I recently read (and mostly enjoyed) Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63. Which, to make a very long story short, is a book involving time travel. For some reason, it’s reminded me of a real life King-ly story from my own past. So join me as we return to a balmy evening in 1978 — a couple months after I’d graduated from high school. That summer, I spent a lot of time with several people who’d graduated the year before me — which is interesting in retrospect, because I’d never been a regular in their circle before that.
On this particular evening, Key Coleman, Greg Alldredge, Brenda Osband and I all piled into Charlton Crocker’s Checker Cab, and headed south down I-65. Joanna McClinton, also a 1977 Altamont grad, had invited her classmates to a party — and they figured she wouldn’t mind if I tagged along.
Joanna had rented a one-room cabin at Tannehill State Park — to ensure a complete lack of adult supervision — and most of the invitees were Joanna’s childhood friends from in and around Bessemer. Having spent my first 18 ½ years largely insulated from the world outside Birmingham’s Tiny Kingdom, I would conservatively describe the scene as Culture Shock. The moment our car doors opened, we could hear whoops, hollers and yee-haws through the cabin’s fairly throbbing walls and windows.
Most of Joanna’s other guests were younger than I was, and drunker’n all git-out. Conversation, particularly among the guys, was limited to topics that inspired frequent, enthusiastic high fives. Couples were wrassling under the blankets in each of the two beds (fully clothed, mind you, this was not that kind of 70’s party). And on the portable turntable, set to automatic replay — roughly two notches above distortion-level volume — was Side One of Queen’s News Of The World.
Which meant that, every 19 minutes and 14 seconds, steady as clockwork, the clearly-doomed speakers in the corner enjoyed a brief respite, followed shortly thereafter by the most familiar three-pulse beat in recorded history. Namely, the “We Will Rock You” BOOMP-BOOMP-TCHOCK that’s been blasted, at some point, during every team-sports event held in America for 35 years running.
To place the scene in context: Altamont gatherings at the time generally consisted of thoughtful teens gathered reverently around Dad’s state-of-the-art Hi Fidelity sound system, parsing the introspective subtexts hidden between the lines of Jackson Browne’s latest folk-rock confessionals. In other words, Key, Greg, Brenda, Charlton and I were now, for all practical purposes, visitors of an alien planet. Or, as we’d remember it in the years ahead, the best party ever.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. Early the next morning, hours before he’d normally bat an open eye, Key’s father awoke him and his younger brother Daniel to take a drive in the country. Which struck Key as slightly odd. They headed down Naizuma to University — where they took the Red Mountain Expressway to I-65 South.
Roughly 35 minutes later, Mr. Coleman pointed-out the exit sign for Tannehill State Park. “You know,” he said, “I’ve never been to Tannehill. Let’s take a look.” Which struck Key as more than a little odd. After they entered the park, Mr. Coleman noted the sign pointing to the rental cabins, and turned. At which point Key’s upper lip sprung a morning-after sweat mustache.
A couple hundred yards past the turn, Mr. Coleman suggested, “Why don’t we take a look inside one of these cabins?” And not just any cabin. The cabin. By which point Key lost partial feeling in his extremities.
They stepped out of the car. They approached the cabin. Mr. Coleman reached for the door. It was unlocked. He opened the door. They looked inside. The cabin was empty. And spotless. “These are pretty nice,” said Mr. Coleman. “We should stay here some time.” At which point, Key could see it in his father’s eyes: He had no idea what had transpired there just hours ago.
But this isn’t just a story of cosmic coincidence. It also has a time travel element. Or rather, I wish it did. Because that night, I discovered a talent of mine. If you can call it a talent. One I have since used sparingly — and only with the openly abrasive and/or self-important. I have the ability to mock certain people, in a way that everyone in the room knows it but them; and that’s exactly what I did to the drunkest guy in the room that night.
We both had a great time whoopin’, hollerin’ and high-fivin’ — and he never suspected a thing. But if I could find Stephen King’s time portal, I’d go back to that night and tell myself that you can have a lot more fun not being an insufferable smartass. And then, because I’m that kind of friend, I’d pull Key aside and tell him, “I know this is gonna sound crazy, but your father? I could swear I just saw him looking in the window.”
This column was originally published in the March, 2012 issue of B-Metro Magazine