“Roll down the back seat window. It’s hot!” I shouted over my shoulder, my hands slippery with sweat on the steering wheel of the 1961 Chevy Bel Air station wagon. The window at the rear of the wagon didn’t roll down, so what little air there was floated to the back and became trapped. Even if every window was open, no air could circulate in the cave-like behemoth.
Against Mom’s wishes, Dad let me have the station wagon, telling her it was a tank and virtually indestructible. “She’ll be the last one standing,” he smiled and gave Mom a hug.
McDuff hollered over the wind, “It’s so neato you got the car!”
“Bitchin, McDuff,” McDuff was what everyone called Mary McDuff. She wasn’t really my friend; she was my best friend Bernie’s friend. Bernie’s mom wouldn’t let her ride in a car with another teenager driving. “Not enough driving experience,” Bernie’s mom had her. McDuff’s mother obviously didn’t object, and I had lied to my mother about where I was going and who was going with me.
I had been afraid I wouldn’t get the car. Mom and I had argued this morning. “What’s the point of having a driver’s license and a car if you never let me go anywhere.”
“Please,” I begged. “I’ll be careful.” She wasn’t budging.
“Dad will be okay with it. Let’s call him. Come on, Mom.” I sidled lovingly up beside her and felt her weaken.
“Fine,” she said. “But you have to take Susie. And, you have to stop at the Winn Dixie to pick up the roast I ordered.” What a bummer. Susie was my baby sister and five years younger than me. Taking her along would be a real drag.
“If you tell Mom anything, I’ll kill you,” I told her as we walked to the car. “And don’t say anything dumb in front of McDuff.”
“I won’t. I promise,” she said. Susie was sweet and she worshipped me, but she was incredibly stupid about what not to tell Mom to avoid getting in trouble.
“Whatever,” I thought as I stretched out my legs and adjusted the seat. Coming through for my friends was all that mattered. This was my chance to win McDuff over. She had been doing more and more things with Bernie and not including me. My plan was to become the indispensable member of a threesome. I would be the friend with a car.
“Get in the back,” I told Susie when we pulled up to McDuff’s house.
“Who’s this” McDuff asked as she slammed the heavy car door.
“My sister. I had to bring her or I couldn’t have the car.” I shrugged apologetically.
“It’s cool,” she replied.
“Where are we meeting them?” I asked. “Them” referring to the three boys McDuff had met the previous weekend at White Lake, a summer hangout twenty miles from home. McDuff swore they were very cute, smoked cigarettes, and liked to lay out on the pier tanning. They had promised to treat us to burgers at Hardees.
“It better be on the side by the pier,” I said, “or we’ll have to drive around forever trying to find a parking space.”
On the pier side of the lake was a paved parking lot with pull-in spaces. If the lot was full, sweaty drivers squeezed their cars bumper-to-bumper on either side of a two lane road that edged the lake. I could barely park the wide whale of a vehicle in a pull-in space. Mastering the clutch with the gearshift on the column was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Parallel parking was a requirement to get a driver’s license, and I had barely passed the test in a much smaller sedan. The jutting, high profile tailfins on the wagon made it nearly impossible to see the car behind me. The all steel body was difficult for me to maneuver, and even the thought of backing up terrified me.
“They’re saving us a space,” she said.
Relieved, I turned the volume up on the radio. It was the summer of 1966 and my favorite song by the Troggs was playing. The three of us tunelessly belted out,
“Wild thing, I think I love you
You make everything groovy, wild thing
Wild thing, I think I love you
But I wanna know for sure
Come on and hold me tight I love you.”
We leaned to the center of the front seat and curled our hands as though holding microphones. We rolled our eyes at each other and laughed. It was working; McDuff liked me. Bernie, McDuff and I were going to be a trio of friends.