The Drive In Rookie

With winter around the corner, the drive in movie theater my wife wife works the concessions for, The Foggy Window, will be shutting down soon for the season.  It made me a little nostalgic with regard to my first experience at a drive in theater.

In 1977, I was four years of age when Star Wars hit the big screen. Apparently, I was too small for the big screen, so I was left at home while my older brothers and sisters went to the movie during the holiday season.  I vaguely remember being upset, but my mother made up for it by donating an extra gallon of egg nog to its most worthy organ……my stomach.  Three years later, some of my older siblings returned from working in Alaska for an annual visit.  That was always terrific because they had a load of spending money, and they would be very generous to the youngest siblings still living at home.  Maggie, 8 years my elder, Greg, 6 years ahead of me and Tom only four above.  Two of my sisters returning from Alaska, and I don’t remember which two, would show us some high old times in the city of brotherly tolerance, Spokane, Washington.  There was pizza, Chinese food,  skating at the downtown Pavilion, and of course carnivals.  My older sisters were always pleased to pay for everything even though our old man would kick in  a few bucks each to pay for some of the festivities.  He wanted them to save their hard earned money,  and they wanted to blow it.  Maggie, Greg, Tom and I didn’t give a rat’s constitution.  They were the limo drivers and we were riding first class.

Drive In Movie TheaterOne of my sisters, it could have been Anne, Theresa, or Dorothy, read in the Spokesman Review an advertisement for a drive in movie viewing of Star Wars being shown that night.  She thought it may be fun if we went, even though everyone had already seen it but me.  They all wanted to see it for a second time, and were thrilled to know I’d never seen it.  I was elated.  I can go?   I’m only seven.  My sisters said, “It’s PG, who gives a crap. You’re going, Ben.”  Hell, the movie could have been X rated for all they cared.  Even if the movie was titled, Ben Does Baltimore, they wouldn’t have given a crap.  They weren’t going to watch the movie anyway.  The drive in movie theater is a terrific place to baby sit and drink beer.  So, we loaded up the station wagon (limo) with people, beer and a few sodas from our own refrigerator, and headed to the local theater.

I’d heard tall tales about drive ins such as people hiding  in the trunks of cars getting  in for free.  I wasn’t in for that.  It seemed like we would be crossing a border,  and that was terrifying to me thinking I may never see my mother and father again.   Plus, it was a sin.  However, it would have given me ammunition for confession since I wasn’t much of a sinner in those days.  I still wanted to play for the Team of Jesus, rather than the Satan Slaves I’d heard so much about in church.   We went straight.  No laws had been broken, yet.

Greg, Tom and I hit the concessions like it was an Ali/Frazier rumble.  Popcorn, (extra butter flavoring) licorice,  gum,  soda, (we had already pounded the ones from home on the way to the movie) milk duds, M & Ms and anything else to keep us awake.   We were ready to head to a different galaxy loaded with Jedi Knights, some guy in a bigfoot costume making weird noises, a band of goofy aliens playing disco music, and a dude named Vader.  I’d just hoped it was better than Star Trek, the movie, because that sucked.

Before the speakers were set up properly,  all you could hear was laughter the medieval hand full crunches of popcorn and the opening of beer cans.  I didn’t know if that was legal or not, but I didn’t care.   Let the drivers get loaded.  I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

With the speakers set up, I noticed the sound was similar to the crunching of popcorn.  You could basically hear every third or fourth word of what was being spoken on the screen.  With the lot packed we had no choice but to listen, or not listen to the movie that way.  Looking back with the sounds of my beer drinking sisters’ laughter mixed in with the sheer volume of their normal conversation voices which couldn’t even be measured in decibels, would have drowned out whatever was being said through the speaker.  No chance in even a civilized Hell could I dream of shushing my sisters.  They seemed to be having fun and our bellies were more than satisfied.  That’s when I decided to utilize a talent I had developed during dinner time at the short table during the holidays.  I could read lips.

