We were patrolling the park one night. The kids were drinking and doing drugs. We passed a few words. They invited us to partake. We declined. They said, “You guys think you are better than us, dontcha?”
“No”, I said, “We do not THINK we are better than you, we KNOW we are better than you. You guys are total dorks!”
A heated discussion ensued wherein they asked. “So, like, what can we do that is better than this?” And we answered with a litany of alternatives to wasting their time doing petty crimes and getting high. One of the options was going to Expo 67 despite it being two years too late.
“We don’t have the money for that kind of thing!”
“Neither did I. I hitched across Canada, spent 9 months in Europe and hitched back last year and I only spent $275 total with most of that going to airfare from Gander. You don’t need money to travel. I can teach you how to go across the country, stay for the summer and come back on $20.00.”
Six kids took me up on the deal. $10.00 from me to ‘get going’ and then, when they are in Montreal and stayed for at least two months, they could call and I’d send them $10.00 to get home. Two kids got to Penticton together, bought beer and stayed two weeks with a cousin. Two kids did much the same as far as Calgary. One made it to Manitoba. Only Wayne made it all the way to Montreal.
“Find an older, semi-homely female student or teacher and attend her class. After class, tell her of your quest. If she doesn’t take you home, do another class later that day. Keep it up til you have a place to stay and someone to feed you. You be the best boyfriend ever. Take care of chores, make dinner, provide any other service she requires and go to classes. You can audit them. Don’t pay, just go from class to class until you find something you like. Come back before school starts here and if you ever say I put you up to this, I’ll deny it!”
Wayne followed the formula and ate well, slept well and learned a lot. In late August, he called for his ten bucks. He called collect. I took the call and informed him that he had just used the money promised to call collect. Told him I was proud of him and looked forward to seeing him in a week or so. Then I hung up.
Wayne came back. He dropped out of the gang. He enrolled in City College. And he did well. I would like to report that Wayne went on to become a professor and wrote books or something but he did not. He did two years and dropped out to get married. I saw him a few years later, father of two, driving a Chevy ll and looking happy. He had a full time, good job and lived not far from the old neighbourhood but he had plans, he had a vision, he had a future.
Travel can do that for a kid.
It was a valuable lesson for these boys as was flirting with the criminal life. For some of the boys in their teen years the die was cast, for others with the capacity to alter their life path it was life altering. Many felt powerless but more powerful when gathered in the park. Many had caring but distant families others nothing. Most were poor and saw few alternatives to their situation.
I believe when our family visited Expo67 in ’69 it was called ‘Man and his World” or something terribly non politically correct like that…….