Cleveland, Ohio was not a tourist destination in October of 1966. The city was a festering sore oozing from the July Hough Race Riots with the pus of its rage exploding throughout the streets. The Railroad station abutted the gutted Hough, the black section of the city. White faces had evacuated to the suburbs and further. Oblivious to anything but jubilation from a weekend of partying at the University of Dayton, I exited my train and searched for my Buffalo bound transfer. The board read: “Buffalo: Delayed” “Expected: 5AM” It was 10:10PM.
I was white, female and eighteen with “new to travel” written across my face.
The platform emptied except for a grimy guy who seemed to have found something to occupy himself. Me.
My eyes darted up and down the shuttered doors of the lobby shops until I saw the mecca of a lit diner. Tugging my weighty suitcase, I scurried ahead aware of feet padding behind me. Panting, I plopped myself on a stool at the diner counter. “Grill’s off and we’re closing in 20 minutes” said the waitress. “Got coffee, tea and pop.” The grimeball seated himself at the end of the counter, eyes glued on me. I ordered a Pepsi while time ticked away my options.
In the corner phone booth a receiver-less cord dangled from the phone base like a beheaded prisoner. It would be twenty years before people in peril could dial “911” on mobiles.
My panic was interrupted by a male voice behind me. “Excuse me” but we think you might be in trouble.” He was an older man about twenty- two or three dressed in khaki trousers, white shirt and a blue bomber jacket. “We think that guy over there is following you.” “He is” I blurted out trying to assess how serial killers dress. After hearing my plight Mr. Clean made me an offer. “We’re seeing our friend off in five minutes and we think you should leave with us.” I looked at the corner booth with a uniformed Army guy and another guy in jeans and denim shirt. I looked back at the searing eyes of Mr. Grimeball. The denouement behind Door One was apparent. Door Two, unknown. I tried not to think of my dismembered body as I left with the guys.
Scott, Mr. Clean, dropped off his remaining buddy at an apartment on a street where windows were still in tact. He turned to me, “How about a tour of Cleveland?”
“Don’t you have to work tomorrow? I questioned him, suspicious of his gallantry. “I do” was all he replied. My knees were slamming against each other, my hand grippng the door handle.
At 4:45AM he pulled into the Cleveland Train Terminal. “God, thanks” I began. We’re not done yet he said. The conducter yelled “all aboard”. Scott followed me on the train depositing my suitcase in the rack. “Promise me one thing” he said, “Don’t ever tell your mother you did this” and he vanished down the platform.