E Ticket to Ride [Memoir—Listen on iTunes and SoundCloud]

Third in the series about an old boyfriend from the 1970’s


I met him at the grocery store ... he turned around and smiled at me. In my first year at Santa Monica College, I was still living at home while I worked part-time at the snack bar at the Vons market across the street. Derek worked there too, after school, and I found myself scanning the store’s parking lot at 14th & Wilshire, seeking out his blue and white GTO more and more. There was something in the air that summer besides the delicious smell of the deep fried chicken he spent most of his working hours battering up in the basement. 

You know how it is. I couldnt wait to get to work and it had nothing to do with wanting to make cheeseburgers and serve coffee at the snack bar all day long. It was him. All about him. Just the sight of him in the silly platinum wig he had to wear to keep his long blond hair from slipping into the food and I’d have to bite my lip to keep from smiling. I lived right across the street and when I wasn’t at school or work I couldn’t stop myself from spying on the parking lot from my bedroom window, wishing for just one more look at him. I had it bad.

“You must be psyched! Just a little bit longer and you’re done for good.” I kept my eyes on the grill I was cleaning, scraping the grease off, while I talked. “Are you excited for Grad night?” Did he have a girlfriend? Was he taking a date? That’s what I really wanted to know.

Every year Disneyland shut its doors to the general public; Grad Nights were for high school seniors and chaperones only. Usually when you went to Disneyland you bought a book of tickets that ran in denominations from A to E. The E tickets were for the primo rides like the Matterhorn, the first you ran out of. And you always came home with a couple of A or B tickets left dangling, unwanted, unused, in your book. How many times could your basically normal teenage girl go through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle? 

On Grad Night—E tickets, A tickets—none of it mattered. I’d graduated from Samohi the year before but I hadn’t gone. My best friend and I, dismissing the Grad Night outing as a field trip for losers the same way we’d turned up our noses at the prom—neither of us having actual prom date prospects anyway—hadn’t signed up to take the bus out to Anaheim. We’d gone to Westwood in our hot pants instead. Desperately looking for trouble we’d ended up at the movies. 

A year later, I teased Derek about being a high school boy but now that Derek was graduating and he was going to Grad Night, I wished I was back in high school too. Maybe we could have gone together. Disneyland was even better after dark, especially if you had someone to hold hands with when you ran from one ride to the other, from the Matterhorn to Autopia, from the Rockets in Tomorrowland to the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland. I thought about the way the boy slid into his seat on the Rockets and the Matterhorn first, the girl easing her way down, sliding between his legs, bodies just a blue jeans’ breath away, closer than any nice girl could usually come to that part of a guy’s anatomy. At times like that, Disneyland wasn’t just the happiest place on earth, it was the most romantic place on earth. 

Was Derek taking someone? Would he be slipping into his seat on the Rocket ride holding onto some high school girl’s hand as she settled in between his thighs, his arms pressed in close, his body straddling hers as they flew around and around? Was she someone on the girl’s volleyball team, fresh-faced and athletic or some stoner chick who hung out on 7th street, smoking doobies with the guys at lunch? I contrived to sound casual, like I was just curious, like an older sister might be. 

“You guys will have the place practically to yourself.”

“Yeah, it’s gonna be a blast. No lines for Pirates!” 

Which told me nothing. My mind was making me crazy, filling me up with the usual self-doubt but then I’d turn and catch him staring. He’d just beam at me, making my stomach flip like a cheeseburger on a hot grill, all melty and sizzling inside. Maybe he liked me too? I didn’t know what to think.

And then she showed up. Viviana. 

“Ah, you’re here!” Lena, the manager of the snack bar, practically squealed. “Come, come.” She beckoned the girl, about my age, to the end of the deli case, reaching over the counter and squeezing her hands. 

“Derek, Simone, I vant you to meet my niece, Viviana. She’s visiting me for summer.”

“Hi!” I flashed my brightest smile. Tried not to see Derek light up like the Disneyland fireworks.  

No makeup. Not a stitch. She had one of those Isabella Rossellini faces. Not a freckle, not a flaw. Just great big dewy brown eyes rimmed with dark thick lashes. A mouth that was a direct opposite of mine. Plumped up rosy lips that she curled into a small, shy smile, like she stepped out of a painting by one of the great Renaissance masters. Or Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

“Hello” she said. Hello. Nobody our age said hello. We said hi, we said hey. I half expected her to say “good afternoon” but she stopped at hello, that one little word dripping with the exotic sound of her mother tongue. I flipped out over guys with foreign accents. Give me a boy whose French accent made ‘do you know the time?’ sound like he was saying Je t’aime. I glanced at Derek, wondering if Viviana’s voice held the same appeal for him. 

“Hello” Derek echoed, nodding his head like one of those stupid bobble head toys people stuck to their dashboards, a big Dumbo smile on his face. “Welcome to Cali!” 

My stomach flipped again, that greasy cheeseburger feel churning inside. 

Here's the whole Derek story, from start to finish
Stories About Derek

Filed under the On the Street Where I Lived tab, this is the third piece that features our 14th Street, Santa Monica apartment as a backdrop. 

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