Galesburg, Illinois, Summer 1983
Well, that sure didn’t last long. Just two days after high school graduation, I’d be off studying geology at Colorado College. An entire summer spent searching for fossilized dinosaur crap. I stared out the kitchen window at my ancient piss-yellow 72 Pontiac Ventura. No more driving the strip, either. Last summer Nate and I cruised the three-mile stretch of road that ran from McDonald’s on Henderson Street to McDonald’s on Main Street nearly every weekend. Probably the only thing I’ll miss about this hell-hole of a town. Nothing like cruising, talking with friends, listening to music, and hoping to get home without an STD.
Now it was over. Well, except for tonight, of course. Outside, dusk descended from a cloudless sky and without a trace of hog feces in the air. Ideal conditions for a trip down the highway of adolescence and a chance to close out a sentence in corn purgatory.
So, time for one last ride, but not alone. I have to get Nate to ride along. I dialed his number. As it rang, I debated whether to tell him this was probably our last time together. Should I say something? Nah, why ruin the moment?
“What are you doing tonight?”
“The hell you say, enjoy the crabs.”
I continued, “I’m wanting to hit the strip. You up for that?”
“Sure, meet me at the Henderson Mickey D’s in twenty minutes.”
After Dad made his hourly trip to the John, I slipped out and cranked up my crappy vehicle. Within half an hour, I pulled into MickeyD’s parking lot.
Nate leaned against the brick corner of the restaurant. “You’re late,” he said with a yawn.
Damn, he was regular as clockwork. Probably even planned his shits. Not sure where punctuality came from. Perhaps his old man, a Marine vet. “A few minutes. Couldn’t be helped. Went to score some cigs at Seven-Eleven.” I dug the pack out, tapped it a few times, and put a cigarette to my lips.
“Cool,” Nate said, climbing into the car. “Can I have one?”
“Sure,” I said, offering him the pack. He slid a cig out. I pulled out my lighter and lit up. “So, I haven’t seen you in a while. What gives?”
“Been busy,” he said, taking my lighter and firing up.
“Doing what?” Other than school, what else could there be?
He took a drag on his cig, then glanced away. “Mom’s been pulling double shifts. She doesn’t have time to get stuff done at home. So I’m doing what I can.”
I guess with his dad gone, life at home must have gotten tight. Maybe I should change the subject. “So you’re alone a lot. Have you at least done the honorable thing and married your hand?”
“You’re such a dickhead,” Nate said with a grin. He raised his eyebrows. “If you must know, I’ve been dating.”
Oh, this is going to be fun. “A girl?”
He rolled his eyes. “No, a chihuahua — what do you think?”
“Far be it from me to cast rocks at interspecies romance.”
He punched me in the arm. I winced. Bastard, that kind of hurt.
“Oh, shut up. You want to hear about it or not?”
Yeah, but you’re not getting off that easy. “Is she domesticated or feral?”
Nate gritted his teeth. “Yah done?”
As much as I enjoyed annoying the shit out of him, I knew when to quit. I nodded.
“Met her down at Alphonos’ Pizza during spring break. We went on a few dates until a couple of weeks ago.”
“Nice. What are you two doing now?”
He took a long drag on his cigarette. “I haven’t been able to reach her since my dad’s old car broke down.”
Uh oh. Some girls only dated guys because they had cars. I’d escaped from one of those during Christmas break. “Yeah, sometimes they’re like that.”
No sense spitting in his Coke. “Oh, uh, hard to reach, you know.”
Nate sat back and blew smoke at the ceiling. “Yeah, she was a fox, though.” He turned to me. “So, what’s the plan tonight?”
“Oh, a trip around the Strip. For old-time’s sake. What time you got to be back?”
“Mom is at work. She won’t be home till after midnight.”
“Car needs to be back before eleven. The oldsters go apeshit if I’m later than that. Must think I’d drive off to Canada.”
“Gotcha. Let’s go.”
The car coughed and sputtered, but on the third try, it roared to life.
“Must be nice having a car.”
“Not really mine, something Dad found so he didn’t have to haul my ass to swim practice every morning, but hey, it runs most of the time and he pays for the insurance.” I pulled out of the parking spot and started to angle behind the restaurant.
“Hey,” Nate perked up. “Go through the drive-through. Need me some fries.”
“Okay, but it’s on you. I’m tapped out after cigs and gas.”
“That’s cool,” he said, digging into his pockets.
I slipped into the drive-through lane and pulled up behind an Impala idling next to the speaker.
Nate produced a handful of change. “Think that’s enough?”
“Probably not.” I pulled a couple quarters from the ashtray and handed it to him. “You owe me three.”
He smiled and took a drag on his cig. “I heard Maytag is getting ready to close down. Heading to Mexico.”
“Hasta la vista, Yankee,” I answered. “Did you hear the idiots in city hall are going to build a prison?”
“Yeah, I heard. The town is already a fucking prison. What would be the difference?”
“I hear the sex is better.”
Nate choked briefly on his cig smoke.
I tossed the ashes from mine out the window. “I suppose the prison will create a few jobs, but not enough to make a difference.”
“You know that minimum security label is a load of bullshit. They’ll upgrade it and stuff it full of murderers since there isn’t anything around except old people and welfare munchers. Next thing you know, we’ll be a prison town.”
“Sounds like a deal elected dumbasses would jump at.”
The car in front of us moved on, so I pulled up to the speaker. A scratchy voice clawed through it, “May I take your order?”
“Unless you’re buying, yeah.”
“Ha, pull around.”
I did. I knew the kid in the drive-up window but couldn’t remember his name, at least until I saw his name tag, which read ‘Chip.’ Oh yeah, from the YMCA swim team a few years back. He was probably sixteen or seventeen with a face full of painful-looking acne. At least it blended in with his red and white striped uniform. Guess chlorine is no replacement for Clearasil.
“Hi, Pete.” He leaned out the drive-up window, took my money, counted it, and disappeared inside.
Guess he remembered me. Then I remembered something else about Chip.
Nate grimaced. “Fucking hell, do they require a face full of zits to work here?” he whispered.
“No, it’s just one of the perks,” I answered. “Speaking of which, if you want to work here, have your mom give the manager a BJ. That’s how Chip got hired.”
“What? Are you shitting me?”
“My friend George Duncan walked in on it. Guess job experience comes in many forms.”
Nate and I laughed as Chip returned with our order in a small bag.
He flashed a weak smile but handed the bag to us. “Here you go, have a great night.”
Nate took a handful of fries, stood them up, and then ran them in and out of his mouth while making slurping noises.
Chip flashed him a confused look.
Nate pulled the fries from his mouth. “Say hi to your mom for me.”
Oh, man. I floored the car and shot out of the drive-through into the street. “Holy shit, that was raw.”
Nate just laughed. We raced down Henderson past the adult bookstore.