Always disappointed not being able to sit at the tall table with the adults, I was the oldest and angriest at the short table with my booger eating nephews and nieces.  What a crock.  Trying to ignore the youth at our table, I could always hear belly laughter at the big boy and girl table with several of my brothers telling stories which were apparently hilarious.  After grace was delivered, there was no pious nature at that table, and I wanted desperately to hear what they were saying.  I love to laugh more than I love a terrific stuffing laced with mounds of sensational gravy.  So, I would figure out who was providing the laughter and watch his or her lips to decipher what they were saying.  My nephews and nieces must have thought I was crazy, because I would join in on the laughter.  “What the hell is he laughing at?” they would utter during my fits of heavy chuckling.  It became a gift I would use at the drive in that night.

Unfortunately, I was not able to catch every word, but I could follow the plot, which was dandy for me.  However, my gift would soon turn to the dark side.  Darth Vader, a pretty significant character in the movie, wore a mask.  How the hell do I read lips when someone doesn’t even have lips?  I could only hear muffled breathing through the chunks of speaker remaining after Greg became impatient and gave it a few whacks with an old shalalie he found in the back of the station wagon commonly used as a threat when we’d get unruly in the car.

When the movie ended, I asked a few questions about what I may have missed, but I knew I’d eventually see it again, with sound.  Just being with my siblings, both young and old made me happy.   Camping in a sugar, butter, and booze smelling tavern on wheels was enough for me.  I think Greg drove us home.  He was only 13, but he was sober, and even drove us off road in a local field pretending he was captain of the Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids while my sisters screamed with laughter, begging him to go faster and faster.  Without seatbelts, we were flying around the station wagon like stove top Jiffy Popcorn. It was fantastic.

We made it home safely, and tried to clean the car as best as we could.  My sisters made sure the 24 cans of beer consumed remained at the theater grounds.  Dad wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing them the next morning in the trash.  It was a hell of a night for the Gannons.  No arguing, no bullying, no fighting, no atomic wedgies, no religion, no politics, and no sound other than laughter.  I’ll take that any day or night.

When I told my wife this story, it convinced her to apply for the tech support job opening at Foggy Window Drive In next Spring.  She’s pretty good with that sort of stuff.  I wonder if needs people like her.  I hear they pay pretty well.  We sure could use the extra scratch.

Profanity Diner

My brother, Greg, can make anyone blush.  It’s usually in a diner when others are eating biscuits and gravy or a six pack of pancakes loaded with every diabetic’s dream.

He also deals with reality, and at this point in my life, I’m grateful he does.

Years ago, he met a girlfriend of mine in a diner.  I was also there with my brother, Tom.  He was primarily there for the coffee and steak and eggs.  Greg was there to evaluate.  I was merely in the diner to introduce them to this odd girl they’d never met.  My date at the time had a name.  I can’t quite recall it.  I do remember her profession.  She helped impound repossessed cars.  What’s wrong with that?  I was merely a teacher repossessing and impounding students, so I thought we had a great deal in common.  My brother, Greg, frowned upon her as though she was just another one of those dirt diggers, hoping to get whatever money I didn’t have and place it in her filthy back drawers.  According to Greg, she wasn’t up to snuff.  It was then when I asked Greg to give her a chance.  Tom had a mouthful of food.  Greg had a mouthful of advice.  After speaking to this girl for almost five minutes, he turned to me and said, in his loudest of diner voices, “If you f–k, this up,  I will kick the living s–t out of you!”  People turned their heads at how vocal he was,  appalled by his profanity.  Greg was just recognizing her intelligence, beauty, wit, charm and sense of humor all in those five minutes.  I wouldn’t say it was his most charming of moments, but it did stick to me like Greg’s gorilla glue always did.

I took his threat into consideration and asked her out for another date, this time without my brothers.  She decided, upon my brother’s advice, she would accept, only because she didn’t wish me to get the s–t beat out of me.

I finally figured out the girl’s name and she later became Vice President of a local repossession dealership in Seattle. Britt and I have been happily married for the last 12 years and I haven’t had any s–t kicked out of me.

