A '50s VENUE, TOMMY’S DRIVE IN
In those crazy moments of gridlock and horn honking, figuratively speaking, we howled
like coyotes, I guess, at the full moon, signaling each other that we were alive and well.
We celebrated knowing one another and sharing a place and a time. I think
that was what the traffic constipation and noise and fraternizing were all about.
If I should be asked, “What was unique
about growing up in Odessa, Texas, in the period of 1953 to 1963?” I would answer this way:
The single most dominating factor
of the times was the social phenomenon of the youth gatherings at their favorite drive-ins.
For my group of peers, the classes of ’60, ‘61, and ’62, it would have to be life revolving around
the gatherings at Tommy’s Drive-In on North Andrews Highway next to Odessa College.
Something happened to that culture of drive-ins after we graduated and went on our way, and I suspect a couple of possible
First was the impact of the owner of Tommy’s
selling out his business and moving onto other things. I was enrolled at Odessa
College for a year and a half in 1963 and 1964, and I remember hearing the owner, Tommy Lombardo, talking to an OC economics
instructor about the economics of the drive-in. I feared then that things were
in for a change, and I remember being disappointed for all involved and for the town itself.
I knew then that he was interested in selling his business, which he eventually did.
It was a disappointment, because there was nothing like it to take its place.
Society in the ‘60s was visibly changing.
Another possible explanation for the decline
and demise of the drive-in culture we experienced at Tommy’s is that the classes of 1961 and 1962 were the last two
classes who could say they were somewhat cohesive. They had grown up with many
students on both sides of town, but even the class of 1962 did not have the cross-town connections the class of 1961 had.
In the fall of 1955, Bonham and Bowie junior
high students shared the facility at Bowie until the Bonham building was completed.
There was still a lot of social spillover from that experience for the high school classes of 1961. In addition, some families had migrated to newer and larger homes in the new neighborhoods sprouting up
on the east side of town.
In 1958-59, while Permian High School
was being built, all the sophomore students from three junior high schools on the north side of town—Crockett, Bowie
and Bonham—spent their entire year together at Odessa High. It was a wild
year at Odessa High School with a huge enrollment, and it was an experience that defined our brief era. It was really an exciting year because of the mixture of schools and the creation of relationships that
caused our groups to be more cohesive than any of the later classes.
That school year saw the brand new Tommy’s
Drive-In become a major factor in our social lives. The culture allowed Tommy’s
to end up as the social center of the universe for Permian and Odessa High Schools and even for Ector High school on the south
side to some extent. That in itself was unique, and it would never happen again,
because in the coming years there would be sharp divisions caused by competition, and a more segregated population.
Evidently there was no need for a common
meeting place for the classes after ours. At some time in the ‘60s, lines
were drawn, and a new era began. So it can be said unequivocally that our time
was a unique time. But I wonder why today’s high school kids don’t
have a place to convene and socialize like we did in the ‘50s. It was such
a natural thing to do.
It has been suggested that the drive-in
scene died because everyone wanted to eat inside. Baloney! It was not about eating. It was about being together, seeing and being seen, and socializing. I still don’t understand.
Nancy Leach Bayless, Class of ’61, wrote:
Drive In, which is now a weird record (CD) store stuck in the middle of OC’s campus was a ‘hang out.’ We drove around and around in two circles for hours looking for friends and hopping
in and out of the car to talk to someone. Often the two circles of drive-throughs
would get gridlocked where they came together into one lane. We called this ‘constipated.’ When things became constipated we would just turn the cars off and get out;
the circles would be at a standstill for an hour or so. Cars would be lined up
on the street waiting for the circles to move and allow them to turn into Tommy’s.
I don’t remember the police ever coming or interfering with this mess.”
Nancy recalled something none of us from
those days will ever forget because the way those crowded moments happened probably can never be explained adequately. To me, that scene of gridlock at Tommy’s and the ensuing noise and pandemonium
from honking car horns represented an expressed joy of sorts. It was the result
of a happenstance night when hundreds of us students, most of whom knew each other, some having grown up together since birth,
all happened to be in one spot at one time at an age when we knew we were living something special, and we let it all hang
out. It was not a one-time thing.
