Escaping the Strip (Part 4/The End)

Escaping the Strip (Part 3)

“You ever wonder where you’ll be in five years?”

“With my study habits, probably still in college.”

“Studying what? What do you want to be doing for a living?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. ‘Going to college’ had always been my stock answer, but why I was going to college wasn’t very well formed. “Let’s see. Can’t really write or pass a calculus class to save my soul. No skill in working with my hands. Pretty much useless for anything that requires talent. Wait. I know–I’ll be a politician.”

“Har, har,” Nate chimed back to me.

“How about you?”

He was dead silent until we crossed the railroad tracks.

“I’ve got no job, experience, college, car, or girlfriend. I might as well be dead.”

“Hey, stop that talk.” An epiphany slithered through my mind. “Say, after I leave for college, my dad will need someone to help him maintain his rentals and to keep from killing himself with electricity. If you can tolerate working with someone deaf and clumsy, you’ll fit right in. Plus, he pays decently.”

“Sounds good, but should I get my hopes up?”

“I’d say your chances are pretty even. Because your dad was a veteran, he’ll probably like you.” More than he ever did me, anyway. “I promise to talk you up to him. What do you think?”

“Would I need a car?”

“Nah, he likes to drive, though. With his bad hearing, it sometimes gets more exciting than it should.” I turned onto Henderson.

“All right, I like that idea. Can we listen to some more music?”


Nate grabbed the radio tuner and twisted it. Tom Petty’s ‘Refugee’ came on. We sang the chorus together. But by the time the song ended, Nate had slumped down in the seat and stared out the window.

The Henderson MickeyD’s came into sight. Nate asked, “Can you drop me off at home? I’m kind of tired.”

“Okay.” I sailed passed the restaurant and made a turn onto Fremont. About a mile down the road, I turned left into his driveway. Gravel crunched under the tires as we moved closer to his small home. All the windows were dark, but the porch light flickered, giving him enough light to get to his front door. We sat there staring at his house.

In low voice, Nate asked, “Ever feel like you keep going around in circles, never getting anywhere but spending all your time doing it?”

“Yeah, sometimes, but time moves on.”

“Time makes no difference when you’re in jail. I wish I could escape this town.”

How do I answer that? I was going somewhere, and he wasn’t. Hardly seemed fair, but there it was.

“When are you leaving for Colorado?” Nate asked in a low tone.

“Two days.”

“Man, that sucks. We just graduated. Don’t you get to enjoy the summer?”

“No, of course not. They want me gone.”


“They’d sell me to the circus if they could.”

Nate chuckled, but then his face fell. “When are you coming back?”

Should I be honest or feed him some bullshit? Better keep it real. “If I can help it, never.”

Nate sighed but then opened the car door and stepped out. “Never is a long time.”

“I know, but if I don’t leave, I might never get away.”

Nate and I locked eyes on each other. Left unsaid was the thought, Like me, you mean.

“Good luck Pete. Don’t forget to mention me to your dad.”

“I’ll talk to him. Take care of yourself.”

He turned and walked toward the house. The car coughed and sputtered but eventually started, and I backed out of the driveway into the road. In the rearview mirror, Nate, with one foot on the porch step, stood staring up into the night sky. I shifted into drive and pulled away.

Goodbye, Nate.

Escaping the Strip (Part 3)

Escaping the Strip (Part 2)

Another set of crossing gates appeared, and the lights were flashing once again. A slow Santa Fe freight creaked across the iron rails.

“Say, you still going out with Hanna?”

“Uh.” His query threw me off. I’d not thought of her since the prom, which made me a bit sad for some reason. We never really dated. Rather we often did the same activities, like dancing and swimming. I knew her, she knew me, and when prom rolled around, which I hadn’t considered going to, she showed up and asked me to it. A bit irregular, but hell, why not? I never had the hots for her, though. Still, she was a nice girl. Probably too sweet and smart to be dating a skunk like me. “No, she’s getting ready for MIT in the fall.”

“Cool.” Nate flicked the remains of his cig out the window. “Say, I saw Ricky the other day. He was kinda mad about Darleen, and when I asked why, he said I should ask you. What gives?”

Oh, I knew all right, but I wasn’t going to say anything. “Oh, uh, we just had a … a misunderstanding about Darleen. Nothing serious.”

He looked at me sidelong. “He seemed pretty pissed. I’d avoid him if I were you.”

That was good advice since Ricky looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s little brother, and I weighed about 150 pounds. “That’s the plan, and just for the record, I’m avoiding Darleen too.”

“I’d sure like to know what happened with you and Darleen.”

“Ah well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Nate chuckled. “I’ll spare you being someone’s prison bitch.”

