“Some pills make you happy;
And some pills make you small;
But the ones that mother gives you,
Don’t do anything at all.
Go ask Alice…”
The door slams behind me and the music fades in my ears but not in my head. I complete the line mentally, “…when she’s ten feet taaaaallll.” I can hardly wait to get started on my first road trip in Mom’s cobalt blue ‘66 Chevy Super-Sport. Newport Beach, here I come!! The inside smells like new leather and Tareytons, and my butt burns on the hot seat as I plunk down behind the steering wheel. I am outta here, with my Madras shorts, bright pink T-shirt and matching flip flops telling all the world I am headed for the beach. I jam my finger onto the radio button and the last words of the Jefferson Airplane echo,
“Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your headddd
Feed your headddd.”
The sand dunes and white rock roofs disappear behind me as speed up Hwy.99. The car is practically lifting off as it leaves the Valley floor and the desert behind. The sweat dries quickly on my forehead and armpits when I roll the window down partway to a blast of hot desert air. If I keep on cookin’, I’ll be at the beach in time for dinner. But the radio music cannot drown out mom’s admonitions:
“Make sure you check the oil when you stop for gas.”
“Don’t drive over 65 mph.”
“You can take my credit card but only for gas.”
“Do NOT go to Mexico, whatever else you do. Newport only, no Mexico.”
What the hell is that all about? We’re not going to Mexico. And I’m in college, for Christ’s sake, almost 20 years old, meeting up with my really groovy college friends for a summer vacation. I have never done anything like this before and I am so stoked.
And a little nervous. I really can’t believe I have been invited along. Deirdre and Sheila and Marcia and Helen and Heather and Carol will all be there when I finally get there. I know Marcia really well, but the rest of them I just kind of try to be like because they are so with it. Deirdre irons her hair and gets blonde frosting. Sheila has a sweet boyfriend, Jerry and they seem so happy. Not like me and Pat, who are always fighting. Heather is little nut and so funny. She is so blasé about it all. Helen and Carol are complete mysteries; Helen with her Villager outfits and intense conversations, Carol, a.k.a. Gypsy, has long black hair and big hoop earrings and never giggles nervously. And Jerry’s family has a place nearby, so his Pasadena friends will hang out – new boys – far out.
“Little surfer, little one, makes my heart come all undone…” competes in my head with the current song on the radio, as I arrive.
The house is a little cottage, crammed with beds covered with Indian print bedspreads and more on the walls. The kitchen has an old O’Keefe and Merritt with years of crusted cooking on the burners. The hard wood floors are pitted in the traffic lanes and the pits filled with fine grain sand. Right out the picture window is the most beautiful sight for a desert girl, the whole horizon filled with the blue, blue Pacific ocean.
“This is so bitchin’. Have you…?”
“Who is cooking dinner? I have some “herbs” to put into the spaghetti sauce.”
“I copped some Red Mountain.”
“Help me carry in my suitcase someone, please…”
“Cool car, is it …?”
“That really is an itsy bitsy teenie weenie bikini– you look …”
“Did you bag my beach towel?”
“Don’t bogart those smokes…”
“Time won’t let me… a wait that looong…” lures me into the sandy room where I’ll be sleeping for the next three nights with my roomie, Marcia. She has dibs on the top bunk and I’m cool with that. I can hear the others making plans just outside our bedroom door.
“So, tomorrow is all set. Carol can take one car and maybe Donna can drive the other.”
“We can fit in two cars, right?
“And we are going where..?”
“Ensenada for lobsters and beer. So jazzed – never been to Mexico before….”
“Big D, can you do the honors in your mom’s cool Chevy?”
“Oh, hm, Mexico…well, sure, yah , right on.”
This night is kind of a blur and I don’t think it’s all down to the spaghetti sauce. Jerry’s friends are kind of geeky, but the night is warm and the music is so good. We listen to the Doors over and over again…”Come on, baby, light my fi..er; try to set the night on fiii..er.” I hope to hell mom never finds out about what I am about to do. But there is no way I am going to blow my chance at being a cool one by weaseling out of driving tomorrow.
Back in the car, this time loaded with my friends, and trying to keep up with Carol and everybody in her dad’s big black Buick. She is keeping a steady 90, out in the fast lane and I duck in and out of the lanes trying to spot her.
“Shit oh shit oh shit, crap.”
