Tag Archives: teenagers

#187 – Saturday In The Park

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#187 – Saturday In The Park by Chicago

– I’m using an absence of total recall to put the pieces of this puzzle together. It’s not pretty since it’s a tale involving both youth and… well, the stupidity that comes with youth. Then again, when many of us look back at our teenage years, there’s a good chance a lot of growing up experiences fit those adjectives. In many ways, that’s what growing up is all about.

This trek into the past was stirred by the release date of Saturday In The Park. I couldn’t find a definitive date other than sometime in the month of July 1972. But the exact date doesn’t matter since boomers will remember songs were premiered on AM radio in advance of release date. Deejays would hype their insider reputations by announcing exclusive broadcasts of potential hit songs before they were available in stores. The excitement would build and listeners couldn’t wait to hit their local record bins to buy a song they had to have after days or even weeks of only being able to hear it on the radio.

Chicago 2

So regardless of the exact release date, it’s a good assumption that even before we were into the month of July that year, Saturday In The Park was in heavy rotation on our car radios. And though I don’t have a specific memory relating to this song, I recall when it was Chicago’s latest hit – which puts us into the summer of ’72. This was also my last summer as a teenager and making experiences that overwhelmingly fit the above dumb and dumber related adjectives.

The mental journey this song takes me on is a road trip. And based on that memory, it would take a 19-year old road warrior to pull off this type of adventure and not be worse for wear and tear. If I was to do this today… well, with age comes wisdom. Maybe I could, but I know enough to not even try.

The first memory exercise comes with placing dates and certain events. In looking at a calendar from 1972 and exactly where I was on specific days, I’m more than dumbfounded my good friend Gary and I even had time to put this adventure together. On Monday, July 3rd a bunch of us were at The Akron (Ohio) Rubber Bowl for an outdoor concert by Rod Stewart & Faces with Badfinger. Then eight days later on July 11th we were at the same stadium for The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street Tour.

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In between The Faces and The Stones, we made a teenaged road warrior trip

Roughing It

Starting from the shores of Lake Erie west of Cleveland, we drove Gary’s hatchback car to visit our best pal Tim in Albany, New York. This is what we were calling a camping trip because Gary had purchased some type of tent contraption that fit over the back of his car when the hatchback was in the up position. The seats would fold down and the car would have enough room for our sleeping bags. It was easy, fast to set up and for teenagers, very cool.

Oh, did I forget about the stupidity part? That’s coming up…

In 1972 the legal drinking age was 18. In our home state of Ohio, that meant we could buy beer containing a lower 3.2% alcohol. But in New York you could buy anything, including high-potent booze that could make remembrances of stupidity impossible the next day.

Tim had moved with his family to Albany shortly after high school graduation. The three of us couldn’t get together as often, so the goal was to do a quick overnight visit before Gary and I made a sharp right on the highways and headed south to Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And since we were in New York State, we thought (stupidly) it was a good place to fill up our beer cooler with stock more potent than the 3.2% we were only allowed to buy in Ohio.

This is the stuff!

While roaming through a beverage store pretending we were smarter than we really were, Tim pointed out a high-potent local beer called Maximus Super. I just looked it up online and the alcohol content is 8.9%.

We were a long way from Ohio.

Tim told us about polishing off a six-pack before a Humble Pie concert earlier that summer. He claimed to have finished the last one just as the band came on stage, then remembers nothing else until waking up in the backseat of the car as his friends were dropping him off at home. He claimed it was impossible to drink that much of the brew without passing out. Using the full mental power of a 19-year old college student and frat boy, I accepted the challenge and grabbed a six-pack for our trip south.

Our first night in Virginia Beach was spent at a place call the Cherry Motel. I remember this detail because of a photo taken next to the pool with the sign in the background. We did tourist stuff by visiting Colonial Williamsburg and Roanoke Island. Our next stop was Nags Head, North Carolina where we set up the car as our tent in a camp ground surrounded by sand dunes.

This was also a very cool destination.

I still have total recall of buying a green t-shirt that said “Peabody’s” that I wore for years, until it finally just fell apart. We also hit a local seafood restaurant where a staff of very cute waitresses served us platters of crab legs (mostly free because I’m guessing they also considered Gary and I were cute) while we went through pitchers of low-potent draft beer.

