Easy Rider


My neighbor, Joan, would roll her parents’ car out of the garage when we were in 9th grade so we could go driving in the middle of the night during her slumber parties. We’d fall into fits of hysterical laughter when Mr. Bast, the milkman, would go by in his milk truck. But we didn’t meet any boys that way.
Debbie could meet boys walking down the street. Phyllis was tall and thin and my twin except she was a blonde. The three of us got into our share of boy trouble. We would hang out on Friday and Saturday nights doing stupid things like hitch-hike around Des Moines. Somehow we met Cliff from Adel, a nearby town. He was cute, had a car, and smelled pretty good for a 16 year old boy. He asked me to a drive-in movie to see Easy Rider.

My friends hatched a plan with me so that I could go. Debbie would say I was with her, and Phyllis’ brother would drive us to the Shakey’s Pizza on Hickman where Cliff would pick me up. I would be back by 11:00 to get a ride home with them. I was 14 and too young to be doing this, but no one could tell me that at the time.
Cliff picked me up at 7:00. Oh, the thrill of being with a boy with a car! On a date! My very first drive-in movie! When we got there, he pulled me close to him and put his arm around me. The movie started, and soon I was having my very first movie make-out session. It was innocent adolescent fun. Before I knew it, it was time to get back to Shakey’s.

Cliff dropped me off at the appointed time, and I walked in the door, flying high with kissing endorphins until . . .

But how? The plan should’ve worked.
“Get in the car right now, young lady!”
Phyllis stood behind him with a helpless look on her face.
On the long ride home (about 8 minutes) my dad punched the blue vinyl bench seat between us.
“Don’t you ever . . . punch . . . do that . . . punch . . . again!”
I clung to the passenger door, hoping his fist wouldn’t reach me. He had been drinking at the pizza place.
When I got home, the story came out. Debbie had forgotten the plan and had called looking for me. Had she done it on purpose? She was a stinker that way. After all, I had a car date, and she didn’t. At any rate, Mom had become alarmed and had called around until Phyllis confessed that I was with a boy.
Maybe it was a good thing it had happened. My dad and I didn’t have much of a relationship. He’d come home every night from work after drinking a six-pack at the neighborhood bar, eat dinner, and go to bed. Didn’t all dads do that? The seat-punching event gave me a BIG memory of him, caring enough about me to punch the seat as he drove me home from my dreamy date with Cliff.
Debbie met her future husband at the roller rink. They married and now have grandchildren. Phyllis married, too, but she got cervical cancer and died at 44. She said good-bye to everyone at a class reunion back in Iowa that I didn’t attend because it was my son’s birthday.

Joan is like a sister and advises me on big stuff as she views my California life from Iowa. Dad is long gone (thirty-two years), but I will never forget that night in 1969 when he cared enough to beat up his car upholstery for me.

Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If I would’ve ended up in the back seat with Cliff, I would’ve become pregnant, dropped out of high school, moved in with my aunt and uncle in Cedar Falls until the baby was born, and worked at K Mart at night while my cousin watched the baby, Wyatt. I would’ve worked my way up to store manager, the benefit being that I would’ve decided which items were the blue-light special each week. Cliff would’ve married his high school sweetheart and visited his son on the weekends. I would’ve married a biker dude, and we would’ve bought matching leather riding gear. He would have gotten killed in a road accident. I would now be living, ironically, in Adel, down the way from the vacant lot that used to be the drive-in movie theater.

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