Night came early in late October of my senior year. For some reason, I trusted my overly cocky friend to know exactly how to get to Darling Stadium. The Rams were playing Phoebus and Sam said he knew exactly how to get to the field. Being a “cool” kid, Sam insisted we ride to Hampton in his brother’s Fiat X-19 with the top off. The night was chilly, but I went along with the plan, even though I thought it was too cold to be cool. Sam cranked up some Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger,” and we headed straight down Route 60.
Once we passed Fort Eustis I said, “You’ve got to get on the interstate.”
Sam answered back, “Naw, man, it’s on this road. You’ll see.”
The sun was setting as we got into Newport News. Traffic started picking up around Todd Stadium, which coincidently was were Sam was driving. He must have recognized that he was wrong and kept right on going by the Menchville-Denbigh fans who were filing into the stadium for their game.
“Ahhhh, I got you, didn’t I?” yelled Sam.
I shook my head knowing there was no use in trying to argue with him. We passed Christopher Newport. We passed the Village Theater. Street lamps became non-existent and now the drive was dark. We were all the way down by the shipyard in the depths of Newport News and neither of us had any idea of where Darling Stadium was.
“Are you lost, Sam?” All I wanted was him to say yes.
“Naw, man, it’s on this road. You’ll see.”
Many years later I would experience a feeling similar to what I felt that night in Newport News. The difference between the two events was literally one happened during the day and the other at night. I got lost in Philadelphia and the street had a feeling of doom. That afternoon I turned my car around and got back to the parts of town that felt alive. In 1984, I had the same feeling in Newport News. We were sitting at a stoplight, in a roofless purple sort-of-sports car, and neither of us had a clue of where to go if trouble arose.
Then it happened.
A bottle landed in front of the car. Someone had thrown the bottle from the sidewalk and barley missed using the car as the basket for their shot. Sam let the clutch out and made like a drag racer through the intersection. Another bottle landed where we had been sitting and we could hear declarations of destruction for our souls if we ever came back to that neighborhood. Ahead the lights turned red and Sam ignored the order to stop. The little Fiat nearly went airborne as we darted further into Newport News.
“Get on the “effing” highway!” I yelled.
“I’m lost,” he said.
I would love to say that a calm came over me at that moment. Hearing Sam admit that he had screwed up was perfect. Still being lost in Newport News was awful. There were no cars on the road, there were no people on the streets that we could see, and it seemed that there were some who were not okay with us being there. Another light turned red and this time Sam stopped. He must have felt better because there was a large garbage truck already at the light.
I decided to break the man code by unbuckling my seat belt, standing up, and yelling to the driver of the truck, “Do you know how to get to Darling Stadium?”
The driver looked down and laughed. “You boys shouldn’t be down here.”
“You’re not kidding,” I said, “We nearly got hit with bottles back there.”
“Yeah, that’s a rough stretch. It gets worse on the side roads. Stay on this until you get to Hampton, then get on the interstate. Then you…”
He gave us a bunch of turns that neither of us could figure out. Once we got to the interstate I figured we could find it from there. The light turned green and Sam took off.
I yelled, “Thank you,” to the truck driver and settled back into the car. After a few minutes we were able to get on the interstate and somehow found the stadium. It was halftime, so we got in for free. How about it??? We followed the bus home.