Our Jericho Mile

Back when I was a boy! (as I pull-up my trousers and speak like an older man:) Life was simple for a teenager growing up in Small Town U.S.A.  In 1978, the population of Woodstock, Virginia was somewhere around 2500 people.  Being a somewhat-normal eighteen-year-old male, the school year was spent trying to fake my way to a high school diploma.  Summers were spent working a parttime job and hanging out at the town’s only park, while chasing after girls near the swimming pool or playing a game of tennis and basketball with friends.   But even with a car and a driver’s license, there just wasn’t a whole lot to do on a Friday or Saturday night in the little town of Woodstock.

I remember it as my old buddy John S. (whose Father just passed away, God bless him and his family) that labeled the lap around town as the Jericho Mile.  On the north end of Woodstock was a small shopping center.  Three quarters of a mile on the other end of town was the first and only fast food joint, a McDonald’s.

I was a townie.  I could never explain life as a teenager living just a few miles away into the countryside.  No police, no shopping center, no McDonald’s.

The Woodstock police force at that time in history had only three members.  The kid’s with cars would congregate at the shopping center, chatting with friends, flirting with the opposite sex, listening to music, sneaking a sip of beer.  When that one Officer came cruising in the vicinity of the shopping center, everyone would NONCHALANTLY (as possible) start their engines and head down Main Street, then take a right on RT. 42, and make camp in the McDonald’s parking lot.

It was inevitable, but after a short while, that same police officer would pull into the Mickey-D’s parking lot, and without speaking a word, would shoo all of the teenagers away.  Away, back to the little shopping center on the other side of town.

And so it would go on and on throughout the night. Our Jericho Mile.

The parade of cars was consistent.  Lots of teenagers driving their first car, a hand-me-down jalopy that their parents and siblings had driven before them.  There was an older group, driving their muscle cars, that made the younger heads spin as the rumble and roar of high-powered engines silenced the various Pintos and Vegas and Ramblers.

There were evenings, when the one cop was still at McDonald’s, that the muscle cars would put on a show, right there in front of the Ben Franklin’s and Army & Navy stores.  A bleach solution was poured onto the blacktop ahead of the back wheels of the muscle cars.  Engines screamed, clutches released, and the fat, rear wheels burned like hell across the blacktop surface.  Which created a thick white, throat-choking cloud of smoke.  The classic ‘Burn Out’.  And off into the night they’d rumble.  The GTOs, Chevelles, and Hemi Cudas.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Mouse’s van.  Slowly easing into a night of flirtations, fast cars, and impromptu parties came a tricked-out van.  Why such vans have falling out of favor with today’s youth, I’ll never understand.

Take an old Econoline van, paint or no paint, furnish the back section with cushioned seats and/or a bean bag, cover the windows with curtains, and wire up a refrigerator and a decent stereo.  And you’re ready to go cruising on a Saturday night.

When Mouse would come slivering into the parking lot, the younger kids would take notice and proclaim the obvious.  “Hey, Mouse is here!”

For a younger teen, it was like a Papal visit, to approach the van as he rolled down the window.

“Hey Mouse, how’s it going?”

Mouse wasn’t Mouse because he was a large person.  He was just a little guy, short in stature, who just happened to be driving the coolest van, with the coolest people in the back, with cool music playing on the stereo.  And he’d laugh an infectious laugh, in a Cheech and Chong atmosphere, and chuckle…

“Everything’s Cool, Man.  How you guys doing?”

Don’t know if anyone remembers such a thing, but right across from the shopping center, there were three self-serve gas pumps.  Like a soda machine disguised as a gas pump, you’d feed one or five dollar bills into the pump in return for gasoline.  Which I never used because I only bought gasoline with coins, seeing as I rarely had paper money.

Everyone cruising those streets on a Saturday night knew everyone else’s car.  My car stood out like a sore Italian thumb.  A 1970 Fiat 850 Spider.  It looked like the ugly cousin of a classier, sportier Alfa Romeo.  With it’s hardtop roof, I could simple release four snaps, throw the rooftop onto my family’s front yard, and go zipping around town topless.  Unless it started raining, then I’d have to zip a little faster so the rain would bounce off the windshield until I got home.

Cruising to me came down to basic mathematics.  The Fiat got 48 miles to a gallon.  During the school year, my parents gave me money for lunch, plus the 15 cents per day day to buy ice cream.  If I skipped the ice cream for three days a week and embezzled that forty-five cents, AND searched under the sofa cushions, AND double-checked my jeans in the dirty laundry pile, I could come-up with at least a dollar of change per week.  With gasoline at 60 cents per gallon at the time, I could buy 1.4 gallons per weekend.  Times 48 miles per gallon equals 67.2 miles, divided by a long mile equals Sixty Jericho Miles from the shopping center to McDonald’s and back.  That’s sixty-some round trips.

And that’s how life was back then.

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