If you believe most of the nostalgia that is written about youthful experiences, you’ve probably formed the opinion that the most vivid memories are those of pleasant events. Well, I must have had a somewhat unusual youth because my most vivid memories are of events I would just as soon happened to someone else.
While there are a wide variety of situations that are a source of constant concern in the life of a teenager, making a fool of yourself in front of your peers is probably at the top of the list. It was certainly on the top of MY list and the cause of my single most remembered experience.
One of the more popular places to waste time when I was a teenager was a certain McDonald’s hamburger stand. This is back in the days when they really were hamburger stands. Now, as those of us with children are aware of to a horrifying degree, they all have indoor seating, picturesque interior decorations and are called “family restaurants”. Back then, all seating was outside and this is where all your friends hung out.
The main reason for the popularity of this particular McDonald’s was its location: right in the middle of the best street for cruising in the city.
Cruising back in the sixties, when I was doing it, consisted of driving slowly up and down the same stretch of road, bumper to bumper with dozens of other cars full of teenagers. We all had the same purpose in mind: meeting members of the opposite sex. Ideally, it was done with the windows down and the bass on the stereo cranked up to the approximate level of a nuclear explosion.
Of course, the cars were very different, which we’ll talk about shortly, and gasoline was about four dollars a gallon cheaper.
My favorite person to cruise with was George and we always took my car. I owned a silver-grey 1965 Pontiac GTO, which was one of the loudest, fastest, and most borderline legal muscle cars around. We’re talking here about the days when a muscle car meant two things: tonnage and horsepower. The GTO had plenty of both, which is why we always took it.
We rumbled into McDonalds one Friday night and parked among the 20 or 30 other cars there for a similar purpose. We slid out of the car and sauntered toward the counter, winding our way through several groups of young people and occasionally tossing a nod to an acquaintance. Even though we weren’t well known, my car was and this automatically conferred a certain amount of recognition and status to its occupants.
I remember vividly what I ordered that night: a large Coke and two orders of French fries. It was handed to me in one of those cardboard carrying trays and George and I prepared to swagger back to the car.
As I turned and took the first step, I planted my foot exactly in the middle of a fresh slice of pickle that someone had thoughtfully dropped on the ground.
My feet flew out from underneath me as I pitched forward and I managed to break my fall by hitting the ground with my hands first.
Unfortunately, this meant releasing the cardboard tray first, which I did by pitching it straight up into the air. The French fries scattered and fell back down on me in a rain of grease as I lay spread out on the ground, while the Coke executed a perfect half-revolution and landed almost squarely on top of George’s head. The lid, naturally, broke on impact, leaving George covered with the sticky brown liquid.
The silence was total for, perhaps, five seconds. As I slowly picked myself up and it became obvious that I wasn’t hurt, the snickers started. Then the chuckles. Then the howling laughter. Even the people working inside the hamburger stand had their hands over their mouths.
George and I looked at each other but said nothing, not wanting to attract any more attention to ourselves, as if that were humanly possible.
That fifty feet back to the car was the longest walk I have ever taken, and even the roar of the headers through my customized dual exhaust pipes couldn’t drown out the laughter that was still ringing in our ears.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that all memories of youth are pleasantly nostalgic.