I hitchhiked from Pullman, Washington, to New York City the summer of 1958 to attend the Ethical Culture Societies‘ Encampment for Citizenship, where I experienced several of the most important events of my life. One was with Algernon Black, one of the leaders who every summer created this amazing opportunity for about eighty kids. We were given the opportunity to meet and talk with some of the most important people in New York, some of the most important people in the world. That was a fantastic adventure and it shaped the rest of my life.
I had spoken to Algernon personally a couple of times but this is a story, a Brief Encounter, that shocked me into personal responsibility for other people’s lives. It is meaningful because he gave me a personal task, a responsibility that I was capable of doing, that amazes me to this day. He asked me to do something that I would be very hesitant to ask any teenager to do because it would have been so easy to go wrong and end in disaster.
He drove a group of five of us kids out to Coney Island amusement park for a day at the beach and a swim in the Atlantic and to do whatever else we could get into and out of. I remember the ride on the then scariest roller coaster in the world. It really banged us around and I felt bruised. It was enough for me not to take another ride on that thing. After an hour of this kind of nonsense entertainment, Algernon took me aside and asked me if I knew how to drive a car. I said I had had a ’41 Chevy back in Pullman since I was sixteen with no accidents or even tickets.
He said that he had some important business to attend to and asked me to drive his car back from Coney Island (40.5728, -73.9850) to the Encampment for Citizenship (40.8897, -73.9063). That’s about 25 miles through a lot of Brooklyn, the full length of Manhattan, and some of the Bronx.
Algernon was asking me to drive the five of us teenagers through a major city I didn’t know, in a car I had never driven, to a place that might be hard to find, without a map. The possibilities for me and us kids going astray were real, but he trusted me to do it. And I did.
What an honor! Thank you, Algernon Black!