Tahlequah Daily Press

February 11, 2013

Mercs, ‘Stangs, Bugs and cruising in Muskogee

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — I was the only one of my friends who had a serious curfew in high school. All of us were good kids. At least at that time, none of us drank alcohol, smoked, cursed, or did too much of anything that would get us “into trouble” – a euphemistic phrase that could cover a variety of sins.

My father was convinced that if teenagers were allowed to loiter outside the family domicile after midnight, “trouble” would ensue. At worst, “trouble” brought the unwelcome title of “grandparent” to someone who had previously been a mere parent; at best, it brought a cop to the door, asking, “Is this drunken sot your child?” None of these developments went over well in the Baptist church.

Parents sometimes have overactive imaginations when it comes to figuring out what their high school kids are doing on a Saturday night. This did not apply in the case of my son, who never went anywhere unless it was to a school-related function that involved the band or some honor society. My friends and I did like to go places, but in hindsight, those places weren’t very exciting – unless you consider the Safeway or McDonald’s parking lot in Muskogee a dream destination.

None of us had any money, although a few of us had cool cars, so “hanging out” was a favorite pastime. The cops called it “loitering,” so they tried to get rid of us, although we were just sitting on the hoods of the cooler cars. It was only when the cops succeeded in running kids out of parking lots that miscreancy erupted. With no place to “hang out” that didn’t include parents, pastors, or business owners or managers who knew our parents or pastors, some of us turned to lobbing eggs or festooning toilet paper in target neighborhoods.

For cruising, we all preferred Diane Stotts’ powder-blue Mercury Montego convertible. Although it occasionally embarrassed her by refusing to start at a crucial moment, that car brought more stares of appreciation and envy than any other. We liked riding with the top down, even in winter. I recall one occasion when she was trying to get me home by curfew, sailing across the Arkansas River Bridge and then roaring up Highway 62 at about 90 mph. The windows were rolled up, it was snowing, and the top was down – but if we stopped to put it up, I would have missed curfew.

The goal of cruising was to see who was hanging out at McDonald’s or Safeway. There was always a chance that guy from Warner, whose name I won’t reveal, would be among the loiterers. On one evening, he was parked in a space at McDonald’s, talking to another guy, when we slowly rolled up. Diane was driving and I was riding shotgun, and another friend was sitting between us. I won’t mention her name, either, because she’s threatened to kill me if I do, but I’ll tell you she had a single hen embryo in her hand. Diane was talking to Mr. Warner, when all of a sudden, the friend in the middle exercised the option to rid herself of the egg. She did so with a gentle, underhanded pitch, and the orb landed on his driver’s side door precisely where the window was affixed. The egg broke on the door edge, and splattered all over Mr. Warner’s nice letter jacket. There was a pause, as Mr. Warner’s eyes widened until they bulged, his face turned scarlet, and he sucked in a lungful of air as he prepared to let loose a stream of invectives. At that instant, Diane stomped the accelerator, the Merc’s tires squalled, and we were off in a puff of smoke. I do not remember if any of us received a dry cleaning bill.

Occasionally the Merc was on the fritz, and if we were lucky, Diane’s brother, Steve, would let her borrow his Mustang Fastback – a bona fide hotrod, and as Steve liked to remind us, not suitable for “girls.” I’m pretty sure Diane preferred it to the convertible, because it was a standard with a stick on the floor, and because she could put it up on the two left wheels when she tore around the corner from Okmulgee onto 32nd. When the ‘Stang first made the scene, it was red, black and white, but Steve had it painted a super-cherry metallic blue with silver and black racing stripes – a car that drew stares from a different crowd than the Merc. One evening we passed Steve and some of his friends in the Safeway parking lot, and we thought we heard him yell something like, “You’d better not be doing anything to my CARRRRRrrrrr....” But we couldn’t be sure, because his voice quickly faded into the background as we blazed on by.

For all its glory, the ‘Stang had what was obliquely referred to as a “battery problem,” and I have no idea what happened to it. I do know what happened to the Merc. Diane’s dad, whose hobby was fixing up cars, traded it in for a green VW Beetle. Although the bug (which at least had a sunroof) was far superior to anything I would ever own, Diane was used to better rides, and this was the ultimate insult. Instead of thundering by and eliciting cheers from adoring crowds, the bug puttered along. It never went very fast, but not for lack of trying. After my sister’s wedding, a few of us tried using the bug for a “chase car.” When the “just married” car with the shaving cream and affixed tin cans shot through a red light, Diane stopped momentarily, then hit the gas to follow. I was in the backseat, rolling open the sunroof so I could stick my head out and yell. When the bug lurched forward, I fell back into the seat, and took the sunroof handle with me.

As a general rule, cruising was pretty cheap - even when it involved something other than hanging out in a parking lot. But we’ll get to that in a later installment.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.