My summers peaked in 1984 and I might have, too, because everything happened to me that year. It was iconic, like Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love. My best friends were Beth and Gina and the three of us were spoiled with leisure, bored like heiresses, channeling Jacy Barrow from The Last Picture Show only not small-town, Texas, but Oregon and the small town’s name was La Grande – “The Big” (how ironic). It was a middle of nowhere town, three hours from an airport, but still the only place in the world if you were there and had just turned 16.
We got our licenses that summer and all had cars. We had our braces off plus, finally, tits. We got our first taste of power over boys. Our parents worked so our days were unchecked and we had time coming out of the walls.
We had insane metabolisms. We ate everything whenever we wanted and still wore way-short shorts and tiny tank tops because we could. We had tans. We had the world by its so-called balls; we didn’t know it, though, we were just living. We feigned ennui.
We had our first jobs, too, so we had money. I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken, it was my first W-4, my first interview. I wore a ruffly Gunne Sax skirt and brought a handful of resumes that emphasized both my high GPA (3.9) and typing skills (60wpm) and Connie, the manager, hired me on the spot. I worked the front register, mostly, and made biscuits.
Gina worked at Taco Time and Taco Time was where the action was. If you were under 20 and breaking up or hooking up in the summer you did it at Taco Time. It sat at one end of the cruise loop so the parking lot was full of drama. And also the manager was young and pretty and fought with her boyfriend, but also screwed him a lot and told us everything, so there was that.
The minimum wage was $3.35 and at 40 hours, give or take, I had $100 after taxes each week. We had our first checking accounts at Pioneer Bank, and our own checks and we wrote them out like crazy. We were loaded.
Our shifts never started before 4, which gave us all day to drink wine coolers and tan. We slept in late, figured out who was driving, found someone to buy. We only drank California Coolers – peach if they had it — we were snobs. They came in 2-liter bottles like soda and were 99 cents each and we got big cups of ice at Oak Street Mobil to pour them in. Oak Street because Eric Slater worked there and that was the summer I loved Eric (unrequited). And also because they made scary little foods that we ate with abandon. Their specialty was something called “finger steaks,” which tasted like battered grease balls and salt and came with a tangy pink sauce. We took our fizzy wine and bad food to Riverside Park, spread big blankets out on the grass and soaked up the sun with our teenage buzz, and the days felt like weeks.
Oh yeah. It was good.
Beth didn’t have a “real” job like us but instead small chores her parents had her do for money – feed the dogs, clean the hot tub, vacuum. Her parents were never home but we lied and said they were and stayed over all the time.
Gina and I got off work late, sometimes midnight, but everyone had late curfews or else parents out of town, so at midnight I changed from brown polyester into practically nothing and we cruised. Cruising meant we drove back and forth on Adams Avenue, from Taco Time to Safeway, over and over, seeing who was in whose car, hanging out windows and sun roofs, etc.
Getting alcohol was never a problem, just a line item – an errand, like running to the bank. Usually Gina could find someone at work to buy, but sometimes we stood outside of Albertson’s – it was outrageously bold. We lurked by the doors, and when someone looked cool enough we asked them, “Hey, will you buy for us?” We must have had uncanny intuition because they always did; no one ever turned us down, not once. And one night my friend Scott and I drove to the Cimarron apartments and just knocked on a door. The guy who answered got in my car, we drove to the store, he bought us a half case of Bud Light cans and we drove him back home. We gave him a twenty, he gave us the change. Now, of course, I’d know to tip.
We played Night Ranger every single day, over and over again: Sister Christian, Four in the Morning, Sentimental Street. We felt tragic. We hadn’t had our hearts broken yet but we fantasized it. We listened to “Purple Rain” too, and Journey, and imagined all the different boys who’d do it, break our hearts. I’d like to say I had my first sex that summer, but I didn’t. I had first inklings, though.
And then it ended, of course, just like that. Eric left Oak Street for college, Beth drifted away, and my first big love happened that fall. Kelly. Shiny black pickup, cute smile.
That was fall, though. Falls are whole different stories.