Danny dropped his token in the slot and headed to the back of the crowded city bus. I followed close behind as the driver looked both ways and pulled the monster from the curb. He didn’t notice us as we passed the “Colored Only” sign perched atop a seat near the back. We loved the big wide back seat that spread from side to side like the smile of a magical Cheshire cat. The light turned green, and we were on our way. Danny lived on Azalea Drive, one street over from Magnolia where I lived. He had stopped by my house, and we walked down the service road and along the work sheds of Fruitland Nurseries to the ‘Bus Stop’ beside Saint Mark Methodist. Years later, Fruitland sold the land, and IHOP and other restaurants were there before the Augusta National bought and dismantled them all. The walk was about a mile through lush, green, beautiful shrubbery and reminded me of “The Song of the South” and Zippity-do-dah. That was our public transportation in National Hills in 1962, and I walked that red-clay road often with my 72-year-old grandma. Half-way down Washington Road to downtown, as people kept getting off the bus, the driver finally noticed Danny and me sitting in the back with the black folks. He pulled the bus over and stopped and said that we had to move up front with the white people. We complained but didn’t want to walk, so we moved to the front. We rode through town to down near the edge of ‘the Territory,’ as they called it themselves, where the black folk lived. We walked over to Hale Street where big signs said “James H. Drew Enterprises” and “Augusta Fairgrounds.” We paid our entrance fee and bought some tickets for rides and entered.
I was 15, and Danny was 16. It was a Friday evening, and you could taste the excitement in the air. The hustle, the bustle, the noise, the lights, the tents, the smells. We only had a few dollars to blow on the Fair. We both worked at the A & P where the Fresh Market sits now on Washington Road. I made $1.25 an hour as a stock boy and bagboy, and Danny made a $1.40 as an apprentice butcher. I worked three days a week after school and all day Saturday, while Danny worked every day after school and on Saturday. Danny won a giant rabbit by knocking down the weighted, wooden milk bottles with his fierce fastball, and I scored a painted chalk sailor about five inches high with the .22 rifle. We gave them both away after we got tired of carrying them. Easy come, easy go. It finally got dark which made us feel like we were really at the fair. We rode the Swiss rollercoaster with its screaming horns and sirens, we spun on the Tilt-a-whirl, letting go of its handles and letting centrifugal force hold us to its wall, we ate sausage and onion rolls, and we drank a couple of Cokes. We watched the motorcycles roaring on their rollers at 80 miles an hour while the riders sat there nonchalantly running their fingers through their hair, like they were in their bathrooms at home getting ready for a date. The moment finally arrived when Danny asked me if I wanted to go in the tent to see the naked lady. I, of course, said certainly, so we walked to the front and eyed the lovely ladies advertising their wares out front. They were so real and so grownup; they must have been 25 years old. You had to be 16 or older to have the honor of viewing them in their birthday suits, and Danny was old enough but I wasn’t. I was as tall as he was, but we were both fresh-faced, tall and skinny. The barker at the tent flap took Danny’s dollar, but laughed at me when I handed him mine. He said come back next year, kid. Danny went in without me. I did the only I thing I could; I snuck between the naked ladies and the bearded lady to the back, lifted the tent, unobserved in the dark, and we shared a bag of popcorn as we watched the glorious show.
Lewis Smith lives in Thomson. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.