The Prisoner

“I took the expressway out to the track, driving very fast and jumping the monster car back and forth between lanes, driving with a beer in one hand and my mind so muddled that I almost crushed a Volkswagen full of nuns when I swerved to catch the right exit.”

Hunter S. Thompson, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved”

Reading this piece again, I was reminded of a similar moment in my youth. It was the summer of 1968 and was driving to Buffalo from Pennsylvania. Leaving the New York State Thruway, I knew I had to take the first exit after the toll booths, I-290, the Youngman Expressway, but I’d never approached it from the south before.

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And I was in a hurry. “The Prisoner” was showing on television and I didn’t want to miss a minute of that evening’s episode. The British series combined elements of espionage and Theater of the Absurd to explore the concept of freedom. That summer, many of us were looking at an impending loss of freedom. In my case, a scheduled entry into the United States Air Force was about to limit my choices.

Thus “The Prisoner” was required viewing, but I was running out of time. I was in the wrong lane, coming from the tollbooth farthest from the exit with only a quarter of a mile to make the jump. Fortunately, we were all leaving the tollbooths from a standing start. I prevailed and arrived at my destination on the stroke of the hour. As the television warmed up, I heard the familiar theme music.

Two footnotes: A year later, I was stationed in a small town in Texas. One of its two TV stations was showing “The Prisoner,” and I got to watch the series again. The evening of the all-important final episode, I was so ready. And then, without explanation, in place of “The Prisoner,” the station aired a tape of an old Billy Graham crusade. There was no escaping in Texas.

Life has since granted me the opportunity to see the entire series two more times. It still holds meaning for me.

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