Storyworth: What Was Your First Big Trip?

| January 10, 2022 | 0 Comments

There were no trips in my family when I was growing up. I can barely recall a cottage we had in Humerock, MA, about 40 minutes south of Boston. I remember it was right on the beach. There is an image of a starfish burned in my deep memory. I think I was probably 5 years old.

Other than that, a vacation was when I stayed over at my cousins’ houses in other neighborhoods of Boston. We were in Roslindale. My mother’s two brothers and a sister had families in Dorchester and Mission Hill. Two of them had eight children, one had seven. There were only four in mine. Each of them had a child near my age and we all were very close. Staying at their house was always fun and involved many adventures. 

But that was it. We never went anywhere far enough away that I slept anywhere but my own bed or at my cousins’. We’d go to Wollaston beach for a day. And the more exotic trips were to Nantasket, which had an amusement park next to the beach. But they were always day trips.

When I was a junior in high school, there was a teacher’s strike. So, the schools were closed. A bunch of my buddies hatched a plan to drive up to Quebec and spend a few days there. That was huge. Going somewhere where they didn’t even speak English was beyond exotic. Against all odds, my parents let me go. Totally reckless of them. There were six of us and we piled into Rich Hilden’s Chevy Nova. While we all had cars, Rich had the only one we thought might make it to Quebec. Six teen aged boys packed – and I mean PACKED – into a Chevy Nova for the nine hour drive to Canada. We stayed at a place called Le Petite Maison Blanche, a rooming house in the middle of the city. I honestly can’t remember what we did there, which is just as well. I’m pretty sure anything I could remember would not be suitable for publication.

My first really big trip was probably when I was 31 and I went to the National Democratic Convention in San Francisco in 1984. It was the first time I was outside the Eastern Time Zone. I went there as staff to the New Jersey delegation to the convention. It was a totally made-up job, concocted by my boss/friend/mentor, Jim Dolan. He was Barney Frank’s first chief of staff and took me under his wing when I came to Washington with Barney in 1981. Jim deserves his own post, but suffice to say, he was a wonderful, generous, funny, smart man who died of diabetes in 1989. He was in his early 40’s at the time. Gone way too soon.

The convention of 1984 represented the culmination of a years long plan by Jim to maximize the experience of attending the event. My job consisted mostly of executing the many deals Jim had arranged, trading floor passes for event tickets and vice versa. 

He set up his HQ in the Fisherman’s Wharf Holiday Inn, where he had a room stacked floor to ceiling with cases of products manufactured in New Jersey to fill gift bags for the delegates. There was a line out the door of people to whom Jim had promised passes or tickets to events.

I would go to Hotel X to meet someone. Hand them the “quid” and receive from them the “quo” in the quid pro quo that Jim had arranged. I was also sent to the DNC Credentials office at 7 am on day one of the convention to claim the floor pass for the Lt. Governor of New Jersey. Of course, there is no Lt. Governor in New Jersey. But Jim gave me a letter he had secured from the Speaker of the House of New Jersey who is next in the line of succession after the governor claiming he was the “effective” Lt. Governor. Officials at the office resisted, but I pressed and got the credential. My proudest moment was when I returned with the credential and Jim said, “Wow, I never thought THAT would work!”

It was a magical week. I met former President Jimmy Carter. And then, shortly thereafter, was in a group of friends standing outside some event. Introductions were made as we went around the circle. When we got to one shlubby looking guy with stringy hair, he introduced himself as “Steven Stills.” My knees almost buckled. I shook his hand and the best I could come with was “Thanks for many hours of complete enjoyment of your music.” I’m sure he remembers that encounter to this very day.

That was the convention where Gerry Ferraro became the first female vice presidential nominee. Where Jesse Jackson and Mario Cuomo gave speeches for the ages. I remember Jesse Jackson’s great line responding to critics of his line calling New York “Hymietown,” in which he said, “God is not done with me yet.” 

As it turned out, it was the high point politically for Democrats that year as Mondale went on to a historic defeat against Ronald Reagan.

But for me, it was a memorable week of fun and excitement. And one that still lives in my vivid memory.Bill Black, January 04, 2022


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