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Chapter 6, Girls’ Night Out And Wayward Kiss

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In the summer of 1967, just after my engagement, I got a job cleaning dishes at The Tropicana Gardens Bowl, with fibs I was eighteen and was out of school.The pay was much better than baby-sitting or picking fruit. At the start of my senior year, I confessed and quit with enough saved to buy a neighbor’s car for three hundred dollars, a two-door, 1956 Desoto, hardtop. The Desoto, a tank with tail fins, rumbled when driven. Inside, it had big front and rear bench seats, power window controls, a push-button automatic transmission and a miracle radio bar which shifted to the next clear station when tapped, an expired status symbol. The driver’s door was jammed shut and required a passenger door entry and exit, reflected in the purchase price.                                                       The Desoto gave me freedom, like its namesake, to explore new worlds. Turning the corner from home, no one knew where I was, where I was going, or where I had been when I returned. I loved my new independence.With my own car, I provided family transportation and drove Mom shopping but stayed in the car and listened to the radio if she went to the grocery to avoid food stamp stigma. I drove her to work, parked the Desoto at her hotel and I walked to school. No longer did we wait for a bus, endure its frequent stops and comingle with other riders. My one-year younger brother got his driver’s license in the Desoto with me as an instructor. Its automatic shift meant he didn’t learn to drive manual shift and I retained a smug driver’s superiority over him.Dad made us park on the street so he could park in the garage. Thereafter the front of our house was cluttered with our cars, typically with my brother’s ’52 Chevy in some state of disrepair. None of us bothered with car insurance.With the Desoto, I blossomed into school popularity but retained only my one close friend, Julie. Only she knew about Vixen and Squirt.  In high school, she had blossomed into the beautiful category. Boys chased her. She was attracted to the “bad boy” type, with fast cars and lost her virginity in the back seat with one. As a “fast girl”, I was stimulated by her escapades and quizzed her about sex details to prepare for my marriage. Her veer to the wild side, however, skewed her life’s universe to an unhappy ending.My fiancé took control of not just my life when with him but all of it. His directives were, finish high school, plan the wedding, work weekends, save money, avoid boys and be with him. It was simple enough. I agreed with one concession due to my high school status, “girls’ night out” on Fridays. The 1956 Desoto meant I was the driver for the girls.My new friends, in exchange, invited me to their slumber parties and taught me about makeup. I learned how to look older, hide minor blemishes, make my eyes more oval, paint my nails and style my hair. It was my first experience of looking pretty to be noticed. I loved red lipstick and nail polish.  We tested how much makeup we could get away with at school until forced to go to the lavatory and wash it off.Shoes concealed our polished toenails from the nuns. We painted our fingernails on Fridays after school then smudged them clean Monday mornings. I applied lipstick before the rear-view mirror as soon as entering the Desoto after school in Mom’s hotel parking space. The hems of my skirts were raised to the limit imposed by the nuns and higher after school.Neither Mom nor my fiancé was in favor of my driving on “girls’ night out”, attending slumber parties or the makeup sessions but I loved them. They were my weekly allotted highlight. Fridays, at a girl’s house, we put on makeup, dressed risqué and then I drove them to a drive-in, usually the El Rancho. Sometimes a girl hid in the trunk to avoid paying but mostly bahis şirketleri to get away with it. The movie presentation was unimportant.At the drive-in, they flirted as they walked to and from the concession stand among the forest of mounted speakers and herd of cars. If a car was spotted with fogged windows or even better, rocking, they rapped on a window for laughs.Afterward, we cruised downtown San Jose, American Graffiti style, up First and down Second Streets.The rendezvous spots were Mel’s or Spivey’s Drive-Ins for close encounter flirting.   Boxed in among the parked cars at the drive-in, we ordered cokes. The carhop mounted her tray on the passenger side window as I kept my window up to keep boys at bay. Sipping cokes, we listened to radio music, made crude jokes about boys considered losers and the girls flirted with the cool ones until we forced to leave for lack of additional purchase.The girls gave phony names and phone numbers to those not desired and real ones to those sought. If they were asked why my window was up, they explained I was stuck up and an old engaged woman.At Mel’s Drive-In, two months before my graduation and scheduled wedding, my rolled-up window was tapped. He was tall with shoulder-length, dark brown hair. He had a mustache, pale blue eyes and wore a multicolored shirt with big lapels, a wide belt and bell-bottom pants, a hippy, not my type. He also had a cute smile with a narrow gap in the center of his upper teeth, suggesting mirth.I pushed the window button and rolled it down. His droll voice, jovial when introducing himself, informed me his name was Gary, a twenty-year-old, San Jose State University sophomore. His1965 burgundy colored Pontiac GTO was parked nearby.    