I was reminiscing with a co-worker recently and the topic of awkward first dates came up. I didn’t have to contemplate very long. My walk down memory lane led me straight to the drive-in, where a good portion of my memorable “date from hell” was spent. Now I have you thinking…drive-in…awkwardness…date from hell…SEX…this has gotta be good. Right?
The girl in this date, Evelyn, was a long time family friend who wanted to be more than that. When we were in our early teens and lived in Silver Springs Maryland, she had the biggest crush on me (ask anyone). I never really “clicked” with her though. Maybe it was because I had known her for so long and she felt more like family than anything else to me. Whatever the reason, I was relieved when my family transferred away and we didn’t see each other for years.
During July of 1976, I was at home on break from my sophomore year at LSU. Evelyn was 20 and living in North Carolina, but she and her mother were visiting my family in New Orleans for a week. Right away I could tell she was ready to pick up where she left off, wanting to take the friendship to “the next level”. I still wasn’t too keen on the idea. I hemmed and hawed as long as could before being pressured into a taking her on a date by the two mothers. I know that wherever my mom is right now, she is still snickering over that one.
Trying to make the date as innocent as possible, I selected Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner. It was very popular and busy, which meant the romance quotient would be low (no quiet candle lit dinners). Afterwards we would see a light comedy (heavy drama, sci-fi or horror tend to make dates clench onto you) at the local cineplex. I was feeling pretty confident. I was sure I could get through the date without allowing Evelyn the slightest possibility for physical interaction. That is until I learned that she discovered we had a drive-in theater just a few miles from where we lived. And it showed classic double features every Friday night, which she LOVED. I reluctantly agreed to the change in plans, my apprehension now twisting knots in my stomach that an eagle scout could be proud of.
The movies on tap for the coming Friday? Night of the Living Dead and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Gulp.
The night started off well. The restaurant was crowded and our small talk had to be yelled across the table. I didn’t say much. I kept stuffing crab legs into my mouth so I wouldn’t have to.
My mood started to sour as we made our way from the diner to the drive-in, whereas Evelyn’s mood seemed to improve. We had arrived a little early, so we were able to pull my brother’s El Camino into an open slot on the front row. The borrowing of my brother’s car was another strategic move on my part. I wasn’t going to take my Chevy van, with all the possibilities that could offer. I told (fibbed) Evelyn that I was having problems with my alternator. She seemed disappointed.
The drive-in was older than I was and the deterioration over the years were evident everywhere. The front of the complex, underneath the screen where a recreational park had once been, was now overgrown with shrubs. A obscure breed of grey dog was roaming near the corner of the fence, sniffing for food. At least I thought so until I saw him raise his leg and relieve himself. A smaller dog, brown I think, was weaving in and out between the cars looking for a handout. All of the posts where the audio speaker boxes were housed were badly in need of a paint job. The enormous white screen itself was in surprisingly good shape, with only a slight tear in the upper left hand corner.
Not long after we had settled in other cars pulled into the slots on either side of us. On our left was an older middle age couple who were dressed in matching sweaters, and to the right were two couples of high school age kids. I noticed all of this because I was trying to focus my attention everywhere but inside my own car.
I quickly realized that I had made a tactical error in selecting my brother’s car to bring. Even though the van would have been a disastrous choice, it had bucket seats up front. My brother’s El Camino had just a single bench seat. No sooner had I turned off the ignition, Evelyn slid over to my side of the car as if she had a magnet in her pocket and I was made of metal.
Now my anxiety level was really peaking. I truly had no desire to “swap spit” or any other bodily fluids with Evelyn, but I also didn’t know how to say no without hurting her feelings. My mind was churning furiously, trying to think of anything that might ruin the mood for her, and be a reprieve for me. I rolled down my window and started reaching for the speaker when I noticed that it was missing. In the spot where it would normally sit was a small sign that read FOR SOUND TURN YOUR FM RADIO TO 88.1. Since my brother’s radio had a rotary tuner, it took a couple minutes to zero in on the frequency and just when I did the huge screen in front of us lit up, started to flicker, and the first movie had begun. THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was first up.
We were about a third of the way through the movie when I could feel her looking at me. I continued to stare straight ahead, ignoring her gaze, pretending to be totally absorbed in the movie. When she didn’t relent, I gave in and turned to look at her, bracing myself for her to lunge and shove her tongue down my throat. As I studied her, sitting there just smiling at me, I noticed movement outside the car behind her. I craned my head to the side a bit to look out the passenger window, and I suddenly knew what I was seeing.
The Chevy Impala that the middle age couple had driven up in was rocking back and forth from side to side. The man and woman were no where to be seen and the windows appeared heavily steamed. The car was now shifting so violently that the rear springs could be heard squeaking. Evelyn followed my stare, turning her head to look out of the passenger window, and when she did I shifted my attention 180 degrees and looked out of my window to the car where the high school kids had been. Sure enough, although the car was motionless, there was nobody to be seen and the windows were steamed.
Beads of sweat now broke out on my forehead. My head rotated back to the forward position as I pondered my next move. That’s when I saw it. The sight of all sights. The piece de resistance. Directly in front of the El Camino, approximately 20 feet from the hood of the car, back lit by Kevin McCarthy destroying an alien pod with an axe, was the grey dog mounted on top of the brown one, humping for all he was worth.
At that precise moment I felt a hand grab my thigh, and I jumped. My right arm jerked instinctively upward, driving my elbow straight into Evelyn’s nose. She didn’t make a noise, but I knew that it had to hurt. I turned on the overhead lights to see blood pouring from her nose. She was searching unsuccessfully for something to stave the flow. I knew my brother kept old t-shirts behind the seat for rags, so I reached back and grabbed one, handing it to her. When the bleeding didn’t seem to be slowing after a few minutes, I pulled out of our slot and headed home.
Evelyn’s nose was fine after our mom’s applied a cold compress. Although the family liked to bring up that night often, the two of us really never talked about it alone. She and her mom returned home at the end of the week and our relationship slowly boiled down to exchanging cards at Christmas.
Cute story, huh? You know what the really funny part is? Remember the T-shirt I gave Evelyn? The day after our disastrous date I was putting it in the laundry when I looked at it closer. It was a Rolling Stones shirt depicting the cover of one of their classic albums.
Anybody remember what the cover of Sticky Fingers looks like?