{October 12, 2012}   Florida

My friend Lillian had her driver’s license, so she agreed to drive me to the Greyhound bus station downtown. Lillian knew what I was going through at home. She said I could spend the night with her and she’d drive me to the bus station in the morning. Lillian’s father was an Austell police officer who would’ve been angry if he knew Lillian was hosting a runaway overnight at their house. But Lillian heard stories from her dad about cases of child abuse he found at his job and she decided to help me. I spent the night with her and had breakfast with her family the next morning. Her dad was very friendly and completely oblivious that I was a missing person that might show up on his police list this morning. I was anxious to get started on my journey to Panama City Florida so we gobbled the eggs and toast. “You girls have a good day at school!” her father said as we got into Lillian’s blue Volkswagen Beetle. I told Lillian that I could save money on a hotel room by taking an overnight bus, so she picked up a couple of our friends, Linda and Wanda, and we all skipped school.  We walked around downtown Atlanta and ate at the Varsity before she dropped me off at the bus station.

I waited around the station for hours waiting for the 11pm bus. I took out my copy of Walden and re-read the Essay on Civil Disobedience underlining my favorite lines,”Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.… where the State places those who are not with her, but against her,– the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.… ” I left the bus station with my suitcase a couple of times, but the surrounding blocks were unfamiliar and I was afraid I might get lost. Finally, the bus arrived. The bus filled up with passengers, but in the back I had two seats to myself to stretch out and sleep. It was a cold night. It was scary being on a night bus full of strangers, many of them in military uniforms.  But I was more scared that the police might find me and return me home before I got out of town. It took all night to get there. The bus arrived around ten a.m. and I walked through downtown Panama City, straight to the first hotel I saw, The Mayfair.  It was an old, rundown hotel and a bargain at $20 plus tax. But doing the math, my money would run out within two weeks unless I had more money coming in. I had to find a job quickly. I put my suitcase in my room, washed my face, and headed out to look for a job.

I walked around the downtown area, which was miles from the beach. The area was mostly rundown tee shirt shacks, bars and laundromats. I walked into a couple of places to see if they were hiring, but when they asked how old I was and I told them I was sixteen, they said they didn’t have an opening. I sat in the Krystal and had a burger and shake while I planned my budget. It was getting dark, and a whole day was over without finding a job. I was walking on the sidewalk past a bar when I saw a policeman sitting in his car by the curb. The officer saw me and got out of his car. I panicked and ran into the bar. The bar was filled with people, some at the bar, some playing pinball machines. I headed to the back where the bathroom was and locked the door. I held my breath and waited. I knew the officer would come in the bar looking for me. I sat on the closed toilet lid, shaking. A few minutes passed. When I thought the coast was clear, I came out of the bathroom to check if it was okay to leave. I saw two police officers walking through the bar looking everybody over. They were looking for me. I turned back and headed to the bathroom. After about ten minutes, somebody knocked on the bathroom door. I didn’t answer. They jiggled the handle. I held my breath and didn’t say anything. There was another knock but I stayed quiet. If a police officer wanted me, he was going to have to break down first. The jiggling and knocking continued. Suddenly the door sprang open. But the person knocking on the door wasn’t a police officer. It was a guy who was about twenty years old with long blonde hair in jeans and sneakers. “What are you doing in here? This is the men’s room! Why didn’t you say anything when I knocked on the door?” he asked. “I thought you were a police officer I saw walking through the bar” I said. “Why are you scared of that?” he asked. “What did you do?” “Nothing” I said. “I just got here from Atlanta. I’m looking for a job.” “How old are you?” he asked. “Sixteen” I answered. He looked at me like he was sympathetic. “Did you run away from home?” he asked. “Yeah” I said. “Listen, I don’t want to scare you, but you need to come out of the bathroom now. The fuzz just left, so it’s okay for you to come out.” I walked out of the bathroom. “My name is Walt” he said, extending his hand. “I’m Lynn” I said, taking his hand. Another man walked up. He had long brown hair that flowed over his shoulders and a beard. “What’s going on, Walt?” he asked. Walt said, “This is Lynn. She’s from Atlanta. She just got here. She’s looking for a job.” “Really? I’m Mike” he said, reaching out his hand to shake. I thought, these guys are only a few years older than me. They both look around nineteen or twenty years old. They seemed pretty nice. I needed somebody to be nice to me. I needed friends. I needed a network of people that could help me find a job and get established. I sensed that I could trust these guys. “Where are you staying?” Walt asked. “The Mayfair” I said. “That’s pretty sweet. So you’re looking for a job? What kind of job?” he asked. “Anything I can get” I said. “Well, I wonder…Mike and I just bought an old commercial fishing boat. We’re looking for someone to help us clean it up. It’s in pretty bad shape. We’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks but we could use some help. We’re gonna take it around the world.” “Really? Around the world?” I asked. “Yeah. Anyway, if you’re interested, you could help us. We don’t have much in the way of cash, but if you’ll work, we’ll pay for your motel room, breakfast and dinner every day you help us” Walt said. Mike looked at Walt like he wasn’t sure. “I don’t know…she’s pretty young. People are probably looking for her. I don’t want any trouble.” Mike said. Walt said, “Look, she needs some help and we need some help. It can be a good thing for all of us.” Mike shook his head. He wasn’t convinced. Walt went to the bar for a napkin and wrote the name of their motel, The Mariner, on it. “Look, if you want to start working tomorrow, here’s where we’re staying. Room 110. It’s right by the docks. We usually go for breakfast at the motel restaurant around 9:00. Meet us there if you’re interested.” I took the napkin from Walt. “I’ll think about it” I said. “Hey, you need for us to walk you to the Mayfair? You really  shouldn’t be out walking around alone” he said. “Yeah. That’d be great” I said. Mike went to the bar to pay their tab and we left the bar together.

When we left, I was still scared that I might run into the policeman on the walk back to the hotel. I walked on the inside of the sidewalk and Walt and Mike walked beside me on the outside, which gave me a little cover. A few blocks later, we were at the Mayfair. “Okay, here I am. I think I’ll take you up on your offer. I’ll take a cab to The Mariner in the morning. I’ll meet you guys at the motel restaurant.” Walt shook my hand. “Listen. You be careful alright? Don’t talk to any strangers.” “Well, you guys were strangers” I said. “Yeah, but we’re okay. You never know who’s okay and who isn’t. You’re just lucky you ran into us first. Now, don’t talk to any strangers. I mean it” he said. “I’ll be careful” I said. I waved bye to them and walked into the Mayfair. Walking up the large circular stairs to my room, I stopped at a stained glass window that looked like it belonged in a church. I bowed my head and said thanks to god that I found a job on the very first day. It was a sign everything was going to be okay.


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