Stuffing the Bug

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.

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