Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary

April 4, 2001:
Sweet cars of youth
It was the Cadillac that sent Henry Herthingbone '53 aflutter

By Hugh O'Bleary

It was a long winter. And such a seemingly endless succession of cold, gray
morning commutes - snow, followed by rain and again by snow, the
wind-whipped mid-New Jersey landscape sliding by day after day under dark
clouds - can get to a guy. Old Henry Herthingbone '53 had taken it
particularly hard.

A tall, stoop-shouldered gentleman with a shock of white hair, who always
dresses in a gray tweed suit and whenever it rains or snows wears big
flopping rubber overshoes, Herthingbone works in some tweedy, overshoe-y
sort of firm on Wall Street. He appears to be one of those wealthy
Princetonians who could easily sit at home in their orange and black boxers
managing their portfolios but who insist on getting dressed each morning
and making the grinding commute, packed in with all the rest of us and
reading the Wall Street Journal.

In the nation's service, I suppose.

Usually Herthingbone was cheerful enough, but this past winter clearly took
its toll on his spirits. By the middle of March he was the picture of
gloom, a perfect match for the dreary days outside. He began talking
wistfully of moving to Florida. "Of course, I suppose that's the beginning
of the end," he would add, before sighing and turning another page in the
Journal. It was beginning to put a damper on the already less-than-giddy
tone of the train.

And then spring broke. A kind of a weirdly symbolic spring - for the
temperatures were still languishing in the 40s and the wind was still
battering the bare branches of the trees - but, for Herthingbone a real
spring nonetheless. It was a morning in the last week of March when
Herthingbone came sauntering onto the train whistling. The tune sounded a
little like "Old Nassau," but I couldn't be sure, for Herthingbone was
interrupting his rendition to take bites out of a shiny red apple. The Wall
Street Journal was nowhere in evidence.

He sat, or rather, flopped into the seat beside me. "Do you know what I
just saw?" he said, a wistful look in his eye.

"Er..." I began.

"I saw my youth. My glorious, chrome-plated, whitewalled youth!"
I stared at him, not quite sure what to say to that. He went on.

"I was coming across Cannon Green, all bundled up, wondering if it was
going to rain again and thinking about our sump pump, when suddenly, there
in front of me, lined up along the road there were these...these... these
beautiful automobiles. There were Cadillacs and Packards and Lincolns, big
as life and polished and gleaming." He drew a deep breath. "I tell you,
O'Bleary, I was back in my junior year."

"It's a movie," I explained, worried that he might have thought he was
having some sort of senior moment. "They're filming a movie. Russell Crowe
and Ron Howard. It's about the mathematician John Nash. They'll be shooting
on campus for a couple of days and then-"

Herthingbone cut me off. "I know about the movie, O'Bleary," he said. "I
know who Russell Crowe is. I even saw Gladiator. It was just the surprise
of it, the cars, there alongside the green. For just an instant, it was all
the same as it used to be." The wistful look returned, and he sat for a
moment in silence.

The train pulled out, the conductor came by, then Herthingbone said, "We
sing all the time about 'going back,' but I always figured you can't really
go back. Even - or maybe especially - those of us who live in town and walk
across campus every week. There's always some new building, or some old one
is gone, and everything's changing. I always just put my head down and
ignore it all."

He took another bite of the apple. "But I stopped and stared today, looking
at those cars. Do you know, my roommate's father had a big black '53
Cadillac just like the one I saw today. We used to go on road trips. I
realized today that you can go back - just like that. It's always there, no
matter how the buildings change, as long as you really remember what it was
really like."

He gave a little chuckle. "I've got a feeling you won't be seeing me on the
Dinky too much longer," he said.

"Does this mean you're finally moving to Florida?" I said.

"Hell, no!" said Herthingbone. "I'm staying right here. And I'm gonna buy
me a '53 Caddy."

Hugh O'Bleary commutes to New York City from Princeton. He revels in his daily sojourn across campus to catch the Dinky. You can reach Hugh O'Bleary by writing him c/o paw@princeton.edu