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BY Rachael O. Phillips

It’s in the air.

No, not spring. This is Indiana, remember? Still, when a thaw sets in, desperate parents, craving peace after too much winter togetherness, pay their teens to cruise the streets. As they tour our fair town, alien music blares through wide-open windows, loud enough for their counterparts on Pluto to keep the beat.

I’m still explaining to my insurance why my house vibrated three feet off its foundation. Yet, I empathize.

Come on, you did it, too. Only gas cost 30.9 cents per gallon then. In Columbus, Indiana, where I grew up, the onset of puberty included a mysterious honing instinct that compelled us to cruise Jerry’s Drive-In on Saturday nights.

Of course, we parked outside under the awnings. Only squares went inside to eat. My girlfriends and I feared if we darkened Jerry’s door, lurking mothers would douse our long, freeflowing locks with Aqua Net, resulting in permanent brain damage. Worse yet, Jerry’s indoor music would attack our virgin ears with (gasp!) Percy Faith and his orchestra playing “You Are My Sunshine.” We’d be scarred for life.

My naïve friends couldn’t believe Jerry’s would resort to such torture, but I knew it for a fact. My cruel parents once dragged me out to eat with their friends. I weep to tell you they made me sit by the window. Knowing my life reputation was at stake, I slid down into the booth and covered my head with a menu, thus remaining incognito. I finally escaped to the ladies’ room, but my dense mother followed. She even talked to me, asking if I was sick. Didn’t she know a Popular Person might be concealed in a stall, listening?

Afterward, I retreated on Saturday nights to the A&W Root Beer Stand, which placed second in annual coolness ratings and even tied with Jerry’s, if your boyfriend/girlfriend worked there. Fortunately, I had started going steady with the guy who ran the root beer draft arm. Sometimes he came out in all his A&W glory (white shirt, little folded hat) and talked to me and my friends. Once, in full view of the coolest Saturday night crowd, John even fixed my girlfriend’s carburetor. He borrowed his boss’ hammer and banged on it. The car started immediately – probably because it was afraid not to.

But we grew apart. My cool ranking at the A&W not only plummeted, but if John banged on some other girl’s carburetor with a hammer, I would suffer permanent disgrace. I returned to Jerry’s full-time with my friend Carol.

I’d also noticed a tall, shy guy in my biology class, so Carol and I officially added his house to weekend cruises. Now an experienced high school senior, I had perfected my slink-down technique to the point I could ride on the car’s floor an entire evening, yet record my targets like a satellite camera. Golf-green grass surrounded Steve’s house. Symmetrical evergreens. Even the weeping birch’s branches had been combed into tidy strands. Its location added to its charm – down the street from the A&W, so we also could zoom past and spy on John and any new interests he dared discover. Carol and I operated as perfect partners in cruising crime.

Until one weekend, when I drove past Steve’s house in my parents’ yellow station wagon (uncool, but all I had). Carol suddenly hung out the window like a circus rider and screamed, “Steeeeeevie, baby, we looooove you!”

I peeled out and roared to safety someplace – any place – chastising Carol for endangering my fragile status with my new Numero Uno and his parents, who no doubt had been outside waxing their driveway. What was she thinking?

Despite Carol’s indiscretions, we remained good friends (and still are). No damage was done to my relationship with the sweet, tall guy who made biology lab fruit flies so fascinating. Before long, we did a little cruising of our own.

“Want to go to the A&W for a root beer?” he asked as we pulled out of his driveway.

“I’d love it.”

And I did.