By Tim McGrath
Park! Pay! Display!
The sign fastened to the utility pole at the edge of the graveled parking lot cheerfully exhorted those entering in its passive-aggressive way. It all seemed quite simple. Step one: Park! No sweat, check. Step two: Pay! This is where things were a tad murky. We were in one of those parking lots that had no attendant at the exit gate, or pay when you leave stations; just the little self-serve kiosk in the middle of the lot. First time using one of these jobs.
At this point, it would have been fun to zoom out and watch the scene unfold. The kiosk, the two of us trying to figure the thing out, and the woman in line behind us waiting, waiting, waiting while we sorted it out.
“What’s that say?” both of us asked too loudly as we squinted over the tops of sunglasses, struggling to read the directions through the scratched surface of the electronic screen. The blazing sun reflecting off the screen made direction following impossible.
“Stop stooping over, you look like a little old man,” Cheryl cajoled under her breath as I struggled with what it was telling me in simple terms to do. Couldn’t see a thing.
“Here, you try it, then,” I retorted.
“OK, you put the money in here. No, wait, have to turn it the other way around like it shows on the picture. What…,wait…, no, hold on a minute….”
Meanwhile, I had the feeling that Impatient Irma behind us was ready to spring out of her shoes at our incompetencies. I could feel her annoyance billowing out around us in waves. I was afraid if I turned around she’d be standing with arms crossed, tapping her foot, giving us a withering stink eye. Imagine it would have been the same look my third-grade teacher gave me when she caught me eating paste during art class one day.
“Hot dang, there it goes!” I hollered. “Now, what’s this about Display!”
Reminds me of another first time….
You have to wonder if there’s many things in life more excruciating than a first date. And, when I say first date, I mean first date, ever. The kind we all laugh about years later during Happy Hour when regaling each other with “I-can-beat-that” tales of our youth. Reliving the angst and awkwardness of kids trying to find their way along the treacherous paths of love. That time was far off in the future, however, and this was no laughing matter.
I was in a pickle. My senior year at Wyoming Park High School, and I had a massive crush on the most beautiful, perfect girl I’d ever laid eyes on. My goal was simple: I wanted her to be my date for Prom. Long story short, I messed around trying to muster the courage to talk with her, let alone ask her to Prom. I even knew she’d say “Yes!”, but I just couldn’t do it. Prom came and went. Graduation shortly thereafter, and…, I never saw, nor heard of her again. Charlie Brown of romance strikes out, royally.
Well, sir, this time would be different. I was a college man now, eighteen, and with a car of my own; a ’72 Plymouth Duster. It was jacked up in the rear, slotted chrome reverse wheels all around. I’d installed an 8-track tape player with massive 6x9 speakers. Had 56 8-track tapes: Foghat, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, BTO, Montrose, J. Geils Band, to name a few. I’d also added some Carpenters and Bread; something for just about everyone. Plus, I’d just installed some cool green shag carpeting throughout. Impressive – certain to turn any girl’s head, I was sure of it.
Bachman Turner Overdrive was coming to town. This might just be the thing I was looking for. They were scheduled to play at the Dome on Grand Valley’s campus soon. I’d been there a bunch of times for other concerts, so I knew my way around. Didn’t want to be wandering around aimlessly in some strange place with a girl in the car, lost, wondering where we were going. I didn’t need any more help in the doofus department, thank you very much. Now to ask the girl.
As a college freshman living at home, my female connections were slim. There was a very nice young lady living just down the street from me, though, whom I’d known for a long time. Let’s call her Kathy. She was a year behind me in school, and we’d always said hi to each other. I wondered….
The next step in the operation was to actually ask Kathy to the concert. I didn’t want anyone at my house horning in on my conversation with her, especially Mom, or my little brother. Since this was pre-cellphone days, the only logical place to make The
Call was at a pay phone. Knowing I was on a timeline, I had to put my pitiful past out of mind and just get on with it. I rehearsed the conversation over and over, until I knew exactly what witty, charming things I’d say to Kathy to convince her. I’d even set a date and time for when to make the call.
The assigned day and time came. With trembling fingers and dry mouth, I dropped my dime in the slot and dialed. After several rings, someone answered; it was Kathy’s little brother. From this point forward, I don’t remember much of the conversation. Apparently, Kathy got the phone, I croaked out something very unwitty or charming, she said yes, and the thing was on. Putting down the receiver, I exhaled. Wondered if this what was meant when someone swooned.
Mom was elated, of course. I think she’d wondered when I’d finally get with the program.
“Oh my, Kathy is such a nice girl. Now, you just make sure to be a gentleman,” she admonished. Like I’d know what to do anyway.
Little brother got in on it, too. “Are you going to smooch?” he laughed while making slurpy, kissing sounds.
D-day: the day I’d been dreading, and the day I couldn’t wait to arrive. The car was freshly washed and polished, vacuumed, new pine scent air freshener rubbing shoulders with the graduation tassel hanging from the mirror.
Normally, I wouldn’t give a flying fig about my manner of dress when attending a rock concert: T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, jean jacket. This time was different, though. I really wanted to impress Kathy with my worldly ways. Got the car, now the classy dress. I got out my best corduroys, button down shirt, and a very nice sweater vest. Finished off the ensemble with my newly polished brown wing tips. Heading out the door, on a whim, I reached in the front hall closet and grabbed Dad’s top coat. It was the knee-length one he wore to church over his suit. The young gent stepping out with his girl for an evening on the town. Very nice, but soon to be a tactical error.
The conversation on the way to the show was surprisingly easy. We caught up on what was happening at school, goofy brothers, friends. Maybe this isn’t so terrifying after all, I thought. We got in line, waiting for the doors to open.
“Hey, kid, you James Bond, or something?” the big redheaded dope behind us in line asked as he eyed my clothing choice. Kathy and I feigned deafness. Mercifully, the doors opened, and we got pushed along with the crush of people filing into the dome.
We made our way through the milling crowd, and found a couple of great seats in the bleachers. Settling in, our conversation turned to the show. Standing up to take off my topcoat, somebody hollered, “Whoa, wait a minute, Jeeves, you ain’t going to flash us, are you? Nobody wants to see any of that. Your girlfriend there is going to get pissed if you do!” Laughter all around. My face burned flame red. Scrunching up the coat, I jammed it down by my feet, and cursed myself heartily. Kathy was a good sport, though. She smiled, and kept up the conversation as if nothing had happened.
Let’s just say the rest of the evening was darkly comedic. The warm up band’s front man was wasted, cursed the crowd repeatedly, flipped us all off, then stalked off stage. The people around us kept passing joints; called us “bogus” when we didn’t take any hits. Can’t forget the beer shower that rained down repeatedly from the upper regions of the bleachers, either. We both got soaked by numerous bottles of Schlitz.
The ride home was quiet. We both tried to salvage the evening with some lighthearted banter, but had to quit because neither of us could hear anything. “…the echoes from the amplifiers ringing in your head,” Bob Seger’s prophetic words crooned from the 8-track. We pulled into her driveway, she thanked me, I her, and that was that.
Pulling into my drive, I stopped the car, shut off the engine, and sat there. My gloom soon gave way to mirth. Yes, it had been a disaster but, I’d done it. I’d pulled it off…, sort of. It’s a start, my friend, it’s a start. Hopping out, I whistled a happy tune up the front walk. Reaching for the handle on the front door, I stopped abruptly.
Wait a minute, where’s the topcoat?
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