Rochester, NY

The Adventures of Ralph and Butch: A Few Winter and Summer Memories From the '70s

Herbie J Pilato

I was born and raised in Rochester, New York. And I had a best friend in high school, who I'll call "Tony," who went on to find great success in the corporate world.

Tony, who also happened to excel in sports, specifically, baseball, has always been an awesome guy. He was very smart and funny, and quite in tune with pop culture, the latter of which is mostly why we got along so well.

In our seemingly boring moments, we created the characters of "Ralph and Butch," who we envisioned as some form or another of undercover cops or detectives, patterned after TV's then very-popular Starsky & Hutch (I guess.)

A few "R & B" adventures stand out in my mind, such as one extremely cold day during the East Coast Blizzard of '77.

That's when Tony gave me a ride home from school in his beat-up yellow Volkswagon. Whenever we'd go into our "Ralph and Butch" mode (and to this day, I'm still not sure who played whom), Tony would jump out of the car, and pretend to stick a flashing police light on the top of the car (again, as would Starsky & Hutch and, for that matter, as also did Karl Malden and Michael Douglas on one of TV's other very-popular cop shows of the day, The Streets of San Francisco).

At any rate, in the deep blinding white-out of that Bilzzarrd '77, "Ralph and Butch" were not only stuck in the snow – but we were stuck in traffic.

A few months later, we graduated from high school, and summer arrived. That's when Tony and I found ourselves on a cross-country truck adventure.

Here's what happened:

A retired, elderly couple who lived next door to my family was looking for someone to drive their beautiful new, big RV from Rochester to Cleveland. And I suggested Ralph and Butch oblige. I mean, Herbie and Tony.

I made the suggestion because we were young, and this elderly couple was rich, or at least I thought they were. Though there was no discussion of money between Tony and me, and the senior couple, I assumed that we would be well-compensated for the time and effort that such a long-distance journey and job would require.

After some apprehension, Tony agreed to do it. The thing was, neither of us knew how to drive a stick shift - which is what we had to do with the big rig that the elderly couple had rented for us (to helm and follow them in their RV all the way to Cleveland).

So, picture it: two recently-graduated high school teens, neither of whom had much driving experience, in general, let alone driving a rented moving van with a stick shift, were now about to literally truck ourselves halfway across the country.

I finally told Tony, "Look – I'm NOT gonna' drive this thing. So YOU have to." And once more, Tony, somehow, reluctantly agreed.

So, for the entire trip, from Rochester to Cleveland, the truck kept "spitting" its engine, and clunking along – because Tony could not properly drive with a stick least for the first couple of hundred miles. After that, he conquered the technique.

Through it all and other such daring and relatively dangerous moments along the way, as the engined hiccuped and spitted in our path, I'd promise Tony, and say, "I'm telling ya''s gonna be worth it! These people got money. LOTS of it! And they're gonna' pay us. And I mean pay us WELL!"

Meanwhile, too, as Tony recently noted to me in retrospect, "I do recall at one point along the journey having a brief discussion regarding the possibility of the old couple killing us both and burying our bodies somewhere in Ohio in lieu of paying us 'all that money.' I also remember looking at you as the old man took what seemed to be a circuitous route to the airport, thus heightening my suspicion of his true intent."

Tony also reminded me "...about our method of running a stop sign, which involved slamming in the breaks, jumping out of the car to drape the stop sign in my letterman’s jacket, gunning it through the intersection before stopping again to retrieve the jacket."

Like everything else that transpired during our chaotic journey, such moments were manic, melodramatic, and comedic and each would translate well if Ralph and Butch would indeed ever somehow, someway star in their own TV detective show.

But either way, after the long, long trip, in the long, long trailer, following the old, old couple, we stopped at their destination, emptied the truck of their belongings, drove it to the nearest drop-off rental facility, and waited to be paid. We had showered, I think, at least only once, and as a result, other than that, things were pretty...well... hygienically challenged.

Yet at the same time, too, none of that mattered anyway. We just wanted our money. And as I had been promising Tony, "We were gonna' get paid. WELL!"

Unfortunately, however, that kind of transaction never transpired. Because after we dropped off the truck with the elderly couple, they drove us to the bank in their RV, made a withdrawal from their account, and paid us a whopping FORTY-BUCKS. Total.

Tony was ready to annihilate me. We made that long, clunky trip, all the way from Rochester to Cleveland, safe and sound. But now - I was prepared to die.

Though not before the now-cheap elderly couple drove us to the airport, where they purchased plane tickets for our return back to Rochester. Thank God. At least they did THAT.

And then, fortunately, by the time they left the airport, Tony had calmed down, and we laughed a little bit about the whole thing. That was the kind of guy Tony was and remains.

Humor always trumped everything else.

Good thing, too – because once we had those plane tickets in our hands, I had suggested to Tony, several times, to please make sure he kept his ticket in a safe place, so as not to lose it.

"Now, Tony," I pestered, "Please put that ticket away - or else you're gonna' lose it. I'm telling ya'!

Well, he heard all that "I'm tellin' ya'" stuff before," and it pretty much didn't work out for him. So, he wasn't gonna' listen to it this time around.

"I'm NOT gonna’ lose it, Herb," he said, quite annoyed.

"Ok," I continued to press, "...but if you DO – I'm tellin' ya' - it's gonna' mess things up, and delay our trip.”

"I’m NOT gonna' lose it!' he insisted.

Well, guess what? About twenty minutes before we were to board the plane, Tony, who was about 6'3', to my 5'7", came cowering up to me - 'er, down to me - looking very sad.

"Uhm," Herb..." he said, with his head bowed.

"Yeah?" I wondered.


"Yeah...what is it? Spit it out, would ya', Tony!"


"Don't tell me."

"I, uhm...lost..."

"You LOST the ticket!" I screamed. "I TOLD you to be careful!!"

"Would you stop!" he pleaded. "We're in a public place, for Pete's sake."

And so went the adventures of "Ralph and Butch." Or "Butch and Ralph." Or Herb and "Tony."

Or Herb and "Whoever-Tony-Really-Was" - and again, still is...a loyal friend with a great sense of humor – and a genius for corporate business, if not driving trucks.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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