tagRomanceA Super Tuesday

A Super Tuesday

bytrigudis©

There's no graphic sex here, folks. Just a little romance tale set in the late fall of 1968. Those of a certain age will remember. Those too young might learn a little slice of history.

It was love at first sight. What a body! What a chassis! Sleek, beautiful and built for speed. She was just what he'd been looking for, had obsessed over since his junior year in college. Posters of this dream beauty had even adorned his college dorm room.

That dream came true, thanks to generous parents—proud parents because their only son had graduated cum laude from university. They were so proud that they were willing to foot the bill for his dream car, a yellow Camaro SS. It would hardly be on THEIR wish list; but if that's what Austin Garrett wanted, that's what Austin would get.

They went with him to Monroe Motors to buy it. It was late October of 1968. Austin had just turned twenty-two. He'd been driving since he was sixteen, hand-me-down cars, cars his parents and one uncle no longer drove. First, there was that big old Pontiac Bonneville and then the Olds Cutlass, both used, both boring. He didn't feel comfortable driving either car. They didn't fit his image. He wanted youthful and sporty and fast, a car people his age admired, especially the ladies. Hence, the yellow Cam, with its 6.5-liter, 396 V-8 and 4-speed manual transmission.

So he knew what he wanted before he walked into the showroom. "Let me do the dickering," his dad told him. "These salesman can be slick."

Only it wasn't a sales MAN that greeted them in the showroom, but a sales woman. She was young and pretty and sleek, just like Austin's dream car. The women's lib movement was then in its infancy, so neither Austin nor his parents expected it. Austin couldn't take his eyes off her. And neither could his dad, he noticed.

She extended her hand across the desk in her cubicle. "I'm Tricia, thanks for coming to Monroe Motors."

Tricia Callahan as he saw from the nameplate on her desk. She had lovely blue-gray eyes, nice skin and a face incontrovertibly pretty. If beauty were in the eyes of the beholder, there would be many beholden to this beauty. She wore her light brown hair up, though Austin pictured her letting it down when she wasn't working.

"A man who knows what he wants," she said when Austin asked to test-drive the car. "I like that. Makes our job easier."

Austin's parents waited in her cubicle after Tricia photo copied Austin's drivers license, picked up a key and license plate, and then took him out to the lot.

They made small talk while strolling across Monroe's vast parking lot of Chevys. Tricia had a nice smile, and she smiled often. "Austin, I like that name," she said. "Not your usual Tom, Dick or Harry."

Austin explained that his dad, years ago, drove an Austin-Healey. "He named me after the car."

"Cool. Well, if he's looking for another sports car, we've got lots of Vets here, you know."

He sensed she was only half joking. "Oh, he's past that stage. He's a Chrysler sedan type guy these days. If it's not getting too personal, what do you drive?"

She chuckled. "Actually, I'm somewhat of an outcast around here because of my Volkswagen. Sleeping with the enemy, so to speak. But my sales manager tolerates it because of my high numbers."

"Well, you should chalk up an easy sale with me. That is, if the price is right for my folks." He followed slightly behind, admiring parts of her anatomy, her shapely calves and her cute butt wrapped in a blue dress hemmed slightly above her knees. He first thought she might be slightly taller than his height of five-foot nine. Then he realized she wore low heels.

"I just hope we have what you're looking for," she said, taking him further down the line of Camaros. "Ah, here we are, a beautiful yellow Cam, manual transmission and all. It's you're lucky day, Austin. Stick shifts usually take a backseat to automatics in our inventory. Best of all, we've reduced the price to make way for the sixty-nines coming in."

Austin beamed at the dream machine that spoke to him, that seemed to beg him to take her home. He ran his hands over the hood, checked out the tires and mag wheels.

"I can ride shotgun for your test drive if you like," she said. "Or, you can do a solo run. Your call."

"Hop in," he said, as if he already owned it.

Because of Monroe's exurban location, there were miles of open road nearby for Austin to put the car through its paces. "Being a Volkswagen owner, I guess this thing isn't exactly your own dream car," he said, cruising along near 50.

"No, but pardon my candor, I can't help but admire the man behind the wheel."