Those highly congested moments lasted
quite awhile at times, causing those waiting far back in the Conga line of cars not quite yet into Tommy’s lot to give
up and park their cars on the adjoining college campus, or nearby. Then, the
occupants would rush to the grounds and mingle and stand around joining up with their friends, and in one way or the other
just soak up the moment.
I am sure many of us at the time
knew it was unique. It was ours, and it will probably never be that way again
with the ‘50s music, the ‘50s cars and the ‘50s culture of peace and plenty.
Intuitively we all knew high school
was a place with a horizon, and we saw ourselves fairly quickly moving beyond it. Soon there would be college for some and
the working world for the rest, but whatever we saw ahead, we knew the moment was sweet, and we knew we had better remember
and enjoy it. In those crazy moments of gridlock and horn honking, figuratively
speaking, we howled like coyotes, I guess, at the full moon, signaling each other that we were alive and well. We celebrated knowing one another and sharing a place and a time.
I think that was what the traffic constipation and noise and fraternizing were all about.
To a casual reader who was not there, who
never had a relationship with someone who was there, it might be hard to understand just how vital a place such as Tommy’s
was to the social fiber of our lives. For instance, at noon, when the high schools
had two split lunch hours, many students would race to their cars to head to Tommy’s for a quick lunch. The cars would be filled with boys and girls alike who had made last second arrangements because many of
them did not have their own car. So Tommy’s had a lunch crowd consisting of students mostly from Odessa High and Permian
High. In the space of an hour, crowds of faithful teen-age customers circled,
parked, and ate. They were all there to be seen and to commingle, and to munch
on the various varieties of burgers and drinks, feed the juke box, and spend time with a girl or boy friend from across town,
or from their own high school. It was a separate but joined group, and it was
just the way it was. We took it for granted.
After school was out, the crowds
would again converge in large numbers. It was a daily routine to go to Tommy’s
before going home for supper. It was vanilla coke time, social hour, happy hour,
a leisurely break where serious, unrushed fraternizing, flirting, bonding, you name it, took place. This lasted until it was time to go home for the evening family meal.
Afterwards came homework time, which frequently
incorporated telephone time with girl friends and boy friends. With pen and paper
in hand and textbook in front, radio playing in the background and phones to their ears, students worked furiously in order
to be finished with their studies in as short of a time as possible to be able to prove to the parents that duty was done,
mission accomplished with respect to academic responsibilities, parents’ concerns put to rest, because after all that
focused work was done efficiently, there was the possibility of a reward—permission to make one last foray back to Tommy’s
before bedtime. Often while the multi- tasking took place with the talking on
the phone, doing algebra, listening to the radio, there would also be the strategizing as to who could be picked up on the
way to share that last trip of the day.
With permission granted, there was
the dash out the front door to the car and to friend’s homes where comrades were waiting. You can bet no horn honking was necessary when the car approached the home of the eager passengers to be. They knew the routine. They were watching the streets with tuned ears and senses,
waiting for their ride.
It was a ritual by all standards. There was the coke-before-retirement crowd at Tommy’s every night of the school
day week. It was not the largest crowd, but it was there, and admittedly it was
confined to those who were the most mobile with their own cars and/or those with lenient parents.
We were like high energy hummingbirds going
to the feeder for the last time of the day, to fill up on the nectar of social interaction, and then it was back to our nest
at our home for maybe one last stimulating phone call to a member of the opposite sex.
Then, at last the day would be over, officially. Tired bodies and minds were retired and put to rest for the night. Tomorrow always promised more adventures at school and at Tommy’s Drive-In.
The universe in which we lived had
an order for activity, and it all revolved around that place on the Andrews Highway next to Odessa College. Now it seems like just a dream, or the memory of a dream of some ‘50s movie, but the permanent imprints
that made each of us what we are remind us today that it was real.
