The thrill was just driving. It was the Summer of Love, and my family had arrived in Los Angeles from the Old World, the very Old World, the Six Day War. We were kind of like the Beverly Hillbillies, if the Beverly Hillbillies had been Moroccan ex-Zionists who thought everyone was out to get them. But like the Clampetts, we were gullible, internally clamorous, google-eyed and immersed in this mercilessly seductive whirlwind—the maze, Auto Utopia.
And the thrill was just driving. The blue Dodge Dart Swinger, running on leaded, had a toy-like plasticky interior, the smell of cigarettes and new vinyl and hot metal and gasoline—and the loose black seatbelts were a suggestion to be ignored. The windows were always dirty because that’s what happens in sunny places. The single band AM radio played hits in a funnel-like mono that was less distracting somehow—the music sat with you, did not drown you no matter how loud you turned it up. But outside the rolled-down dirty windows, the color explosion, the city, that drown you for sure. Driving, past Pioneer Chicken, a little chubby chef on a covered wagon, spinning eternally, eternally heading for the West. Driving past the Fox Theater and The Cave and the Hollywood Canteen where they offered "Extras for Extras", driving past palms sprouting from little mounds of dirt that had been bricked off on random corners, driving past Food King Supermarket, with another moustachioed chubster for a mascot, and this one wore a crown. They gave you free erasers at Food King, little end-of-pencil erasers shaped like the King himself, the Food King that is. Sugarloaf Bubble Gum and Slinky Worms with invisible string were sold there in clear plastic eggs for a quarter, but you wouldn’t know it today, you can’t google it—nothing will turn up, take my word for it. Not knowing a google-able future, you drove past C. C. Brown’s Ice Cream Parlour, past Wide World Emporium with its life-sized Chaplin, Bogie, Marilyn cutouts, past yesterday toward a mystery Los Angeles that the King called Time has erased.
The thrill was just driving and not stopping. Past Sunset Motel with luxurious exposed bean-shaped pool and a sign advertising “Vibrating Beds” and Le Sex Shoppe across from the Hollywood Arcade and past mansions in the green hills, Spanish and glorious and glowing and also fun—opulence not as stiff walled-off “society” but as freedom, as joy. Driving, past murals of Elizabeth Taylor and Clark Gable and WC Fields. Driving past barefoot longhairs, and you didn’t know if they were girls or boys from the back. Morning driving to the sound of California birds cawing over the sparkly streets, for it was quiet somehow while you drove, just the car radio in a quiet city, and it was fun, you see—the promise of fun, that peculiar word, so corny and foreign to modern sophistos, but—to us corny foreigners, from wartorn places, lands run by ghetto bosses, to those of us who lived to escape—this very word had a stirring effect that drove us to almost total giddiness. Fun, you say? After all we’ve lived through, the final destination is FUN?! And yet, here fun was, in Technicolor. Here you go to bed exhausted from fun and you wake up and the fun machine is still spinning, it's been spinning all night while you dream—like Vegas, but funner. Get back in your car and drive there.
“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” came over the car radio. My father listened at the wheel, coasting through the 6-way Hollywood-Sunset intersection, past the Vista Theatre, then he announced in his heavy Moroccan brogue, “This song is an ode to Handshake Sex.”
“What’s that?” my 15-year-old brother asked. He was not yet a full-fledged hippie.
“Two people shake hands and go into a tent together. They have their fun and then everybody goes his way.”
The thrill was just driving and not stopping but also yearning. Even the spirit of sex, it seemed, was different in the New World—how confusing it must have been for the grown-ups! Here there were no whorehouses of Paris with their dark, urbane boudoirs for the melancholy. No melancholy allowed! Here it was pink bunny ears, a sex that managed by miracle to remain innocent and yet be all the more sexy because it pulled off the trick. This was sex not as guilty need, but more like another brightly lit gas station pit-stop, a friendly bubble gum drop-by, and it turned you back on yourself, forced you to leave your misgivings about the world like checking in a coat before entering. How, I ask you, does a man from the impoverished Old World see all this color, electric light, free sex, the drive-through pleasure mecca stretching out far as the eye can see? How does a man for whom war has become a way of life, how does he “live up to” the goofiness of this brave plastic new toy world?
Later, you will say, “The hippie era.”
Later, you will say, “Prosperity.”
Later, you will see it with the eyes of someone remembering a peculiar, swirling dream.
But all that is later, much later.
For now, the thrill was just driving.
DANIEL WEIZMANN's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Jewish Journal, Times of Israel, and several anthologies of fiction and humor, including Drinking with Bukowski and Too Cool. Most recently, his story "Mimsy" appears in Rough Magick, a collection edited by Francesca Lia Block and Jessa Marie Mendez. www.danielweizmann.com