My Emergency 10

No, that’s not the issue number of a rare comic I’m searching for. It’s a phrase that has brought me no small amount of scorn and ridicule from my wife over the years. As the New York Comic-Con looms next week (one which I’ll be driving to with my buddy Jim Amash), let me hearken back to another convention trip years ago that really sticks in my mind.

It was 1979, and the Atlanta Fantasy Fair was days away. I was then 17, and after much begging and pleading, I’d convinced my parents to let me make the three-hour drive from Montgomery, Alabama with my best friend Matt Turner. Matt and I had saved our money for months in anticipation, but we were looking for some last-minute subsidies. Learning that glass Coke bottles could be redeemed for the princely sum of 10¢ each in Atlanta (you only got a nickel in my hometown), we combed our relatives’ garages and attics searching for six-packs of transparent green treasure. We managed to accumulate 100 bottles, adding a cool ten bucks to our budget. We left my house early Saturday morning in my beat-up 1971 Datsun 510 station wagon to the sound of glass bottles clinking together in the back seat of my car.

My car (if you want to call it that) burned through oil like a bank through T.A.R.P. money, and at our first hourly stop to add a quart, the oil cap slipped out of my hand, landed on one of the dry-rotted hoses in the engine, and caused a trickle of water to leak out of the hose (or, at least, we hoped it was water). No way were we gonna turn around and head home from this minor mishap, after all it took to convince my dad to let us go solo. A quick search of the car found an old roll of electrical tape, and we made a makeshift patch from an old rag, and taped it tightly around the hose. We filled up some of the Coke bottles with water, and lumbered on down I-85, stopping every time the temperature gauge started heading toward “H”, and added water to the radiator.

We reached Atlanta an hour before the convention opened, and proceeded to cash in our Coke bottles at a grocery store. They would only accept half of them, so we decided we’d cash in the rest on Sunday, rather than miss the opening of the con. In an attempt to save even more cash to spend on comics, we purchased a loaf of bread and two packs of the cheapest pressed chicken luncheon meat we could find. You know the kind; sliced thinner than comic book newsprint, and loaded with little hard things that we passed off as “protein.” But we computed that if we only used two slices of meat per sandwich, we’d have enough to last the weekend. And we didn’t dare splurge on a jar of mayonnaise – that 89¢ could be put toward comics! We checked into our hotel (paying up front to avoid spending the money on comics), turned the Air Conditioner on high, and set the lunch meat on the vents to keep it cool. After putting our remaining Coke bottles in the room for safe-keeping, we loaded up on dry chicken sandwiches and ice water, and headed for the con.

The first day of the convention, we found more things to buy than our budget would allow. By day’s end, we’d depleted our funds, leaving only $5 gas money for the return trip. But I still needed copies of Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 and #5 for Jim Steranko to sign. Knowing we had more yummy dry sandwiches to sustain us the weekend, and five dollars worth of Coke bottles to use for gas money, I dropped my last ‘fiver’ on #3, and got Steranko’s signature on a treasured collectible.

Little did we know what horror awaited us back at the hotel.

When we walked in our room, my first thought was to make sure the lunch meat hadn’t gone bad. A quick sniff told me it was okay, so I prepared our dinner. But suddenly, Matt screamed.

“The Coke bottles are gone!!!”

The maid who cleaned that day apparently thought they were trash (although Matt and I swore she was out somewhere living it up on our five bucks). Regardless, we were stranded in a hotel room in a strange city, with no money for gas, and only a few dry sandwiches to eat.

We were terrified! What would we do?! I didn’t have a dime to call home, and anyway, my father would kill me when he found out I’d carelessly spent all my cash! Desperate thoughts started to sink in. Could I sell my comics back to the dealers? Could I sell the car? Could I sell Matt?!

After a restless night, I still had no ideas the next morning. And suddenly, I remembered My Emergency 10.

You see, when I first got my driver’s license, my father had stashed a folded-up ten dollar bill behind the photos in my wallet. “This is Your Emergency 10, son. Forget it’s there, and only use it in an emergency,” he said. And every so often, he’d pull a surprise inspection of my wallet to make sure I still had it. I’d quickly learned to completely forget about it, lest I succumb to the temptation to spend it.

I reached into my wallet, and there it was! Ten semolians!! The look of relief on Matt’s face was overwhelming, and as we sat there eating our dry chicken sandwich breakfast, I contemplated what to do with the extra $5. My first thought was to go buy that Nick Fury #5 and get Steranko to sign it, but I decided to hang on to it, in case another emergency came up.

So we filled up the gas tank with petrol, some old jugs with water for the radiator, and left Atlanta, malnourished and tired. But I was happy I didn’t have to sell my comics, my car, or my best friend. As lunch time approached, we pondered the condition of the car, those remaining sandwiches, and that extra $5 in my wallet…

…and we threw caution to the wind and used that five bucks to buy lunch at McDonald’s! Because after two days of consuming those awful chicken sandwiches, no emergency would be worse than having to eat them again!

Luckily, no other misfortunes befell us that trip, and I managed to replace my Emergency 10 before my dad pulled another surprise inspection. But to this day, I still keep a ten dollar bill tucked away in my wallet for emergencies.

My wife laughs at the idea that $10 will make a difference today in an emergency. But it has saved me (and her) many a trip to the ATM machine when we were short on cash for a quick lunch. And I always replace it immediately. There’s just something very reassuring about knowing it’s there.

Besides, you never know when you’re going to come across a cheap copy of Nick Fury #5…