Tahlequah Daily Press

February 2, 2013

Cruising: Back when pop bottles bought gasoline

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — I’ve seen the teenagers parked along Downing, hanging out in the lots of businesses whose tolerant owners don’t run them off. They’ll be in groups of three or four, lounging on the hoods of their cars, waving and yelling as their friends roar up and down the four-lane.

That must be the cruise route for Tahlequah kids. But I’m originally a Fort Gibson kid, and we didn’t usually make it over this way when I was in high school. We small-town types headed to Muskogee to mingle with what, in hindsight, was undoubtedly a much rougher crowd (and thus the school mascot, the Roughers).

The cruise route started somewhere on Okmulgee, usually around the Civic Center but no farther east than Main. After sailing west through what was left of the downtown core and through the residential area where a lot of the rich folks lived, you’d hook a left onto 32nd (otherwise known as Highway 69) by what used to be a Safeway store, with its convenient parking lot. Then you’d rumble on south toward McDonald’s, troll through the lot, swing back northward onto 32nd, hang a right onto Okmulgee, and roll east until you found somewhere to turn around and start all over again.

The two stopping points were the Safeway parking lot and McDonald’s. Managers of those joints, aided by bored cops, tried to disperse the kids. We’d leave for a while, and maybe cruise through Honor Heights Park, but we’d always end up back at McDonald’s or the Safeway parking lot – some of us with our shirts on inside-out or, it was rumored, with the odor of Boone’s Farm on our breath.

There was a trick to cruising: the ability to lie to your parents with a straight face. Most fathers did not approve of this activity for their daughters, because they suspected the objective was to be picked up by a boy and spend the entire evening at Honor Heights in the back seat of his car. There could only be one outcome: a pregnant daughter who would dump her baby on its grandparents, while she went back out to cruise. My father was not about to raise a grandkid. If rug rats materialized, their mothers would be “on their own.” Many of my friends heard this same threat. It never seemed to occur to the parents that as long as their teenagers were cruising, the girls could not be engaging in the activity whose byproduct would render them “on their own.”

Cruising took gas money – even in those days, when fuel was 49 cents a gallon. I had a meager allowance, if I did my chores (I usually didn’t), but it was never enough. And my father would have never handed over cash for an activity that could spawn a rug rat – or any other activity, except a church function. So I went to a lot of church functions. That story didn’t wash if I was hanging out for the evening with non-Baptist kids, or Baptist kids who were not known to frequent church functions. We couldn’t steal for our supplement; being Baptist, we knew such behavior would consign us to a place that stank of brimstone, and where we’d never need to worry about the affordability of a fashionable overcoat.

In those days, all soda pop bottles were redeemable – as opposed to kids who cruised Okmulgee and 32nd and wound up “on their own.” But people who cleaned out their vehicles at a car wash often threw away a stray bottle or two, and there were always eight to 10 bottles cast aside at any given wash. So we’d collect them, cruise to Safeway, get the deposits, and fill our tanks. One car wash was usually enough for an evening’s excursion.

As far as winding up at Honor Heights, that usually only happened in my circle of friends when one of us was actually dating someone. Otherwise, there were far better sources of entertainment – like egging cars. Victims could be broken down into two categories: other girls, and boys. A girl victim was always a chick we didn’t like at the moment, usually because she was dating a guy one of our friends wanted to date. The boys were actually divided into two subcategories:  a boy one of us liked but whose attention we couldn’t get except through the application of hen embryos, or a boy we didn’t like, either because he dumped one of our friends or because he was just oblivious to the fact that one of us liked him.

But eggs were expensive, and only used when we had an exceptionalhaul at the car washes. Otherwise, toilet paper had to suffice. We couldn’t score eggs from our parents’ fridges, because if confronted by a suspicious dad, we could think of no plausible reason for taking a carton. Toilet paper, on the other hand, could be explained; sometimes places that hosted church functions used really cheap toilet paper, or one of us had a cold and might need to blow her nose.

The next trick was getting home before curfew. But we’ll reminisce on this issue and more when you join me here next week. For now, I’m out of room – and talking about cruising takes a lot of space.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.