During one of our sand dune camping days we hit the beach and made plans to hit the town for another night in another seafood restaurant. But before we set out on that adventure, we sat down at a picnic table near our car-tent to have a few beers out of the cooler. I decided that was a good time to take the Maximus Super challenge.

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This is what I remember specifically, because I’ve told this part of the story many times since. I wish I had told it more as a warning for other mentally embarrassed 19-year olds, but it’s mainly been as a confession of stupidity worthy of a few laughs at my expense.

After a couple hours of sunshine, laughs and current Top 40 hits from a portable AM radio – and I’m assuming Saturday In The Park was on the playlist – I finished the sixth and final can of this Maximus brew. I remember standing on the picnic table declaring our friend Tim was a “wimp” and…

The next thing I remember is the bright morning sunshine waking me up.

I was in my sleeping bag, but under the picnic table instead of in the back of our car-tent where Gary was sound asleep. I staggered over, woke him up and asked what the heck had happened. It turned out I was the wimp. After making my tabletop declaration, I was no more coherent than Tim had been during Humble Pie and quickly made my mental and physical exit into the sand under the table. Gary ditched me to go out for something to eat. When he returned he tossed me my sleeping bag and left me to sleep it off in the sand for my recovery process.

As for my learning process, I won’t confess to being an angel because of this incident. But I will admit the rest of this trip was dry as we headed up the coast to New York City for a quick visit with my cousin, one more overnight in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and back in time for a July 11th date with The Rolling Stones in Akron.

1970’s Maximus Offer

Saturday In The Park? I won’t use that song as a soundtrack to describe my road warrior episode since it was fast, furious and along with a brief lack of memory, anything but a calm and simple walk in the park. But on the morning of July 17th when it joined this Dream Song List in the hasn’t-been-heard-in-a-long-time subliminal category, it jump-started my thoughts back to that summer of ’72. The concerts, the friends and the road trip were great. And as for that one night in Nags Head… well, it’s probably best not to be remembered.

But wait. Did this youthful episode of stupidity end my relationship with Maximus Super? Yes – to be specific, it did. But not with the beer’s source.

A dozen years later I visited the Matt Brewing Company in Utica, New York where this brew is brewed. Utica was the hometown of my steady girlfriend of that moment and her pre-NYC job had been as a tour guide and model for the brewery. She gave me the tour and a few extra sample tastes of different beers.

With total recall I’m proud to say I passed on anything that might have had the word Maximus in the name or the alcohol potency to black out an entire Humble Pie concert or a night on a sand dune. So let’s just say… lesson learned (the hard way!).

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Thanks for reading – and keep rockin’!!

Here’s a video of Saturday In The Park by Chicago – beer not included

 

 

To purchase Chicago’s Greatest Hits with Saturday In The Park visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

 

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#192 – Sweet Caroline

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#192 – Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond

 – There are a few pop culture bandwagons I’ve been happy to miss. I’ve never owned a pet rock; could care less if anyone ever solves a Rubik’s Cube, and was never into the cult of Neil Diamond.

Now don’t get me wrong. I get it for the legions of fans who are.

Diamond has sold multi-millions of records, is one of the top pop songwriters of all time and his concerts still sell out. He’s also been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I get it.

I also loved the dedication and humor sent his way in the film Saving Silverman and the characters’ tribute band, Diamonds in the Rough. Neil made a cameo appearance, which definitely made him a cool guy in my mind. And way back in 1966 I loved Cherry Cherry and was thoroughly impressed when I learned he had written the classic I’m a Believer for The Monkees.

But when it came to my personal tastes in 1969, Neil and Sweet Caroline were nowhere to be found. The music scene was splitting off into different extremes ranging from Woodstock rockers (Classic Rocker preferred) to bubble gum schlockers (Classic Rocker avoidance). Diamond didn’t seem to fit into either category. To my ears, his songs were aimed for a crowd that would now be called Adult Contemporary and not played on the FM rock stations I preferred.

But as I’ve written before, not too many cars in 1969 were equipped with FM radios. And since my pals and I were sixteen years old with newly earned driver’s licenses, AM Top 40 was still our cruisin’ music and we could only hear the current pop chart hits.

