Memories

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BUZZING THE GUT

by Gloria Slade

It was Thursday night, and the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school.  The stores in our town stayed open until 9:00 those evenings trying to make a buck.   Local teenagers all hung out in town when the stores were open, and kids with cars would buzz the gut trying to see who was out and about.

I had just earned my driver’s license a month ago after taking the required driver’s training course at the high school in this small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  During those two weeks, my girlfriend Sheila and I would diligently walk to school each morning to attend the driver’s training class that started at 7:30.  Our minds were set on eventually getting the much-coveted driver’s license–the end result of that sacrifice.  So what if it was summer vacation and we had to rise at 6:30?  We were going through the rite of passage into adulthood.

My dad always liked cars.  The family sedan was cherished by him, and he regularly kept it clean and polished.  He also liked to ride in the woods to hunt, fish, and just look at the scenery.  But he didn’t want to get any dirt or scratches on his newly polished “town car,” so he invested in “bush cars” for journeys into the woods.  Folks in town didn’t normally own trucks as those vehicles were mainly reserved for farmers.  So my dad scouted the newspaper’s classified ads for used cars.  Or he’d listen to “Telephone Time” or “Tradio” on the local radio station for possible bush cars.   He always found a nice-looking set of wheels.   Even though merely bush cars, my dad took pride in them and kept them as cleaned and polished as the family sedan.  He spent many hours in the garage working on his cars.

Earlier that year, my dad bought a ‘51 Chevy to take out the woods.  It was a black coup, but I didn’t think it was very sharp.  In fact, that car was embarrassing to me, and my dad knew it.  I didn’t mind if we were just out in the woods where no one could see us, but my father would tease me and drive right down the Main Street on the way there and back so other kids could see me riding in that bomb.  How I would hate that!  My dad would laugh in delight as I’d duck my head under the dash whenever I saw a teenager hoping they wouldn’t spot me in that car.

But once I got my driver’s license, any auto would do.  There’s nothing more prestigious to a teenager than being able to drive.  So one Thursday, it was my deepest desire to get out the bush car and buzz the gut.   After all, my girlfriends and I had to see who was downtown.  As Ishpeming is situated next to another small town, kids from Negaunee would also hang out when the stores were open late.  Both sets of teens would drive up and down Main Street tooting and waving to each other.  Girls would hopefully get picked up, and I was one of them.  Getting picked up did not have the unfavorable connotation that one would imagine.  In that era and place, everyone knew everyone else, and kids were fairly safe getting rides from each other. 

That night, I backed the Chevy out of the driveway.  It was a standard shift, and although drivers’ training was divided between both standard and automatic transmission lessons, I wasn’t skilled with manual shifting.  But I was determined to get that car downtown and check out the action.  Main Street was very busy with both lanes filled with teenagers driving back and forth around the blocks.  Souped up cars roared up and down the street annoying adult shoppers.  Teenagers jaywalked across the street nearly causing traffic accidents.  I recognized some boys from the nearby town crossing the street, and I tooted my horn while my girlfriends waved to them. 

The local teen hangout was a place called the Congress Bar and Pizza.  Kids would congregate at that establishment, and they’d walk from the front entrance to the back door that led into the alley checking out who was in there eating pizzas or drinking cokes.  Although it was a bar and liquor was served to adults, underage kids would walk back and forth through it.  I’d look longingly at the older folks eating pizzas in envy.  We never had enough money to buy a pizza and only had a dime for a coke.  Occasionally, my girlfriends would be able to grab a booth, but that was rare.  The place was so crowded that capturing a booth for a pop wasn’t very likely.

“Let’s go and find a place to park,” Sheila told me as she saw the crowd at the Congress.   “Okay,” I replied.  “Once I get passed this stop sign and find a place to park.”

