Well that’s not exactly true. I got my first cup of drive-thru coffee at Whataburger. My first real cup came at an IHOP one night after the late-late movie.
The four of us piled into the green Ford Contour after the movie got out. I can still feel those gray cloth seats. Man, how I loved the smell of that car. It was fresh, clean, and had the tiniest bit of perfume.
My pal, Kevin, and I rode in the back. Our friends, Nell and Pam, up front. If ever there was one thing I was good at when I was sixteen, it was making people laugh. And nothing made me feel better than making Nell laugh. It was my drug.
I was scared stupid in love with her
It was the kind of love only a sixteen-year-old can fathom. It was the gooey kind of love that you might try to shove in a closet and slam the door shut as quickly as possible. You put your back against the closet door to brace it shut. But then it starts oozing out from underneath and from the sides. You try to hold it back, but you know there’s nothing you can really do. It’s going to get out eventually and consume you. That’s the kind of love I was in.
The drive to IHOP was short, but I still took every opportunity to clown around—jokes, voices, stories. Whatever it took to make her laugh.
We had a great time having our after movie snack. If you ever feel like checking out some serious folk, just stop by an IHOP around 1A.M. You’ll thank me later.
The waitress came to get our finished plates and asked if we wanted any coffee. I shook my head without really saying anything. But to my surprise, Nell said sure.
The coffee came and Nell taunted us all to try some. Why not? I didn’t want to seem uncouth. I filled up my little white mug and took a sip. Up until that time I don’t think I ever truly understood the word bitter.
“It’s better with cream,” Nell said.
I had to agree. I put in about thirteen of those little cream containers. I was drinking coffee with the love of my life. I felt approximately 23 years older at that moment. Très cool.
The drive home was a 30 minute stint on a lonely highway. It was one of the best drives ever. That car smelled terrific.
The next morning
Kevin and I had a trip to the beach planned for the next day. As we got ready to roll, I asked him to swing by Whataburger on the way out of town. I wanted some coffee.
“What, you didn’t get enough last night?” Kevin said. “My dad says that stuff will stunt your growth and give you the runs.”
I didn’t say anything. I had my reasons. Each sip made me think back to that night before—scared stupid in love, doing anything for a laugh, and trying so hard to be cool.
Sometimes I close my eyes as I sip a late night cup of coffee. If I’m quiet, I can still hear the laughter of my sixteen-year-old soon to be wife and smell that wonderful perfumed car as we rode the dark highway home.
Kevin may or may not have used another word instead of “runs.” But he probably, definitely did. ↩