My Imagined Youth - The Bus Fare Affair


I have two sets of siblings. Of the seven children that my parents raised in our house in Queens, NY, we really break down to the four of us born in the post-war era (1946 - 1952) and the three born later (1958 - 1966). Let's call one set my comtemporary siblings and the other my LOBC (lack of birth control) siblings.

Whenever I get together with one of my contemporary siblings I am constantly frustrated by their ability to remember events and people from our youth. Once described, the event seeps back into my consciousness and the characters form hazy memories, but they would be gone forever if left to my ability to remember. As the stories unwind all becomes more clear and the memory gets re-installed for some period of time.

In order to compensate for this lost facility I have decided to re-invent my youth in my imagination. I will write about events that may or may not have occured and people who may or may not have existed. Most will be based on hazy recollections or snippets of recall that percolate into my brain. This frees me to embellish and entertain myself without the restrictions normally associated with memories.

A word of warning to my contemporary and LOBC siblings. No postings will be allowed challenging my veracity, the accuracy of events, or the description of characters. I even reserve the right to invent new siblings as I please. I will treat our parents with all the respect and honor I have shown them in life (I know you are all rolling your eyes at that one) but they, too, will be molded to fit my imaginings.

On the other hand, some stories will be essentially true because I've been able to recall them with some clarity. There won't be many of these.

I'll call these entries My Imagined Youth - M.I.Y.

So let's start...

My Imagined Youth - Bus Fare Affair

Chris was 10 and I was almost 13. My Aunt Dorothea had tickets for Swan Lake at the Metropolitan she couldn’t use so she and my mother had the bright idea that sending Chris and I would be a fine cultural experience. Chris wasn’t sure, but once I explained to him that ballerinas wore tight leotards that sometimes showed their nipples and more, we both enthusiastically agreed.

Not only were we going to the ballet by ourselves, we were going via the bus and subway. You have to realize that back then it was not at all unusual for kids to ride the subways unescorted. The grown-ups’ plan was simple. Take the Q44 from the Queens city-line to Kew Gardens. Hop on the E to 53rd street and walk over to the Metropolitan. “Enjoy” the ballet and return home. Simple.

Our plans diverged a bit from the adults’ but can be summarized as:

  • Get into the city

  • Go to the Metropolitan

  • Use the supplied opera glasses to ogle nipples, crotches, etc.

  • Find vending machines and gorge on candy and snacks

  • Keep from getting yelled at for wandering around in the balcony and using the opera glasses to spy on others in the audience

  • Endure the rest of the ballet

  • Go home

  • Make all the appropriate noises about how we enjoyed the ballet

It almost worked. The trip into the city was uneventful. We found the Metropolitan and our seats. We ogled nipples, crotches, etc. We gorged on candy and snacks. We didn’t get yelled at. We endured the rest of the ballet. We started home. Then things went downhill.

At the time, it cost 15¢ to take the bus and subway. We needed 60¢ each for the round trip. My mother had given us a whopping $1.00 each. That left 40¢ each for snacks (I know you can do the math…).

It was a Sunday matinee and it let out around 5:00 or so. Being early spring it was beginning to get dark when we entered the subway. We each bought a token and headed for the train. Once seated, I turned to Chris and said in my most condescending big-brother tone, “Do you have your 15¢ ready for the bus?” After digging around in his pockets for what seemd like ten minutes, he produced a dime. Panic filled his face. “I must have spent too much on the candy.”

“You’re jerk,” I consoled him. “Here, take a nickel but you have to owe it to me.” (One surreptitious part of the plan was to pocket any left-over change.) I dug into my pocket. I dug some more. I dug a third time. I, too, only had a dime.

We were screwed. With neither of us having enough money to get home from the subway we decided to come up with a Plan B. We soon realized that there was no good Plan B. We could:

Plan Probable Results
Call our mother from the station and ask her to come pick us up in the car

  • humiliation

  • pain (our folks believed in corporal punishment)

  • never be allowed to go ogle nipples and crotches again

Pool the money and have one of us get home and report that the other was stranded

  • “You left your BROTHER (take your pick) alone!?"

  • more pain

  • never be allowed to go ogle nipples and crotches again

Walk home from the subway

  • get lost - we didn’t exactly know the way

  • arrive several hours late

  • more pain

  • never be allowed to go ogle nipples and crotches again

Run away and join the circus

  • with 20¢ in our pockets??

  • a life of drudgery shoveling up after elephants in some crummy circus

  • miss supper

Though none of the options seemed very good, we opted for walking home. If we alternated running and walking, the ½ hour bus ride could
be covered in maybe an hour. We’d claim the bus ran late.

In order to minimize the walking distance, we rode the subway all the way to the Jamaica station. From there we could walk out to the city line via Hillside Avenue. It was cold but we were determined and ready. We were also hungry.

We stepped out of the subway and started down Hillside Avenue. Not two blocks had passed when I was struck by a brilliant piece of logic: if we were walking home anyway we could spend the remaining 20¢ on candy and snacks! That would be two candy bars apiece. Chris, who within a few more years had more fillings than real teeth, thought it was a stroke of genius.

