One day as I was leaving chemistry lab, a class in which I was so abysmally bad that I got my best grade on the sample that I spilled onto the counter and then scooped back into the test tube before titrating, an event that should have alerted me early on that perhaps medical research, my desired field during my freshman year in college, was not a good fit for me, it was raining. I had an umbrella. Of course I did. I am always prepared. I am the go-to person for band-aids, aspirin, pens and chocolate because I always have these items in my purse. Some people gallivant through life aspirinless and penless and rely on people like me. Sometimes people like me get a little tired of being relied on, so be careful if you are an unprepared gallivanter.
Rain. Umbrella. Cute guy waiting in the cloisters, hiding from the warm Houston rain. I offered to share my umbrella. He accepted. We walked back to his dorm, where I dropped him, and then I went on to mine.
Somehow, he asked me on a date.
My first college date!
I was thrilled.
He wanted to take me to Gilley’s. For those of you who have not seen Urban Cowboy or who know nothing of Texas culture, Gilley’s was The Dance Hall in Texas. In 1981, it was really the big place because of the movie. Not that you can’t dance elsewhere. Indeed, finding a place to two-step, waltz or polka is pretty easy in Texas. Dance halls proliferate and they are for dancing. Sure, you can dance in a bar, but a dance hall is where you can take your kids and bring your own bottle of whatever. They’ll sell you the coke and other setups. Who needs liquor to attract customers? A liquor license is expensive. All you need is a smooth, cornmealed floor and a good band.
I picked him up at his room. Yes. I know. Red flag number one. Although we were just 18 and maybe he was as clueless as I was about things.
His roommate was smoking marijuana, which was to our benefit because Bob, the cute guy, was able to borrow the roommate’s car. You cannot get to Gilley’s using public transportation. Or maybe you can, but it would take two hours or more from downtown Houston. As it was, it was a long enough drive – maybe 45 minutes.
We got there. I was expecting the glamour of the movie. Except of course even in the movie, Gilley’s is not glamorous. But it did have John Travolta.
No glamour. No John Travolta. Nobody we knew. Bob did not know how to dance. Neither did I. If he had known how to dance, I could have easily followed him, but a pair of non-two-steppers are a nonstarter.
He got a beer. Had they changed the drinking age yet? I don’t remember. When I got to college, the drinking age in Texas was 18 and then it changed very soon. Did he have a fake ID like we all got at the flea market on the near west side of town?
My friends and I used our fake IDs to get into dance halls, the Winchester Club in particular, but sometimes for straight night at Numbers in Montrose, a bar that had a unisex bathroom, which seemed very avant-garde to the 18 year old me, where I once saw a very large black man wearing chains and a purple feather boa around his otherwise naked chest, a fashion statement I have yet to interpret.
I sat with Bob, watching him drink his beer and watching other people dance. We finally got bored and left. In the gravel parking lot, in his roommate’s car, he kissed me. Too shocked to respond, I let him kiss me once, but then I realized that he was a mushy kisser, so I stopped him. I knew he wasn’t doing it right. I had read enough romance novels, Sweet Savage Love in particular, to know a kiss was supposed to sweep me away.
Not that I had such vast kissing experience. I had kissed Kevin M. when I was 12, there by the pond where we swam when we visited my grandmother. I had kissed (many times, during lunch period, behind the auxiliary building) my short-term, unshaven 10th-grade boyfriend. I had kissed only once my 11th-grade boyfriend who turned out later to be gay. He, too, was a mushy kisser.
I have never made that connection before.
After I rejected Bob’s advances, we left Gilley’s. We (=Bob, the driver) got lost on a dark country road. Not a big problem, in theory. If you go far enough east, you hit the ship channel. South, you hit the ocean. North, you hit Houston again. West, however, is a problem because who wants to be in San Antonio before you make the necessary corrections? Know, though, that there are 14 Dairy Queens between Houston and San Antonio on I-10 and it is possible to stop at every single one.
But if you’re lost and your car breaks down, then theory becomes practice and in practice, being lost on a dark country road with a broken-down car stinks. Dark country roads are where the ax killers live.
Bob’s solution was to call a taxi.
After finding a phone. Yes, children, this is what life was like before cellphones. If you needed to call someone, you had to go to the phone, which was either attached to the wall in a house or in a glass enclosure by a public building. The phone did not come with you. We hiked what seemed like forever down the road until we found a gas station. Good thing this was a country-western dancing date and I was wearing cowboy boots and not a fancy date that would have required fancy shoes, because despite what Amy Adams would have you think in Leap Year (give that one a pass), most women cannot walk miles and miles in high heels.
He called information. Got the number for a taxi service. Called the taxi dispatcher. Who refused to send someone to where we were.
He was forced to call his roommate, who had to borrow someone else’s car to retrieve us. When we got back to campus, Bob tried to kiss me goodnight. I declined.
He called a few days later and left me a message asking me out again. I never returned the call.
Two years later, we were both in Dr Gillman’s American Novel 1800-1850 class. I never did get up the nerve to apologize for ignoring him and tried to avoid his eyes.
Maybe he didn’t remember me.