PLYMOUTH — For an 18-year-old kid in 1969, happiness was a 1964 Plymouth Valiant.
It was a smooth ride, man. Well, not really, but it was wheels for a kid who wanted to hang out with his pals and venture out of the friendly confines of Old Shawnee once in a while.
And so we did. We would hang out on East Main Street in front of C. Matus News, standing there holding up the parking meters and watching the world go by. We were always looking out to catch a glimpse or two of a carload of pretty girls in the hopes they would smile back and maybe even tell us where they were headed.
When we got tired of that, we would head into the pool hall and shoot some 9-ball or Harrigan and challenge each other with those finely chalked house cues that “Boikey” Matus offered. We would drop a few quarters in the 6-card pinball machine in hopes of hitting it big.
For kids just out of high school and still trying to figure out what the world had to offer, these were the best of times.
We would head to Joe’s Pizza for a large pie with extra cheese, maybe onions, and a coke. At some point, we would head to Harveys Lake — Friday night to Sandy Beach where Eddie Day would be playing in the two-story pavilion. We would dance until intermission and then jump in the lake to cool off. Then back for more dancing.
At night’s end, it was off to Elby’s on Route 11 for a Slim Jim or a Big Boy platter. Melba was our favorite waitress because she got us and tolerated us. She knew we were harmless.
Saturdays were spent for the most part on Sandy Beach soaking up the rays. The beach was always packed — girls were everywhere. And if you had a decent transistor radio, man, you were really cool.
After getting sunburned, we would head back to Plymouth to shower and get ready to go back out to Harveys Lake to Hanson’s and the second-story dance hall. Again we would dance all night.
Sometimes we would stop at Dwyer’s Lunch on East Main Street, or the Lark Diner for a Cheeseburger Royale — oh, those greasy fries were so delicious. Dwyer’s featured “Sober Up Soup,” not that we under-aged people would ever need that. Wink wink.
We really did have fun back in the day. And we were innocents trying to figure out the world. We were always behaved and we always had fun.
So that 1964 Valiant I spoke of earlier — dark blue, four-door sedan, push-button automatic transmission — was given to me by my dad when he got his new car — a 1969 dark green Plymouth Road Runner. Now that was a gorgeous vehicle — far sharper than my previous car, a 1966 Pontiac GTO.
Now the GTO was beautiful to look at — powder blue metallic with a white convertible top and white leather interior. It was a gorgeous car, but it had numerous mechanical issues. When I started the GTO, I was never sure it would re-start when I was ready to return home. It happened so often, my dad finally said we had to get rid of it.
That’s when I took possession of the ‘64 Valiant and my dad became the driver of one of the coolest cars in Plymouth — the Road Runner.
But the Valiant served me well. It got me and my pals everywhere we needed to go. Until this one night.
It was a long night. We had performed our ritualistic stint at Matus News, shooting pool, playing the pinball and holding up the parking meters out front. It was Friday night, so we had our pizza and headed to Sandy Beach. It was a great evening. We danced and danced and we had loads of fun. We then headed to Elby’s for a late night platter and then headed down Route 11 for home.
Now I will tell you that this Valiant was on its last legs. It had gotten to the point where I would tell the gas station attendant at Cheponis Gas Station to check the gas and fill the oil. It was that bad.
As we were driving over the Narrows, the oil light went on. As we turned the corner into Plymouth, Cheponis’ Gas Station was closed. Uh-oh.
I had only about a mile or so to go. I would park the car and go get oil in the morning and ask Gordy Lane if there was anything he could do to fix the car.
But the Valiant stopped just past the Lark Diner. The engine had frozen. The car was a goner.
We walked home, mourning the loss of a good friend who had served us all so well — Valiantly, perhaps.
I drove past the Valiant’s final resting place the other day and I remembered that night, just like I remember so many other great days and nights back in the day.
Memories are precious, even when you lose your wheels.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]