How little did we know that it was all
a unique phenomenon that was characteristic of our age group. We only thought it was universal. What was Tommy’s eventually
turned into a caricature of its soulful existence. In a few short years,
the culture we knew was gone and became only a memory in the minds of a few.
One night at Tommy’s there was a
moment of gridlock pandemonium. I have never totally shared this experience before, though it has been mentioned by many of
my classmates at reunions and most recently by classmate Shelly Williams in his book titled Washed in the Blood. To many, it was unforgettable, and for some it was a defining moment in their teen-age
Immediately to the north of Tommy’s
was a strip of businesses in one building, each with its own door. The building
had a large billboard that served as a border between it and Tommy’s Drive-In.
On this particular night, the cheerleader squads from both Permian and Odessa were there in their cheerleader uniforms,
and for some reason they climbed up on the catwalk at the base of the billboard and took turns leading yells to their respective
followers. Among other things, it was an impromptu pep rally, wild and loud. Other
students, including me, also climbed up the supporting poles to the catwalk.
That night stands out as a quintessential
moment of who we were, and what we were about. It might have been the peak of
our times together. There was never anything quite like it before or afterwards
for its intensity.
I was on the catwalk at the very end where
people climbed up, and I helped people up the last few feet. I forget who was
beside me, but I was into the moment. We sat on the catwalk, looking down
at the dense milling crowd amid the honking of horns, the yelling, and the cheers, just soaking it all up. We were swinging our legs and enjoying the moment of madness together.
My peripheral vision suddenly began
sending messages to my brain about something happening. Below me was a guy, an infamous guy, who was at least four years older
than I was. He struck terror into all the hearts of every young male in town
close to my age because of his roughhousing reputation. He was truly a Billy-BadAss,
and I have always wondered why he hung around all of us who were so much younger than he was.
Did he enjoy the terror he could inflict with his just presence and reputation?
I rather think he enjoyed bullying us into cowardice with his tough guy persona and reputation to match.
I saw him looking right at me, and like
a baseball pitcher, he was in a powerful wind-up posture with something in his right hand, which he launched right at me. Things were happening so fast my mind could not focus on the reality of it all. My instincts were telling me I could not dodge what he was throwing since I was sitting,
or rather perching, high up on a catwalk. The only things I could move were my
arms and head. Instinctively, I stuck out my right hand and perfectly caught
the object hurtling at me, just like a first baseman. It was my history textbook. This man had reached into the back seat of my
’55 Chevy, taken out the book, and flung it right at me.
I was stunned, wondering why he chose me. But there he was, right below me, now laughing with a nasty sarcastic look, and then
he turned and walked away. I just sat there, very sober in the midst of
a sea of ecstatic people, wondering what this was all about, but you can bet your boots I felt safer up there, away from him,
than I would have felt on the ground questioning him. From the looks of
him, walking briskly away, I judged that I would not have gotten a polite answer.
Until this day, I have no idea why he did
that. In fact, I probably would not even be writing this today had I not recently
read his obituary; he was that kind of a guy. In those days I hardly knew him
personally, but he knew who I was. There was evidently just something about the
moment he did not like.
That was action. There was always action at Tommy’s Drive-In on a weekend night, but that particular night manifested
the most action of all for of us who were unknowingly facing the end of an era as well as the epitome of our lives together.
You just had to be there to understand
it. It was an external event to each one of us who was present, but inwardly
it was shared by all of us as something we would never forget. There was a oneness,
a commonality, a group experience, a happening, and I can guarantee that every soul there was in synch later that night when
falling asleep, because they all knew they had just had a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
Never again would they have so much good in common with so many people around them.
My bet is that the city of Odessa never experienced that again. It was
TOMMY LOMBARDO’S MOST VIVID MEMORY
Carlton was driving his new dark blue 1960 Pontiac Bonneville, a two-door hardtop. It
was a beautiful car, and it was hot, and it was headed for trouble.
