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How Long Can a White Girl Last on Nebraksa Avenue? and other stories of wayward youth

How Long Can a White Girl Last
on Nebraska Avenue? and other stories of wayward youth


The terminal at Tampa’s Union Station was hardly the grand affair Ellie had conjured in her teenage mind during the previous twenty five and a half hours aboard a cramped Amtrak train. There was no sailor in white sparking up a cigarette after plopping down a military-issued duffel bag. No elegant dame in a flapper skirt leaning into the strong arms of a handsome man in a fedora and a three-piece linen suit. No conductor in a blue uniform urging a lovesick soldier to board the departing train. The only man in uniform Ellie spotted had to be one of Tampa’s finest. This she discerned from the badge on the chest and the gun on the hip of the muscle-bound brute, who crossed the room and escorted a bearded man with leathery skin and dirty clothes to the door after he’d fallen to a prone position on one of the benches. Sleeping, Ellie deduced, was forbidden in Union Station if you looked a certain way.


Ellie put a cigarette between her lips; but before she could strike her lighter, an angry voice reverberated from behind the ticket counter. Her eyes met those of the bellower, who emphatically pointed to a sign that indicated smoking wasn’t allowed in Union Station, either. With no hint of apology, she pocketed her lighter and left the cigarette dangling from her lips as she slowly crossed the floor. Her heels tapped a rhythmic cadence against the tile, suggesting the dramatic exit of a femme fatale on the silver screen. Thus far, Tampa wasn’t living up to its reputation—at least not the one Ellie had imagined.


Her month-long, late-night Internet research binge revealed that Tampa was the Cigar City and birthplace of the lap dance. A place where gangsters once reigned supreme, like drunken dinosaurs obliviously treading over the home of a future strip mall. Sin City, Ellie had decided, wasn’t in Las Vegas. Even if it was, she didn’t have a cousin living there as she did in Tampa; so the point was moot. This was where her summer adventure would occur. Rent-free accommodations had an undeniable appeal; and given Ellie’s budget, zero was fast becoming her favorite number.


Wikipedia hadn’t mentioned a word about the humidity that slugged Ellie across the face the moment she stepped from the terminal to the outside world. Dusk was settling; an indigo haze followed the retiring sun over the horizon as lights winked on across the downtown skyline. Ellie glanced at her watch out of habit even though she knew it was still on back-home time. After a quick calculation of the time change, she knew her cousin was late. Typical. She hadn’t seen Klause since she was 10 years old, but knew even then he was flake. Apparently not much had changed.


Her cell phone was dead, having run out of charge somewhere along the Florida state border. Even if she could call Klause—and the thought of using a Union Station pay phone did present a certain nostalgic charm—her lay-about slacker of a cousin wouldn’t answer. She’d wait for him, but not for long.


Ellie leaned against a light pole and lit another cigarette, striking a pose and artfully exhaling smoke as though she had an audience. When it was gone she lit another, but only after she stamped out the former. Chain-smoking held no dignity, she had come to reason, recalling the scores of pot-bellied men back home who gave the practice anything but a glamorous earmark.


Three smokes later with no sign of her cousin, Ellie decided she’d had enough. Suddenly her father’s insistence to ship her luggage seemed like a clairvoyant stroke of genius, since her imminent trek would certainly be more chic without the burden of dragging a suitcase.




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