Austin smiled and glanced sideways at her before turning back to the road. "Thanks. Flattery isn't part of your standard sales pitch, is it?"

She laughed. "Honestly, I have used flattery to help make a sale. But not in your case because, first of all, you've made it obvious how much you want this car. And second, there's just something about athletic looking guys with black, wavy hair and blue eyes, not to mention guys in tight white jeans. You've been involved in sports, I assume."

Austin told her he played football in high school, lacrosse in college and now was a regular at Jack Lipsky's Gym. "Somehow I manage to squeeze in a couple workouts a week," he said, "in addition to attending graduate school full time."

"Really, for what?"

"Masters program in business accounting."

She looked surprised. "Really? I never would have thought that. My image of an accounting student is a pencil-neck geek with glasses driving a Ford Falcon, a car along those lines."

Austin grinned. "Looks can be deceiving. No way I would've had you pegged for a car salesman. Well, a car sales lady in your case."

"So what WOULD you have pegged me for?"

Austin pulled up to a traffic light, then turned toward her. "Oh, I don't know. Anything from a model to a teacher, I guess."

"Would you believe law student?"

"No kidding."

"I go at night, do this to pay the bills."

The light changed and Austin began to shift gears. "Man, I love the roar of this engine."

"All yours for the right price."

Austin knew the right price for the standard V-6 was somewhere in the high two-thousand dollar range, even more for the upgrade package—a 4-speed manual and big block V-8. "I'm looking at over three grand, I assume," he said.

"Yes, but there's room to maneuver, to dicker. And, like I said, you start with a discount."

"Dickering is dad's department."

"I kind of figured."

Once back at the dealership, Dan Garrett did most of the talking. Like any savvy negotiator, he pitched a low ball to start, then sat patiently while Tricia shuttled back and forth from her desk to her sales manager's office. Less than an hour later, they had a deal. While Dan and Austin's mom Rene attended to paperwork in Monroe's financial office, Austin sat with Tricia in her cubicle. He was excited about the car, but the euphoria that had preceded the sale had worn off. In fact, he looked somewhat glum, his legs akimbo, looking down at the floor.

Tricia shook her head in surprise. "Man, I thought you'd be doing cartwheels by now. Instead, you look like you're going to a funeral. Aren't you thrilled?"

Austin nodded and looked up. "Yes, of course. It's just that my social conscience is kicking in. I mean, this year is shaping up to be the worst year this country's had in a long time, what with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and the riots on campus and in our cities and the hundreds of Americans getting killed every month in Vietnam. Those soldiers are slogging through rice paddies, getting shot, while I tool around in a boss car with a student deferment."

She looked at him sympathetically. "Listen, I have some of those same concerns. But look at it this way. You won't change history or current events whether you drive out of here in that Camaro or walk home. So cheer up and enjoy."

Austin managed a weak smile, knew she was right. "You make perfect sense," he said. Then, noticing her business cards in a holder on her desk, he took one and began twirling it between his fingers.

She grinned. "Is that for future reference?"

He looked up. "Yes, perhaps in the near future. Would you like to get together sometime, discuss this further?"

She plucked another card from its holder, flipped it over and wrote down a phone number. "Yes, I'd like that. Only call me at home."

*****

Tricia stood outside and waved at Austin as he drove his dream car off the lot. 'All my transactions should go as smooth,' she thought. Her sale had been unique in that way and in another way: she had never socialized with any of her customers.

Austin hadn't been the first guy to hit on her at work. Lots of them did, either by flirting or, like Austin, asking her out. She had turned them all down. So, why did she make an exception with Austin? She was attracted to him, yes, but there was something else, too. At first, she had sized him up as a spoiled rich kid living off daddy's money. Only rarely did customers like Dan Garrett pay cash for a vehicle. So it appeared that Austin came from wealth, was used to getting what he wanted. The social conscience bit intrigued her, contradicted her first-impression image of him as a fun-loving frat boy, hedonistic and oblivious to the darker sides of life.