Not so sweet memories

One of the songs we heard constantly over our car radios in the fall of 1969 was Sweet Caroline. It definitely has a catchy tune, which seems to be a requisite to land on this Dream Song List, and has obviously stayed with me. Since I’ve never owned a copy and can’t remember the last time I’ve heard it, waking up with this tune running through my head on the morning of June 28th definitely places it into the subliminal category.

And yes, it brings back memories. But they’re not the best…

I was one of the younger members of my high school class and almost all my friends had been driving for months before I was even old enough for a temporary license. That meant I spent a lot of time hanging out at home waiting for rides. Fortunately, my best pal Kevin was as psyched as most sixteen year olds about driving and could always be relied on to be my chauffeur.

Cruisin’ around together gave us plenty of time to talk about a lot of stuff, including who was (or in my case, who would be) the better driver. We even made a bet which one would be the first to have an accident. Yeah, it’s the kind of stuff sixteen year olds would talk about, but at least we were cool enough not to bet on ourselves.

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When I finally scored my driver’s license we were two weeks into August 1969. That made life very different, even though I was still working the same job I’d had since turning ten years old. Don’t worry; we’re not dealing with unlawful child labor when I say that. My job was the chief dishwasher, bread slicer and floor sweeper at our family bakery. As baby boomers will know, parents and grandparents were allowed to put the kids to work so we could pay for our own record collections. For me a was a good deal because while the other kids were sleeping in or watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was collecting a pay envelope and peddling off on my bike to buy the latest Top 40 vinyl releases.

So on a Wednesday morning about two weeks into August 1969, my dad asked me to take my mom’s car to pick up a vacuum cleaner from a local repair shop and drop it off at home. I not only looked at the opportunity as a break from shoving baking pans into an overheated washer, but also a chance to drive.

I was psyched, but you already know what’s coming… right?

I was almost home when I thought I saw one of my younger neighborhood pals walking along the sidewalk. What could be cooler than a “older” sixteen year old pulling up and offering him a ride? Yeah, I thought so too – but when I looked out the passenger window it wasn’t him.

Too bad I wasn’t looking at the road instead.

This was a residential section, so fortunately I wasn’t going more than 25-30 mph. But even at that non-freeway snail’s pace things can happen fast. When I turned my attention back to driving, I had a few split seconds to realize the car in front of me had stopped to make a left turn.

Cue the sound effects!

Okay, let’s take a moment here to imagine your favorite comedy movie where the idiot behind the wheel drives off a cliff or high bridge. The film goes to slow motion and you see everyone in the car go bug-eyed with their mouths hanging open and in a low, slow-mo sound effect they all go, “OH $#$%%#!!!

In my case I envision a Blues Brothers car chase. The cowboys, Nazi’s and police in hot pursuit of Jake and Elwood demonstrate that slow-mo movie look and sound as they fly through the air, hurl off a road, or spin through a mall upside down.

That’s how I still picture my slow-mo self at that moment: “OH $#$%%#!!!”

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

I’ll interrupt this driving moment to make it clear no one was hurt in the making of this non-comedy movie real life action sequence. As for my mom’s car… Well, that’s another story.

Something like this.

Her car came to a sudden, crunching stop embedded into the rear of the car stopped in front of me. In slow-mo I can still see the front hood of her blue Oldsmobile Cutlass flying up in the air and landing on the road next to me. Then without any notice or fanfare, the engine dropped out with a crash accompanied by the sound of broken glass (or could it have been broken metal?). In an era before airbags, I’m sure my steel grip on the steering wheel and locked arms bracing for impact kept me from a face plant on the dashboard.

The guy I rear-ended happened to be a kid I had been going to school with since about third grade. He jumped out of his car and delivered one of the most famous lines you’d hear during a similar scene in a Hollywood movie:

“WHAT THE $#$%%#??!!!” 

At that point I figured I should probably get out of my car too. The only problem was the doors were jammed shut, so I crawled out of the window. I definitely did not feel as cool as Jake or Elwood.

Wait ’til mom hears about this!

The car was totaled. In fact, the only part that was salvageable was the AM radio, which was still playing while we waited for the police and a tow truck. And just in case you’re wondering, it was not playing Sweet Caroline.

