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  • When I was 17 years old and in high school, I was excited about a class I had chosen as part of my senior class schedule. "Patterns of Human Behavior." I loved it, and it didn't hurt that the teacher was young and handsome. I was doing great in the class and our big end-of-the-year assignment was to come up with an interesting project that would incorporate some of the principles of human psychology we had learned in class.

    I was having trouble thinking of a subject for my project. Then one night, while watching T.V., I saw a commercial for the local Toyota dealership. The place was right down the road from where I lived. They were inviting everyone to come down and "...get your hands on a Toyota and never let go." This happened to be their "jingle" at the time, and it was catchy. This was their proposal. They would put a Toyota out on their lot, and anyone who wanted a chance to win it, could come down and put their hands on the car. The last one left standing with their hands on the vehicle would get it for free. It was mid-November and autumn days in Connecticut were cool and crisp and nights were very cold. For a week, they let people come down and join in. The first day they had so many people they had to put THREE cars out in the lot. One would not hold the crowd. Also, there were so many people who came down to watch, that a temporary waist-high fence was put around the three cars. Every 12 hours, the participants were allowed a 10 minute break. The local radio station set up an on-site mobile broadcasting unit and was reporting 24 hours a day on the movements of the contestants. It quickly became a phenomenon. It was like a circus. Like a zoo. If you had nothing better to do, you could come down and watch the people living on the cars in the caged area. This was it! This was my project!!

    Three days after the start of the "Toyota Marathon", as it was being called, I walked down to see what was happening. I thought I might interview some of the contestants and take a few pictures for my project. Out of the more than 100 people who had started, there were only 12 left. They were back down to one car. The local newspaper was there taking pictures too and talking to the remaining 'holders-on'. I took a few pictures and worked on my project for the next couple of days. And then it dawned on me that the project would not be complete unless I saw for myself what it would be like to be on the other side of the fence. The next day I signed up to hold onto the car. I had no idea if I could "hold it" for 12 hours. So I went down to the local drug store and bought adult diapers. I was wearing two of them. I was also wearing layers and layers of cloths with a snow-mobil suit on top. I looked like a fat blue snowman. To make sure no one took their hands off the car, there were three "judges," that walked around and assisted with drinking and eating and adjusting articles of clothing. You could move around the car for exercise as long as at least one finger of each hand remained on the vehicle at all times. On the last day for joining up, we heard rumors that the army was sending a soldier down as part of his survival training. All day we waited and in the late evening, he showed up in full camouflage uniform. In the middle of the night, this poor guy sleepwalked right off the car. I felt sorry and embarrassed for him. After all the fuss the media had made, he hadn't even lasted one night. It seemed easy for me. I found I could "hold it" just fine. There were still about twelve of us left.

    And then there were two. I don't know how it happened, but there was just Bill and me.
    Bill was a very handsome man in his late 20's. At first, he tried to psych me out. He said I'd never make it because I was just a girl and eventually I'd get my "period" or something and have to give up. He didn't realize that for me, the entire experience was what I was looking for. My project was based on psychology, not whether or not I'd win a car. It was a challenge for me and he was just challenging me further and stengthening my resolve. At night, when it rained or got VERY cold, the judges would take pity on us and cover us up with blankets and a sheet of plastic. Sometimes we would tell the judges we were tired and ask them to cover us up early and then whisper for hours in the privacy of our little "cocoon" tent. We were across from each other, our upper bodies laid across the hood of the car and the tops of our heads touched when we slept. Bill and I had nothing else to do, so we just talked. We talked and talked and talked. I was a good listener and Bill told me his life story. He owned a leather shop in the city. Poco Leather. He made belts and bags with flowers all over them. He did well, but he didn't make a lot of money. He needed the car. He had a beautiful "model" girlfriend who came to help him during breaks. He was an interesting guy. We became quick friends. We had no choice but to become close. Then one day, we were told that some reporters were coming from Boston to do a story on us. All day long we waited for them. We stayed up late into the night and finally the judges covered us up. About midnight, we heard voices and the plastic being pulled back. The reporters had just arrived and wanted to see us before the full interview they were planning for the next morning. I was half asleep and my hair had fallen out of the hood of my snowsuit and onto my eyes. Before the blankets were pulled off, I put my head up, and reached my hand up off the car (I can still see it now, as if in slow motion). I pushed the hair up off my forehead and into my hood. Time stood still. Bill looked right into my eyes and whispered, "put your hand back". I realized at that moment that it was over. I had taken my hand off the car. Neither of us had wanted the adventure to end. As the blankets were pulled away, I stood up and told them I had taken my hand off the car.

    Bill hadn't said anything, but his legs were so swollen that he had to be taken to the hospital. If I had known that, I would have quit long before. Bill and I had been on that car alone for about 6 days. I had been on it for about 12 days total and Bill, who had started ahead of me, had been there for 15 days. When it was over, I walked home. Bill had won...No, I had won. I got an A on my project and the experience of a lifetime. Bill and I stayed in touch for some time then lost touch. About ten years later, I was walking through a mall in the city and someone yelled out my name. I looked up to see Bill running towards me. He picked me up and swung me around and around. That was the last time I saw him. Recently, I've been thinking about him. Where are you Bill Phee? I miss you!
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