These days,Greg frequents diners working for tips or free bacon while giving other couples solid advice.  Most of those customers end up properly divorced.  We were two of the lucky ones.

Tom gave up coffee for smoked trout and hikes.

All is well.

Prep Time and the Book

I guess you could say I went to a garden party one day.  It was only fun because I could pay off a bet.  Let’s just say it wasn’t a Twix candy bar sort of bet.  I had one hour to meet up with my Italian bookie on my duty free lunch time as a middle school teacher, or they may have showed up for me at school, thus ending my career.

My Italian bookie was a nice fella.  He knew I was a nice and stupid drunk Irishman fella with friends, neighbors and family members trusting my wallet.  Errors come in trios, no matter what nationality.  I was the bank for them, and the bookie was waiting to collect at his local garden spot.  He sold flowers, plants, wilted lettuce and sausage.  He collected money from clowns like me. I was a semi phony teacher and he was a semi phony business man.  We were both part time actors.  I liked him.

With an envelope the size of a maple bar filled with dirty twenty, tens, fives, some ones and a few c-notes, I finished my English lesson before my lunch time and prep period to pay off my dues.  My driver was, and still is, miraculously, a fellow teacher and friend.  He was nervous.  I was more worried about getting back to class on time.  He wanted to drop me off and catch a bus back to school.  Then, I had to negotiate.  My driver was not going to enter the “store” with me as planned.  I told him I’d go in, and pay this bookie off as long as he would give me a ride back to our respected place of employment.  Nervously, he thought I may return to the car with something severed.  I assured him we were PAYING OFF a bet.  We may even get a free head of lettuce in the transaction.

When I entered the establishment, the bookie and I had never personally met.  At first glance, he knew I was the Irish Catholic gambler/school teacher he should be collecting debts from, and he asked me to follow him to his office.  He saw the maple bar in my pocket and was pleased.  He said the Mrs. was going to have a nice Christmas.  She hated his gambling but always seemed happy when she’d be given a load of dirty cash.  He even offered me a beer in his office.  I respectfully declined stating, “No, I have children to teach.”  That’s absolutely true and also widening the scope of abject hypocrisy.

Hitching Post 77

Picking up hitch hikers is something my wife and I don’t ordinarily do.  In fact, after almost ten years of marriage, this was our first time.  I’d never personally picked one up myself and neither had she.  The only hitch hiker I shared a ride with was in in the 1970’s when my father picked one up while a man was thumbing a ride across the State Line of Idaho, a place where no one was thought to be crazy.  I was six, and my two older brothers in the backseat were ten and twelve.  My father was in his fifties driving with an open beer in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.   We were all in prime condition for hands on combat with a wandering weirdo.  Hand to knife?  No.  Hand to gun?  Negative.  I guess it turned out ok, because my father was a pretty good judge of character and maintained faith in the Lord.  Those were the odds my father held in his favor when potentially picking up a stranger with lethal weapons.  Are there any other kind these days?  Well,  I’m still here to write about this bold memory, and my wife are I are here cozily tossing and turning with the puppy who was there with us for our first hitcher.

Trying to locate a Veterinary clinic on a secluded island, our global positioning system went on the fritz, so we resulted to the ancient art of prayer to help us find our way.  Perhaps God’s GPS wasn’t working that day either, or He was teaching us a lesson for not attending church the week prior……or the week before that, or the week before that,  or on Easter and Christmas.  We were lost on a land with twisted roads surrounded by a sea of angry waves and AARP drowning victims.  We knew the majority of the island’s inhabitants were between the ages of sixty five and one hundred.

Our dog in the back was scratching her head trying to help us find our way.  She also had a terrible earache.  Seconds felt like hours before we saw a man gimping down the road in front of us with his arm straighten to the left and a thumb in the air.  We drove past him before my wife, the driver, felt a wave of island guilt pass within her after glancing in the rear view mirror.  Looking at me, she asked, “Should we pick him up?”

