom thought Mr. and Mrs. Beck were just the sort of dependable parents it was good for me to be around. I, of course, veritably gushed agreement, thereby keeping open the unlikely scenario that might find the two of us engaged in future hitchhiking, say, to Chattanooga or the Alamo. Or maybe heading for Guam and some crab-cakes!
But the two of us, Wesley and yours truly, learned a valuable lesson that day. In heading to an Ohio State Fair, never hitch a ride with a drunk driving an old truck downhill at 10 a.m. on a beautiful Tuesday morning on old Route 42.

I'm not sure about Wesley; but I, for one, never did again!


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