In 1987 there was a cluster high school
reunion for four classes of Odessa and Permian High at the Holiday Inn Holidome on East Highway 80 in Odessa. Included were the classes of 1960 through 1963, and the guest of honor was Tommy Lombardo, the owner
of Tommy’s Drive-In from 1958 through 1965.
In his speech to us he admitted to being
at a loss for words at his invitation to the reunion as the guest of honor. This was unusual for him, since he had gone on
to become a college professor of economics at North Texas State University in Denton, Texas.
He admitted that running Tommy’s during
that time made him think of the groups of young people he knew over the years as an "ornery bunch." I am not sure everyone
who heard him say that understood why, but one must remember that Tommy had to endure the passions and antics of hundreds
of teen-agers, while their parents had to survive only their own child or children through those trying years.
Tommy saw many fights and endured countless
pranks, and some of it was not pretty. Although he taught many of us to play chess in the dining room area of the drive-in,
some of what he saw was the ugliest side of being a teenager. Yet he acknowledged
that it was that crowd he aimed for when he started the business, so in a way he asked for it.
I got to sit at his
table alone with him during lunch one day while at the reunion, and I asked him what was the most memorable experience he
had during his tenure as owner and manager of Tommy’s Drive-In. It was a loaded question, because I had a suspicion
about what his answer would be, and as it turned out I was right on target. Tommy admitted that he did not remember me, and
I understood, because there were so many faces and names it would take someone demented to remember them all. But he did remember
the name of Carlton Trigg, and that was not surprising
The event that seared Carlton’s
name onto many people’s memories happened one night probably early in the year of 1961. Carlton, a lucky child born
into the silver spoon crowd, always had nice cars, and he drove the hell out of them, which meant that when his father bought
the cars for him, Carlton got to choose how they were equipped. He always picked
them fast and well equipped with speed options.
On this particular night,
Carlton was with Roger Rankin, a friend who was two grades behind him. Carlton Trigg was one of those people who had a vast
array of friends in every crowd. His personality was such that he was welcomed by nearly everyone because he was so outgoing,
extremely upbeat, always having a good time, and he had a long history of fabled behavior behind him. He made things happen,
and often those things were bizarre.
Carlton was driving his
new dark blue 1960 Pontiac Bonneville, a two-door hardtop. It was a beautiful car, and it was hot, and it was headed for trouble.
Under the hood was a huge
V-8 engine with a set of three two-barrel carburetors that fed the high performance engine, a result of General Motors’
creativity of those years.
Carlton and Roger had just pulled onto
the south end of the Odessa College campus paralleling The Andrews Highway, traveling north on the front driveway. They were headed towards Tommy’s Drive-In, which was a long city block away. It was a Saturday night, and the parking lot was full of occupied cars as well as
young people mingling both outside and inside the eating area. It was well into
the peak hours of the evening, and the place was rocking and rolling.
For some reason or
the other, Carlton supposedly floor-boarded the accelerator and punched in all three carburetors even though he had only a
short distance to go.
That in itself was not wise,
but it would have been no big deal if he had immediately gotten off the accelerator after hearing the lovely sound of those
carburetors sucking air and fuel into the hot-rod engine. Many of us could have, and would have, done that little trick for
the thrill of it. And it was a kick many of us car lovers loved to experience, but this time it turned into more excitement
than any sane thrill seeker could have bargained for, because the linkage on the carburetors allegedly stuck open, and the
gas pedal was down to the floor.
Supposedly, when Carlton
took his foot off that pedal, nothing he wanted to happen, happened. Instead, the car reared, roared, and raced right at the
drive-in’s plate glass windows. The eating area was full of unsuspecting teenagers munching on burgers and listening
to the music of the time, socializing and totally unaware that Carlton and Roger were fighting for their lives and the lives
behind the windows at Tommy’s as the dark blue Pontiac streaked right at them.
Even today, any onlooker
can drive by the old Tommy’s site and see the intersection of roads at the northeast corner of the campus property.
