As if it wasn't enough that we were gawky, cold, scared, covered in paint, sniveling and lost running through back yards from the police ... We were convinced that Libby was dead.
There we were: a dozen crying teens on dress rehearsal night of Fiddler on the Roof at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School scampering through dark, unfamiliar yards, bumping into trees and one another, like Keystone cops, and calling out for lost Libby.
"Oh, no!," someone whispered about as quietly as a Tom cat in a tussle. "There was a pool back there somewhere. Crap! I bet she ran on top of the pool cover and fell in! What are we gonna do??? Oh, God, Libby's dead!"
Now we were lost, on the wrong side of the law, sticky and crying.
But, we were proud. We had done it — what anyone worth any R-FH school spirit salt must do. We painted the bridge!
It wasn't just any bridge. It was "The Bridge." At the time, no one knew much about why it was there on Ridge Road other than that it used to be part of the McCarter Estate.
The estate spanned a lot of property from Fair Haven to and through Rumson. The bridge, apparently, was used to take people from the gates on Fair Haven Road to the main house across Ridge in Rumson.
We didn't care much about that, though. To us, it was a modest cement structure that we thought we collectively owned and had every right to use as a banner or artsy milestone message board.
Sometimes the "artful" messages would spill onto the road underneath the bridge as well.
Everyone knew that painting the bridge was basically criminal mischief and chargeable, but they, including police, also knew that it was a rite of passage. I'd love to have been a fly on a donut at the station when bridge painting hoodlum action was called in. Yes, cops really used to eat donuts back in the day.
We probably provided a lot of entertainment for those guys working midnights.
We couldn't help it though. It was our obligation. Tradition! You just couldn't graduate from R-FH without having painted the bridge at least one time, preferably several times.
The hoopla before and after the deed was actually a lot more fun than during, though. Bridge painting was nerve-wracking, painful and messy. Getting caught was another matter that involved painful bartering and begging and, sometimes, fines to not ruin college transcript records.
The whole experience, though, was a twisted act of love. If you happened to be the subject of the painting, it was a high honor. First of all, you knew that your friends risked rep and limb to venture out into a wooded trail in the wee hours of the morning (usually) lugging paint and scary prophecies of what may ensue.
Then they had to hang upside down and get every letter right, ready to run with the sound of every car and managing not to fall onto the road below to keep company with the roadkill. Ah, but what fun!
And everyone had their moment in paint on the bridge. I was lucky enough to have friends just nuts enough to give me an ode de bridge twice. While I was looking for Libby and crying like a bad little nerd, someone managed to paint my name on the bridge and road commemorating my role as Golde in Fiddler — "The Mama."
Then, when we graduated, my miscreant childhood friends forever painted "Kiss Today Goodbye" (the Senior Variety Show finale song I sang) on the bridge and took me for a ride to surprise me with it. Nothing says love like a bridge paint job. Nothing like those friends to this day, either.
Oh, and we found Libby unscathed, went to Dunkin' Donuts to celebrate her resurrection from the phantom pool, made it to opening night of the show and performed like accomplished ... bridge painters. YUMP! da dee da da, YUMP! da dee da da ... Tradition!
I just can't seem to remember who was driving the getaway car that night ... Libby?
Yeah, "The Bridge" gave all R-FHers a memorable moment or 10.
What's your bridge memory? Have any pics? Tell us all about it and show us your photos of bridge time gone by.