They say smells are the strongest impetus for random past moments to come crashing into the brain, but I say summer is right up there with chlorine pools and original-scented Pledge for dragging me back to a time when my knees were perpetually skinned from riding my bike in places a Huffy gear-less cycle had no business going.
Today Pandora had me tumbling down the rabbit hole of the past and I landed smack dab in the middle of an incident that, surprisingly, I’d forgotten about completely: The Day I Chased The Cars.
Before I relate this tiny incident (that, fortunately, my parents went to their graves never knowing a thing about), let me give you a little background.
I am, was, and always will be A Good Girl. I could talk a good game, just to keep up a modicum of what would these days be called “street cred;” but, basically, I was a wimp. It’s not that I was or am morally superior to everyone else – it’s that I was a coward. I was absolutely positive that: A.) I would go to hell if I did anything wrong ; and B.)my mother would somehow, someway, defy the laws of logic and find out no matter how carefully I covered my tracks – she had a reputation for divining.
I wanted very badly not to be A Good Girl – sometimes. The late 70s/early 80s was the era of The Bad Girl because the Bad Girls were reveling in being the first generation produced by the Women’s Movement. Bad Girls were the 80s; Good Girls were still stuck in the early 60s.
So I attached myself to Lisa.
Lisa was a Bad Girl. She was so bad, she told me, that she once chatted with her mother while having sex with a rich older man in the beachfront house next door to the Kennedy compound in Manasquan and her mother didn’t even know what was going on (she told me this story as we were passing the house next door to the Kennedy compound in Manasquan – did I mention is was a Very Gullible Good Girl?).
Lisa worked with me at a bank and was, in the end , fired for stealing $500 to buy a Chesterfield blazer with HUGE shoulder pads and Sergio Valente designer jeans (“Uh-oh, Ser-gee-oh-oh!”). There was no absolute proof she’d stolen anything, but such is the fate of one who is an undeniable Bad Girl – you’re never given the benefit of the doubt.
Lisa was head-over-heels for the music of The Cars. At least that’s what she told me – Lisa didn’t listen to music unless she was driving around. I suspect she was more interested in The Cars than their music, but I’m getting ahead of myself. That year – whatever year it was – The Cars were playing at The Spectrum in Philadelphia (a moment of silence for what was once The Spectrum in Philadelphia).
Since I was the one with a valid credit card, I obtained tickets to the concert because I liked The Cars (musically – I actually owned the album) and because Lisa talked me into it (yes, I know all the sirens are going off in your head. Give me a break -- I was 20, working full time, going to school full time and spending most of my “off” time taking my mother, aunts or grandmother to doctor appointments).
I drove – of course, because Lisa didn’t own a car.
And the concert was very good
Not enough for Lisa, though. After the performance, Lisa decided that we should find out where the band was exiting so that we could, perhaps, obtain an autograph – a practice I’ve always thought rather useless but, hey, apparently a worthy goal for a Bad Girl, so I was on board!
We drove around The Spectrum parking lot and eventually did find where the band was exiting and, well – there they were!
So I look at Lisa and she’s standing off to the side, staring and – undulating. There is just no other word for it – she was undulating and batting her eyes; but she was not asking for an autograph and now The Cars were getting into their limo, at which point Lisa drags me back to my own car (a Dodge Dart – oh, how I LOVED that car…) and screams, “FOLLOW THEM!”
And so began Jeanne’s Wild Ride or, as I like to think of it, “Jeanne’s One Bad Girl Moment.”
I sped. I tailgated. I cut people off. I ran not one, but three, red lights. I made a lefthand turn from the righthand lane of a four-lane street. I drove the wrong way on a one-way.
I screeched to a halt in front of the Fairmont Hotel just as The Cars were exiting the limo. Lisa jumped out, but I stayed put.
“Don’t you want an autograph or something?” Lisa asked, halfway across the street.
I shook my head, but she came back, grabbed an envelope out of my purse and took off to the crowd gathered in front of the hotel.
