A trip my dad and I took to see a Bullets-Knicks 1971 playoff game will tell you much about the father he was.
The Baltimore Bullets (Washington Wizards now) were my favorite team, and Earl “the Pearl” Monroe was my favorite player. The Spin Move was the Pearl’s signature. When opponents tried to steal the ball, the Pearl turned his back and spun 180 degrees away. At 11, it was the coolest thing I ever saw.
The Bullets had a good team that couldn’t however get past their archrival Knicks. Hopes were high though the Bullets would finally whip the Knicks that year. I was going to my first pro game to see the Pearl live; I was going to Charm City, which was exotic to me; and I was going to be alone with dad. These things made this trip special.
We took dad’s Tornado. The Tornado wasn’t like dad. The big boat the ’98 he later purchased was more typical. Cool and sleek and powder blue, the Tornado seemed a younger man’s car. 49 then, perhaps dad chased his rapidly evanescent youth. I interject here my mom drove a Vista Cruiser, and my older brother a VW Beetle. The fact we were a three-car family becomes relevant later in our tale.
It was a beautiful spring Sunday morning when we began our hour trip from Spring Valley in Northwest Washington to the Baltimore Arena. Maybe 15 minutes into our trip, however, the Tornado stalled on 95 North near Burtonsville, Maryland. I hadn’t been in a broken down car previously, but I didn’t worry. I was in very good hands. Dad walked to the emergency call box to arrange a tow. Sitting alone the short time he was gone should have frightened me, but I didn’t think anything of it.
The tow truck arrived. Back then however, the Sabbath still meant something; few businesses were open, but a gas station in Bowie, perhaps 20 miles to our East, was. I don’t know if dad rejected other options to tow the car closer to our home, but towing it to Bowie kept alive the possibility of going to the game.
If dad had said, “Your heart may be set on it, but the game’s not in the works,” I would have been disappointed but would have understood. Dad however was one of the more determined persons I knew, and we took a cab from Bowie, which was roughly 30 miles from the arena, and we made it in time for the tip.
I don’t recall the game’s details, but we won. Nothing feels better than leaving an arena with your dad after your team wins. We walked to the Greyhound Station to take a bus back to DC. This may surprise you, but the old K St. bus terminal wasn’t near Spring Valley, and he hoped to get a ride home.
Throughout his whole ordeal, dad didn’t betray any anger or frustration. He focused entirely on my good time, but he deserved a break. When he called home, the other cars were gone, however. When you’re a kid, you don’t read others’ emotions well, but I sensed Dad seething below the surface as he arranged for another taxi to take us home.
In today’s money, getting us to and from the game cost Dad roughly $300. Back then I had no idea what all this cost him, but I’m grateful in a cash-and-carry- time, he could go into his pockets to pay the extra expenses. I’m sure however if more affordable transportation were available, he would have taken it. His actions may seem extravagant to some, but they were consistent with the man I loved, who always went above and beyond to help anyone with anything. His actions that Sunday furthermore magnified my appreciation for and admiration of the man I hoped to emulate someday.
The Bullets did take the series from the Knicks, and when people ask me what my dad was like, I tell them he once drove a car, rode in a tow truck, took two cabs and a bus so his youngest son could be there when the Bullets finally whipped the Knicks.