That memory is still coming up…

Within a hour my dad had picked me up in his car and I was back at work to finish washing pans and sweeping the floor. Fortunately, my parents took it all quite well and were happy no one was hurt. And with insurance my mom got a new car.

So business as usual? Well, not quite…

My punishment would be handed out during a date in traffic court a few months later. But the real punishment that hit home for me as a sixteen year old psyched about driving came as advice from the police and even the judge, who were all frequent visitors in the family bakery. They mentioned to my parents it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to drive before traffic court, just in case I saw another neighbor walking along the street.

So until I had to face the Judge in his courtroom, rather than in our bakery, I was back to hanging out at home waiting for friends – like my pal Kevin – to drive me somewhere. It was also a good stretch of time to lose any skills a sixteen year old might continue to develop while sitting behind the wheel of a car.

Sweet Caroline? It’s coming up…

When I finally went to court, which was only about half a block from the bakery and probably with a box of our donuts in the outer office, the judge just gave me a talk about being more careful. That was it. Then I asked the BIG question: when can I start driving again?

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He said I could have been driving the entire time.

Say what? “OH $#$%%#!!!” And no – I didn’t say that, but it probably ran through my mind. And with so much time away from driving, it was almost like starting from scratch. At least that’s what it felt like.

My instructor in “learning to drive again 101” was my dad. My backseat driving coach was pal Kevin. The first step was to cruise around some country roads until I got the hang of it again, so the three of us took off in mom’s new car.

I have to admit to being a bit scared. Totaling a car will do that to someone. On the two lane back roads we had some laughs with my instructor and coach joking about sharp corners, stop signs and oncoming cars. But at one point as we went under a low bridge and around a corner, a large truck was coming from the other direction. I put a steel grip on the wheel, went over the right side edge lines and slowed down to a crawl as the truck blew past us. They faked being scared (at least I hope they were faking!), but I broke out in a slight sweat. Driving wasn’t as cool for me as it was when I first got my license.

And looking back, that’s a good thing. I actually learned to be a more careful driver rather than a psyched sixteen year old with a license.

BUT – and here it is…

The song playing on the AM radio at that moment the truck blew by us? The Top 40 hit Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. And yes – it’s true. I remember that, which is why the song still carries that memory for me.

BUT there’s another part of this story that also has a steel grip in my memory bank. Remember the bet I made with my pal Kevin?

There were only a couple weeks until school started when I wrecked my mom’s car. That same evening we had marching band (very cool – don’t ever doubt that) practice at the high school. I called Kevin with my non-comedy sorrowful tale of on road destruction and asked him for a ride. Since the main attraction of being in the band was hanging out with girls, an assorted group of us piled into Kevin’s car (actually his mom’s car) after practice and…

Well… You already know what’s coming – right?

Wait ’til your mom hears about this one!

We drove to a local restaurant for something to eat. When we were leaving, there were about four or five kids crammed in the backseat and three of us – Kevin driving, me in the middle and another pal Rob riding shotgun – sitting in front. Kevin made a sharp right turn out of the parking lot that caused all of us to lean left. In fact we leaned so far left that

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

Kevin was shoved against the driver’s side door with his arms locked in place. He yelled out something to the effect of a slow-mo, “OH $#$%%#!!!”

Everyone else sort of screamed. The car scraped over a concrete curb causing a stream of sparks to fly up in the air around us, smashed through a landscape of bushes, and dug a couple donut shaped ruts in the front lawn of the restaurant before coming to a stop. Once again, no one was hurt except for another mom’s car. But this time all it took was a tire change and a slow unsteady drive home.

As you can tell, Kevin won the bet, but only by a few hours. And I became a more careful driver at the age of sixteen because to tell the truth, two accidents in one day was “$#$%%#!!!”

Back to Sweet Caroline? Yeah, I know it’s a standard at Boston Red Sox Games and an uplifting, healing song for The Boson Marathon after runners and supporters were attacked by cowardly militant scums (or in more polite terms, $#$%%#!!!).

I get it.

But for me, I’d rather for-get the experience of Sweet Caroline and my sixteen year old driving experience. Hail, hail public transportation!

Here’s a video of the great (I get it!) Neil Diamond performing Sweet Caroline.

To purchase All-Time Greatest Hits by Neil Diamond with Sweet Caroline visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Comment? Please use the form below and as always… Keep Rockin’!!