The red flashing light catches my eye in the rear view mirror. The black and white Highway Patrol car sits right on my bumper and the cop waives me over. I look up to see Carol’s car disappearing around the curve in the freeway.
“Do you know how many lane changes you have made in the last 10 miles, Miss? Let me see you license please.”
“I was only trying to keep up….”
“License AND registration, please…Wait here.”
“We’ll help pay for it, Donna” The girls in the car are being cool and I can tell they are bummed about waiting for the ticket.
“Unuh, it’s no biggie.”
“Well at least let us buy some gas.”
“I”ll have to stop in San Ysidro, but I have my Mom’s gas card – thanks, anyway.”
The cop hands me my ticket with a warning to watch my speed and I hit it hard to try to save the day somewhat. But I am going to have a hard time having fun, I can tell you that. I have to think of some way to pay this ticket without Mom ever finding out.
I haunt the mailbox everyday, waiting to intercept the ticket I know is coming before Mom spots it. When I’m not waitressing, I count the days until I can leave this godawful desert and return to college. When the ticket finally arrives, I carefully count out $56, mainly one dollar bills that I have saved from my tips and mail it off. Whew, I have gotten away with the biggest mortal sin of my life with Mom, if you don’t count the make-out sessions with Alden at the Drive-In movie, strictly forbidden, every Saturday in Senior year. I return to the daily grind, but with a lighter feeling and hope for a quick end to this endless summer.
The knocker on the door interrupts me as I am watching Art Linkletter’s House Party, dozing off and on after my graveyard shift at Denny’s. As I hop off the couch, the knocking becomes much louder. “Hold your horses,” I shout, expecting one of Kenny’s little friends at the front step. They have been running in and out of the house all day, leaving the door open and letting precious air- conditioned air leak out into the blazing desert day. “Shit, get me outta here.”
I am blown away as I open the door. A county Sheriff’s deputy, in full uniform including a gun in his holster hanging from his brown belted waist, glares at me,
“Donna Coon? Are you Donna Coon?”
“I have a warrant here for your arrest,” as he hand me a packet of papers.
“What? An arrest? What the …? What for? What do you mean?”
“This is standard procedure, miss, in a case of an unpaid traffic fine. The Judge has issued a warrant for a ticket you received and did not pay in early June.”
“But..but..but… I paid it.”
“I don’t decide that; you will have to talk to the court about that. Me, I just serve the warrants.”
“Do I have to go with you to jail?”
Finally, he lightens up and laughs, “No, just pay the fine plus the penalty and you’ll be a free woman.”
My knees are literally knocking together as I close the door on his stupid grin. Then a new worry pops up. What am I going to tell Mom? Shit, the whole story has to come out now. Plus, when I open the papers the $56 fine has ballooned up to $121 with the penalty. Crappola, where am I gonna get that kind of dough?
I am back in the “66 Chevy, heading for Denny’s where Mom works the day shift, trying desperately to think of a plausible excuse for this bench warrant. Nothing brilliant comes to mind. There she is, just finishing her shift and standing in her orange and pink uniform with Illa Mae, sharing their after-work ciggie in the break room. The place smells like hamburger grease and burnt coffee. Ah, home. Shit, shit, shit, what am I going to say?
“What are you doing here, honey? I’m getting a ride with Illa, remember?”
Not even knowing it was coming, I explode in tears and shout, “I’m under arrest, Mama and I have to pay a bunch of money I don’t have and oh God I drove your car to Mexico and I got a ticket and I paid it in cash and somebody must have taken it instead of crediting me and now I have to maybe go to jail.”
“Oh, honey, slow down, what are you saying…slooowwwlly, please?”
“Mom, I drove your car to Mexico when I went to the beach with the girls. Then, I got a speeding ticket and paid it with my tip money. The Sheriff came to the door today and served me with a warrant for my arrest because somebody in the Court’s office down there must have taken my cash instead of paid the ticket. Now, I have to repay the ticket and pay a penalty. But the worst part is, I did what you said not to and took the car to Mexico. I never wanted you to find out.”
“Donna, when are you going to learn that I know everything? I have known you went to Mexico since I got the gas bill in July and it showed that you filled the car in San Ysidro.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Illa Mae stub out her cigarette and smile her big old wise smile. Overhead, there is a Muzak-distorted song blaring, “ We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do…..”