John Wayne vs. the action

By Joe Cobb Crawford

My first date was memorable, but never did I dream that over half a century later the memory would still be so vivid.     

Picture it: An early summer evening, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Saturday, 1966.  A teenage couple goes on their first-ever date.  They’ll see a movie, but not at a walk-in theater.  The show takes place at a drive-in theater—a two-acre graveled parking lot covered with an orchard of sound speakers for viewers in parked car.        

She’s a freckled, nail-biting ruddy redhead.  We’ll call her Linda.  He’s a bashful, pimple-faced country bumpkin, more comfortable fishing or frog gigging than going on a date.  His name is Joe Cobb.  That’s me. 

I’d been pestering myself and thinking, what’s wrong with you?  You’re a sophomore and you’ve never been on a date.  So, I asked Linda for a date.  She was easy to talk to, almost like talking to one of my fishing buddies. 

I had my doubts she’d say yes.  Why would she ever consider dating me? Maybe she’s too good for you, I’d reckoned.    

But when I asked her out, she popped her gum and said, “Well … Okay.  What time?”  We agreed on 7 p.m.  We’d see the last showing of a John Wayne western at the Swan Drive-In Theater.    

I was Joe Cool, an instant big shot.  But, I had other reasons for my newfound swagger: Joe Cool was now “legal.”  I’d gotten my driver’s license and with three hundred saved dollars I’d also bought myself a slightly used ‘54 Ford sedan. 

But “what if” questions rattled and ricocheted inside my swollen head.   What if it’s different?  What if having a girl seated beside me while driving my car wasn’t like hauling cows and hogs and mules and chickens in our old farm truck?  I got a knot in my stomach.     

About dark-thirty, Saturday, I splashed on a bathtub of Old Spice and set sail.  Radio blaring, I wheeled my sputtering, smoking, jerky rolling car into her driveway.  My Ford was spotless and smelled green and clean.   Screeching to a halt, a pine tree scented air freshener danced and dangled from its rearview mirror, the one I used to check my hair. 

There she sat in a front porch swing.  Seeing me drive up, she smiled, bounced down the porch steps and said, “Hi.  Are you ready?” 

Doing my best Elvis Presley, I slicked back my pomade drenched hair and said, “Uh, yes.  Yes I am.”  But I wasn’t as confident as I acted.  Questions abounded. 

A trusted older guy at school had given me a helpful tip:  “When you go to the drive-in with a girl, always park on the back row.  It’s where ‘the action’ is.”  I didn’t fully understand but would never reveal my lack of experience.  Instead, I asked him a couple of other questions:  “What about the movie?  How do you at the same time watch a movie when “the action” shows up on the back row?”

My questions upset him.  He fired back, “Listen to me, Dipstick.  Forget about the movie!  Park on the back row; the real show is not the movie.  It’s “the action.” 

My friend was a hundred percent right!  Hundred percent!  Hundred percent!

“The Action” took place there on the back row, right beside my car.  I saw it through Linda’s rolled down door window.  She’d been glued to that door since we left her home.   

“Hey!  Look at that,” I yelped. 

A bonny little man wearing a 10-gallon Stetson and riding a bay mare with a white star on her forehead rode up and stopped on Linda’s side of my car.  He tipped his hat.  Next to the sound pole, his horse stood motionless.  He removed a speaker, secured it to the horse’s saddle horn, and twisted up the volume knob.  The mare bobbed her head.  Together, they watched John Wayne and Dean Martin in the movie “El Dorado.”   

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief.  Next, I slid over close to Linda to get a better view of “the action.”  With one arm around her, our eyes were locked on the cowboy and his horse as they watched John Wayne.  The mare turned her head toward us and snorted, but quickly she was back to watching the movie.

About midway through the feature film, the man dismounted.  His horse snorted again, but moved not a hoof.  The badly bowlegged cowboy boot scooted through the gravel toward the concession stand.   

Minutes later, he sauntered back with two jumbo boxes of popcorn—one under each arm.  Stock-still the mare had waited for his return.   

The second act of “the action” on the back row began.  One handful at a time the cowboy fed the mare.  Eyes wide open, Linda and I ignored John Wayne’s bravado.  We instead watched “the action”… at least until they left.  Off down a dark trail the cowboy rode, retracing the path he’d entered.    

On Monday when I told my guy friends about “the action” Linda and I had seen, they just sneered and shook their heads.  One smarted off, “Yeah.  Sure you did.  Were you two smoking weed or something?  Now tell us what really happened Saturday night at the Swan.”    

Linda and I never dated again.  Somehow she avoided ever talking to me.  Some days I wonder if she remembers “the action” we saw that night. 

By Joe Cobb Crawford- Author

The Poetry Company