Chapter Two: Growing Up

Don’t start here! Read Chapter 1 first.

In the spring of 1980, I turned 16 and wasted no time getting my driver’s license. In fact, I took the written test as early as I could (a month before my sixteenth birthday).

There are only two things I remember about the skills test.

First, the physical size of the cop who administered the test and how uncomfortable he looked riding shotgun in a 1974 VW Beetle. He was at least six-and-a-half feet tall, 250 pounds and filled the available space from the firewall to the dashboard to the roof. The other thing I remember was his attitude and general lack of instruction.

I was doing fine and pulled into the parking space without hitting the curb and was close enough to meet the requirements. The cop opened the door to see the curb, closed it and said ‘now do a three-point turn’. I was deep into the stall and would obviously have to start out by backing up.

Because it is my nature to be precise and follow instructions to the letter, I asked if he wanted me to back straight up first and then turn around or start the turn by backing up. He said nothing. I started to explain why I was confused and he stopped me by tapping his rather large index finger against his clipboard and saying ‘It says here you have to do a three-point turn. If you can’t do a three-point turn, you don’t pass the test’. Well, that pissed me off so I threw the bug into reverse and pulled off an angry, abrupt, but perfect three-point turn. That was the end of the test except for two right turns to exit the course. At the end of the course he just said, ‘OK, right here’. So I pulled into a parking space on my left. He was angry and threatened to fail me because I crossed the yellow line that defined entry and exit into the course. I don’t remember whether I said this or just thought it, but one ought not stop in the middle of the street either (asshole).

Not knowing whether I passed or failed, I had to wait for the results from a different officer (I never saw the big cop again). I guess he relented because he passed me.

My father, who witnessed all this from his vantage point behind the barracks and above the course later said, ‘You did well and really looked like you knew what you were doing on that three-point turn. You didn’t hesitate at all’.

So there I was. Sixteen, driving my parents’ 1974 VW Sun Bug unsupervised in my summer of love (1980). I remember it as a magical time of late mornings, endless summer days at the swim club and nights working at the drive-in. I had everything; a car, a job, hair, a waist, and good friends.

Working at the drive-in had its perks too: For one, I worked nights so even though I was only 16, I carried a note from my boss that allowed me to drive after midnight although I never had to use it. I had a variety of jobs at the drive-in like selling tickets at the box office (I was the one in coveralls running back and forth between the cars and the ticket window), changing the marquis or working in the snack bar. But there were other, less glamorous jobs too. If it rained, I had to keep the restrooms and hallways from filling up with the water cascading down the sloped field and of course there was a lot of painting to do. (I still remember the official colors were ‘turquoise’ and ‘shrimp’.) But the worst job was recycling the old pole-mounted speakers in the field. This was the era when drive-ins were starting to transmit the movie soundtrack directly to the cars’ FM radios. Removing and boxing the speakers wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was learning that the caps on the tops of the poles that protected the wires were highly desirable wasp nesting sites. Opening one of those puppies was always a game of Russian roulette.

On movie nights, we’d close the snack bar about halfway through the second movie and clean up. Sometimes we’d have enough time to sit and watch some of the second movie which ended around midnight. After that, we’d restart the first film and run one or two reels depending on how many cars were still there. Generally, we’d be off the clock by 1:00 am and free to go home…we almost never went straight home after work. No, usually we’d hit an all-night diner or go to someone’s house. I’d usually get back to my parents’ house between 3:00 am and 4:00 am.

Like many teenagers in America, this is when I had my first ‘adult’ relationship. Also like many American teenagers, I was ill-equipped to handle it. I lacked the social and emotional maturity necessary for a stable relationship, but on the up-side, I wrote a lot of songs about that relationship. (More about that later. I wonder whatever happened to her….)

There were other things going on that occupied my time too. I touched on my academic program in high school and my Saturday morning guitar lessons, but there were other weekend and evening activities too. Theatre Arts ate up a lot of weekend and evening time and there was the science honors program sponsored by Westinghouse that a group of us attended very early on Saturday morning. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine I found the time to smoke so much pot!

Anyway, in addition to the first two songs I referenced in Chapter One (“Anywhere, But Here” and “Terri’s Lullaby“), I wrote three others in high school that wound up on tape.

The first was “Tap Haven” which started out as a sequence of barre chords that I used to play to warm up. I remember playing it at my girlfriend’s house as early as 1981 so it’s at least that old. The reason I remember it is because the chords in the opening are the same as the song “Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton which was popular at the time, but I didn’t get around to recording it until the Winter of 1984/1985.

Lilliput” is a personal favorite of mine. It’s a song about the importance of friendship and the support that friends provide in times of difficulty. Even though I wrote the song, I find that I need to play it regularly so I don’t forget the message.

Along the same lines as “Anywhere, But Here“, “You Know It” deals with my anxiety about the future. It seems odd to me as I write this, but it rather accurately foreshadowed my life for the next thirty years. There are references to life plans stalling and the disappointment of not reaching one’s goals. It’s as though I was preparing to be a frustrated old man at the age of eighteen. (For the record, I’m not a frustrated old man.)

Read on! Chapter 3: Leaving the Nest