Frankly, I was in shock. I'd done so much Bad Girl stuff in the last two minutes, my entire system had shut down. I couldn’t believe where I was and how I’d gotten there.
Suddenly there was a man at the window, handing me a piece of paper. He looked in at me and said, “Are you some kind of idiot?”
If you were raised a Roman Catholic girl in the 60s, my answer will make perfect sense to you; otherwise, you will call me a complete and total wuss.
I lowered my head and, closing my eyes (okay, yeah, I was about to cry), I said, “I’m so very sorry.”
He threw the piece of paper at me. It turned out Lisa had grabbed my JC Penney bill. It was signed, “Rick Ocasek.”
“I hope this doesn’t mean I’m responsible for the balance,” he said, walking away.
I still think that was a rather lame joke, but he’s – like – Rick Ocasek, right?
So there you have it. My moment of Badness. My sons think this a rather sad attempt at rebellion and they (and their cousins) still work tirelessly to get me to drop the F-bomb.
I used to relate this story as a lesson to the boys about peer pressure. I mean, I liked The Cars, but certainly not enough to take the kind of risks I took to obtain a sample of someone’s handwriting. I only did it, I said, because I wanted Lisa to think I was a Bad Girl just like her.
There were other elements, though, that I ‘d always hesitated to point out to the Heirs when they were at their most impressionable. And, while I can’t advocate driving like a maniac through the streets of Philadelphia, I have to admit it was the first and only time I could ever call myself…well…brave.
After a lifetime of behaving myself and feeling guilty over the slightest infraction, I was brave. I was defying authority, defying propriety and, at times it seems, defying physics (there was certainly an angel on my shoulder that night who was kind enough to grant me this one moment of grace).*
I had plenty of time to gather my wits since Lisa, obviously, had had plans to be invited by a band member up to their hotel room – which, of course, never happened. There was a small crowd of fans at the hotel when we pulled up and she was one among many, in spite of her amazing undulation skills.
“What did he say to you?” Lisa asked excitedly when she finally returned to the car.
I didn’t want to tell her he’d called me an idiot and then cracked a lame joke. So I made up a story about how impressed Rick Ocasek was with my driving skills. Because Bad Girls lie.
The rest of the evening was uneventful. I think we stopped at Olga’s Diner in Marlton on the way home (which, I hear, closed a few years back…yeah…I know…). A week later Lisa was fired and I never saw her again. She never paid me for the tickets.
For years I carried the JC Penney bill with Rick Ocasek’s autograph around in my wallet. I’d take it out and remember my Bad Girl moment and the guts it took to get it.
Years later, though, I’d seen the deaths of my parents and of my own child; I’d navigated my way through foreclosure and bankruptcy; I’d worked through pain and illness. Following a rock star’s limo through the streets of Philadelphia paled in comparison.
I threw the autograph out.
I truly don’t regret it; it’s just ink on paper. With all due respect, Rick Ocasek does his job. I do mine. It’s all good.
But sometimes…sometimes like tonight when it’s still hot when the sun goes down and the oil and pavement have been cooking all day long and Pandora decides to it’s time to play My Best Friend’s Girl (“I kinda like the way, like the way, she dips…)…I think of that rush of adrenaline, of the humid air blowing the smell of pavement into the car window and how, for once in my life, I didn’t care about how I looked or what people thought or what I was going to or not going to eat – I just had to follow that limo.
I think it was literally the only time in my life I was in a state of pure being.
I felt immortal.
As one does at 20.
It could have ended very differently, I’ll grant. But it didn’t and I thank that angel everyday for that and for averting the myriad of other tragedies that could have befallen me when I was at my most stupid (a “short cut” to Penn Station after an evening Broadway show comes to mind…).
*I was also defying intelligence. Let me tell you what a smart person would have done: Rather than search an entire arena for where the band might depart and then wait for them to come out, a smart person – especially one who had spent a good decade rambling around the City of Brotherly Love – would remember there was only one luxury hotel in Center City Philadelphia and head there right after the concert ended.