Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Driving Lessons

I was supposed to have closed Mick's Music & Bar by now. Sold it. Run off to Canún, joined the circus or something. That's all still in the plan, but there has been a postponement. It's like having a lovely classic car for sale, and you sell it, but the new owner doesn't pick it up for a few weeks, and you still have it, and do you drive it?

Well, heck yeah.

So we decided to host some special shows, because it's what we love. They'll pop up like daisies while we take the old girl for one more spin.

Rachel had a classic car when she was sixteen. She was a waitress and I was a 14-year-old busboy at the same Fancy Restaurant in Western Nebraska, so fancy you'd wear your good boots and take off your hat. Rachel often gave me a ride home, and I'd beg her to let me drive, turning the five-minute lift into a half-hour adventure, growling loosely over gravel roads. Her car had a horn that was a chrome bar curved inside the steering wheel like a big honking smile. The manual shifter looked like an oversized turn signal attached to the steering column, skinny as my arms. The silver grill matched my smile: wide and crooked.

We'd often stop to talk, at one of the sand pit lakes or an abandoned parking lot. One night she decided to teach me how to kiss. We puckered up tight as a fist, and just as I was getting used to the idea of mouths touching, she stuck out her tongue. It was as startling as having a mouse poke its head out of your cannoli. Sexy as a Pla-Doh factory. For a long time I didn't feel the desire to practice again.

But if nothing else, she taught me how to drive. At fifteen my dad thought I was a prodigious student driver, and I let him because it felt better than him thinking I was a sneak. Maybe he was just proud of me for being able to keep a secret. Regardless, fifteen minutes after I turned 16 I had my driver's license, and I never saw Rachel again.

I think she moved or something. People come and go when you're a kid. I remember her scratchy polyester waitress uniform as well as my too-loose, too-short bus-boy vest, with its pocket full of crouton crumbs. I remember the musty smell of her old car, the skinny-hard feel of the battleship-gray steering wheel, and the squeak of the bench seat as you crept across to the other side. Windows on old cars fog more.

I like the way the windows at Mick's fog in the winter, when it's full of nice warm people. We're going to take her for a few more spins while we can. Clink some glasses. We might have a show, we might not, but we'll be there for a few more nights anyway, just having fun until things change again and everybody moves on.

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