Saturday, April 16, 2011
"The Grey Ghost rides," words I hadn't heard in decades. And there he was, Ray "One Toke" Tribble, waiting in line at Happy Foods; a big smile on his face, extending his arms to give me a big how-you-been hug. "Where you been, man," he said. "We all figured you stayed in California after the bust. What a trip. You gotta hook up with us for the reenactment next week; the guys'll flip out. It'll be the original crowd. We meet every year. Me, Koon, Buggs, Gooby, Panda, and now with you, Hooper, it's complete! The Grey Ghost rides!"
No one's called me "Hooper" in many years, a name bestowed upon me by a well-meaning elderly couple who mistakenly thought it was the term for "hippie." The anointment happened while waiting in line to pay the cashier at Scott's Diner; the elderly man turned to his wife, pointed at me and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "Look, it's one of them hoopers!" Ray's ebullience at the off-the-cuff proclamation was as infectious then as it was now about the reunion, so I agreed to being a participant in the reenactment. I knew a little about the Civil War, and had heard about these events, but mostly it seemed like an enjoyable way to reconnect with some old pals and maybe learn a little American history.
Before departing, Ray said to meet at noon on Saturday in the parking lot of the Hot Dog King, our old teen-aged hangout (which was now a Shoe Carnival) and was very emphatic that everyone dresses for the period. "Look for the Ghost. It's been completely restored," he said. The Grey Ghost was Ray's 1948 Plymouth sedan, a thirty-five dollar junker with suicide doors, a back seat big enough for a horse, and a grey paint job so badly faded that it appeared to be the ghost of a car. It was big and round, almost cartoon-like. Some people mocked it and called it "The Egg," but to us, it was The Grey Ghost, our proud, uncool wheels. Unbeknownst to us at the time, The Grey Ghost was the name given to a leader of a small band of rag-tag Confederate soldiers. Coincidentally, the moniker couldn't have been more fitting; the six of us were an assortment of hopeless misfits who happened to find each other in a high school filled with highly-driven over-achievers. Even an amateur fortune-teller could have predicted the bunch of us juggled futures befitting most carny-folk.
Ray got the name "One Toke," because he was responsible for driving, and sometimes, when he'd had more than a single toke, the Ghost could be found the next day, parked in a vacant lot or at the Hot Dog King, waiting to be retrieved by a refreshed, tokeless One Toke.
The anticipation of the reenactment colored my every day, wondering how the guys turned out and if I'd fit in with their Civil War pursuit. I didn't want to appear uninformed, so every night was filled with studying about the war, and I made a concerted effort to rent a proper period uniform. When asked by the clerk at Arley's Fantasy Costumes, which side, North or South, I hesitated for a moment before answering, "South." After all, there was a connection (however unintentional) to the Confederate General, John Mosby, The Grey Ghost. And frankly, I never believed for a moment that a geographic line through the country separated those who cared for the rights of Black people and those who didn't. And besides, I was going as Johnny Reb, in honor of those dirt-poor Southern boys who never owned a slave nor had any intention of owning a slave, but got caught up defending their small patches of ground.
By Saturday morning, I was transformed into Johnny Reb. Sporting a slight Southern accent, dressed in a full, action-ready Confederate soldier uniform, complete with a battle sword strapped to my waist, I headed out, ready to lay down my life at the Shoe Carnival. And there, in the far corner of the former Hot Dog King parking lot, sat the Grey Ghost, in the same spot where it could have been found on any given Saturday night many years ago. My sword scraped the pavement as I approached the car, and as I reached for the door handle, out popped all five guys: One Toke, Buggs, Gooby, Panda, and Koon, a bunch of rag-tag looking hippies in tie-dyed t-shirts, fringe jackets, and bell bottoms. There was lots of dude, how-you-been's and welcoming hugs and offerings of alcoholic beverages. Then finally, the question: "Hooper, dude, what's with the uniform, the Civil War's been over for a hundred and fifty years!" followed by heaps of laughter.
My Southern accent quickly dissipated into the embarrass-phere, "One Toke said this was a reenactment, and I came prepared to be historically accurate."
Koon, usually not the benchmark of diplomacy, said, "Yeah, it's a reenactment, a reenactment of our big bust, right here on this very spot. Remember, the weed, the beer, the cops, or has your service in the Civil War clouded your memory!" Again, a round of laughter.
Yes, I did remember the bust, the first, but not the last, smudge on my permanent record. And now, the photos of us posed around the newly restored Grey Ghost, five hippies and one Confederate soldier, serve as evidence of how time passes but friendships are not forgotten. Long live The Ghost.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 11:12 PM