Broke in New York
a Hamlet family in despair - 1969
by: Russ Lancaster
"No... You keep the 5 dollars, I'll be all right".
Those were the last words I heard Helga say as she left JFK Airport in New York on a bus headed to Philadelphia.
It was the summer of 1969 and Helga was on her first trip back to Germany to visit her folks since moving to Hamlet six years earlier. She was accompanied by our newest child now a year old. The two older kids were staying home with me for the next six weeks. We were going to be just fine... at least that's what we thought!
We were young and innocent back then, still in our 20's. We lived on James Avenue in one of Dr. Bill James' new, all-electric brick homes and thought we knew it all. We would soon find out that life outside Hamlet was more than just a little different.
Helga had joined a "travel-club" about a year earlier and we had saved enough money for her and the baby to make the trip back to Germany. Little did we know the travel club was ripping us off. Their "bargain" ticket for the flight alone was around $2000.00. We had no idea we could have paid for the same ticket ourselves for less than a fourth of that amount.
I arranged for someone to take care of the two children that were to stay with me for two days and Helga and I left Hamlet aboard the Seaboard Silver Star one day ahead of her flight. The travel club had booked us a hotel room in New York and assured us of an affordable price.
Arriving in New York, we took a taxi to our hotel. Immediately we found out they were a little more expensive than one of Pop Nettles' Hamlet taxis from the train station home. We took a big hit in the wallet right off the bat.
When we arrived at our hotel, we were required to pay in advance and the price was nowhere near that quoted to us by the travel club. We were hurting in the wallet big time by now. It was so tight that our supper that night consisted of a coke, a pack of nabs and a can of Vienna sausages that for some reason we had taken with us.
The next morning we were shocked to learn that there was no free shuttle service from our downtown hotel to JFK. We had to hail another taxi for that ride. By the time Helga checked in for her flight we were down to $5 between us and she had thousands of miles yet to travel and I had hundreds.
Than came even more bad news... her flight from JFK was now going to leave from Philadelphia instead because of bad weather. She was going to have to travel by bus from New York to Philly. But then the good news... the bus was leaving directly from JFK and was being provided free by the airline. Thank goodness for small favors.
As she and our youngest child were leaving to get on the bus, I pulled out my wallet and showed her the last of our money... $5. She smiled and said, "Don't worry... my parents are meeting the plane in Germany and they will take care of me until you can send some money".
I felt awful. Payday was nearly two weeks away; I was broke and had two children waiting on me to get back to Hamlet. How were we going to survive?
As her bus drove away, realization that something else was wrong slammed me right in the head. I had only 30 minutes left to catch my train back to Hamlet and I was stranded at JFK with $5 on hand. The taxi alone would cost me at least $20. What was I going to do?????
I walked out to the line of taxis at JFK and spoke to the first taxi driver I saw. I explained my situation to him. 30 minutes to get to the train station.... $5 was all I had.... and two kids in North Carolina waiting for me.
He didn't hesitate a moment. "Hop in", he said. "Get in the front seat, this is going to be close".
As we went speeding down some freeway he spotted a car with a North Carolina tag on the back. He somehow persuaded them to pull over and asked if they were going to North Carolina. Turns out they had just come from there and the attempt he made to get me a ride to Hamlet had further eaten into our 30 minute window before the train left New York.
I held onto my seat tightly as he swerved in and out of traffic and pulled up in front of Grand Central station with about 3 minutes left before my train was to depart. He yelled for me to get out and run.
I fumbled with my wallet to give him the $5 and he motioned for me to GO GO GO!!
"Keep the money", he said. "You need it more than I..... and GOOD LUCK".
I ran into the station and down several flights of stairs and just barely boarded the train as it began pulling out of the station. I settled down into my seat and stared out of the window as New York faded into the background. I wondered if Helga would be all right... would her parents really meet her plane in Germany and take care of her until I got paid again. I wondered how I could even make the 12 hour trip to Hamlet without spending my $5 to get something to eat and how my two other children and I would survive until payday.
And then I rested assured that all would be well and it was. Helga arrived safely in Germany where her parents took care of her and I got home to Hamlet some 12 hours later knowing we would find a way to make things work out.
My children and I depended on "Fitzgerald's", otherwise known as "The Grab" for our needs until the next payday.
I think back to that strange trip from time to time and wonder at the ignorance of youth and how we got by "broke in New York". And then I give thanks to the nameless taxi driver that took care of me much as one of Hamlet's own citizens would have done. And, I thank "The Grab" for being there for us when we needed them in our little town in 1969..... but most of all... I remember Hamlet.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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