By Dan Conaway
She sent me a message, and 45 years turned into a weekend.
As the holidays and a new year approach and the light from the current one begins to fade, old years and distant memories often brighten. The dull ones don’t.
The cutest girl on Tennessee’s campus sent me a message, and that sent me back to Houston for her wedding a lifetime ago and just about the wildest weekend I’ve ever spent. Extant.
Calvin picked me up after work at my summer job in Memphis. We rolled by his parents’ house, parked his Volkswagen in the driveway, stole his father’s Lincoln Continental and drove all night, about 75 miles of it in fog, about two hours of it lost in that fog somewhere around Nacogdoches. We rented surfboards from a Galveston gas station and watched the sun come up trying to find a wave in still gray water.
That’s how the weekend began.
Three days later at 3 o’clock in the morning we were somewhere around Little Rock headed back to Memphis. We’d picked up another passenger for the trip back, KC, and he was driving. Calvin was riding shotgun, and I was out cold in the back seat. All four of us were a wreck. The three UT students and the Continental. It was smoking more than my pack-a-day habit at the time, the air conditioning had crapped out, the front end was smashed in from a lost battle in a Houston intersection, and the left rear tire was shakier than we were. KC was about five-six, maybe, and wearing a brand-new cowboy hat that was bigger than that.
That’s what the Arkansas troopers saw—a smoking, wobbling, smashed ship of a car with out-of-state plates, the windows down and apparently being driven by a kid in a cowboy hat, since that’s all they could see above the gunwale of the driver’s door.
They pulled us over, and one approached down the driver’s side, the other down the passenger side, just as I woke up and sat bolt upright in the back seat, surprising both cops and causing the one I was looking at to point a nickel-plated cannon right between my eyes and suggest that I not move. I didn’t, but a number of things inside of me did.
The other cop kept his gun holstered. And Calvin sat on his. You see, as we were pulling over onto the shoulder, Calvin remembered his father’s pistol in a case in the glove compartment. Using the kind of late-night logic college students are known for, he decided it would be better to take it out of the glove compartment and hide it somewhere. Where he hid it was just about exactly where he pulled that idea from originally.
They never saw it, even when we were invited out of the car and Calvin had to leave the nest. One was still suspiciously watching me, the other was suspiciously staring at KC’s Arizona license, and both couldn’t wait for the story.
We told them that we’d been to a wedding in Houston, that we were on our way home and pointed out that the rented tuxes in the trunk would back up our story.
“Open the trunk,” they said. “You can’t make us do that without a warrant,” KC, the pre-law major, said. “Shut the hell up,” Calvin and I said and opened the trunk.
They let us go, and that’s how the weekend ended.
Space and decorum prohibit a detailed description of what happened in between, but there was a wedding, the statutes have run on everything else, and some of those things—like the Chicken Ranch—have passed into legend.
In Charlene’s message, she told me she wanted to surprise her husband, Garner, fraternity brother of those in the Continental, with one of my books for Christmas. She included a little family news and ended with, “We’re still madly in love and still having fun.”
It doesn’t get better than that.
So this season, more than just a happy new year, allow me to wish you some wild and colorful memories of old ones. It still surprises me that so many of mine are orange.
Dan Conaway graduated from UT Knoxville in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, a strong like of Smoky Mountain Market cheese dogs and a strong dislike of three draw plays and a punt. He lives in Memphis and is a communication consultant, columnist and author of I’m a Memphian, a collection of columns and posts. Visit him at www.wakesomebodyup.com.