Tommy’s property had a curb and a drainage ditch separating it from the campus asphalt roads. The curb was around six
inches high, and the drainage ditch was concave paved concrete that amounted to sort of a moat on that side of Tommy’s. It was around two feet deep and around six feet wide before the sides of it rose up
to meet the paved driveway that outgoing cars used when exiting Tommy’s Drive-In onto the Andrews Highway.
Carlton is deceased now,
so we will never know what went on in his mind as he (or Roger) tried to check his out-of-control high performance car. If
he swerved to the right, he would be on the main street of the town, headed into oncoming traffic, so that was no option,
even if he could have managed the significant drop-off onto the street.
Whether by instinct, or
divine intervention, or plain savvy, or just plain luck, Carlton veered left , and the car jumped up onto the campus lawn
paralleling the driveway. The car’s fishtailing action graphically engraved
deep tracks into the fresh dirt, tearing up grass and flattening rose bushes as they swerved, showing the desperation of the
car’s occupants as they tried to maintain control. With that deviation
onto the grass had come a slight rise in the elevation of the terrain; it was a lucky move.
As a matter of fact, it could not have been luckier, because when the car left that slightly higher elevation, it became
temporarily airborne. It was just enough to save all the lives that were in imminent
The heavy Pontiac took a
nosedive over the asphalt and over the curb, right into that moat, where it smashed to a stop, nose down, almost jarring the
brains out of its occupants; but they were lucky. Though Carlton’s skull
busted out the windshield on the right side, he suffered nothing more serious than a cut that the emergency room doctor stitched
up. Roger was not hurt.
Immediately, garishly, steam
rose from under the crunched front end up into the cold night sky with a pungent anti-freeze smell, mixed with the smell of
hot engine metal, as the crumpled radiator spewed its contents out onto the asphalt drive.
Windshield and headlight glass glittered in tiny fragments, scattered about the wreckage.
There was a dead silence, a terrifying silence at first, and then a mob of shocked spectators, including
Tommy the owner and all his hired help, ran to the car expecting to see death. Instead they saw injury only, and that was
not even all that bad. The car definitely got the worst of it, as it was totaled.
After some quick maneuvering,
and the following of Roger’s requests by stunned and sympathetic bystanders, the occupants were whisked away, ostensibly
to the hospital emergency room, while the remaining crowd somehow cleared the driveway of the wreckage by hand, lifting it
up from its teetering posture off the curb, out of the moat, and onto the college driveway. There was plenty of wide-eyed
help, and if the truth be known, they all knowingly and willingly rearranged the evidence, and then made themselves scarce
before the police arrived. The teen-age oath of omerta was in force.
Tommy, the owner, had to
be wondering if baby-sitting teen-agers to make a living was worth it. After all, here he was staring at a disaster barely
averted, and that only by the fickle finger of fate, or luck, or whatever. Surely no one could credit Carlton Trigg with last-second
good judgment. I think it was blind luck and the good Lord looking out for everyone.
I was one of the crowd that
arrived short minutes after the incident. In fact, the car’s occupants had been taken to the emergency room, or at least
that is what we were told. Some of us immediately went to the hospital emergency room to wait on news of the injuries. But
when we got there, all we learned was they had been there and left, so we left. We were all shocked and amazed that no one
had been killed, and the speculation about what could have happened can still be a topic of conversation after all these years
to anyone who witnessed the most memorable event ever to happen at Tommy’s Drive-In.
The facts of the above incident may or
may not be totally accurate. I have heard other versions from a knowledgeable source, and I was told that it was close enough,
and I was told to leave well enough alone, and that is all there is to be said about that! (Some people will speculate that
the driver's alcohol intake might have contributed to this incident.)
RED HOT ENVY
happened before the Trigg wreck at Tommy's and it happened with a different vehicle, a 1957 Chevrolet two door hardtop
that Carlton modified to be his own, a car I would have loved to owned.)
