Authors: j l johnson
She dropped the cooler she’d meant to put in the trunk and then straightened, quivering from head to toe, pointing her index finger straight at Gertie. “Don’t even… I can’t… You, you…”
“Aw, c’mon now, Ida Belle, you make this too easy,” Gertie chuckled. “
The lady doth protest too much, methinks
, to quote the bard.”
“I’ll... I’ll bard
damn quotes!” Ida Belle sputtered furiously, completely flustered.
“What? What’d you say?” Gertie hooted. “
Bard my quotes?
What does that even mean?” She bent over at the waist, grasping her sides as she laughed. “Ida Belle, that made absolutely no sense at all.”
“You have to admit,” Walter smirked, coming around to the back of the car. He was kicking at the dirt, trying to keep his head down but glancing over at Ida Belle. “That was pretty funny.”
“Why’s the speed limit only 55 miles per hour?” Gertie pouted as they passed a road sign later that day.
“It’s nation-wide, Gertie,” Walter answered from the back seat. “Nixon signed it because of that OPEC oil embargo. Just like the year-round daylight savings, it’s an attempt to save oil. That’s why all these little cars are on the road.”
“I’d be afraid to drive one of those,” Gertie said. “They all look like they’d just crumple up in an accident.”
“They probably would,” Walter chuckled. “They’re Japanese cars, most of them. Nisson, Toyota and Mazda. All of them have four cylinder engines. They were built to save gas, not built for safety. I’d say they’re all death-traps, but, U.S. car makers weren’t ready for a gas shortage, so those little foreign cars are the only choice there is if you have to drive a lot and don’t want to spend a fortune on gas.”
“I’m glad I don’t have to make that kind of choice, I’d hate to drive one of those,” Gertie patted her dashboard lovingly.
Sunday afternoon, September 1, 1974
“Gertie! Get out of there, right now!” Ida Belle stood and shouted, even though she knew Gertie couldn’t possibly hear her. “Twenty thousand expected,” she grumbled, giving up and sitting back down next to Walter. “Walter, there’s got to be eighty thousand people here.”
“At least,” he looked around and then agreed with her. “I thought Gertie was looking for a drinking fountain to refill her canteen?”
“That’s what she said she was gonna do. What the hell was she thinkin, goin down there and gettin in the middle of that?” she asked, shaking her head at her friend’s antics.
The ground level of the stadium was packed with teenagers and now they were flinging each other through the air using blankets as makeshift trampolines. Somehow, Gertie had found her way onto one of those blankets and was about to be airborne.
“Will you go get her? Please?” Ida Belle implored Walter. “She’s gonna break all of her bones or get herself killed.”
“On it,” Walter said, “anything for you.” He planted a kiss right on her cheek before leaping over the railing to go collect Gertie.
“The nerve of that man!” Ida Belle sputtered as she felt her cheek, refusing to acknowledge the blush that was quickly spreading over her face. “Well, at least it’s a good thing he’s so tall, he can fight his way through that crowd,” she muttered to herself, watching Walter stride off confidently to save Gertie.
Tall, confident and handsome
, she thought to herself.
Ida Belle, you stop that right now!
she admonished herself, straightening her back,
that kind of thinking will only cause trouble.
She peered over the railing at the solid mass of rambunctious people.
Whoever’s in charge here didn’t plan very well,
she thought, as the wait for Santana to take the stage continued into another hour.
Of course these kids are raising hell, there’s nothing else for them to do. There may be four times the number of people they expected, but there’s no excuse for this degree of bad planning.
The opening act, some new band from England, named Bad Company, had been pretty good. And it had been exciting to see Jimmy Page show up in a helicopter that landed behind the stage to play their second set with them.
Joe Cocker must have been late getting to the stadium; the wait for him had gone on for hours. And then, when he did appear, he was staggering, stinking drunk. Maybe he’d stopped at every bar on his way to the stadium.
This is a Texas college town, after all
and the legal drinking age here is eighteen, the same as home,
she thought. There were an unusually large number of drinking establishments here. Trying to have one drink in each one would’ve taken him a good chunk of time, and would also explain his obviously elevated state of inebriation.
