Don't Forget Your Towel

[Note: I sometimes write about memories of mine so I won't forget them. From time to time I might post a few.]

In the spring of 1997 I boarded a Greyhound bus in Billings, Montana and traveled for over 65 hours to Lynchburg, Virginia. This took some serious dedication. I was a broke college student, but I really wanted to attend the graduation ceremony of my dear friend Beth, as well as to see a bunch of other friends I had met a few years earlier when I had attended their small Christian college.

In the fall of ’94 and spring of  ’95 Beth and I had been almost inseparable. We were truly kindred spirits: similar interests, vivid imaginations, quick senses of wit, and just all-around enjoying being around one another. One of the things we mutually adored was Douglas Adams’s magnificent comedy series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Our jokes and tales often incorporated themes from the Hitchhiker’s Guide. She called me “Zaphod,” after the character of Zaphod Beeblebrox, and I called her “Trillian,” the nickname of the lead female character. Our friend Noah was “Arthur,” after Arthur Dent.

Beth even sent me a blue towel once, monographed with “Zaphod.”

This, of course, was one of the running jokes. The Hitchhiker’s Guide, you see, is emphatic that the single most important rule for intergalactic travelers is to “never forget your towel.” A towel has many uses. It can be a pillow for your head, a blanket for comfort, or you can use it to flag down passing spaceships to hitch a ride.

Anyway, I boarded the Greyhound to make the long trek to Lynchburg without telling Beth I was coming. In fact, I had told her that I wouldn’t be attending the graduation. She understood, but I think was disappointed that I couldn’t be there. When I finally arrived at the bus station in Lynchburg I was a filthy wreck. Showerless for days on end (as I said, it was a sixty-five hour bus ride), lacking sleep, I felt pretty greasy and grimy. My friend Noah picked me up and took me to the house he and a bunch of other guys rented.

After a shower and some dinner, I felt suitably revived, and part of that revival was the anticipation of putting my brilliant plan into action. We took off to a shopping center within two blocks of Beth’s house, where I placed a call from a pay phone. (That is something that used to be ubiquitous in America, but has all but vanished. It is a free-standing telephone that you put loose change into in order to place a call.)

Beth picked up. 

“Hey Trillian,” I said. “This is Zaphod.”

She was delighted at my call. We chitchatted about this and that.

Finally, “I’m really sorry I can’t make it to your graduation.”

“I know. Me too.”

“Tell you what,” I said. “When I hang up with you I’ll take my towel outside and try to flag down a passing ship from the Vogon Constructor Fleet.”

She laughed. “That would be really cool, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, it really would,” I replied. “It’s worth a shot, at least.”

We said our goodbyes, and I wished her an awesome graduation with all her friends, and told her to say “hey” to them for me. She promised she would.

As soon as I hung up the phone, towel in hand I ran in a full sprint the two blocks to her house, where she and a bunch of other college girls were hanging out.

It took 45 seconds or a minute.

I bounded up the steps, trying to catch my breath, and immediately rang the doorbell.

Someone answered the door, but it wasn’t Beth. I said, “Is Beth here?”

There was a bit of commotion and Beth came walking to the door from the living room. Her eyes glazed over and her jaw hit the floor.

“Hey Trillian,” I said, holding up my Zaphod-inscribed towel. “What do you know? This thing actually works!”

Almost nothing in this world makes a 65-hour Greyhound ride worth it, but seeing the look on her face, I knew I’d found it.


Brian Mattson