Recently, and while writing these pages,
I let a friend of mine peruse some of my efforts. We share a love of reading
and flying. My friend, Donald Lee, is approaching his 80th year in
2005 and he has spent his life reading and appreciating books. He graduated from
Odessa High School in 1943, and he honestly critiques some of the things I write when I ask him to. He opined that when I write about the ‘50s I overly emphasize the cars. In response, I explained to him that the cars in that decade were so exciting, at least to the males, that
all of us males did focus on cars. Also, car ownership dictated whether or not
you could date, or even be really serious about a girl. Cars dictated whether
or not you were mobile or subject to the whims of someone else’s good luck for transportation. Cars played a huge role and were a male’s identity. I
don’t think most of the ladies understood that at the time.
He accepted my response, acknowledging
that he was so wrapped up in his USAF military career at the time that he had paid no attention. He was of another generation. Having thought about our exchange, I mentally examined my concept of the past and
again questioned whether my concept was representative of other people’s recollections of those times, and I decided
to stick by my story!
Having said that, I should mention that
when it came to cars, there were those among us who were able to have exactly what they wanted, and the rest of us were just
envious bystanders who lived somewhat vicariously through the lucky people.
Outstanding in my memory were people
like Carl Goetz and Carlton Trigg. Carl, the guy I considered the king of hot-rodders,
practically hand crafted his 1957 Ford convertible into what it became (its photo is on the cover of this account), and he
sacrificed many pleasures for the privilege of owning his car. He loved it. And then there was Carlton Trigg.
Trigg, a 1959 graduate of Odessa
High School, was not a die-hard hot-rodder like Carl Goetz. He was too social
to be a die-hard anything, yet his father saw to it that Carlton could have anything he wanted, and Carlton often wanted a
lot. He was such an outrageous character that everyone wanted to be his friend. A reader might wonder why Carlton’s name pops up repeatedly in these essays. I, too, wondered, and then I concluded that he was an example of someone whose life
was the exact opposite of mine in many respects. He had outrageous freedoms as
a result of his relationship with his dad. His parents provided no hard-handed
control whatsoever, but his life had its own consequences.
Almost any American male can picture
a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop. It is the most collected car in the
world today because of what it represented in both style and function. The buyer of a ‘57 Chevy had a mind-boggling
number of options appealing to the most conservative family member all the way up to most ambitious hot-rodder.
The most coveted option available to the
creative buyer was the Corvette engine, which could even be fuel injected, a first for a Detroit-made vehicle sold to the
public. In other words, the car could be turned into a beautiful hot-rod, and
it often was. Those who were lucky enough to be able to afford all those options
were envied. Carlton was one of those lucky ones. And Carlton Trigg obviously
wanted a cool car. I am not sure who performed all the custom work on his car;
but I suspect it was a guy by the name of Laymon, who ran a custom car shop on east Second
Street. If I were ever to restore one, I would copy it.
I was at Tommy’s Drive-In when I
first saw Carlton’s car. It slowly turned off the main highway into Tommy’s
busy driveway, and it slowed even more until the engine was only idling. Then
it slowly and dramatically rumbled by the cars parked under the awning as though it was on parade, which it was. Carlton, with his short, sandy blond ducktail haircut and perpetual smile, knew he was having an impact
with his newly acquired toy fresh from the custom shop. The music of the car’s
exhaust from the glass-pack mufflers signified a hotter than normal engine; it was a sound we all dreamed of hearing in our
own cars. Slowly, Carlton made the complete outside route of Tommy’s
Drive-in and turned left into the inside route. He then pulled into a diagonal
parking spot just in front of the main door, next to the car hop station. He
shut down the engine and casually got out from behind the steering wheel. Every
pair of eyes present was focused on one of the most beautiful Chevys any of us had ever seen.
Carlton had our attention and he
knew it, because we all quickly migrated toward him and the beautiful red object beside him.
At that time, I personally did not know him, so I stayed a respectable distance from him as he conversed with others,
answering their questions about the royal creation sitting before us. Carlton always emanated the impression that life to
him was just a place to have another adventure, and here he was, having an adventure with his beautiful car. It was wildly beautiful to someone like me. I slowly walked
completely around the magnificent machine, keeping a safe distance so as not
to mar it with even a fingerprint, and I am sure I gaped at the imagination that went into its creation.