He’d actually vomited on the stage during his rendition of
You’re So Beautiful
. It was completely disgusting. She didn’t think she’d ever be able to listen to that song again without gagging.
The concessions had run out of everything in the first few hours of the event. The three of them had brought their own canteens, but Gertie had almost sold hers to some guy that had tried to exchange it for a twenty-dollar bill. Walter had told her to hold out for a fifty.
There were rumors of some enterprising young souls selling bags of ice and Dixie cups out of their trunks in the parking lot. Supposedly, they were asking for outrageous sums, and getting them. They’d probably make enough from their resourceful idea to pay off an entire semester’s tuition.
She was relatively sure the rumors were true, based on the vast number of Dixie cups she was seeing. It seemed the kids who bought those bags of ice were then reselling it by the cup inside the stadium for an even bigger profit. Ice was definitely a hot commodity, and as the crowd grew ever more rowdy, she didn’t think water was the only liquid being poured over that ice.
“Hurry up Walter!” Ida Belle cried as she stood anxiously on her tiptoes and watched Gertie fly through the air. Walter was closing in on her location when Gertie’s bright-pink and white, polka-dot panties flashed the crowd as the skirt of her pink-plaid sun dress flew up over her waist.
The crowd roared their approval and Gertie’s joyous peals of delight grated on Ida Belle’s very last nerve. She wondered if Gertie had any clue how many people were photographing her posterior for posterity.
Serves her right,
She abruptly sat back down and clutched at her chest when Walter miraculously caught her foolish friend before her colorfully-clad butt hit the ground.
Her heart felt like it was about to pound its way right out of her ribcage.
We’re too old for this nonsense,
she thought as she watched Walter drag a weak and giggling Gertie back through the crowd to their seats.
“Oh my dear, that was a blast,” Gertie exclaimed. She exhaled loudly and then hiccuped, trying to catch her breath. “You should go try it, Ida Belle.”
“I don’t think so,” Ida Belle huffed, “anyway, I’m sure my plain, white undies wouldn’t draw nearly as many amateur photographers as your pretty, pink polka-dots did.”
“Oh dear, did they really photograph my… my ass?” Gertie asked, and then she got even huffier than Ida Belle. “You should’ve stopped them Walter.”
“Really?” Ida Belle snickered, “
should’ve stopped dozens of people from snapping your ass? He was kind of busy trying to get down there in time to catch your ass. Maybe you shouldn’t’ve flashed your ass in front of thousands of people.” Ida Belle shook her head and then snorted when she couldn’t hold back her laughter anymore. “It’s flat amazing, Gertie, the things you get yourself into, just absolutely amazing.”
“They really shot my ass?” Gertie asked snickering. “I wonder if I’ll ever see a copy of it.”
“We’ll have to check tomorrow, you might make the local paper,” Walter just shook his head and sat between the laughing women. “I can’t take you two anywhere…” He pulled a flask out of his shirt pocket and tipped it.
“Walter!” Ida Belle abruptly stopped laughing and exclaimed. “Remember what happened last time? I thought we agreed, no cough syrup.”
“We did,” he chuckled, tipping the flask again. “It’s not cough syrup, it’s bourbon. I bought it as soon as we crossed the border into Texas. I knew I’d need it before this day was over. You two could drive anyone to drink.”
“Oh, well in that case, pass it over,” Ida Belle reached for his flask. “Speaking of driving,” she cocked her head at Gertie, “Gertie, you’re driving.”
“Of course I’m driving; it’s my car!” Gertie exclaimed.
“I mean, don’t drink,” Ida Belle chuckled, “I’m drinking… You’re driving.”
“You could’ve just said that… Wait… You’re drinking? You mean
drinking, as in getting drunk, drinking?” she raised both of her eyebrows. “On a Sunday?”
“I do. This isn’t like a real Sunday anyway, it’s more like an extra Saturday. Why should you always get to have all the fun?”
“Ida Belle, are you sure about this?” Walter looked concerned, “I mean, you never drink more than two small drinks at any time. Ever. I’ve never even seen you get tipsy.”
“It’s about time I let loose then, don’t you think?” Ida Belle tipped the flask again as Walter pulled another flask from his hip pocket and clinked it against hers.
