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Woster: When carhops took your order

Those were the days, huh? The early 1960s in a small town on the Missouri River in the middle of South Dakota.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

I’m not saying my life was easy, but a big worry in high school was whether, when I stopped at the A&W drive-in, I had my window rolled down wrong and the tray of food would spill.

Seriously. There must be other people like that. I’ve never met one. I didn’t know I was one until the A&W opened one summer. It was small but inviting. Located a block west of Main Street, it became a popular hang-out for the cats and chicks from Chamberlain, Reliance, Pukwana and Kimball.

It was the first place I’d been where carhops took your order, brought your meal out on a tray and collected the leftovers when you flashed your lights. I’d just started dating Nancy when the drive-in opened. She and several of her school friends got jobs, so when we weren’t going to the place on dates, I went there with some of the guys to see our girls. The carhops didn’t go around on roller skates the way they did in the movies, but they seemed to be in constant motion during an evening.

I had that thing about the window and the food tray because on my first visit, the tray delivered to the kid in the car next to me didn’t catch the lowered window. Root beer floats, salted-up French fries and containers of catsup spilled across the asphalt, along with Papa Burger, Mama Burger and Baby Burger. The kid was mortified. His pals in other cars didn’t make it easier on him when they all hit their horns in unison.

Here’s how uptight I am. I was embarrassed for that other kid. I felt like all those honking horns were aimed at me as much as at the kid with the spilled food. I vowed it would never happen to me. It never did, but every time I drove into the parking lot there, I got a knot in my stomach that didn’t go away until the tray of food rested safely on the window.

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Those were the days, huh? The early 1960s in a small town on the Missouri River in the middle of South Dakota. We all bopped around in our folks’ Fords and Chevrolets, pumping two bucks’ worth of gas into the tank and riding on that all evening, up and down the main drag, just like the characters in “American Graffiti."

The cast-off console radio-phonograph in my bedroom had an FM dial, but the cars my dad bought, and the cars my friends’ dads bought, only had AM radios. The stations a guy could get during the day were mostly soap operas and top-of-the-hour news, which was fine.

Nobody listened to their car radio during the day, not unless the World Series was underway. Dad took me and my big sister to Omaha in the fall of 1962 when we both enrolled at Creighton. The radio was silent that whole, endless, narrow-two-lane trip. Dad and my sister talked. I read and dozed. That’s just how it was.

Car radios were for evening. That’s when a person could dial in a rock and roll station from Chicago or Oklahoma City. That’s when the kids in my town would roll down the windows, crank up the volume and cruise the streets, singing along to Fats Domino and hoping to be noticed. That’s the only time I ever wanted to be noticed, I guess.

To be honest, the volume on those old radios was so limited that I doubt people on the sidewalks could hear the music as we cruised by. If they could, they probably muttered, “Fool kids. Whatever happened to real music?"

These days, every kid in every car would probably have music booming from a personal playlist. I don’t know how those even work. Back then, every kid in every car listened to the same stations, with the same songs at the same time.

Three or four of us parked next to each other at the drive-in one evening. As we waited for our food, we all cranked the volume on our radios. The same song blasted from the windows of half a dozen cars. We thought we were really something.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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