The story so far: After working all day at Sears, and consoling her best friend, Gwen, Allison is ready to blow off some steam. Although she has some trepidation about being at the same party as Brian, the boy she loves (and kissed while he had a girlfriend) and Kate (the girlfriend in question), Allison hopes her night will turn out memorable and, as Gwen described it, “legendary.” The year is 1987.
One thing I discovered about myself when my uncle gave his car is that I like to drive fast. Cuyahoga has all of these subdivisions that are pretty much void of police officers. When I’m out running an errand or coming home from work, I find myself taking those streets and pressing down on the accelerator, usually with the radio turned up really loud. It gives me a feeling similar to what I experience when I’m water skiing or wandering aimlessly through the mall: the ability to forget about everything for a short period of time.
I find myself leaving for places five, ten, sometimes fifteen minutes early just so I can get a little extra driving time. Tonight, I left home to pick up Gwen a full half hour before she was expecting me. But I’m late. I got lost on some back road and had to drive around for ten minutes until I figured out where I was. It was kind of freaky, but also exhilarating. I’m not a huge risk taker, but in the car I feel safe and a little invincible.
Gwen is waiting curbside when I pull up beside her house.
“Let’s go,” she exclaims, jumping into the passenger seat. She immediately commandeers the radio, shoving a cassette into the tape deck. I zip away from her house.
“I made a special mixtape just for tonight.” Gwen says.
“We’re going to a party, why do we need a mixtape?”
“For the ride over, duh.”
I laugh. “Whatever you want, Gwen, as long as it isn’t anything depressing.”
The first song is “Turn to You,” a classic by the Go-Go’s.
“Nice,” I approve.
Gwen and I were huge Go-Go’s fans through 8th grade, before Belinda Carlisle went solo (don’t ask Gwen about that, or you’ll get an earful about Belinda selling out). The Go-Go’s were our gateway to music off the beaten path. Because of them, we began listening to the Clash and the Jam, and eventually the Smiths and R.E.M.
“I call this tape ‘Midnight Journey,’ cause I think we’ll play it when we go to Denny’s tonight.”
“You think we’re going to Denny’s?” I ask.
“A party night is never complete without a Moon Over My Hammy.”
“Of course not,” I laugh.
I turn up the music, and we whiz to the outskirts of Cuyahoga. My cousin, Rick, works at a Dairy Mart located just past the drive-in theater. He told me I could stop in whenever I want beer or something, as long as the coast is clear.
Our families were once close, up until the day my dad was arrested for embezzling money from my uncle’s store. This is my Uncle Harry, Dad’s brother. The two of them used to run my uncle’s butcher shop on the east side.
“I didn’t take any money,” my dad lied. “They’re all out to get me.”
He was right; they were out to get him because he did take the money. Uncle Harry believed Dad until the bookies came asking to be reimbursed; he may never forgive him. Since then, nothing has been the same between our two families. Sometimes it feels like my mom, Teri and I are on an island separated from the rest of the McKenzie clan. I guess that’s one of the reasons I don’t mind driving out here to get beer. Seeing my cousin, Rick, no matter how brief the visit may be, helps me feel connected to the family.
When we enter, Rick is behind the counter. He’s wearing thick, Buddy Holly glasses and a mullet with the sides of his head shaved to the scalp. In the background, the Indians game playing on the radio. Herb Score calling balls and strikes. Rick gives us a slight nod with a glazed look. I’m pretty sure he’s stoned. He’s having a hard time keeping his eyes open.
“Hey, cuz, how’re ya doin’?” Rick asks.
“I’m fine. You?”
“Jes fine.” The word “fine” is stretched out. Yeah, he’s high as a kite.
I look around for any other adults and Rick gives me another nod; it’s cool. Gwen and I head to the rear of the store, grab a twelve pack of beer from the cooler, and carry it up to the counter. Rick smiles when I pass him twenty dollars. He rings us up for three bucks and places the beer in a brown paper bag.
“How’ve you been?” I ask.
“Same as always.”
“Haven’t talked to you in a while. How was spring semester at Cleveland State?”
“They told me not to come back cause my grades were shit.”
“Oh, jeez, Rick, I’m sorry.”
“M’own fault. Too much chillin’, not enough studying. Eh, whatta ya gonna do.”
He takes a sip from a can of Mountain Dew. “Plus, you know, my band’s ready to explode.”
“That sounds, er, promising, Rick. How’s the rest of the family?”
“You know, cuz, same as always. Mom’s still working at that nursing home and Dad’s runnin’ the store. Hey, Ally, you don’t hafta worry ‘bout that shit. We all know it wasn’t anything ta do with you guys.”