“How many of those did you bring?” Gertie snorted and Ida Belle chuckled.
“My daddy said to always be prepared,” Walter winked at Ida Belle as he unscrewed the cap.
“Gertie, I think I need a lil help here,” Walter called from the bathroom where he was diligently holding Ida Belle’s head above the porcelain throne. “My fingers are stuck, they seem to be stuck in her hair.”
“That would be her White Rain,” Gertie snorted as she came in and wet down a washcloth. Walter had gotten Ida Belle into the bathroom before her stomach decided to empty itself, but it had been a close call.
She’d been gagging in the car all the way from the stadium. And giggling. Gagging and then giggling, not a good combination. Not a combination either Walter or Gertie was accustomed to hearing from Ida Belle.
“Well, she did say she wanted to let loose,” Walter claimed earlier, as he’d carried the completely limp Ida Belle out of the stadium to the car. “She’s definitely loose.”
When ZZ Top took the stage in sparkling, flesh-colored nudie suits, the trio had decided they’d seen enough and it would be a good idea to get out of there before the mass exodus began.
Eighty thousand inebriated young people all trying to get out of one parking lot was something they all agreed they’d rather avoid. Ida Belle seemed to be fine, until she stood up. Or, tried to stand up.
Walter barely caught her before she tumbled all the way down the stairs. He easily scooped her into her arms and carried her out. She’d passed out completely as they approached the car.
“She just better not let loose all over my car,” Gertie replied, “you know she never does anything in a small way. Go big or go home, she always says.”
Gertie made Walter pull the raft out of the trunk and cover the backseat completely with it before she allowed him to put Ida Belle in her car. He’d propped her up against the rear wheel while he worked and Gertie had been sure she’d puke before he was finished. Ida Belle rode with her head snuggled into Walter’s chest in the backseat while Gertie chauffeured.
“We can hose the raft off easier than the interior of my car,” Gertie claimed. “It’s better than making her ride in the trunk.”
“You wouldn’t…” Walter raised his eyebrow.
“Oh yes I would. She made me ride in her trunk after that last concert we went to,” Gertie huffed, “and I wasn’t even passed out like she is. She’d never know.”
“Stuff’s like glue and it’s extremely flammable. I always tell her not to use so much, it’s downright dangerous. If there were any open flames close, this whole motel would be toast.” Gertie said as she used the damp washcloth to wipe off a strand of Ida Belle’s hair.
“She’s gonna be in a world of hurt tomorrow,” Walter said after they got Ida Belle settled in her bed. “I’m starving, we didn’t eat all day. I’m gonna walk down and grab some food from that Whataburger down the street. I think it’s still open,” he glanced at his watch. “You want anything?”
“I’ll drive us, I hear they keep the drive-through open later than the restaurant, even though it’s really not that late, not as late as it feels anyway,” Gertie picked up her bag and snatched the door key off the dresser. “I didn’t think I wanted anything, but now I’m hungry. And I really want a milkshake, chocolate, I think.”
“Wait a sec,” Walter paused, “do you think we should just leave her?”
“Well, she’s not going to go anywhere,” Gertie snickered. “Not tonight, for sure, and probably not tomorrow, either. Wow, look at that moon! It’s beautiful.” The full moon had risen while they’d gotten Ida Belle settled. “She’s gonna hate that she missed this, you know. She loves Whataburger and she loves full moons.”
Chapter 3 - Wednesday morning, September 4, 1974
“You’ve got to see this!” Walter exclaimed as he came into their cabin and turned on the TV. “There’s a hurricane barreling through the gulf.”
“Oh dear, not another one?” Gertie looked up from the microwave oven where she was melting a square of cocoa butter to treat her sunburn. The melting cocoa, combined with the coffee that was percolating, made the cabin smell delicious.
They’d stopped in the small town of Milam, Texas on Tuesday night to eat dinner before crossing the Pendleton bridge into Louisiana. Gertie had noticed a small general store not far from the diner that was still open and insisted on going in to buy baby oil before they got back on the road. Her sunburn from the concert had moved into the dry-itchy stage and she didn’t want to peel.