My weekly challenge was to remember my favorite song from five years ago and listen to it. I have no idea what I was listening to five years ago but it certainly was not on the top 100 from July 2013. I had an idea, a better idea, and I went back 40 years to when I was 16; the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. That was the summer of all sorts of memories.
This past Sunday afternoon, we drove north. I had a driver for the first hour and the last hour. My daughter O is working on her driving hours and loves driving. It gave me time to go back in time – 40 years – to the summer of ’78. I checked the top 40 from July ’78. I recognized most of the top 10 but my memory took a jolt when I read #14 – Miss You by the Rolling Stones. That song took me back and brought back all sorts of memories and I found my song…. But first… how I got there.
I turned 16 in November ’77, but I couldn’t get my driver’s license I hadn’t completed the required behind the wheel driving training. Instead of taking driver’s ed during the summer, like all of my peers, I had been visiting by dad in England for five weeks. I took the driver’s training during winter break of my sophomore year and was ready to get my license in January of ‘78. January in Houston, Texas is cold, but not nearly as cold as January where I now live – there is no comparison.
I am the oldest in my family, so I was the first of the kids to get my license and the first child to teach my mom all sorts of lessons she and her sister probably did not teach their parents when they were growing up in the fifties.
When my parents divorced, my dad moved to Saudi Arabia and a year later he and my step-mom moved to London, England. Whatever he had, he took with him or put in storage except for the 1969 blue Volkswagen Beetle. It was stored in the garage. I had my name on it. Or rather, I had put my name on it.
For a 16-year-old boy in 1978, having your driver’s license is cool, having a car a car is even cooler. Once I got my license, I began to drive the ‘blue bug.’ I could drive to work and back and had to ask permission beyond that. The little blue bug had air conditioning, but it didn’t work and the radio had AM only. I had a job and made minimum wage as a busboy and dishwasher at my next-door neighbor’s Italian restaurant. By March, I had scrimped and saved enough money to purchase an in dash 8-track cassette player and FM\AM radio and a couple of speakers for the blue bug. I had barely enough money leftover to buy two 8-track tapes – I picked Van Halen’s debut album and Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty. I listened to those constantly.
The blue bug was nothing brag about. Beside the AC not working, there was a hole in the passenger side floorboards caused by battery acid spillage. A friend of my mom’s helped with a fix and the radio and speakers were an improvement. To make up for the lack of AC the blue bug had side windows which could tilt inward and force air into the car. But driving it in the hot Texas spring and summer was pretty uncomfortable and perspiring was the norm.
I finished my sophomore year and summer arrived.
I don’t know how I did it, but I convinced my mom to let me drive with my younger brother Warren to Lake Travis near Austin, Texas for the fourth of July weekend. A couple of my friends were going camping and asked me if Warren and I could go. It’s a little more than 200 miles from Sugar Land to Lake Travis. I don’t know why my mom let me go, but she did.
Warren and I packed the car and took off. As brothers, Warren and I weren’t very close at the time. He was closer to my youngest brother David. We ere all the same distance in ages apart – 17 months. But, I was two grades ahead and at the time I had been in high school for a couple of years and he was going to be a freshman that fall. We had common neighborhood friends, but two years is a big difference. We took off in the late afternoon and I don’t remember the exact route we took, but whatever route we took, it took us through La Grange, Texas.
By the time summer had arrived, my 8-track cassette collection had grown and I owned a variety of tunes including The Rolling Stones’ Miss You and Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good to Me and more. We jammed the 8-track and kept the windows down to keep cool or as cool as a hot Texas summer evening can be.
We reached La Grange and it was dark and I don’t remember seeing the 35 mph speed limit sign, but I certainly remember the patrol car’s lights behind mine.
I pulled over, turned the music off, and said my ‘yes sirs’ and ‘no sirs The officer asked me how fast I was driving and I replied, ’45.” But I didn’t sound convincing. He told me that I was driving 48 mph in a 35 mph zone and wrote the ticket for me. He reminded me to keep the car at the speed limit, gave me my ticket, and let me go. I thanked him and we were on our way.
We arrived safely and without further incident. We had a good time at Lake Travis as only teenagers could in the summer of 1978. We camped, swam, and went boating under the supervision of no one.
That summer was a summer of discovery and the soundtrack included a variety of music but I was probably listening to ‘Miss You’ by the Rolling Stones, or ‘Life’s Been Good to Me’ by Joe Walsh, or it could have been Van Halen’s ‘Girl You Really Got Me Now” or Jackson Browne’s album “Running on Empty. I don’t know, but I am sticking with ‘Miss You’ by the Stones.
I was grounded from the car for a week when I told my mom about the ticket. I could drive to and from work and that was it. I survived that summer and started my junior year of high school a few weeks later. Little did I know how much my life would change in the coming year. I had the blue bug until it caught fire while I was driving it on my way home from college Memorial Day weekend in ’82.
I listened to all four albums on the drive north Sunday afternoon and early evening. The sounds brought back memories. When ever I hear any of those albums I think of that drive to Lake Travis and the summer of ’78. I even smile when I think of that first traffic ticket. Still.
It’s the 29th day of summer break and the 22nd day since my surgery. Every day is a better day. Doing my exercises, working on getting stronger and more flexible. It’s been a great summer. We’re at the lake for a couple of weeks. I can’t go in, just watch from shore. But there is still plenty to do. I can read a book, watch the birds, cook, clean, fold laundry and all sorts of things. It’s been a great day already. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one favorite song at a time.
What were you listening to 40 years ago? Or if you can’t remember that far back, what is one of your favorite summer song memories?