Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Best Ride to the Maui Airport

Sometimes things just pop out of the ground, it seems like. Our friends the Moes were going to take us to the airport to go home from Maui, but we told them the wrong time to pick us up, so we improvised and walked across the street to the Kia Lani Hotel to catch a cab.

Boy, did we catch a cab. Our cabbie, Jack, was an older guy with white hair in a ponytail and a droopy white mustache. He told us as we left that he liked driving a taxi and was doing it on this Saturday so he be off next Saturday to watch an NBA playoffs double header.

His accent seemed familiar, so I asked him where he came from.

“Outside Philadelphia,” he said.

“Where?” I asked.

“Havertown,” he said.

“Where did you go to high school?” I asked.

“Haverford High,” he said.

“I went to Lower Merion,” I said.

Jack observed that Kobe had gone to Lower Merion, and I assured him that Kobe had learned that crossover move as a legacy from yours truly.

So here we were, 5,000 miles from our mutual original homes, running into each other by chance and finding we went to adjoining, rival high schools. And it seemed that we were both basketball fans, which is not so strange if you come from Philadelphia. (One of my college roommates from Braintree, Massachusetts, didn’t believe us about Philadelphia basketball mania until he came to Philly for a holiday and saw a hoop behind each house and kids walking down the street bouncing a basketball. He capitulated.)

So we had the best time ever talking Philadelphia basketball to each other, Ann watching and listening bemusedly. What is reminiscing about basketball? It’s really a panoply of names, each conveying the physical image, the moves, sometime the games, and an intensity of feeling. Plus personal encounters if they occurred. Talk to me about Philadelphia basketball and it won’t be long until I mention the great Guy Rogers, my hero. How I loved Guy Rogers from the time he was a sophomore at Temple, and then into the pros with the Warriors! God, I thought, I wished, I truly believed he was better than Bob Cousy!! I wrote my greatest freshman year paper “Mr. Basketball, or Why I Hate Bob Cousy” and to this day am convinced that Cousy was ordinary, and that adding Russell to the Celtics was the crucial move, and other guards could have done what Cousy did.

But I digress. I did not leave out in my conversation with Jack that I was in a car on a pretty summer day with Larry Ring when Guy Rogers came off the court at Narberth Playground and said to us, “I want to buy that car!” My God, I said, that’s Guy Rogers! A signature moment of my life. And Jack knew about Narberth Playground, he had played there, and it was just three blocks down the hill from my house.

First Jack and I covered the pros – names, names. Arizin, Johnston, Wilt of course, even Joe Fulks. He passed my test – he knew who Fulks was, and knew he had a jumper. We hit the Big Five college names, every one. Temple, Penn, LaSalle, Villanova, St. Joe’s. Rogers, Lear, Van Patten. Ernie Beck, Sid Amira, McCloskey. Tom Gola. Walli Jones. Goukas and Dr. Jack. Stories, moves, years.

We even hit high school. The Chester teams – he said “Jerry,” I said “Foster, and his brother Billy.” Granville Lash and Emerson Baynard. I told him how we beat Chester when Bob Campbell hit 8 of 10 outside shots before he got a concussion. Mark Dumars from Western Pennsylvania and the 1958 high school state finals.

And then the unbelievable finale. His late ex-wife came from Reading. “Reading,” I said, “Home of my first girlfriend, and the home of beer, pretzels, vice, and Albright College.” “Actually,” I said, “The guard on our high school team went to Albright and played ball, Norman Ruttenberg.” Now, this is the most obscure fact in the known world. But Jack responded, “Ah, Dr. Norm!”

So, as I say, 5,000 miles from home, two very different guys, him from Lackawanna College after a year on an oil tanker to make some money, me a Harvard doctor, and here we were, best friends. We did sneak in some personal stuff. My tenure with the Harvard JV’s and our 23-0 junior year when we beat our own varsity three out of four times. His basketball scholarship to Penn if only he could have qualified academically. Not to mention that he lived in an apartment house a floor down from Billy Cunningham and would run with them if they were a man short. His two artificial knees that are working great. My three knee operations and artificial hip. Hey, the ravages of war.

We reached the airport and he said how short the trip had been, and he said it was the best ride he’s ever had. I said “Me, too.” We took his card. I’ll call him. Maybe we can go to the Maui Invitational together. It would be real fun.

I knew Ann loved it. So I asked her, “What were you thinking while we were talking.”

She said, “I was thinking, when is Budd going to stop talking with taxi drivers?”

She’s so funny.

Budd Shenkin

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