She knew well those darker sides. She hadn't told Austin about her adventure in late August at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. She was no radical, no hippie or yippie, nor did she belong to far left groups like SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). She did oppose the war in Vietnam, had come to believe that American involvement there was futile and immoral and that whomever the nation elected come November, be it Nixon or Humphrey, should pull the troops out. She had been so disgusted with the war that she joined the hundreds of anti-war demonstrators in Grant Park. The police went berserk, assaulting the demonstrators with their nightsticks. Investigators would later call it a "police riot." It cost her a few stitches after one of those thugs in blue busted her head open.

She lived in an apartment in the city a couple miles from the University Of Maryland School Of Law. She had left that apartment the previous April to stay with her folks during the rioting following the King assassination (needlessly, it turned out, because the rioting spared her neighborhood). Then she moved back to finish out her first year. The suburbs, where her parents lived, bored her. She found urban living exciting, was willing to risk living in downtown Baltimore, even with all its attendant problems, a rising crime rate among the most serious.

Still, it didn't stop her from going out on weekends. Lately, she'd been tagging along with a couple girlfriends to so-called singles bars. Bars weren't normally her scene, but it felt good to get out after months of seclusion following a painful breakup. She was hardly ready to get "serious" with someone, to plunge back into the emotional maw of a relationship. She WAS ready to meet someone, someone nice. Smart, sensitive and good looking would help too, and she sensed that Austin possessed those qualities. It didn't hurt that he had a hot car, one that she had sold him no less.

He called a few nights later as she sat at her kitchen table poring over her law books. He asked her out for Saturday night to Bookends, a combination bar and grill and bookstore that in the 1920s had been a speakeasy. She'd been there before, liked it for its informal, bohemian atmosphere. It was perfect for a first date, she thought, a place you could converse without having to shout over blaring music.

*****

"Nice car," she said after Austin pulled out of the parking space in front of her apartment building. "One of the last of the sixty-eight models, I see."

"It is. I bought it at Monroe Motors from this sexy sales chick named Tricia Callahan."

She grinned. She felt sexy, not only because she knew she was pretty but because she was with a sexy looking guy. She liked his attire, a light blue corduroy button-down shirt worn over scrub denim pants. She wore jeans (Bookends was that kind of place), a green blouse and a mustard yellow lightweight jacket. Her hair, worn up for business, now hung to the middle of her back. "Well, I hope she gave you a good deal."

"She did. Best of all, she gave me her phone number."

"Sounds like she likes you."

He reached over and squeezed her arm. "I like her, too."

Austin parked almost two blocks away. Charles Street, one of the city's main arteries, was always busy on Saturday night. Cars parked bumper to bumper on both sides of the street lined with chic restaurants, various businesses and in-places such as Bookends. The entrance was below street level. To enter, you walked down a few steps to the heavy wooden door with the little window in its center, a remnant from its speakeasy days.

"Looks like we'll have to stand," Tricia said. All the seats were taken, including the bar stools and the little tables pushed against the walls. Classical music played softly in the background from four speakers set up on each corner of the room.

Austin ambled up to the bar and waited for close to a minute before getting the bartender's attention. "Two Coors on tap, please."

Tricia, warm from all those bodies packed into a relatively small space, slipped off her jacket. She stood with Austin near the bar in the dim light of the first floor, sipping her brew. The bookstore was on the second floor, and she could never leave this place without a browse upstairs. That would come later. Right now, she just wanted to talk, to get to know Austin better.

"So, the last time we talked at length," she said, "you mentioned something about not feeling real good about owning a new car while American soldiers are getting shot at in Vietnam. Is that still the case?"

"What you said made sense. American troops would still be dying in Vietnam irrespective of what car I drove." Feeling warm as well, Austin loosened the two top buttons of his shirt. "Anyway, maybe I'll get drafted. Student deferments are on their way out, soon to be replaced by a lottery system."

"So I've heard. Having your graduate studies curtailed for this immoral war would really suck. Maybe you'll get lucky with the lottery."

Austin swallowed some brew. "We might be on different sides of the political isle on the war. I don't think there's anything immoral about defending a country against communist aggression."

She shook her head in disbelief. "You don't? Not even when we're destroying the country we're allegedly trying to defend with huge bombs and napalm?"

"We've got to stop them somehow. Look, our forces have nothing on Ho's when it comes to committing atrocities. If Tet taught us one thing, it's that the commies will stop at nothing to achieve their objective."

