The trip was 81 miles on Interstate 81, but the travel back in time was decades long.
After church last Sunday, I put the pedal to the metal and drove north to Kirkwood, New York, the first exit over the border off I-81.
From there, the trip was short — just under the over-pass, right on Route 11. There it was.
The building, now vacant and in pretty bad shape, was once the site of Marty’s Bar. It was Mecca for under-21 college kids who couldn’t wait for the years to pass to legally drink in a bar.
We would pile into cars and drive those 81 miles to Marty’s, where we would see our friends from Wilkes-Barre who shared our passion for indoor drinking.
Before Marty’s was discovered, under-aged drinkers were relegated to house parties or the great outdoors deep in the old strip-mining area. We would hold “Wanamie Wonderamas,” where a large group gathered to tap kegs of beer and drink all night before trying to find our way back to our cars for the ride home.
After a night of partying and before we dare re-enter our homes where our parents were waiting, we stopped at places like Dwyer’s Lunch on East Main Street in Plymouth where “sober-up soup” was served. God knows what was in that soup, but it did manage to make us somewhat presentable — at least to the point where we could walk in the house, say goodnight to Mom and Dad and make our way to bed.
Getting back to Marty’s, our under-aged drinking home away from home. We were at least responsible about our drinking as one of us was always designated to drive, which meant that person could only consume one beer. With an 81-mile drive back to Wilkes-Barre, that was mandatory. We took turns being the sober guy.
There are many stories about trips to Marty’s, but one stands out. Remember, this was way back in the day — 1968 to 1971. In the beginning of these drinking sojourns, Interstate 81 was not yet built.
But in 1968 or 1969 — the memory is foggy — we exited Marty’s one night and began our journey home. One of my buddies noticed a sign that read, “Interstate 81 — Opening Monday.” That’s where the trip got historical.
“Hell, if it’s opening on Monday, it ought to be good to go on now, right?” Danny said. To which I replied, “Uhhh, yeah, I guess so.”
He stopped the car, I got out and moved a couple of orange barrels to allow the car to get through and, once through, we returned the barrels to their former positions of blocking the entrance and away we went.
On this pre-opening weekend, the road was smooth — like glass on a frozen lake. There wasn’t a bump, not a pothole, not one small patch on this beautiful piece of American-engineered roadway. We glided our way back to Pennsylvania and good old Wyoming Valley.
About halfway home, I asked Danny a question: “Do you think the exit will be open?”
That took us back to a quote once uttered by legendary Plymouth High School athletic coach John “Snoggy” Mergo during a discussion of swimming across Harveys Lake.
“I once swam halfway across Harveys Lake,” Coach Mergo said. “But I got tired, so I swam back.”
Just as we knew then not to question Coach Mergo’s logic, my pals also knew not to try to answer the question about the exit. There was no turning back now — we were on I-81 and we were going to see it through.
We made it back, but I’m not sure what exit we took. I do recall there were more of those orange barrels to be moved.
We had completed our journey. We were the first travelers on I-81 and four of the five of us were the first inebriated I-81 travelers. Heck, we even had the first designated driver to ever negotiate I-81.
Marty’s Bar is closed now — has been for years.
But the memories of a slightly misguided youth live on forever.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email him at [email protected]