“Hey, how’re you? No more, you know, uh…”
“Yeah,” Rick replies.
“I’m doing better, thanks for asking. And hey, thanks for including me on the mailers for your band. One of these days I’ll make it to a gig. I promise.”
“No worries, cuz.”
Rick gives Gwen a look, checkin’ her out. “How you doin’?” he asks.
“Rick, gross, she’s my best friend.”
I grab the bag from the counter.
“Well, we have to go. Thanks a lot, Rick.”
“Later, cuz,” Rick says. “Hey, call me sometime, we’ll take in the drive-in.”
“Sure, I’ll do that,” I reply.
We leave the store and head out to my car. When we get in, Gwen covers the beer with a blanket.
It was great seeing Rick, but I can’t help thinking he’s wasting his life here in Cuyahoga, smoking pot all day and playing bass in a terrible punk band. He was really smart in high school, but he kind of got lost after graduating. I wonder if he got scared, like I sometimes feel. The idea of leaving the cocoon is daunting. But it is a cocoon, and at some point, I’ll have to break out of it. I need to break out of it.
“C’mon, Ally, show me what this thing can do,” Gwen says, fastening her seatbelt.
I start the car. The Cure’s “Why Can’t I Be You” comes on.
“Oh yeah!” I exclaim. I love this song. It makes me want to drive. Fast. Gwen’s right, let’s see what my baby can do.
The back tires spit gravel when I lay on the accelerator. A cloud of dust covers the car as I back out and we take off like a scene from Beverly Hills Cop, speeding back into town. Gwen laughs in excitement and cranks the music. For a brief moment, we’re flying. We’re having such a blast, I don’t notice the police car behind us until he squawks at us to pull over.
Oh crap. Oh no, no, no. Oh man, what have we, son of a, jeez, I can’t get a ticket! My mom will kill me. I… I… I. Have. Beer. Oh. My. God. I have beer. I have beer!
Gwen touches my hand, steadying me.
“It’s okay. Relax, Ally.”
I ease the car to the side of the road and stop the engine. I close my eyes, count back from ten, and roll down the window. A young police officer, in his early-20’s, leans in to speak.
“You know how fast you were going?” he asks.
“Fifty-five?” The lack of confidence in my voice is sickening.
“Try sixty-five. Did ya see the speed limit sign?”
“It’s forty-five. License and registration, miss.”
I fish through my purse and produce my driver’s license. Gwen digs through the glove box and finds the car registration. After handing them to the officer, he straightens to read my license.
The officer removes his sunglasses and looks at me. Oh my God. It’s Mike Garner. He went out with Teri when she was a sophomore. Awesome, not only am I going to get a ticket, but by one of Teri’s ex-boyfriends.
“Ally how are you? Mike Garner, remember?”
“Sure do. So, you’re, um, a police officer.”
Officer Mike Garner shakes his head in disbelief.
“Last time I saw you you were in, what, eighth grade?”
“That would make you a senior now, right?”
“I will be. Next year.”
“Good for you. Still playing soccer?”
“Yeah. We were district champs last year.”
“Way to go! Can, um, I ask how Teri’s doing?”
“She’s well. Going to Kent State.”
“Good. Good. Be sure to tell her I said ‘hi.’ Okay?”
“Will do. She’s, uh, home for the summer, if, you know, you wanted to call. I bet she’d love to hear from you.”
“That so?” Officer Mike Garner shakes my license in the air like you would a Polaroid picture. There’s a long silence while he thinks. Finally, Officer Mike Garner hands me back my license and registration.
“Look, I’m gonna let you off with a warning this time, Ally,” he says. “But slow it down, understand?”
“Yes. Thank you, Mike – I mean, officer.”
He smiles and turns. We sit quietly while Officer Mike Garner returns to his cruiser and drives away.
“That did not just happen,” Gwen says in utter shock.
I start up the car and carefully pull out on to the road. Gwen elbows me to look at her, a stupid smile on her face. The giggles start slowly, and then overtake us. Our laughter carries us the rest of the way to Eric’s house.
Today’s artwork was by Derek Hunter. Derek has a passion for drawing and storytelling that is matched only by his love of Slurpees. Whether it’s through comics, storybooks or as background designer on Cartoon Network’s hit show “Adventure Time”, Derek aims to fill your brain noodles with a unique brand of imagination-filled wonder and excitement! To see more of Derek’s work, visit pirateclub.com
The Go-Go’s’ song, “Turn to You,” is found on their 1984 album, Talk Show.
The Cure’s song, “Why Can’t I Be You,” is found on their 1987 album, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
Read Chapter 15 of Legendary.