Any teenager of those days knew by sight
all the components of any make of car on the road, and it was obvious that the grille in this Chevy had come from a 1957 Buick. It complemented the car perfectly and gave it Carlton’s unique signature. The hood had been shaved of its factory chrome, and atop the hood were two chrome
air inlets from the sides of the fenders of a ‘57 Buick. How cool and neat. The front-end springs had been heated to lower the front end into a raked posture--artfully
done. Growing out of the underside and sprouting just behind the front wheels were shiny new chrome Lake plugs (an alternate
exhaust system to be used while racing) that went all the way to the back wheel wells.
There they angled slightly outward and were capped with two chrome bolts. But
best of all was the understated and tasteful pin-striping job beginning at the headlights and continuing to the farthest point
of the finned tail. Only a picture could explain the way it accented the car’s
But imagination will have to suffice. This machine was still Chevrolet red, as it came from the factory. “If it ain’t red, it ain’t right.”
I heard the king of Odessa hot-rodders, Carl Goetz, say that late in his life.
It was a conclusion he came to after never having had a red ‘57 Chevy until after the climax of the custom car
era was over.
It was an emotional experience to be able
to examine that car. It made my stomach hurt with “red-hot envious pains.” I can only imagine the state of mind that Carlton felt as he stood proudly nearby,
letting all of us commoners examine the princely metal trophy.
Carlton did not have to slave and
save to get it—his father bought it for him. I am sure he was never told
that it would be best if he had to work for it. He was given it just because
he wanted it, and not only did his father pay for the car, he paid the bill for all the custom work and the unnecessary adornments
his son wanted. And he gave Carlton the cash Carlton had in his pocket. How luxurious!
What kind of man did Carlton have for a
father? Everyone there had to wonder, because we all knew where Carlton lived,
and we all knew the job his father had. We all had to be questioning the luck
of the draw no matter what kind of relationship we had with our fathers. No one
talked about it, I am sure, but everyone thought it. I’ll always wonder
if we had just seen the
car that Carlton’s father would have
wanted when he was younger.
It was a long ride home from
Tommy’s Drive-In that day for all of us stunned male teenagers, especially those of us who had no car we could call
our own to drive. In our contemplative silence, we all knew there was nothing
we could do to match the incredible luxury we had just seen. We were thankful
for what we had, no matter how meager it might have been compared to the spectacle we saw that day at Tommy’s Drive-In
when Carlton Trigg paraded by us in his new car, regally proud.
In all honesty, today
the whole thing makes me think of a modern day Tom Sawyer and the love of his life, Becky Thatcher, a bright-eyed sweet young
thing with a proud grin on her face, sitting close to Tom in his customized 1957 Chevy exactly like Carlton’s.
As they pull out from
Tommy’s Drive-In on the afternoon that Becky has been voted homecoming queen of Hannibal High School, Tom euphorically
and quickly--just enough to get attention but not enough to break the law—floorboards the Chevy as they leave the scene.
The sound and thrust of the souped up engine pops the two envied beautiful young people back into their seats for a quick
roaring second. It’s enough to get the wide-eyed attention of Tom’s
gang of wannabe pirates sitting back at the drive-in in their plain ol’ cars, drinking their vanilla cokes on an Indian
Summer day. It’s enough to satisfy the occupants, Tom and Becky, who know
they live in an exciting time in an exciting place and are the luckiest people in the town for at least a split second or
And that imagined scene is exactly the origin of the red-hot pains in our stomachs when we viewed Carlton’s new
car with uncontrollable envy.
I must add here that one day I heard Carlton say that the reason he was allowed
to customize that car is that he and two friends outran a highway patrolman one day and finally ditched him by taking back
roads through the oil fields near Notrees. Carlton’s dad allowed his son
to drastically change the car’s appearance so the highway patrolman could not identify it. Is that creative or what?
And here I am in my 60s, and when I think of that car, my brain sez, "Man,
that was a good lookin' car"
Michael Lewis Moore
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