I responded, with befuddled fashion, “Seriously?”

She then began to tell me how she knew I had good judgement regarding these situations as though I drove around the streets of any city U.S.A. looking for hitch hikers with the sixth sense of knowing if I’d be hijacked or successfully helping a fellow man requiring assistance.  She also thought I’d get that warm feeling wondering if I’d be brutally murdered by a fellow citizen of the street.

I looked back and noticed he was an older man somewhere between 65 and 90.  He was also wearing a University of Virginia Tech (Home of the Fighting Hokies) sweatshirt screaming out, “Would a man wearing  a Va. Tech pull over ever be capable of killing a wife, her husband along with their stupid dog?  People, I implore you!”

Loving the fact my wife held such confidence in me, while shrewdly passing the guilt to me, I told her to turn around and we’ll pick him up.  She also stated it was my ass who would be held responsible for making the wrong decision.

Before allowing him into the car, my wife asked him where he was headed and then asked if he trusted us.  Trusted us?!!  What the hell was she talking about? Do we trust him seemed more appropriate.  I simply said, “Go Hokies” thinking this may break the wind, and ease any ideas he may have regarding causing harm to us.  Ultimately, he did trust us, and we trusted him.

Not only did this 77 year old gentleman, who had missed his bus ride back to town just three miles away, guide us to the Vet clinic, he then provided specific instructions to a little known breakfast spot only the native islanders knew.  We were both grateful and starving.

After bidding one another adieu, he vanished after crossing the street and my wife looked at me and said, “I guess I was right.”  It’s still a mystery to me if she was talking about herself or her right hand man potentially making the correct or colossally stupid decision. Letting that go, our dog’s ear was well taken care of and our bellies were eventually full.


Billionaires and Brains

Never having delivered a commencement speech or even remembering one, I have say I will remember these two even though I wasn’t in attendance.

Billionaire, Robert F Smith’s commencement speech at Morehouse college in Atlanta was highlighted by promising to pay off all of the the students’ loans.  Pretty thoughtful.  Just the other day, we finally paid off my wife’s student loans after graduating from Crab Creek College in Zydeco, Louisiana 20 years ago.  What a relief.  At Crab Creek, she learned how to suck the juice out of hundreds of crawfish while piling up student debt.

Also breaking the airwaves once again was (drum roll for my followers, please) yes, the one and  lonely, Matthew McConaughey!!  This graceful man delivered the commencement speech at his former High School where he never officially graduated after forgetting to pick up his diploma.  His message:  “Never negotiate your heart.”  Clearly, brains and integrity are up for grabs to the highest bidder.

He then zoomed off shortly after the celebration in his 2019 Lincoln with diploma in one hand and a bottle of bourbon in the other.

I have returned from my writing sabbatical, and it took Master McConaughey to inspire me.  Who’d have thunk it?



Juice Bags

A friend of mine, whose name, Jeremy, will remain nameless was recently cut off by a driver he referred to, out loud, as a “Douche Bag”.  With a momentary lapse of verbal judgement, he forgot his three elementary children were in the back seat.  One of them asked, “Dad, what’s a “Juice Bag?”  I think he got off easy on that one.

As a loyal friend, I’m going to reveal the true story to his wife when his and her boys start calling people Juice Bags.

There are just too many juice bags in this world.  One of them is currently trying to run our country.


King County has recently hiked up their numbers regarding license plate tabs.  My last purchase for tabs was 580 dollars.  There was a time when I was in a cheaper place.

License plates are a tricky issue.  When you are homeless, your car becomes your home.

Years ago, when I was teaching in a land far far away, and during a pending divorce, I was asked to provide my place of residence by the Address Police, AKA secretaries of our school.  I provided my license plate number, model and make of my  car, because I had no proper place of residence.  Even though many people offered me unconditional shelter, my truck was the only place I could properly call my home, since it was my own.

It was only funny to my fellow teachers who appreciated the fact I had become a loser.  The secretary merely shook her head and filed it.

I’m better now.