Bantering, I learned he graduated from Los Gatos High School, a school in a town of rich people. His only job was attending school, which I envied. The other girls tried to get his attention but he stayed by my window. When he asked about me, I told petty lies but gave him my name. When the car hop told me to leave, he asked.”What’s your phone number?”As I maneuvered out of the parked cars, he tagged along next to my window. Turning the steering wheel to squeeze by another car, I blurted, “Cypress 8-2021,” my real number.Back then phone numbers were simple to remember. There was no need for an area code and prefix words made the first two digits letters of three words, AXminster, CHerry, and CYpress. The first number after the word was limited to six for Axminister, two or eight for Cherry and the four even numbers for Cypress. With the prefix word and its associated number, you only had to remember the last four digits. The word and first digit also revealed a phone’s general location. CYpress 8 meant East San Jose, and me, a poor girl.The next day he called. Summoned to the phone by Mom, I rued having given my number when I heard his voice. His clever words, however, kept me on the line even though I had to keep my end of the conversation low and ambiguous with family present.After chit chat to know a little more about each other, he asked a strange question.”You ever go to Alviso?””No, why?’I knew Dad gambled there at a place called Vahl’s because once he came home and proclaimed, he’d broke the bank at Alviso’s Vahl’s. For a month thereafter, we ate well. Gary wanted me to walk with him on Alviso’s train track to the salt ponds, a weird request, something never heard of.Instead of answering, I turned away from Mom and whispered.“Do you know of a place in Alviso called Vahl’s?”“Sure, everyone knows Vahl’s. It’s an Italian restaurant, an Alviso landmark. Supposed to have good food but I’ve never ate there.””Take me there Monday after school and I’ll see your salt ponds.””Deal! How about four o’clock?””How do I get there?””Take bahis firmaları the Alameda to Santa Clara, turn right on Lafayette Street, drive all the way to Alviso and turn left on Taylor Street, you can’t miss it.”“Good, I’ll see you then.”As I set the phone back in the receiver, I told myself.It’s not a date. I just want to see where Dad gambles.I told no one I was going.Everyone had heard of Alviso, had a vague notion of where it was but few had ever been there, including me. Its reputation put it on the, best if skipped list. After class Monday, following his directions, with a map and my lucky rabbit foot for backups, I drove to Santa Clara, then headed north on Lafayette Street.Leaving Santa Clara, the scenery shifted to a mix of small industrial and agricultural until the 1930’s pink stucco and red tile roof buildings of California’s vast Agnew state mental hospital complex was reached. Agnew was a place the State of California locked up the mentally insane, like in the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.Agnew was another place everyone heard about but avoided. I was more familiar with it than most because when young, our family temporally occupied a rural farmhouse near it. Occasionally we heard howling emitted at night from the campus, as if simians were proclaiming jungle territory.Relieved to be past Agnew, the two-lane country road continued past smelly dairies, pear orchards, a city dump, the start of wetlands and finally to the hump of Highway 237. Highway 237 was elevated to prevent its flooding and blocked my view of Alviso. As my Desoto crested the highway to the stop sign atop, Alviso revealed itself, poor, rundown and unprotected from flooding.Lafayette Street, in a twist of irony, turns into Gold Street entering Alviso. I passed ramshackle and abandoned buildings with growing apprehension. At Taylor Street, I turned left one block to another misnomer, El Dorado Street.Fronting it, on the left corner, was Vahl’s. Like Gary said you couldn’t miss it. Vahl’s appeared much nicer than my expectation. It was an island of clean, respectability among the surrounding decay with fresh exterior paint and a neon sign on the second floor proclaiming Vahl’s. I thought.Dad comes here to seek his El Dorado but like those of yore rarely finds it.                                                            