Two weeks into camp, just after the second weekend, Brian decided to go exploring. His car wasn’t ready for paint yet, but he wanted to check out who could do it or where he could buy the supplies, and he wanted to look at equipment rental stores, and repair shops, and dealerships, and even junk yards.
“I’m trying to decide whether to rent a sprayer and rig up some kind of temporary booth with throw-away tarps, or get it done professionally – as long as I can find a place that’s good but cheap.”
“How cheap?” Jim asked.
“Why? Do you know somewhere?”
“No – I’m just curious. Sorry.”
Brian laughed. “I can’t pay more for the paint job than it cost me to buy the car.”
“And repair it.”
“And insure it.”
“And replace half the parts.”
“That wouldn’t make sense.”
We were all adding things as we sat around.
“Yeah,” Brian agreed. “Collectors can do that. But not me.”
There was also an old car museum he wanted to see in Norwich.
“It’s the last place I would’ve expected to find something like that. It specializes in cars from the early ones through the 1960s, and it started in some guy’s garage. So it may just be a joke. Still, there’re now a half-dozen small buildings, and if they look like they’ll take more than a quick look, I’ll go back another day.”
We all nodded. We were finishing breakfast after the kids left.
“Have any of you seen the place?” Brian went on.
“Never heard of it.”
“Anyone want to go along?” Brian continued.
The same chorus of “Nahs,” “Nos,” and “Sorrys.” Except for Dan and me.
“Yeah, I think it might be fun,” I said.
“Me, too,” Dan agreed. “Never can tell what you may find.”
The plan was to leave right after lunch and get back in time for dinner.
“That should give us about five hours,” Brian said. “And since Norwich is only fifteen minutes away, and it’s the furthest place we’re going, we should be fine.”
We looked at a map and decided to make a circle. We’d leave camp, head slightly east, and stop in tiny Guilford Center – actually stop at a car repair shop even before that. Then we’d head slightly south to Guilford – the two towns added only had three-thousand people. Next, we’d go about six miles west to Oxford – which had around a thousand more people than the other two places combined – and finally north to Norwich. That was as big as all three towns together. Finally, we’d drive south, back to camp.
“You think we can make it?” Brian asked the other guys.
They didn’t actually know, because they hadn’t really explored the area.
“A little when our parents are here.”
“And they want to go somewhere.”
“Or take us out for ice cream.”
“Or lunch or dinner.”
“Something like that.”
“Or buy us something we need.”
“Or should’ve brought.”
“But they really came here to see us.”
“And the camp.”
“So why go other places?”
“But if you happen to run into a case of beer,” Paul went on.
“Or something more interesting.”
“You won’t forget to buy it.”
“I always carry my fake ID,” Brian assured them.
At which point, all the guys pulled out their wallets and compared theirs.
So at five of one, the three of us were in the car. Dan was in the empty back seat – we’d swap on the way home – and I was riding shotgun. We all wore sunglasses and baseball caps because it was hot and bright out and had ditched anything that might connect us to camp.
“They’ll know anyway,” Nate joked. “But just ignore that.”
“It’s not like I’m planning to act like a kid from camp,” Brian said, “whatever that means. But I look like a college student, and there are a couple of schools in the area. So they shouldn’t be able to tell.”
“Plus you have Massachusetts plates.”
The first car shop was less than a mile from Seneca, and I was surprised at how many small businesses were stretched along the road – a restaurant, a bar, a hair salon, and an antiques store. Dan stayed in the car – shifting to the driver’s seat for comfort – but Brian and I went into the shop, and I got a sense of how he planned to work.
He was very friendly. And he asked good, quick questions, kept track of what he learned, and always left his phone number – “Just in case you think of anything.”
The answers had all been, “Yep,” “Sure thing,” and “I’ll let you know if anything turns up.” In addition to paint and a sprayer, we were looking for a back car seat and a car roof – “Preferably used, but in good shape.”
“A new roof costs over a thousand bucks,” he told me, back at the car. He also asked Dan, “Wanna drive?”
I noticed he didn’t ask me.
So Brian took the passenger seat, and I shifted to the back, sitting more on the carpet than the bare metal. Guilford Center, as expected, was small – kind of a dozen-or-so buildings grouped over a couple of blocks. Guilford was just a bit larger – a few more buildings over several more blocks. We stopped in both places, me trailing Brian, him asking the same kinds of questions and always finishing by wondering if there were other places or people he should be going to or meeting. “You get the best information that way,” he told us when Dan-the-chauffeur was driving again.
Oxford was bigger and spread along a river, so there were bridges and more businesses, and by the time we finished there, it was three-thirty. “Bored yet?” Brian asked.
“No – this is great,” Dan said. “I didn’t expect to drive and didn’t realize how much I missed it. And it’s neat to drive here. Not like the suburbs or on the highways.”
It was beautiful, too – a mix of farms and small forests, all very green. Though that ended when we hit the first big box store outside Norwich. Because the town was larger, there were also more stops and a lot more information to gather, and just after five, Brian asked, “Do you want to skip the museum?”
“It’s right around the corner,” Dan told us. “I just saw a sign. Why don’t we stick our heads in?”
I agreed, but as soon as we saw the place, we quickly decided we had to come back.
“And we gotta bring the guys,” Dan added. “They’ll love this.”
There was no denying that.
We raced back to camp – well, not exactly raced, because Brian kept gently telling Dan to “Slow down” – and pulled up to the bunk at twenty of six. Then we immediately changed clothes and hustled to the Mess Hall. The other guys were already set up and waiting.
“We were betting whether you’d be late,” Paul began.
“And trying to figure out how we’d cover,” Steve put in.
“Nah, we timed it just right,” Dan said. “And we set up before we left.”
“That’s why we weren’t worried.”
When Steve mentioned that, Jim gave him a look.
“Why some of us weren’t worried,” Jim corrected. “Except for the detail guy here – who’s more controlling than my grandfather.”
“I’m not that bad,” Steve protested. “I just like to be organized.”
Paul cut through that and asked Brian, “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“I’ve got lots of leads – and some numbers. And I’ve got a bit more thinking to do.”
“And there’s a museum you guys’ve got to see,” Dan insisted. “The sixties cars alone’ll make you drool.”
“Then it wasn’t a waste?”
“Heck, no,” Brian said. “It was terrific.”
“And I got us all a present,” Dan added.
Nate mimed chugging a beer.
“That, too. But this is something else.”
“You’ll see it back in the bunk. It’s something I found at a junkyard. It only cost a couple of bucks, but might be a lot of fun.”