It took us about another eight blocks to find a corner candy store. By then we were getting really cold. We had traveled about 10 blocks and had another 100 or so to go. Our asses would be completely frozen in another 20 blocks. Would two candy bars produce enough energy to stave off death? Would they find our huddled bodies behind someone’s hedge? Panic began to set in. We stopped outside the door of the store to re-check our funds and reassess our situation. We’d be brave, we decided, and stick to our plan.

Just as we turned to enter the store, a voice hailed us from the curb. There stood a woman with several bags of groceries who had just exited the market next door. “Would you boys like to earn a quarter and help me bring my bags home? It’s just a block down the street. I bought more than I had planned.”

Had she overheard us discussing our plight or was there really a God? Neither thought even entered our minds. We answered “Sure!” in unison. We were saved.

She didn’t say another word as we carried her bags to her front door. Once there, she turned and placed a quarter in my hand. “Thank you boys,” she said, “now go home, it’s getting dark.” Grown-ups said that kind of thing to kids back then.

The relief of being saved quickly devolved into a more practical mood. We had our bus fare plus 15¢. We headed straight for the candy store and bought one box of pretzels, an Almond Joy, and Chuckles. We split everything evenly but the Chuckles. I was the older brother. I carried two bags while he carried one. He got the black and the yellow. I got the green, red, and orange. We stuffed our faces the whole ride home.

We walked through the door just a few minutes late. “You’re just in time for dinner”, our mother beamed. “How was the ballet?”

“Boring,” we replied. “And we’re not really very hungry.”


As a member of the contemporary sibling contingent, I can at least vouch for the possiblity of veracity associated with this tale. It has the ring of truth behind it.

It seems as if we faced perils as children that succeeding generations did not face, yet we somehow felt safer as a nation/community. Children died of heart disease, were swept down storm sewers to their doom, became infected with polio and scarlet fever, yet our parents had little compunction about leaving us to our own devices for hours at a time.

There was a reason that The Cat In The Hat always freaked me out - I really believed it could happen to me.

A similar thing happened to me. Except it wasn't a ballet, it was the Judas Preist/Iron Maiden concert at Madison Square Garden. My friends had ditched me and I called dad to find out how to gewt home. I got off on the wrong side of Queens Blvd. and started walking towards Brooklyn. I asked someone how much further to Queens, after he could catch his breath from laughter, he pointed out that I was going the wrong way. I proceeded to run like hell back towards Queeens Blvd to find mom and dad on the other side of the Blvd. Did I mention all this was at about 11:00 PM

See, this is the difference between the contemporaries and the LOBCs. Neither Mom nor Dad would never have come to Kew Gardens to pick us up. They would have just waited until we got home 2 days later and jumped all over us. We really wore them down for you, didn't we?

This is great. It's like an electronic family reunion. Like point/counterpoint of the Trancho siblings.

I have a couple quesitons, though. There were no bus transfers back then? Shouldn't it have been only 15 cents each? And whatever happened to the cent symbol on the keyboard? How come you use it but I can't find it? And finally, how many times have I heard mom say that candy was only a penny in your day? If that was true, then shouldn't you have gotten more bang for your buck? Or did you pay per Chuckle?

A few points here:
1. Mom only had a soft spot for LOBC #3. She would have told the rest of us to hold on to the back bumper of the Q44a express.
2. Candy bars were 25 cents when I was a kid. You could buy a Power House bar for 10 cents (no its not an energy bar you modern day health freaks)so I used to eat a lot of these from the 5&10 where Mrs. Lowen worked. Of course I had to borrow the money from Mom's purse.
3. Instead of LOBC's I prefer to think of us as Mom and Dad's little highball makers...

A short history lesson:

- transfer between bus and subway didn't start until some years later. You could get a transfer to another bus, but not to the subway. They instituted the bus to subway transfer after one of the more onerus fare increases.

- penny candy is a '20s - '30s (Grandma) thing.

- Candy bars were a nickel in the '50s - '60s

- you get the cent symbol but holding down the ALT key and typing 0162 on a PC keyboard (for most fonts) or by using & # 1 6 2 in html (remove the spaces - if I put it in as it should be, a ¢ appears!)

My poor babies!
Did you never go to the Village in your early teens by bus and subway? Did you ever tell Mom or Dad--I think not. You wanted to live. Oh yeah, we got lost, I still do.
I remember going to the Filmore East with Chris to see Country Joe and the Fish and Procol Harem.
We had made up some transparent story for our esteemed parents which they chose to accept. Now the next generation carries on the tradition. Life is good.

To all you "contemporaries"

Mom and Dad always liked us LOBCs best!!

Thank God for Highballs!!!

Iím shocked at these revelations of deviousness from all of you!

As I remember my youth . . .
- I never took any trips into the city. Especially not parent sanctioned.
- I never uttered anything but the truth to Mom and Dad.
- I never devised plans to get away with activities that were deemed unsuitable by our parents.
- I never fought, argued, or uttered a bad-tempered word to my siblings or parents.
- I was always cooperative and pleasant to everyone in the house. Even when last on line for the bathroom.

I could go on, but I won't.

we must have done somethig right-- You all turned out pretty good weird, but pretty good! mother

The "good son"? I'm thinking imposter or dementia.
What is reality anyway? I see the many reality TV scenarios and think--why not a Trancho family reality show, past or present. What would we call it? This is kind of scary--nevermind!


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This page contains a single entry by published on January 20, 2004 2:15 PM.

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