“We’re cruising the Square tonight, and you’re coming with me,” Jon said.
Every third weekend in town, the Shriners run a classic car cruise around the old downtown square. It’s mostly t-shirted dudes lifting the hoods on their hot rods and shaking hands. Something reminiscent yesterday’s small town life. We spent my high school days in the Safeway parking lot. Jon cruised the town square, the big shining white courthouse at its center.
And never mind that Jon’s got the same Triumph motorcycle that the Fonz (Happy Days!) rode, or the Studebaker sitting in his shop. Call it his second youth. At the end of last summer he bought a Ford truck in almost the exact model and year of one he drove in high school. He spent the entire day fixing the tires and fuel pump on that beast, tuned the am radio to the one good classic country station in the county.
But as the evening neared, a huge storm barreled across the county. The cruise was cancelled.
We cruised anyway, rumbling along these old quartz roads, country music station fighting its way through the one good speaker on the dashboard. At the first stop light we hit, the music went to full static and Jon shut it off, smiling sheepishly.
“You have to be hurting for music to listen to an AM station these days.”
On we went, the truck veered left and right, skidding across long flat puddles in the pavement. We passed fat oak trees, leaves heavy with rain, the long-closed welding shop and the old military housing rows with bridges over the driveway culverts, passed the turbine plant where they’d built engines for the Apollo-era space ventures. We passed people sitting on front porches who waved by merely lifting their hands, children shooting each other with squirt guns, little boys in yards who watched, wide-eyed, as we rumbled by. Jon laughed and told me how sad it was that nobody drove these big trucks anymore, that the sight of one was still just that: a sight. Because when he was in high school, everyone did this, cruised in trucks, the boys drove, the girls rode.
“Truck sluts,” I told Jon. “That’s what we called the girls in my high school who had nothing better to do than drive around with boys in big trucks.” But there I was, sitting in the middle seat with Jon’s wrist resting on my thigh between shifts.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” I said quickly, and realized just then how true it was — nothing wrong with living like this, nothing wrong at all.
“My hypocrisy knows no bounds,” he said, and we laughed.
We passed the hundred-something year old house where his near-blind aunt still lives, cruised along Oak Ridge Drive, which was the original millionaire’s strip in town. Pulled into the Sonic parking lot and ate cheeseburgers out of a grease-spotted bag. Just like the high school I never had.
On the way back home, the truck started lurching and sputtering At first I thought Jon was playing some kind of prank, pretending it was about to die, because he was laughing so hard. The bouncing had no pattern — we’d sidle a minivan and boomerang by, pass a prius and drive just fine. But as we got farther and farther from town, the bucking got worse.
“All we need,” Jon said, “is to inchworm past a cop and get the biggest ticket of our lives.”
When we saw the little lights of our house, adjacent to the highway but separated by an enormous field, Jon veered off the road toward a flooded ditch.
“What are we doing!” I cried, shutting my eyes, bracing myself as he shifted to make the jump.
“Going home,” he said. He shut off the headlights.
We landed on the pillow-soft field and my fear dissipated. The green glow of the console lit our dim faces. I looked at him. He looked at me. We made the crossing in the dark — no moon, no stars. Rain pattering on the windshield, his familiar hand on my knee, the lights of home a small, bright beacon ahead.