“My ass thanks you,” I said with a smile.

Up ahead, MickeyD’s on Main appeared. That was the halfway point for the Strip. Then you had to turn around and make it back to Henderson Street MickeyD’s. I pulled into the lot and passed the parked cars toward the drive-through area.

“Hey,” Nate said, shooting upright. “Park here. I see Tammy.” He slapped my arm incessantly.

“Cut it out.” Tammy? Tammy who? Nevertheless, I pulled into a spot.

Nate leaned out the window. He began yelling at a car with two girls in it. “Tammy. Hey. Tammy.” One of the girls turned to look at us, but it was hard to see what she looked like.

I turned off the engine. “Who the hell is Tammy?” As I said this, it occurred that I was familiar with a Tammy, but it couldn’t be the same–oh shit.

A familiar face appeared outside Nate’s window. Long, straight auburn hair framed soft brown eyes and a pair of deliciously red lips. She wore a Rolling Stones graphic tee with the tongue logo. It was tied just under her ample breasts, revealing her midriff.

Nate grinned from one ear to the other. “This is Tammy Bronson. She’s the girl I told you about.” He turned to the girl. “Tammy, this is–”

“Hi, Pete,” Tammy said, pursing her lips at me. “Nice to see you again.”

Nate’s eyes widened. “You know each other? What the hell?”

“Small world, apparently,” I said weakly. Because the god of chance is a mean-spirited shit, another voice emerged from my left, as did a hand on my shoulder.

“Hey, Pete,” Darleen said, running her fingers down my arm.

It was a small town too.

Wearing a halter top and short shorts, she leaned forward, giving me an unwanted view of her cleavage. Brushing back her black feathered hair, she snapped her gum. “Funny running into you here. The last time we saw each other, you had no pants on.”

Oh, for the love of God, just shoot me.

Nate did a double-take. “Did you date Tammy AND sleep with Darleen?”

“Oh, there wasn’t any sleeping,” Darleen offered unhelpfully.

“Pete and I went out a few times before I met you,” Tammy said to Nate, before looking at me. “But nothing happened.”

That was true because her mom came home early, and my pants had stayed on. I looked at Nate. “That’s true.”

Nate narrowed his eyes at me but then turned to Tammy. “We need to talk.”

“Okay,” she said, then gave me the stink eye. He opened the door, took her by the arm, and walked to one of the nearby picnic tables.

That left me with Darleen. Hot breath stroked my ear. “I think about that night all the time,” she whispered.

“Okay, we have to talk too.”

She ran a hand down the front of my shirt. “Can I sit on your lap while we talk?”

“Uh, no.” I tried to scrape together my wits. “Here’s the thing. We can’t see each other, EVER.”

“Why not?”

“First of all, you’re the girlfriend of one of my best friends, and secondly, you are seventeen. The first you didn’t tell me, and the second you lied about.”

“Oh, Ricky knows now, and besides, I’m on the pill.”

Yeah, that’ll convince the judge not to jail me for statutory rape.

The passenger door opened, and Nate flopped into the seat. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

So Nate was having as much fun as I was. “Darleen, I have to go.” She leaned in before I could stop her and stuck a tongue in my ear. I twisted the ignition key so hard I thought it might break, but for once, the old hunk of junk started. Slamming into reverse, I goosed the accelerator and hoped to God that no one was behind me. Darleen jerked back to avoid losing her head. In seconds, I circled behind the building and shot back onto Main Street.

All this time, Nate glared out the window and was silent.

Guess I’ll have to kick the rock over. “How did it go with Tammy?”

He sighed. “She dumped me. Said we couldn’t date anymore because she was going to college in the fall. I don’t get it.”

“Let me clue you in. She only dates guys that have cars. If you can’t haul her ass anywhere, she wants nothing to do with you. When I was going out with her, she always asked for rides and wanted me to buy stuff. When I refused, she made up that lame ‘I’m going to college’ excuse.”

“That’s sick.”

I nodded, but I didn’t add that she let me feel her up in return for some of the rides.

“I can’t believe you slept with Darleen. You’re a perv.”

Fuck you, Nate. “I didn’t know.”

He stayed silent again until we passed the ‘square.’

Escaping the Strip (Part 4/The End)

Escaping the Strip (Part 2)

Escaping the Strip (Part 1)

“How about some music?” Nate asked. I nodded. He grabbed the radio tuner and began twisting it, ‘What a feeling’ by Irene Cara came on.

I shook my head. “Oh man, find something else other than that pop crap.”

Nate twisted the nob until Bob Seger’s ‘Night Moves’ came out of the speakers.

“Now you’re talking. Leave it there,” I said.

We listened to the tune until nearing the laundromat near Henderson and Main.

