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  • Writer's pictureW.M. Tarrant

A Pontiac Bonneville and Jimi Hendrix

“Hey, where ya goin’!” exclaimed Larry.

The three girls in the white 1964 Pontiac Bonneville had pulled over. I kept on going.

“They pulled over to talk,” said Jeff.

“They did?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Jeff.

We had been following these girls up and down the strip. Saturday night we cruised up and down Main Street, the entire mile and a half of it. The street ran through the middle of town, a typical small town that dotted the midwestern countryside in those days, a gathering place for surrounding farmers and families where they did their weekly trading and socializing. Turn around point on the west end was the local Department of Agriculture parking lot and on the east end the high school parking lot. No stoplights but a four-way stop intersection in the middle of town. Stop, then a slight chirp of the tires starting off as we continued on our way.

I lived five miles out in the country. I was allowed use of the family car once a week, a maroon Galaxie 500, 1968, only a little over a year old. I’d worked all afternoon washing and waxing. Thing is, we lived on a gravel road and in dry weather the dust roiled in clouds behind any car or truck going much over 30 miles-per-hour. Heading into town on Saturday nights, I crept down the road at a maximum of 20 miles-per-hour to reduce the dust, but still the tires kicked up enough to turn the bottom half of the car from bright, shiny maroon to dusty pink. Three miles of this dreaded gravel until the township line where the road turned to hard surface. At the edge of town, I’d stop, and taking a towel from the trunk, dust off the car. Don’t know if it was to impress girls or the other guys.

This spring evening was warm, and the smell of freshly plowed earth fill the air. Excitement and promise of adventure hung thick. I picked up a couple of friends. Jeff, a quiet, somewhat pensive guy, and Larry, a skinny, squared jawed self-taught guitar player. Then we headed for Main Street. After a couple of passes up and down, we fell in behind the white Pontiac Bonneville. Three girls sat in the front seat.

“I think they’re outta town girls,” said Jeff.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Wonder where they’re from,” mused Larry.

Out of town girls held a certain exotic mystic. We had to meet them.

The Pontiac turned off Main Street and I diligently followed. Then the girls pulled into a parking spot alongside the courthouse. That’s when reality set in, panic took over, and I fled the scene.

All I could say in response to the groans and protestations of Jeff and Larry were, “I didn’t know what to say to them.”

Nerves calmed down and not wanting to disappoint my friends I headed back to the courthouse. The car and the girls were gone. Well, we could catch up with them on Main Street and I’d have a chance to redeem myself. Several passes up and down and they were nowhere in sight. Opportunity lost. The girls must have headed off to another town where the guys were a bit braver.

“Got a new Jimi Hendrix album,” Jeff said. A change in topic was badly needed and this did it.

“Electric Ladyland?” asked Larry.

“The one.”

“Jimi who?” I asked.

“Hendrix,” said Jeff. “You know Jimi Hendrix, don’t you?”

I really wasn’t sure. I listened to the transistor radio at home, usually KXOK from St. Louis, sometimes WLS from Chicago. I supposed I’d heard this Hendrix guy on the radio but wasn’t certain.

“Let’s go to Dad’s body shop,” said Jeff. “I’ve got a stereo set up there.”

Jeff’s dad’s body shop was a two-car garage affair on the east end of town on Main Street. We wheeled in and went inside where one bay was empty. The other bay held a 1964 Chevy Impala missing a left front fender. A new fender lay on a workbench. Jeff rolled the cart with the portable stereo on it out of the office and into the open area of the shop, gently placed the discussed album on the turntable, lowered the arm carefully and the needle fell into the grooves. After the usual scratching sounds, the music began.

I was in awe. This Hendrix guy was amazing. This was not Frankie Valli or the Archies. My favorite cut was “Crosstown Traffic.” Just couldn’t get enough of it. Only a few feet outside the front door of the shop the Saturday night traffic on Main Street flowed steadily, young people looking for adventure, families with children heading home after an evening out.

As I drove home later that night, I realized adventure comes in all forms, sometimes not at all what we are expecting. This night it was being introduced to Jimi Hendrix in a body shop. And “Crosstown Traffic” ran through my head all the way home.

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