I had stopped at the stop light in front of the bar and was trying to check out the group of Negaunee boys standing on the corner.  The light turned green as I took my foot off the brake and eased up on the clutch.  With all those good-looking Negaunee boys staring at me, I was nervously placing my hand on the shifter trying to remember the H pattern of the manual shift pattern.  The car cautiously moved forward as I eased up on the clutch while shifting at the same time. 

Please don’t let me jerk or stall this car. I could see those guys were watching me closely.

The good Lord must have been watching over me as the car smoothly left that intersection without any problem or embarrassment to me.   Around the block I went while turning the large steering wheel to look for an easy place to drive into.  I didn’t want to parallel park this car in front of anyone–at least not yet.

Luckily I found one, and JoAnn, Sheila, and I got out of the car and made our way around the block to the Congress.  The place was wall-to-wall teenagers.  One Negaunee boy–Jim–came up to me and complimented me on my driving ability. 

“I was watching you pull out at the stop sign,” he told me.  “I thought for sure you were going to stall it, but you did a good job.  I was impressed.”

I was thrilled.  Jim was cute.  He was tall, dark, and handsome and also a basketball star for Negaunee.  Of course, since he was from the town next door, he was different from the boys we regularly saw in school each day, so he was more attractive to us.  It was prestigious and desirable for the Ishpeming girls to go with Negaunee boys and vice versa.  It seems the grass is always greener.

“Let’s get a booth,” Sheila told me as we were trying to hear each other above the loud rock and roll music coming from the jute box.  The smell of the freshly baked pizzas abounded in the bar.   We could see in the kitchen two tiny Italian ladies expertly spreading the dough on the pizza pans and covering them with toppings.  The aroma was overpowering.

“Okay, sounds good to me,” I answered.  “Someday let’s save up and chip in to get a pizza; they smell so delicious.”

I spotted a foursome sitting eating a pizza in the booth next to ours.  They weren’t teenagers, and I suspect they were in their late twenties and maybe were closer to 30 years old.  They seemed disgusted with all the young people sitting there making noise and banging into one another in the crowded establishment.  The man and his date were trying to carry on a conversation.  Both wore glasses, but his lenses were very thick--like Coke bottles.  The other couple was also annoyed with the teenagers and looked angrily at the kids while trying to converse with one another.

“Those old people should stay home,” I told Sheila who agreed when she saw their disgruntled looks.

We leisurely drank our pop while checking out the action.  If only one of those Negaunee boys would come over to us and ask us out, I thought to myself while playing with my straw and sipping my drink.  I didn’t want to finish my pop and have to leave since we miraculously got a seat.

“Do you want to go for a ride?” Jim asked me behind my back.  I spun around and there was the same guy that complimented me on my driving. 

“Yeah, sounds good,” I answered hoping I didn’t sound too eager.

I was shocked.  It was the first time one of the Negaunee boys took a second look at me, and to think he was actually asking me to go with him for a ride.  I was spellbound and awestruck.

I left Sheila and JoAnn and walked with him to his car.  He had a GTO hardtop.  It was candy-apple red, and Jim had it polished until it was shiny.  The vinyl seat covers were clean and smelled like expensive leather.  Dice and a graduation tassel hung from the rearview mirror, and he had duel Hollywood mufflers sticking out the back making the engine roar. 

I slid in alongside Jim.  He started the motor, and we drove out from the parking lot onto Main Street.  Both Ishpeming and Negaunee teens were standing on the street corner by the Congress, and all eyes were staring at us.  As I said, Jim was popular and Negaunee’s star basketball player, but I was Ishpeming’s wallflower as I didn’t date and was very shy.  Jim rolled all the windows down in his hardtop and jacked up the volume on the radio.  The Beatles’ music blared as they were singing She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah.  She Loves You, Yeah Yeah. 

My classmates gawked at us.  I was thrilled.  Up and down the street, we rounded the corner, and back again.  Jim and I buzzed the gut in that cool, GTO.  I was suddenly the envy of all the teenage girls in town.