My first car was a maroon 1991 Buick LeSabre. It had been my dad’s car before he died when I was fourteen. It was the last car he had ever owned. He had owned many cars in his 40 years of driving. The Buick was a monster. It had maroon pillow-top leather seats. The back seat was large and spacious. The whole car was a couch on wheels. I could control everything in the car from the driver’s seat. Power everything.
A silver DiscMan rested in my lap. A long cord ran from the headphone jack into a tape deck adaptor, the kind you bought at Bartell’s Drugstore. Apollo Kids by Ghostface Killah was playing. My burned copy of Supreme Clientele stayed in heavy rotation on my car stereo.
Late at night I would drive in a long loop around the north end of Seattle for no purpose other than to listen to music, alone with my thoughts. I would drive fast on Sand Point Way. I would zoom up and down the hills of 65th, loving the feeling as the car swooshed over the dips. Right on 20th. Right onto 75th. Left onto 35th to start the circuit over again.
It was a Friday night around 9 P.M. Allan Lee sat next to me on the passenger side of the front seat. He turned up the heat to 90 degrees. He cupped his hands around the heater vents in the manner of warming his hands on a fire. A 40 ounce of Old English was balanced between his knees. He closed his eyes and let the warm air run full blast over his face. He looked not unlike a purring cat.
“Ohhhh yeah.” Said Allan.
“Yo fool, cut that shit out; you’re wasting gas.”
“Chill out, dude.”
In theory, the Buick had dual climate control. Allan had negated this duality by turning his heat up to 90 degrees. The drivers side of the car had grown unbearably hot. It was not particularly cold outside. The exterior temperature read 55 degrees in sea-foam green digital letters on the black screen in the center console. A mild Seattle night.
“Yo, for real. Turn that shit off. You’re being hella gay,” I said.
Allan shot me an annoyed look.
Allan turned the heat down. I asked him,
“What’s the cross streets to this party?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m waiting on a call from Tim. Its some Garfield kids. Madison Park I think. Head that way.”
Husky Stadium slipped by on our left. Over the Mountlake Cut. Past the iconic Hop-In grocery that stood as my mental marker for the end of my territory. The Hop-In was the edge of my adolescent universe. Not that I was not familiar with the City south of the Hop-In; I was. It was just a different world, and I treated it as such, carrying myself there in a guarded manner. Nor was leaving my universe an unpleasant experience, I relished these excursions. It was exciting to leave my North End world. The kids that inhabited this other world seemed to me infinitely more cultured. I wanted their respect. I wanted them to see in me a kindred spirit. I wasn’t really a North End kid I reasoned, I was from the U-District. My neighborhood had sidewalks. I wasn’t from one of the quasi-suburban neighborhoods one associates with the North End of Seattle.
With these thoughts in mind and the Hop-In in my rear-view mirror, I drove onward, up the hill and through the CD towards Madison Park.
The hardwood floors of the house were marred with dirty footprints trekked in by party-goers. The floor was sticky beneath my feet with spilled beer and dirt. The walls around the fireplace in the living room were lined with built-in bookcases full of books and family photos. Odds and ends. Knick-knacks.
I Got 5 On It by the Luniz blasted at full volume from the stereo. No one was dancing though. Boys stood rigidly clutching 40’s to their chests; trying to look hard. If not clutching 40’s, they stood with a beer in one hand, and an 18-pack of beer with the top end ripped opened in the other hanging by their side. A few held fifths of hard alcohol they sipped before chasing the liquor with sips of juice or Coca-Cola.
The boys dressed in North Face Jackets, fitted baseball caps, and khaki pants that sagged below the belt. The girls wore North Face jackets and tight jeans. I wasn’t drinking. I was driving that night. I still clung to the idea of not drinking and driving, an idea I would eventually abandon for a while before coming back to it.
I struck up a conversation with a pretty girl a grade below me named Margot. She was a brunette with an olive complexion. She was what we called a butter-face. Everything about her was hot “but her” face. Her face wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t anything special either. She had a large nose and brown eyes. Her body was amazing. Her tight jeans made her large posterior look great. Butter-face or not, I was definitely interested in getting to know her intimately right away. We talked and flirted. Margot laughed at my jokes. She looked up at me into my eyes. I felt fairly confident that she was somewhat interested in me. I kept trying to play it cool.
The mood of the party shifted instantly to confusion and panic. Everyone ran out the back sliding glass door and started jumping the fence. It was like rats escaping from a burning ship. Margot and I followed. The fence was wooden and old and slimy and wet. The force of people jumping it had it leaning forward. My car was parked a half block away from the front of the house. I thought to myself “This is retarded, I haven’t been drinking, I don’t want to fuck up my gear on this slimy ass fence. I’m just going to walk out the front door. Plus that’ll make me look hella badass and savage to Margot.” I took a deep breath.
“Margot, let’s just walk out the front door and get in my car and bounce.”
“But the cops…”
“Fuck the cops, I haven’t been drinking or smoking. I’ll just put my arm around you and we’ll walk right by them.”
She didn’t say anything. She just nodded, trusting me with her pretty brown eyes. I put my arm around her and we turned away from the fence and walked back through the sliding glass door and through the living room to the front door. I took another deep breath and said to Margot,
“You got this.”
But I was really saying it to myself. We walked through the door arm in arm. I shut it behind me. We were on the porch. Two cops stood by their cars double parked in the street in front of the house. One was a fat middle-aged male cop in glasses and one a buff-looking lady cop with short hair, anything feminine about her disguised by the thickness of her bulletproof vest. I clutched Margot closer to me. I imagined myself being a hundred feet tall. We walked down the steps, I nodded at the man cop and we walked right by him down the block to my car. Once inside the car Margo looked at me and said,
“That was amazing.”
And then we kissed. Her lips soft against mine in the front seat of a Buick LeSabre.