“What are you doing this summer?”

“Summer course at Colorado College then Western Illinois in the fall.” It had all been planned for me, but not by me. I had to go to college, that much was certain. Everyone else in the family had gone, so I would too. Was it something I wanted? I was less certain of that, but lacking alternatives, what else was there?

The silence stretched between us as I made the turn from Henderson onto Main. The dim glow of Galesburg’s downtown area rose before us beyond one of the many sets of railroad tracks. The rail crossing lights started flashing, and the crossing guards came down. I eased to a stop as the mournful wail of the railroad train emerged from a distance.

“You gonna miss the Burg?”

“Like a case of syphilis,” I shot back. Miss the town, oh hell no. What was there to miss?

“How about your parents?”

“Them? Not sure. Mom, yes, but Dad?” The old man would be relieved, finally rid of the last of his birth control malfunctions. Then he could go back to doing whatever he wanted and hang around those he liked. “How about you?”

“The town? No, this place is a canker sore of dead-end opportunities and smothered dreams.”

“Damn, that should be on the sign coming into town.” I paused thinking back on what he’d asked me. “Say, what about your mom?”

“What about her?”

“Are you going to miss her?”

Nate stared out the window as the Burlington Northern train roared past. Then he said something I couldn’t hear.

“What?” I asked, turning off the radio.

He had to raise his voice, “She’d be lonely if I left.”

“Thought she was dating that guy … what’s his name … Eric.”

“Nah, he stole her pain meds and ran off.”

“Jesus, she’s got quite the luck with men.”

Nate’s face fell like I’d just kicked him in the stomach. The train finished passing and let off another anguished moan before disappearing into the darkness. “Wish Dad hadn’t died,” he muttered.

The crossing gates rose, and I eased over the tracks. After sailing around the “square,” which some wag at city planning had designed as a circular roundabout, we soon entered the downtown area. Empty closed up storefronts greeted us. No one walked the streets except for bums stumbling into or out of the numerous bars in the area.

A wave of regret passed over me. I shouldn’t have said anything about his mom. It always led to this. Time to change the subject. “Where are you going to college?”

Nate cringed, then shook his head.

Oh damn. It never occurred to me he wouldn’t go. Can’t be about grades; he’s smarter than I am. It has to be money.

“Why not at least do Sandbox,” I said, using the nickname of the local community college, Carl Sandburg College. “They’re pretty cheap.”

“When Dad died, he left nothing behind except cash stuffed in a metal ammo box in the closet. That all went to bury him. We have no savings.”

“How about a student loan? That might help.”

“Maybe, but then I’d have to pay off the debt. If I can’t find a job, I’m screwed.”

“Do nothing, and you’ll be screwed anyway.”

“Suppose you’re right. Typical Galesburg – your choice of how to get sodomized. But for now, I’m trying for anything that will pay.”

“I hear male prostitution pays well.”

He squinted but replied, “Well, you would know.”

I laughed. “Got something lined up?”

“I put in an application at Farm Pride, but you know how that goes … no experience – no job, no job – no experience.”

Yeah, I sure could understand. Jobs were few and far between, getting one involved with a fair amount of luck or nepotism. But poor Nate didn’t have either. I had the latter. The old man owned some rental units and paid me to patch holes after men shoved their girlfriend’s heads through the drywall and to rip up carpeting where tenants had been crapping in the living room.

“You could mow lawns,” I offered and instantly regretted how stupid it sounded.

He guffawed. “Until winter, then what? Shovel snow? There’s got to be something else I can do.”

“How about the military? They’re always looking for people.”

“Be all I can be for our dickhead government. Now that sounds like a great plan.”

“Travel the world, meet exotic people and kill them. All in the name of freedom. It’s the American way.”

Nate chuckled. “Now you’re just being a jerk. How about we join together?”

“Oh hell no. My old man was career military, never around until he retired, then didn’t want anything to do with the family.”

“Kind of fucked him up, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, that and Vietnam,” I said.

“At least we’re not there anymore. Of course, now you just have to watch out for Reagan’s dick wagging in Lebanon.”

“That worked out well. Got a bunch of our Marines blown up in Beirut, didn’t he?”

Nate cocked his head and rolled his eyes. “But he was sorry, so it’s okay.”

“The apologizer in chief. Who says those Hollywood acting classes didn’t pay off?”

I flicked on the radio again. Jackson Browne’s ‘Somebody’s Baby’ came on.

“Love this song,” Nate commented.

Too sweet for me. My inner cynic hummed the lyrics to Foreigner’s ‘Cold As Ice.’ “You’re a hopeless romantic.”

“Guilty as charged.”

Escaping the Strip (Part 3)