Tahlequah Daily Press

March 15, 2013

Cruising teenagers had their own set of weird rituals

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — My husband and I love mass transit. We’d even rather ride city buses than drive. It’s cheaper, you don’t have to worry about getting smacked by another driver, and you can mindlessly glaze over as someone else navigates through traffic.

That’s a turnabout from our younger days. I can only assume my husband was as anxious to get his own set of wheels as I was. I’ve heard stories about a yellow GTO he had in high school, and how he topped a hill one day to see a mule standing in the middle of the road. The meeting of metal and mule did not end well. The owner of the mule wanted to know what Chris was going to do about the dead mule; Chris asked what the mule owner was going to do about the crumpled GTO.

Back in my day, if you wanted a car, you made do with whatever heap your dad condescended to let you drive. My dad wasn’t about to buy me a car, I got to drive the Comet. Some of you know it as The Vomit. Now, 37 years down the road, my high school chums remember the car in a less flattering light than I do. “That thing had huge holes in the floorboard!” one of my friends insisted recently. I vaguely remember a ragged tear in that little accordion dealie where the gearshift met the floor, and I admit you could see the stripes of the highway as you drove along. But I don’t recall any gaping maws in the floor that might have sucked out a hapless fellow traveler.

What you drove mattered less in those days than where you went and what you did once you got there. And as I’ve said in earlier installments, cruising – that is, driving in a relentless and monotonous pattern, and yelling at your friends in others cars as they passed by – was the name of the game.

One friend – Lisa Smith, the same chick who makes retrospective claims about crateresque holes in floorboards – used to insist that we scratch the ceiling if we went through a yellow light. To this  day, I find myself reaching up to claw the fabric when my husband inadvertently blows through a yellow light. Sometimes I withdraw my arm in abject shame. Lisa and her husband, Jeff, are avid motorcycle riders now, so I wonder what she scratches these days in those no-man’s-land moments between red and green lights. Perhaps their leather jackets?

Another cruising ritual was the so-called “Chinese fire drill.” Popularized among our generation by the movie “American Graffiti,” this involved pulling up to a red light, making a mass exodus from the vehicle, then getting back inside, but in different seats – with a new driver. When we pulled this stunt from the confines of the Comet, I always remained in the driver’s seat, because you never could tell if that thing was in gear, and it might roll on into the intersection and wreak havoc. Besides, as I’ve said before, no one else could drive the contraption – or even wanted to – but me. In hindsight, I have no clue why anyone thought the “fire drill” was amusing. These days, an impatient motorist behind the drill scene would probably brandish an automatic weapon and forcibly remove the hindrance.

Harassing friends who might be getting lucky in a back seat at Honor Heights Park – or in Fort Gibson, along Canyon Road – was another key element to a successful evening. One much-admired classmate of mine had a giant spotlight he used to harry his buddies and their dates. My friends and I weren’t interested in observing lewd gropings; we preferred to elicit screams by crawling up to the car and scratching on it, or throwing pebbles at the back windshield. That would teach them to do things we Baptist kids knew belonged within the bounds of holy matrimony!

This teen trickery came courtesy of an old campfire story. A young couple were making out when they heard, on the radio, about an escaped lunatic with a hook for a hand. Frightened, the boy started the car, peeled out and left. When he arrived at his date’s home and walked around to the passenger side to open the door for her, there, dangling from the handle, was a hook. In college, I actually knew a guy whose hand had been severed in an accident, and he had a mechanical hand. This guy admitted he’d had a great time leaving his “hook” on the door handles of friends, until one angry buddy chunked the hook into a pond. This same friend also liked to go into college bars and freak out the drunken co-eds by putting the end of his arm into his mouth.

There was another peculiar thing we did, which we picked up from those Muskogee boys. Lisa’s little car, with its bucket seats that laid all the way back, was perfect for the gag. She’d lie back, out of sight of other passersby, and whoever was in the passenger seat would reach over with a left arm and maneuver the steering wheel. The double-takes we got from folks in other cars were hilarious, until one day our youth director happened to be in one of the other cars. The fear that he would rat us out to our parents put the kibosh on that clever move.

Ah, the good old days – and I know what you’re thinking. But would you rather have had us sitting in front of the TV, playing violent video games and downloading porn from the Internet? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.