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A Centerfold without a Bunny



A terrible thing has happened to kids. They have lost their sense of adventure. Maybe I am being a curmudgeon. Their adventure isn’t my adventure. It’s not your daddy’s Oldsmobile. Okay. I will admit it. Trying X for the first time doesn’t count as adventure. Staying up for 24 hours playing the latest video game isn’t adventure. Shoot-up a school, worshipping the Devil, listening to Marilyn Manson, dealing drugs, or surfing chat rooms isn’t MY style of adventure.

Where are the Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns? Aside from the kids in the movie Coke ad who traveled around making a ‘film’, there is something missing.

Of course, now I will share a story from My Life. A story that will show you that I was the paragon of ‘adventure’, a regular 50’s Holden Caulfield. (Is that right? Who cares.)

For some reason when I was 13 and 14, my parents carted me off to a summer camp. Would young Buff be content with the Boy Scout camp at Lake Miller? Err..no. I ended up at some ranch-like camp in New Mexico. I think I chose it because it was an excuse for a summer train trip and regular readers may remember, I kinda like trains. I extended my New Mexico trips with one between my Sophomore and Junior years with a train trip to Albuquerque when a Latin/Greek student convention was held at the University of New Mexico. I went.

This story, however, is about my first trip to the Land of Enchantment. I’ll skip the camp part. Not much to tell. After 3 weeks, it was time to return home. The Santa Fe Super Chief arrived in Albuquerque in early afternoon. Ten minutes later the all coach version, a train called El Capitan arrived and I climbed aboard on my way to Kansas City. In Kansas City I would transfer to the Rock Island line going north to St. Paul. In St. Paul I took the Great Northern to Duluth. Fortune changed those plans when I sat next to a woman traveling to Chicago. You see, after leaving Kansas City, the train continued its trip from Los Angeles to Chicago. Suddenly, I didn’t want to get off the train in KC. I wanted to go to Chicago.

No body said anything when we left Kansas City and I was still on the train. I was 13 years old and I was on an adventure. I didn’t really know what I was going to do when I got there, but I knew that I was going to do something different.

The first problem I would have was lodging. I planned to stay at a hotel but I didn’t know any hotels. Paging through a magazine on the train solved that problem and when I piled into a taxi at Union Station in Chicago, I confidently told the cabbie, "Sherman House". Now I had to check in.

I was an old hand at checking into hotels. I had figured out the check-in scam at age 11 and used it several times in the past two years. I checked into the Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis and the Curtis Hotel right across the street. Once I stayed at a hotel on Hennepin Avenue called the Anthony. Now I was in the big-time.

I boldly walked to the front desk and told the clerk, "Reservations for Buff Setterquist?" This being before computers, the clerk immediately went to his reservations card file. After a moment he frowned, looked some more, and finally said he didn’t have any reservation. This was my cue to get a frantic look on my face, stick out my quivering lower lip, maybe even tear up a bit and say, "But there must me. My parents said they would make one. Oh…."

It worked every time. No problem, I was told. Next thing I knew a registration card was in front of me with a pen and I was in. I knew enough to tip the bell-hop 50 cents and as the door closed I flopped onto the bed, safely hotel-ed in Chicago.

Later, while walking through the lobby, I noticed a sandwich-board sign advertising the Don McNeill Breakfast Club. This radio show, broadcast on the ABC radio network, I believe, was the 50’s version of Katie and Matt. The chatted, did some light news, had singers and a live band and the highlight was the every-morning march around the breakfast table. When I listened to it at home with my parents, I frequently actually DID march around the breakfast table. The show had a studio audience and originated from the very hotel where I was a guest. The restaurant was called the College Inn Porterhouse. I don’t know the history of the restaurant or the name but it was in the basement of the hotel and looked a lot like the tiered banquet-booth arrangement you see in old movies. All the tables and booths over-looked the bandstand and dance floor. With a boldness, I lost in future years, I found out where you got tickets, got some (they were free) and the next morning was a member of the live studio audience for Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club. I resisted the urge to join the crew marching around the breakfast table. I was bold but sometimes inexplicably, shy.

A good thing came out of that visit. I had discovered a ’fancy’ restaurant. A Playboy sort of nightclub. Like the movies. I wanted to eat there. That afternoon I used the phone in my room to make an in-house call to the College Inn. I made reservations for one. Reservations for 6:30pm. In my suitcase I had a corduroy suit. I put it on. I managed to tie my tie remembering the instructions in a purloined copy of Playboy magazine. On the way, I even stopped to buy a pack of cigarettes. Kents. My mother smoked Kents. The clerk didn’t seem too surprised when I said "A pack of Kents", but to forestall any problem I added, "..for my Mom."

The head waiter greeted me and after a quick look at his reservation list, led me to a large table (seating for eight) and presented me with a menu. Someone filled my water glass and a waiter arrived. I wasn’t bold enough to order a real drink, but I did order a ginger ale because it looked like a Seven & Seven and they put a cherry in it.

I still remember my meal. Chicken Kiev, fresh popovers, asparagus with Hollandaise and peach pie. Between courses, I smoke Kents, sipped from my ’drink’ and imagined I looked every bit the bunny-loving Playboy epitomized by the magazine. You can imagine what I really looked like. A 13 year old kid sitting alone at a huge table smoking cigarettes and drinking pop.

When they began moving tables off the floor and the band began playing for dancing, I beat a retreat. My tab was 11 dollars and I left a dollar tip. I was quite the Bon Vivant. That night I wandered to a huge park where Buckingham Fountain was and happened on a summer concert featuring the opera singer, Rise Stevens. It was pretty heady stuff. The next morning I called my parents and apologized for being among the missing for a day. Surprisingly, they hadn’t panicked. They just figured out that, information to the contrary, their weird son, Buff, was on an adventure. When I called them, collect, they ordered me home, arranged for a ticket, and my adventure was almost over.

The next afternoon I took the Chicago & Northwestern overnight train to Duluth. I had an upper berth that had tiny windows. I watched the lights of towns whiz by, ate Mounds Bars and reveled in every memory of those three days as a Playboy on an adventure.



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