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A lot of college students from the northern parts of the United States flock to Florida annually for spring break in March. Kent State University was on break last week.
One of the popular spots to go when I was in college was Fort Lauderdale, just up the Atlantic Ocean coast from Miami. I'm told that cities further north such as Daytona Beach are more popular now.
This spring marks 45 years since two of my buddies and I trekked to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. I was a 19-year-old student at Kent State. My buddies -- "Killer" Kilchenman and "Kraut" Staley -- were 4 and 3 years older than me, respectively. It's the only time I've been in Florida.
The three of us set out from New Philadelphia in Killer's near new red Pontiac Firebird. We left in the late afternoon on a Saturday. It took us about 23 hours, as we arrived in the early evening on a Sunday.
Our trip was smooth on Interstate 70 and 71 past Columbus and Cincinnati, but as dusk approached we hit a stretch in Kentucky and northern Tennessee where I-75 was unfinished and construction was ongoing.
During that stretch, it was raining and we encountered fog, making it difficult to see very far ahead of us.
So that no one got too tired, we rotated the driving duties, each piloting the car about two hours at a time. The guy who took his turn sitting in the back tried to get a few minutes of sleep, but it was tough because the back seat of a 1972 Firebird was cramped and there was a hump in the middle. Laying down was excruciating.
As we approached Knoxville, Tenn. on the interstate, I spotted a tall downtown building on stilts. I was the co-pilot at the time and remarked to the driver "Look at that building on stilts!"
He looked at the unusual sight and missed the exit ramp to another interstate, so we had to negotiate unfamiliar downtown streets at about 2 a.m. to find the entrance ramp back onto the highway.
Somewhere in southern Tennessee, we stopped for gas, which at that time was several cents cheaper down there than in Ohio. It was selling for 27 cents a gallon!
Tennessee had self-serve pumps, which we were not familiar with in Ohio. We couldn't figure out how to pump the gas, so the good ole boy Tennesseean, who took our money inside, came out, stood there and explained to us how to do it.
He could have done it himself, but then it wouldn't have been self-serve!
We passed by Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. and then through Atlanta, Ga. at dawn.
It was a sunny Sunday morning as we reached Florida, and we passed thousands of orange trees on the long drive down I-75 to Fort Lauderdale. It's the only time I've ever seen live orange trees. We arrived at our oceanside motel at about 5 p.m.
We hooked up with Killer's girlfriend -- now his wife -- and three of her friends from Bowling Green State University (a couple and another single girl who I called "Slinky" because of her long and lean frame.)
The first night all seven of us stayed in one room. The other three nights of our stay, we split up into two rooms. We stayed at a different motel each night, which was a bit of a hassle.
Our first day, we headed for the beach in the morning and stayed there maybe two or three hours. Then in the afternoon, Killer, Kraut and I ventured along the beach, checking out some eating and drinking spots.
I couldn't buy a beer anywhere because I was under the legal age, but the other two guys could. But we enjoyed some beers in our motel rooms in the evenings, although none of us were big drinkers.
By Monday night we all were hurting from having absorbed too much sun, and didn't do anything but lay around our rooms, not even feeling like going out to eat. I think we munched on potato chips.
On Tuesday, we three guys took a one-hour ride in a four-seater airplane down the coast and back over Miami, where we flew over the famous Fontainebleau Hotel and the Orange Bowl.
We took the flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the site earlier this year where five tourists were shot and killed by a gunman at a baggage claim.
That evening, we three guys drove up the coast to West Palm Beach to watch the Montreal Expos play the Atlanta Braves in a spring training baseball game.
On Wednesday we tooled around Fort Lauderdale, stopping at the spring training home of the New York Yankees, where we walked across the infield and outfield and pretended to throw pitches from the mound.
Killer faked out a couple of ticket seekers by going into the open, but unattended ticket booth and pretending to be a ticket seller.
Another funny incident I remember from that afternoon was seeing a "Chinese fire drill" for the first time. We were stopped behind a car at a traffic light on a busy street, when the four or five occupants jumped out, ran around the car three or four times, re-entered and drove away.
Wednesday found us just cruising around Fort Lauderdale before heading up the coast to Pompano Beach. Except for Monday, we didn't do any more swimming or beach-combing since we were still suffering sunburn pain.
Our final night in Florida, we stayed on the ninth floor of a 10-story motel along the Intercoastal Waterway in Pompano Beach.We enjoyed sitting on the balcony, drinking beer and looking down at the pool beneath us. I think the girls in our group went for a swim there.
On Thursday morning, we began our 20-plus-hour trek back to Ohio, and we still had the 10-pound box of mini-pretzels which my dad bought for our trip at the Rold Gold plant in Canton, next to where he worked.
My buddies wanted more space in the Firebird's small trunk on the way back, so they offered to pay me a small stipend to throw away the pretzel box. Being a big fan of pretzels, I vehemently refused and the box returned to Ohio with us.
The drive back north was uneventful. We drove straight through, continuing to take our turns behind the wheel.
We stopped in Columbus and decided to watch a couple of the state high school boys basketball tournament games at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
Some of the people around us must have thought we were aliens or zombies, because four days after getting sunburned on the beach, the skin on our arms and faces was peeling terribly.
We were going to stay overnight -- that was a Friday -- but couldn't find a motel with rooms available. We even tried the downtown YMCA, which also had no rooms available.
So we left Columbus late in the evening and drove back to New Philly, only to nurse our sunburned bodies for about a week.
I did get down I-75 through Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia one other time in the last 4 1/2 decades -- when a buddy who owned an antique reproduction furniture store and I went to a small town in northerrn Georgia to pick up a load of furniture.
And, of course, I spent a lot of time in Lexington, Ky. from 1979-81 when I had a three-gaited saddlebred horse stabled there.
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