Saturday Night Fever
Remembering the summer of ’77 in the Gate City
By Billy Eye
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” — George Carlin
Itís 7:40 p.m. on August 6, 1977.
Johnny’s restless. The family’s snugly ensconced in the crushed velvet Broyhill living room suite his mom won last year on Truth or Consequences, watching Chuckie Baby introduce Gene, Gene, The Dancing Machine. But a Saturday night in front of the electronic fireplace isn’t Johnny’s bag. A rising senior at Page, his girlfriend’s va-caing at Ocean Isle with her P’s, and a good number of his friends plunked down six bucks for Supertramp at the Coliseum that night. Even so, there has to be something happening in Greensboring!
The roar, then rattle and hum of a 302 engine reverberates off garage walls as Johnny backs his 1973 Mustang convertible down the driveway. Classmates give him a hard time about his ride but, since Detroit will never again make a droptop, he’s hanging on to it forever. So what if the filling station charges 65 cents now for Super Shell with Platformate? Johnny’s flush with cash since he took that part-time job at Peaches for $2.45 an hour.
Canvas top lowering into its resting position, Johnny plunges Bat Out of Hell into the AM/8-Track deck before motoring east. Cresting the hill on 16th Street, passing the 29 overpass, what appears to be a Lucas-like spacecraft looms into view on his left, with fiery tile moorings and modular, elevated cannon towers. Light beams in primary colors bathe the smooth, white surface of this monolithic structure sprawling across the landscape for as far as the eye can see. Foot off the gas, that Saddle Bronze Metallic pony car idles down to 30 mph orbiting the periphery of this imposing, angular compound. Johnny’s in awe, “There will never be a cooler place than the Carolina Circle Mall.”
This 17-year old finds it inconceivable that anyone ever got through life without the many wonders contained within its funhouse mirrored interior: skating in the central corridor’s Ice Chalet; J Riggins, where he bought that tight-fitting, black polyester three-piece suit for prom; air hockey and four-player Fireball at Electronic America; the mystery powder that makes an orange a Julius; the sickeningly sweet aroma fanned out from Great American Cookie Factory. Most especially, the diffused-lit, plexiglass splendor of The Current Event disco on the lower level where Johnny met his girlfriend Deb, a sophomore at Grimsley. Seriously, all of that and Camelot too.
Up ahead, Johnny can see half a dozen teens in helmets and shoulder pads breaking above undulating, block-long concrete bowls at the newly constructed skateboard park. A glance behind the passenger side bucket seat confirms his Tony Alva board is there but that’s when an aroma of another mother floods his senses, the putrid smell from a nearby sewage treatment plant. Johnny jams that muscle car into Drive, then his foot to the floor, to leave a steel-belted radial calling card on the parking lot surface behind him.
After a pickup game at Blair Park, our boy rolls slowly past some girls’ houses in Irving Park (because, you never know, right?) before parking on Northwood. Crossing the street to Baskin-Robbins, he wades into a crowd of teenagers numbering in the hundreds who have migrated over from the Janus after Star Wars and The Van let out. Wearing a PacSun T and cutoffs, Johnny chats up a girl whose answers he uses to cheat on Ms. Alston’s math tests. She proposes they hang at her TFF’s crib, while the parents are away for the weekend; knowing where that leads he reluctantly passes. Lucky for him, because who should saddle up but Deb’s bestie, she’s never liked Johnny from the jump, probably because he’s a skateboarder, who she derisively refers to as “dirt surfers.” To curry favor, he’s sucked into an overly cordial conversation about how much her daddy hates Fords, which he finds somewhat confusing, but that’s because the term “passive-aggressive” hasn’t yet entered the lexicon.
Alone, back in his ride, Johnny ejects
Meat Loaf to insert a Yes cartridge while cruising up High Point Road, blowing past Cheap Joe’s, Bill’s Pizza Pub, then Roy Rogers. After passing Four Seasons on the left, he turns right into a new nightclub he heard advertised on RQK, Dadio’s, where bartender Ronnie tells him about their upcoming Ladies’ Lock-Up night while pouring a cold one. (Being served liquid sunshine when he’s only 17? Johnny has a fake ID that says he’s 18.)
Black Betty blaring, Johnny crosses the dance floor to join a couple of UNCG jocks he recognizes from Sunday afternoon Rugby games at Latham Park. After finishing their Buds, the guys and their dates invite Johnny along to disco the night away at Papillon, but who wants to be a fifth wheel? Besides, he’s still smarting from being introduced by one of these brawlers as, “That high school kid I was telling you about” at a gathering on campus.
The TI-500 beeping on his wrist signals this night must come to an early end. Johnny made his girlfriend pinky-promise she’d phone every night at 11 o’clock and he’d better be home to receive that call or he’s the one in trouble. Pulling into the driveway with only minutes to spare he’s thinking, “I knew there’d be nothing to do, anyway.” OH
Billy Eye is done Summering in the past and will be Falling in the future.