My first job was as a waitress at the Iowa State Fair for ten days. I was 14, the summer before 9th grade. My friends and I worked the lunch shift, then had a couple of hours off before the supper shift. A girl named Virginia (a friend of a friend) from another school got us the gig. She had long curly red hair and the biggest eyes I’d ever seen.
One afternoon, I was walking around the fair between shifts and wandered into Teen Town. A guy came up and asked if I wanted to be part of an experiment to see how many teens could fit in a VW Beetle. The Beetle was covered in neon flower decals (it was 1969). All the doors were wide open. I said, okay. Before I knew it, I was climbing into the back seat of the bug. I sat in the seat, but the guy told me to crouch down on the floor.
The bad part about stuffing the bug was that I was near the bottom. More and more teens climbed in, and soon I was piled up with arms, legs, and other body parts. It was a hot day, so it was a bit stinky. But hey, I was 14, and there were guys involved. It was somehow fun, funny, and exciting all at once. I remember lots of laughing.
The radio DJ running the bug stuffing kept announcing how many teens were inside. I think I was number 14, but now he was up to 40 something. It was hot, I was thirsty, and the guy on top of me had bad breath. He smelled like cigarettes or sausage or fries, I can’t remember.
What a story I had to tell the other waitresses back at the sawdust-floor restaurant. My friends had gone off to the Midway to find boys. Virginia had a boyfriend with a tent in the campgrounds. We knew what she was up to on her break.
I didn’t like the Midway as much as Debbie and Phyllis did. They liked to flirt with the carnies, the guys who ran the rides. Everything over there cost money, and I was trying to save the money I was earning, not spend it.
“51, 52, 53,” the DJ counted over the PA system. It was getting hard to breathe. At least the car doors were still open, so I turned my head away from cigarette dude and gasped for air, no matter how hot and humid it was that August day.
“54, 55, 56 . . .” the DJ continued.
Why couldn’t I have been one of those people near the top?
Somebody kicked my leg, and I groaned.
“Sorry!” a girl said.
Then I felt a tug on my long hair. It was somebody’s watch.
“Oh, it’s tangled. Let me get it.”
Then a rip.
“57, 58, 59 . . .”
“Hurry up, I have to pee!” a guy said, and we all laughed.
“60, 61! I think we’ve reached the max, folks! 61 bodies in the VW Beetle!”
Then I heard cheering, and everybody started to shift out of the car. It took a minute or so until I could move my cramped body and get out of the back seat. My hair was a mess, my legs had new bruises on them, and I was in desperate need of some water.
But what fun I had stumbled into. All those sweaty teens stuffed in the car with me.
I had a good story to tell on the ride home when Debbie’s dad came to pick us up.
It’s funny what a teen counts as fun.