Gary’s car was parked in front. I drove past and parked in a secluded corner of the rear parking lot. Dad usually stayed home on Mondays after a weekend of carousing but I didn’t want to take a chance. Gary re-parked next to me and came to open my car door. He was dressed for hiking, no longer a hippy.At the window, I explained the door was jammed, scooted over and exited the other side. I came in my school uniform, unprepared for hiking but had brought a nylon windbreaker and wore sneakers.The building entrance opened to a cocktail lounge that included a bar, a little stage, and piano. Stacked before the mirror behind the bar were green, blue and pink glasses. The dining area was accessed via a leather-clad door with window porthole.When we passed through it we entered a dining room with sturdy wood tables, covered by red and white checkered tablecloths suggested Italian fare. All was neat, clean and of 1950’s-time warp decor. An elderly, short, stocky woman with blazon, red-dyed hair, hustled out of the kitchen to greet us. As the sole diners before the dinner time rush, she fussed over us like a grandmother. At my request, she seated us in an inconspicuous rear booth.Seated, she scurried off and returned with large, leather-bound, menus. I scanned mine, saw Cioppino and ordered it. Gary seconded me. A twinge of fiancé-guilt flickered up.Cioppino, what I ate at Alioto’s after my fiancé’s first kiss.My high kaçak bahis siteleri school uniform stated my age was eighteen or less. She asked if we wanted a bottle of wine with our meal then looked askance at our coke requests. It was obvious things were different in Alviso.As we ate, the crowd began to show. Soon the lounge filled and a small group gathered around the piano. They took turns singing Italian and old Sinatra songs. Finished with my Cioppino, I excused myself to the restroom to case the place, the purpose of my being there. After washing up, I sauntered out and observed a small staircase to the second floor near the foyer.  I dawdled over to it.With an ear cocked up, I heard male voices above. Emboldened, I took a couple of steps and observed a wispy layer of ceiling smoke and heard the distinctive sound of cards shuffling, mingled with laughter. Obviously, the second floor included a card room.Dad goes up and down these stairs. He tells jokes while he shuffles and plays cards up there. His Lucky Strike pack of cigarettes sitting on the card table, the ones he often sends me to the store to purchase. I didn’t go up.Back at our table, I told Gary it was time to see his salt ponds. He rose, took our tab to the front cashier and paid in cash; the only payment permitted as declared by the large sign on an old fashion heavy, brass cash register. I asked the grandmotherly matron, as she rang up our fare, if they only sang Italian songs. She smiled and told me, one gentleman, on occasion played the piano and sang in Chinese. Gary left an impressive five-dollar tip.Outside, it was a late, warm and sunny afternoon. A salt-tinged breeze from the Bay tussled my hair. It pushed aside the odors of tidal mud, distant dump, and sewage treatment plant. I worried Gary was going to trip out on marijuana or a hallucination drug like LSD sweeping America as part of the hippy culture.My fiancé and I avoided drugs. We expected rich hippies to self-destruct and make it easier for us to get ahead. I hated smoke too and had nagged Dad into smoking outside the house. If Gary was going to light a joint or drop acid, I wasn’t going to the salt ponds. I’d seen what I came for.Instead, he acted as tour guide, explained the rail line embankment on the other side of El Dorado Street was elevated, like Highway 237, due to periodic flooding and it led to the salt ponds. We climbed atop and looked down to the Guadalupe River Slough behind it. The slough rose and sank with the tide and the tide was out. Its banks were decorated with hulks of decrepit boats stuck in mud plus a few stilt pole boat houses where boats were built on the cheap.Gary resumed his guide role and led forward to the salt ponds. We walked between the iron rails atop the graveled embankment, the rails supported by large black wooden timbers embedded in the gravel. They gave off a strong odor of creosote and were set apart to un-match any gait we tried. We varied our steps as best we could as we stumbled from timber to gravel to timber.He narrated an Alviso history lesson during our jumbled stride, how it once was a San Francisco Bay bawdy, boomtown of shipping, bars, sardine canneries, oyster beds, market duck hunting and a getaway for less than respectable behavior. He explained it became a rundown semi-ghost town due to being the low spot of Santa Clara Valley and at the end of San Jose’s sewage line. It’s topographical subsidence and subsequent periodic flooding was the result of the Valley’s aquifer being tapped for agriculture.He was enjoying himself. It was obvious he was enamored with Alviso, liked to reminisce about its colorful past and explain its unique desolate beauty as we trekked between the rails toward the salt ponds. Suddenly he stopped and pointed.”Elizabeth, look there. That’s the old Bay Side sardine cannery, once the largest cannery in California until the sardines disappeared. A Chinese guy owned it. Next to it was a worker’s dormitory, gone now. The workers slept in bunks and lived on rice.”   

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