It was a Friday night about 50 years ago, during the last week of our public education. Fortunately, the final exams were behind us, and like all red-blooded high school students, we felt “senior” – a desire to relax a little and mark the end of our long journey. It was a natural impulse given the significant changes that awaited us in life.
Soon we will go to college. It meant more freedom and more responsibility. It was the beginning of a new path to full independence and career. In connection with the war in Vietnam, young men were drafted into the army. In light of such dire prospects, yes, it was natural to want to let off some steam.
Dave, Craig and I boarded the family sedan with vague intentions to release the said couple. As far as I remember, Dave was behind the wheel. We cautiously headed to Smitty’s bar owned by a classmate’s father. None of us had been there before and we had never stood up for the bar until that night, but there were rumors that there would be a lot of seniors there that evening.
We arrived at the modest building in the afternoon. From the parking lot we could hear and feel the vibrations of music inside. Passing through the door, we stopped to explore the surroundings, allowing our eyes to adjust to the darkness crossed by illuminated wall signs advertising draft beer.
It was a narrow building with a beam that ran the entire length. There were older men sitting there, no doubt regulars, given the early hours. Luckily, we spied on the crowd or two of our senior colleagues who were standing with drinks in hand and talking briskly.
We were not old enough to drink. I was 17 years old. But we moved to an open place at the end of the bar and quietly worked out a strategy on how to order something to drink. Bartender ask us for a certificate? Would he laugh in our face?
When the bartender really approached, Craig spoke up. “Can I have a beer root?” He asked with feigned determination. The bartender, without hesitation, said, “Beer root, damn it!” He then put three beers on the bar and said, “It’ll be $ 6.” (I don’t remember the actual cost.)
With a smile of gratitude and relief we picked up the bottles and sat down at a round table by the wall. We never ordered drinks at the bar and didn’t sit at the bar as visitors, so it was all an experiment for us. Our success in making beer was rewarding but also interesting. I know I analyzed my feelings during this new experience and I was sure Dave and Craig did too.
We were too responsible to let go completely. Someone then had to go. And we couldn’t know how much alcohol would affect us. As we socialized and soaked up Smithy’s atmosphere, we watched each other and each other for noticeable signs of alcohol intoxication, whatever they were. I know I felt some effect after the second beer. But how much have we suffered?
We went after that second beer. Now the sky was dark. We were still researching our feelings and thoughts for evidence of violation. Dave got out of the gravel pit that surrounded Smithy and drove a few blocks to downtown. There was very little movement. When he stopped the car at a traffic light at the intersection with Memorial Avenue – the main avenue – we waited in the right lane until the lights changed while talking.
Shortly before the green light came on, the car behind us veered into the left turn lane and quickly passed us with a roar. As it passed, the pitch of the horn shifted the frequency from low to high, again to lower.
Immediately Craig and I looked at each other and exclaimed, “Doppler effect!” It was a reference to the perceived variation in frequency caused by the relative movement between the sound source and the listener. We learned this term recently, thanks to Mr. Gable, our over-qualified AP physics teacher.
We all laughed, now quite sure that our abilities are not so impaired. I don’t remember any events that happened later that night. They are shrouded in the impenetrable fog of past decades. But this one moment is forever etched in my memory.
The author lives in East St. Petersburg. The events of history took place in Ohio.