"Austin, Tet taught us that we have no business being there, that this is one war we can't possibly win."

"Sounds like you side with Walter Cronkite and those misguided people who tried to disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Chicago."

She felt on the verge of exploding. "Yeah, well I was one of those misguided people who paid for her anti-war stance in blood." She leaned forward and pulled back her hair to show him her two-inch scar just above her ear. "We didn't try to disrupt anything. We weren't anywhere near that convention. We were peaceful protesters who were set upon by police acting like Nazis." She looked away. Her eyes filled with tears of rage.

Austin stood with his mouth half open, his shoulders drooped, contrite as could be. "I'm sorry, Tricia, I didn't know." He reached out to her, then pulled back when she flinched away. Spotting a couple vacating one of the tables, he said, "Quick, let's grab these seats. Then we can talk about it further."

She considered throwing her mug of Coors in his face and running out. "I don't know, Austin, I'm very angry right now. If you're so gung ho about Vietnam, why don't you enlist?"

"I just might do that. Meanwhile, I'd like very much if you'd come sit with me so we can talk this out."

After a few seconds hesitation, she followed him over to the empty table.

"Look, I agree with you about the way the police handled things," he said. "It was inexcusable and those responsible should be prosecuted."

"Do you really mean that or are you just trying to pacify me?"

"I'm one-hundred percent sincere. The news footage of that mess sickened me. The cops turned what was a peaceful demonstration into a melee."

He reached over to wipe tears from her cheeks. This time, she didn't flinch. He made a stab at comic relief. "I hope you're not thinking about repossessing my car."

"I couldn't anyway, it's paid for."

"But if it wasn't?"

"Maybe." She kept a straight face, then grinned, enjoying his pained look. "Just kidding, Austin."

He exhaled. "I wasn't sure. Romance and politics never mix. I should have known better."

"Au contraire. Sometimes politics and romance do mix. At least they do when both parties are on the same side."

"That's the catch."

"Right. In Chicago, I saw couples bonded together for the cause of stopping the war, supporting each other, trying to protect each other against the police onslaught. One scene I'll never forget is seeing a girl jump on the back of a cop who was trying to drag her boyfriend into a paddy wagon. She had him around the neck, this big, burly cop, screaming to let him go. Then another cop grabbed her, threw her down and began kicking her. They both ended up in the paddy wagon."

"Okay, I see your point," he said before taking another swallow of brew.

She held up her glass mug. "So we agree on something."

He clinked his glass against hers. "Yes, but maybe the most supreme test of a couple's devotion is when they disagree, even vehemently, but still stay devoted. We're on a first date, hardly a couple, but I'd hate to think that our opposing views on the war would keep us from seeing each other again."

She nodded. "It wouldn't and it won't. Let's just agree to disagree and move on."

"I'll drink to that."

They toasted again, downed their beers and then went up to the bookstore, divided up into two rooms of unequal size. Shelves of books lined the walls of each. It was dusty up here. The floor creaked and the musty odor of aging paper filled the air. They mingled with other patrons, strolling from shelf to shelf, perusing the titles. The smaller room held the older offerings, many of them long out of print histories of the city and state.

Austin said he read mostly non-fiction. "Stuff like that," he said, spotting a hardcover copy of William Manchester's The Death of a President. "Read it when it came out last year." Like Austin, many people read the book after Jacqueline Kennedy demanded that the publisher cut some of the material she found objectionable.

After trading stories about where they were on That Day in Dallas, Tricia pointed to a paperback copy of The Great Gatsby. "To me, Fitzgerald wrote some of the most beautiful prose in the English language."

Austin picked it up, thumbed through the pages. "Never read him. I just can't get into novels."

She sighed. "Not to sound smug, but you don't know what you're missing. You must have had required fiction in school."

"We did and I guess that's why I don't read fiction for pleasure. You've read this I take it."

"Yep. Gatsby and his earlier work, This Side of Paradise. Also, The Bell Jar, The Chosen, Cancer Ward, Goodbye Columbus just to name a few of the novels that stuck with me. I minored in English at William and Mary."

He pushed Gatsby back on the shelf. "And now you're a law student?"

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