Wednesday, September 17, 2014


The Dinky
        What Princetonians affectionately call “The Dinky” is a two-car train that runs back and forth between Princeton and Princeton Junction, where passengers then transfer to a New Jersey Transit or Amtrak north-bound or south-bound train. Princeton Junction today is one of the busiest NJT stations, with thousands of commuters heading to New York or Philadelphia and many points in between throughout the work week.
        The Dinky, also locally dubbed the “the PJ and B” (Princeton Junction and Back!) has been operating for 149+ years. It doesn’t look much different today than it did that Saturday morning of April 26, 1947, as I waved good-bye to my fellow Nassoons and watched the little train disappear around a bend in the track. I wanted in the worst way to be on that train, en route to Wellesley, Massachusetts, but I had to snap out of my sad mood in a hurry, for the Princeton baseball team had a game to play at 2:30 that afternoon against an undefeated Army team. I had no idea, when I woke up that morning, how totally different the day would turn out to be from what I had resigned myself to expect.
        What follows next is my best effort to recall the incredible sequence of events that took place on that fateful Saturday. I wish I could relate the story in precise detail, but I can’t. There are, however, some parts I do remember quite vividly, and there are also established facts and helpful clues that enable me to surmise, deduce, assume, or make some reasonable guesses about the forgotten parts.
        I can surmise, for example, that after saying goodbye to the Nassoons, I must have gone back to my dorm room at 83 Patton Hall, which was a fairly short walk from the Dinky Station, before hiking the much longer distance to University Field. That deduction is based on the fact that sometime that morning I had a complete change of mind. I suddenly felt an overpowering conviction that I had to get to Wellesley for the Prom! I didn’t know how I was going to do it, and I don’t  remember when exactly I made the decision, but I was determined to try to get there. I was due at University Field by 12:30 p.m., so I had to pack a suitcase and take it with me to the locker room, so I could shower and leave right after the game.
        One twist of irony was that I wasn’t in the starting line-up that afternoon! I don’t know whether Coach Matt Davidson wasn’t happy about my showing up for pre-game practice lugging a suitcase, or whether he thought my mind might not be totally focused, or whether I was recovering from an arm injury I had sustained in a previous game, but for whatever reason that was the only game I didn’t start all season! I did finally get in the game and went 0 for 1 at the plate, as we lost to the West Point Cadets 4 to 1.
        After the game I had to shower and dress at the old Field House in a big hurry. I know I could not have made it to Boston by train in time for the Prom, so I had determined to take a plane from the LaGuardia Airport in New York.  What I can’t remember is how I got from Princeton to the airport. I could not have left the field before sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. I must have had a ride direct to the airport, most likely in a limousine. In any case, I dimly recall rushing from the ticket counter at LaGuardia to the gate and on out to the plane. The whole boarding process was much simpler in those days. I was the last passenger to board and they were holding the mid-sized commuter prop plane for me. That would not happen today!
        On the entire flight I know I must have been wondering how in the world I was going to get from Logan Airport in East Boston to Wellesley, a distance of nineteen miles, in time for the Prom. I don’t remember the landing, but I do remember having to wait nervously and impatiently to retrieve my suitcase and then hailing a cab. I can’t picture the cabdriver clearly but I recall he was middle aged and balding, and when I told him I had to get to Wellesley by ten o’clock he seemed to welcome the challenge. That began the wildest ride of my life. The way he was zooming and screeching and swerving and weaving in and out of the traffic lanes I was sure we were going to get stopped by a traffic cop or have an accident, but amazingly we escaped both of those possibilities.
        As we were roaring along I was in the back seat trying to change into my tuxedo and bouncing all over the place in the process. I had to be a contortionist to get my trousers on an off and keep from rolling off the seat. Somehow I managed to make the change, evoking an admiring comment from the cabbie, who was well aware that he hadn’t been making it easy for me.
Munger Hall at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts 
        For the rest of the ride I was driving with him, leaning and ducking and straining as if my body English were needed to keep the car on four wheels. We talked in brief snatches the rest of the way, and when he learned the reason for my urgency, he was all the more determined to see that I got there in time. Believe it or not, we made it to the campus with about ten minutes to spare, and my friendly dare-devil driver was beaming with pride! I had started thanking him as soon as we hit town, and praising him profusely for what was truly a remarkable driving feat. As soon as we stopped I handed him his fare along with what for me was a very generous tip, grabbed my suitcase, said a quick good-bye, and started running as fast as I could for the gymnasium.
        In the meantime, what had been happening at Wellesley? Margie, who was the original contact, the chief organizer, and the principal hostess of the Nassoons’ weekend visit, was the only Welleslsy senior without a date! Here’s an excerpt from the letter she wrote me following the weekend:

March 19, 1947 - Margie (second from left) and some of her Wellesley friends
 meet  in her room in Munger Hall to discuss plans for the Senior Prom. Her
roommate, Jean Thomas, is seated in the chair to her right.
“When I woke up Saturday morning and saw the sun —that was the end. I hadn’t given up hope till the last minute, though I kept telling myself that if you couldn’t come I’d just go on as though that weren’t so awful, and everyone would think I was having a real good time. It wouldn’t have been so bad except that the minute the Nassoons got off the train they started talking about you: how you’d come to the station, how they’d all sent rockets up to make it rain, and then just about how they couldn’t sing without you, how you made the Nassoons, and what were they going to do without you next year! With every word I missed you more and more. At the cocktail party Don Finnie started to play. I shut my eyes and pretended you were there, and I was miserable. So I took it out in rushing around again. . . .” 
        Margie then went on to say that when Jim Buck, Don Elberfeld, and Al Burr arrived, the first thing they said to her was, “Guess who’s coming?” That tells me two things: (1)  that Jim and Don must have met Al in New York and the three had come up together on a later train; and (2) that I must have seen or talked with Jim or Don before they left and told them of my change of plans. Of course, they only knew I had decided to come, not that I would be able to get there in time!
         Margie’s spirits had soared at the news of my coming, but as she went on to write, “when you hadn’t come by the time we went to Prom, I was down in the depths again, sure you weren’t coming.”
         The Nassoons were doing their best to make sure their “sweetheart” was having a good time. They took turns dancing with her and holding out hope. But as the hour approached, everyone was resigned that I wasn’t coming. At 10:00 p.m. the Nassoons were introduced to thunderous applause, and as they were forming their customary arc on the stage, to everyone’s utter amazement who should suddenly appear but yours truly, pushing my way through the crowd that had gathered to see and hear the Nassoons perform. I climbed up on the stage and took my place without a word next to Don Finnie. I can remember my feeling of elation: I had made it!
         I was still catching my breath as Don was giving us the pitch. We were all grinning at one another and feeling on top of the world. Standing down on the floor in front of us was Margie, with the happiest smile on her beautiful face and that special look in her brown eyes that conveyed her love more eloquently than words.
        The Nassoons sang their hearts out that night, feeding off each other’s joyful mood and the audience’s enthusiastic appreciation. I don’t think we ever sounded better or were more ardently received than we were at the Wellesley Senior Prom.
        For me it was the perfect ending to an unbelievable day, transforming a wild adventure into what is now a wonderfully happy memory.              

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