In August, 1962, my friend Cindy and I spent the day at the annual county fair. Although she lived next door, she'd spent the night at my house so we could start the day together.
We got up early that morning, excited about seeing the animals, playing the games, and maybe meeting some of the farmer boys from other school districts. After scarfing down a breakfast of corn flakes and milk, forced on us by my mother, we headed for the drug store on Main Street, where we bought bus tickets for a quarter and waited for the Greyhound to pull up in front and pick us up.
The bus took passengers to the city every hour on the hour, stopping at each hamlet along the way. The ritual was always the same – Don the bus driver would pull up in front of Stierley's Emporium, open the big double doors, and stand at the entrance, punching tickets for whoever climbed aboard. Sometimes he was early and he took time to grab a ginger ale at the soda fountain. This particular day he was right on time, so he punched our tickets and we were off.
The fairgrounds were halfway between our small town and the city, only about five miles, but Cindy and I didn't want to walk there and get overheated and sweaty. Fifteen-year-old girls had to look their best, just in case.
It was especially hot that year, and it hadn't rained in weeks. The fairgrounds were dusty and we began to perspire, beads of sweat dripping down our faces. By mid-afternoon we were dirty and droopy, and there were only so many cows you could look at or baby piglets to smile over. It was so hot that day that the chickens began to get sick, and their owners, concerned 4-H'ers, dunked them in pails of cool water to keep them alive.
We watched the day's horse show until it ended, and then we went to the Milk Bar and got burgers and milkshakes. By four o'clock we'd spent all our money and were exhausted, and we knew we had to walk the five miles home. We hadn't bought round-trip tickets, wanting to save our quarters for the fair, and at nine in the morning you think you can walk home later with no problem. When the time comes, however, it's a different story.
We began to walk, each wishing one of us had saved a dime so we could have called one of our parents to come and get us. In the beginning the walking was easy, because it was all down hill. After about two miles, however, the sun beat down on us and we were burning up. Our once-crisp long-sleeved white blouses became limp dirt-streaked shirts, and our seersucker Jamaica shorts felt like they were made out of wool.
As we walked along, we began hearing music blaring from a car radio, getting louder every second. It didn't take long for the car to pull up next to us. My mouth dropped open in awe. There it was – my favorite car – a white '58 Chevy convertible driven by a cool-looking guy with a D.A. haircut that hadn't become messed up at all, even though the top was down. I noticed a pack of Camels rolled up inside his T-shirt sleeve. He looked old – like he was about 18.
"You girls need a ride?" he asked.
"Yes!" I said, but at the same time Cindy was saying "No."
I turned to her. "Come on, it's hot, and we only have a few miles to go. And look at this car!"
Always the realist, Cindy said, "Never take rides with strangers. You never know what could happen."
I finally won her over. "What could happen? There's two of us and one of him. How could anything happen? If you don't want to go, that's fine, but I'm going."
I opened the door and climbed into the back seat. I knew it was breezier in the back seat after riding many times in my cousin's convertible. My hair was wrecked anyway, so I didn't care.
Cindy followed my lead, plopping onto the back seat. She glared at me with teeth clenched. "You make me so mad!"
I laughed. She sounded funny talking through her teeth. She was such a worrier. As far as I was concerned, another adventure had begun.
"How far you going?" the guy asked.
"Just to Newfane. You can drop us off at Stierley's," I said.
The words had barely come out of my mouth when he gunned the engine and we were off. Within seconds we were racing along, and when I looked over the guy's shoulder I saw that the speedometer read ninety-five.
I took a quick peek at Cindy. I think she was praying. Or crying. It was difficult to tell.
"I think you can slow down a little bit," I screamed in the guy's ear.
"What?" he yelled back over his shoulder.
"Slow down, we're going to die," Cindy screamed.
He laughed and kept on speeding.
"I told you this was a dumb idea," Cindy yelled at me. "We're going to get killed. This guy is a maniac."
I have to admit I was more than a little scared myself, so I told him to let us out at the next corner. I had to yell it twice before he heard me.
"I thought you wanted to go to Stierley's," he shouted.
"We changed our minds. We'll cut cross lots. It's the same distance," I lied.
As he rounded the bend, we could see Castle's Dairy Bar ahead. It was on the corner right outside of town.
He slammed his foot on the brake, and the car fishtailed as it slowed down.
Cindy jumped out quickly. Her lower lip was trembling.
"Thanks," I said cheerily.
"Hope I didn't scare the jeans off you girls," the guy said.
I closed the door. "No, it was fun."
I giggled, and then he was off in a shot, stones flying everywhere as he sped away.
I turned to Cindy. "See? We're still alive," I said.
"Did you hear what he said? We should have him arrested," Cindy shouted, her eyes black with rage.
"What? I didn't notice anything bad."
"He said we should lose our genes. That's disgusting. How dare he talk about our bodies like that."
At first I was confused, and then I realized what she was saying. I started to laugh. "He said jeans, like in blue jeans. Like scare the pants off of us. Not our body genes. You are too much into biology. Why would he say g-e-n-e's?" I asked, spelling it out.
Cindy didn't speak to me the rest of the way home. She called me the next day to tell me she would never speak to me again. And she didn't – not even twenty years later at our class reunion. It was the end of a childhood friendship.
I never took a ride with another stranger, but I never gave Cindy the satisfaction of knowing that.
Now and then I visit a classic car show, and the 58 Chevies still bring back memories of a crazy and innocent time.
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