Copyright Ray Bonneville 2022
There were four of us: Leo, Bill, Michael and me.
I was closest with Leo, the first boy I met at the beginning of the eighth grade a few years back, when I only knew some basic words and phrases in English. At the beginning of the summer of 1962, my family had moved from Quebec City to a town some ten miles north of Boston. Before then, I had only spoken French.
(photo: Ray's house on Cliff Street, Winchester, MA)
I had been roaming the junior high school halls on the first day of school, lost, bewildered and unsure as to which class I belonged in. Leo was out there too for some reason, and we ran into each other in the echoing, locker-lined hallways.
Leo and I hit it off right away, having a similar sense of humor and a carefree, laughing, to hell with them attitude. Everything was funny to us, and we were not afraid. He was of slight build, with tight curly brown, almost red, hair and freckles on either side of a long nose with a charming little shape at the tip.
His favorite expression was “big glockenspiel.” I didn’t know what that was, but I liked the complex ring of the huge word.
“Hey Leo, what if we get caught out here prowling the empty halls?” I might have said.
“Big glockenspiel, what are they going to do to us!” he might’ve replied.
Like me, Leo would be Vietnam-bound a few short years later. He would come back badly wrecked emotionally by what he had seen and, I can only imagine, done.
Bill was a preppy-looking friend of Leo’s whom I hardly knew other than to be in a class or two with him. Michael had a reputation as a tough boy. He was tall and thin, with a chiseled nose and hawk-like eyes. He would die in a police chase a few years later, hitting a bridge abutment at high speed.
After our report cards came out, the four of us were talking outside the high school about how we were going to catch hell at home about our mutually failing grades. I don’t recall which one of us first had the idea, but we spontaneously hatched a plan, if you could call it such a thing. We all agreed that it would be a brilliant idea to run away from home to Florida and become golf caddies. Yes, becoming golf caddies at some Florida golf resort was going to be the key to our wild success. It would show our parents and any other authority that we could make it fabulously in this world without good grades!
Full of bravado, we defiantly ditched all forms of identification, in case we were to get caught. In our minds, we were in the movies, or at least I was. We would give the police fictitious names and say things like, “We ain’t telling you nothing, coppers, so you can just fuck right off.”
We were excited and talking about coming back home on some dreamy day in the future. In this vague future we would be well-dressed and driving long, shiny new convertible cars. We’d be pulling up to our parents’ houses with “we showed you, didn’t we” looks on our faces.
Yes, setting the bar high by becoming caddies in Florida was an extremely good idea. The four of us made our way out to Route 128 South and stuck out our thumbs. We were on our fortune-making way!
The sign on the overpass leading into the tunnel said “Welcome to the Bronx.” About twenty miles before, a rough, blue collar-looking man had stopped to pick us up. He asked if we were hungry and we all said yes! I was famished. He pulled off the highway and proceeded to make his way through a maze of small neighborhood streets to a dingy bar. We all went inside.
Our driver man said to the bartender, “Hey Pete, how about you make up some of your Ruben sandwiches for me and these hungry boys, with plenty of extra mustard and pickles?”
The barman looked us over and said, “Where did you find these winners? They look to be about fourteen years old. They’re not even allowed in here.”
“Oh, come on Pete, for crissakes!” the man said. “They’re runaways, can’t you see that? Didn’t you ever run away when you were a kid?”
“Oh, alright,” the barman begrudgingly said. He made us the sandwiches, which we wolfed down ravenously.
The man dropped us off back on the main road, saying goodbye and good luck. It was getting cold out, and all we had on were light jackets over our regular school clothes.
An hour or so later, we were waiting for another ride out on the windy, southbound New Jersey Turnpike. Then a state trooper came out of nowhere, pulling over with his flashing lights going. Leo, Michael and I bolted into a field, but Bill froze and was apprehended.
Looking at the cruiser from the darkness of the field was surreal. It was windy and cold. What were we going to do, run deeper into the bleak, dark field? Where to, and then what? The officer was calling and waving at us to come back.
Realizing the futility of our situation, and not wanting to be separated from one of our team, we walked back to the police car with our heads hung low. We got into the back of the cruiser. As the cop drove us to the station, we sat stone-faced and stared at the back of his neck through the safety mesh separator, relieved to be warm again.
At the station, the police seemed amused by the rag-tag clump of foolishness before them. They wanted to know our names and where we were from, but we were still in the movies and refused to spill the info they were asking for.
Then, one big scary-looking cop said, “Okay, that’s enough. Empty out your pockets and do it now.”
Out came the jackknives, handkerchiefs, combs, gum and our report cards. The cards had all the info the police needed. We were taken to a juvenile detention center, where we were separated, stripped of clothing and footwear, and put into cells already occupied by one other boy-inmate.
Wearing nothing more than briefs and a T-shirt, I felt extremely vulnerable. My cell mate and I eyed one another, acting as tough as we could until we started talking. He bragged to me that he had a five-dollar bill stashed in one of his shoes, which were in the hallway just outside the locked cell, under our hanging clothes.
A few hours later, one of the guards informed me that our fathers were on their way down to get us. Michael’s dad would not be coming to fetch his son. In retrospect, that said a lot about why he would end up the way he tragically did.
We were fed cold cut sandwiches and tepid tea. A day and a half later, our fathers showed up to get us. When they let me out of the cell and told me to get dressed, I reached into my cellmate’s shoes and found the five-dollar bill. I was a criminal planning.
a daring and desperate escape.
(photo: Ray and brothers Jacques and Francois about the time of the Runaways)
There we were in the back seat of one of our father’s northbound station wagon with sheepish but somehow defiant looks on our faces. I secretly pulled out the fiver and showed it to the other boys. We exchanged knowing looks with each other.
We pulled up to an Italian pizza place and went inside. We ordered and waited. My father wore an intense look on his face, and I did my best to keep my eyes averted from his. Being the rich one, I considered our potential getaway, doing my best to communicate with sneaky looks and tips of the head toward the doors, but the other boys did not seem enthusiastic. Anyway, how could we get away with our fathers right there putting the hairy eye on us?
My mother was crying when my father and I walked into the big, three-story house I shared with my eight siblings. “What’s she crying about?” I said roughly. But I really hated to see her crying like that and felt badly after I went up to bed.
I was expecting some severe form of punishment from my father, but to my surprise, none was forthcoming. Instead, my mother took me to Sears, where she told me I could pick out an electric guitar. (I already had an acoustic one.) I chose a red and white Silvertone, and a twin-twelve amplifier.
It was what I needed to form my first band, The V.I.P.s.