by Terry Hogan

A Mid-summer Night's Dream

It was a routine. It was a right of passage. It was driving down Main Street on a hot Friday night. Around ''The Square'' and then east, ''over the tracks'', and then through the Steak n Shake on east Main, and then back, west on Main Street, heading for the Square. It was any summer Friday night in Galesburg in 1963 or 1964.

It was a metallic blue two-door '55 Chevy with a 283 V-8. Dual glass-pack mufflers made a rumble, but a legal rumble. It had a light-blue shag carpet in the rear window. Centered on the rear window carpet was a replica metallic blue '55 Chevy. It was the product of much blood and sweat and nearly the entire life's savings. But it was mine.

It started off as two-tone light-blue and white Bel Air, for sale for $495 at a used car lot on West Main. '55 Chevys were ''in.'' This one, however, had rust holes the size of Rhode Island over the front fenders and by the rear wheels. The day after this naive 16-year-old bought the car, the battery went dead. Two weeks later, the transmission went out. If there is a hell, there must be a special place for used car salesmen who take advantage of 16-year-olds.

After hundreds of hours of sanding, puttying, priming, and removing about 50 pounds of excess chrome, it became a metallic blue Chevy with at least a minor attitude. It had a 7-inch reach speaker on the window deck. (Top of the line before FM, before car stereos, before CDs and before speakers that inflict sudden hearing loss). There is nothing like the investment of one's life savings and a lot of do-it-yourself work to make one proud, and careful of his car. First cars are like first loves-- full of mistakes, full of adventures, and not soon forgotten.

Of course, any male over the age of 40 can recall the importance of mobility and particularly mobility in a decent car. This particularly Chevy looked better than it ran. It wasn't for the drag strip. It was for Main Street. It looked good to my contemporaries but I am not so sure how it looked to the father of ''the date.''

The Square and the Steak n Shake were the unofficial ends of the tour. The Square made both for an easy change of direction as well as being the home of the Peppermint Lounge. The alleged place to dance was dark, crowded and noisy. Some danced. It had probably about three times as many kids on the sidewalk than inside. As they say, it was a place to see and be seen.

Galesburg's finest would come by from time to time to hassle kids on the sidewalk, threatening to ''take them in,'' usually claiming loitering. To my knowledge, nobody was escorted off to the station. Some of the kids were outside trying to cool off. Some never found it worth the entrance fee to go inside the Peppermint Lounge so they hung around the outside.

This was about as good as it got. High school wasn't too demanding. College and the threat of Vietnam were too far away. Friday nights were still ''big time'' in Galesburg. Galesburg would pull the lads in from Knoxville, Abingdon, and even Appleton Corner. Kids were known by their cars and by who was sitting next to the driver. If a particular car was missing from the circuit on a Friday night, it was probably at the drive-in, or a distant second choice-- parked near the Orpheum.

On rare occasions, a couple of the cars would pair up and go water ballooning on the country roads. This sport was simply to drive slowly with lights off or just with parking lights, looking for parked cars with windows down and no heads visible. The cars would pull up, one after another, and lob several water balloons through the open windows. Lights would then come on and dust was made to put several miles on the wet and annoyed driver. Of course there was almost always at least one guy in the back seat who would break his balloon before getting it out of the car. This was funny to everyone except the driver of the car.

On most Sunday afternoons, the Chevy would make two round trips from Lake Bracken to Galesburg to pick up a date for the afternoon at ''The Clubhouse'' and the Sunday evening outdoor movie. Swimming, boating, and generally hanging about was the nature of the afternoon. The movies were old and forgettable, but often were ''Ma and Pa Kettle at theŠ'' Young kids would search through the rows of wooden outdoor benches, picking up coke bottles that had a 2¢ return value. I learned evolution, sitting with my date, watching the movie. Not too many years earlier, I was scurrying around looking for those 2¢ bottles. It took a lot of bottles to help pay for the old Chevy.

Alan Grupe was my best friend. He often teamed up on these outings. He also lived at Lake Bracken and for a while was less mobile, lacking his own car. He finely inherited an old black car that had a vacuum shift three-speed transmission. It was like the cars that Al Capone's gangsters drove on TV. It was so out of style that it was unique and therefore quite presentable on Main Street.

One summer's night, we drove to Galesburg and pick up a couple of pizzas and then drove back to Lake Bracken. We transferred the cargo, along with soft drinks, to a boat and headed for Camp Shaubena. We knew a number of the girls who were working there as camp counselors. We had seen them on the lake in canoes and made arrangements to meet them in the woods after dark, after the little kids were safely put to bed. We parked the boat and unloaded the pizza, a blanket, and the cokes and headed up into the woods. This area was strictly ''off limits'' to non-camp members, but we figured the risks were low, the fun potential was high. The girls showed up and we began our late night pizza picnic. We had hardly made a dent in the food and drink when the woods became a blaze of flashlights. We were caught with the goods. Al and I were kicked off the property and the girls were sent to their cabins with threats of reports to parents.

Of course, no harm came to anyone. At the time, I was a little worried. But with hindsight, I suspect that those old folks who ''caught us pizza-handed'' probably were recalling some of their own escapades of a few decades passed. We probably provided their evening's amusement-- and the cost of our own.

Time passes. We become older, more responsible, and act in the many different roles that life assigns to us-- spouse, father, grandfather, son, brother, boss, employee, and representative of this or that. We stop, pause and reflect. Was that really us? Were we really that young? Was it so long ago?

Perhaps it was a midsummer night's dream.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online September 22, 1999

Back to The Zephyr