OCTOBER 9, 2009 1:15PM

Spring Break Part I

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The only people who would think it was a good idea to let three 17-year old suburban high school girls go to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break would be other 17-year olds.

But somehow our parents -- maybe because they needed a spring break themselves -- drove us to the Greyhound station in Boston early one snowy morning in February 1974 for a 36-hour bus ride that would take us down Route 95 and into the deep south.

My school record had been so dismal, and my behavior so unruly, that my parents probably wished I would just move to Florida and stay there.

It was our final semester, a special time when many students -- at least back then -- did even less schoolwork and homework than usual. We didn't really have much to take a break from, since we were doing little more than showing up for the occasional class and waiting to see which college might accept us when the admissions letters started rolling in -- or not -- come April.

Still, escaping the boring New England snow for the fun-soaked Florida beach -- and getting a chance to play grown-up -- seemed like a "wicked good thing" to do at the time.

When Nancy, Debbie and I slipped into the tall, cushy seats of the huge bus, we felt only eagerness, excitement and pride. The only buses we had known till then were those orange school buses, which now seemed puny and even laughable by comparison.

I'm not sure why but somehow we had the brains to sit up front, near the driver, and avoid the crowd of teenagers and hippies -- mostly boys -- clustered in the back rows, even though they kept calling out to us to join them. We were hardly goody-two-shoes but I could tell they were looking for more trouble than we were interested in -- drinking, shouting, laughing and smoking under the glare of lights near the bathroom.

By the time we headed out of the station, the bus was pretty much packed, and most of the other passengers were older men in suits and ladies in dresses plus a smattering of the elderly and young mothers with children.

When we arrived at New York City's Penn Station about five hours later, a bunch of people got off the bus while a line of newcomers stood waiting by the door to get on.

That was when a middle-aged man who had been in a rush to get off the bus stepped right back on with two New York policemen in full uniform right behind him. A scuffle started up in the back with people shouting and swearing -- a bottle even smashed on the floor.

I moved from my seat on the aisle to one by the window, tucked my bag under my feet and discreetly lifted my head to see what was going on.

That's when I saw the troublemakers being led up the aisle and off the bus by the man and one of the cops -- the boys were in handcuffs and muttering under their breath. The other cop stayed behind and began going row by row, asking to look inside the bags of some of the other young people on the bus and moving his way slowly toward the front.

Debbie and Nancy and I looked at each other with our mouths wide open.

"Can you believe it?!" we said without making a sound. "Oh, my God."

I kicked my bag further under my seat and watched out of the corner of my eye as the cop led someone else off the bus.

A few minutes later, the next batch of passengers started filtering onto the bus and settling into the vacant seats.

"That guy was an undercover cop," someone said. "Those boys had pot," another one piped in. "I could smell it." "Good riddance," said a third.

I breathed a trembling sigh of relief and gave my bag a final but gentle shove under the seat. The bus rumbled out of Penn Station into the snowy sleet, making its way through Lincoln Tunnel and onto the Interstate where its big nose pointed toward the promised sun.

We giggled, curled up in our seats and took a good, long, carefree nap.

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Ah, Innocents Abroad.

Nicely told: looking forward to more!