Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking, stealing my Grandmother’s AMC Hornet from the garage. OK—so I wasn’t thinking. I was 14 years old; I didn’t even have a learner’s permit let alone a driver’s license; my driver’s education consisted of sitting in the back seat of that Hornet, listening to my grandfather yell at my grandmother for driving to slow. But for some reason I was confident that I could pull this off, and I did. Here’s how this whole adventure got started, back in the day.
When I was a freshman in high school, I sat behind a guy named Mike Rodriguez in homeroom. Mike was a wild kid from the Ravenswood Housing Projects. Once we got caught drinking vodka together on school grounds and almost got expelled, so when he turned around and asked me if I want to go to a club on Saturday night, I should’ve been hesitant to say yes. But Mike and I had never been out dancing and that sounded exciting. The plan was for us to meet at Bond’s International, a popular nightclub on 44th street and Broadway, at 11 o’clock.
The afternoon before my big night out in the City with Mike, I had planned to hang out with a pretty Italian girl named Rosemary, who I had met at a local dance the week before. Rosemary was a junior at Long Island City High School, so before she could even think of asking how old I was, I knew I had to impress her. So I stole the car, and drove that tan four-door sedan with the vinyl interior and AM radio to pick up Rosemary for our date. Just to make sure there was no doubt that I was a man of the world, I bragged about how I was going out dancing in NYC later that night and I wanted her help picking out a cool outfit.
Rosemary and I drove through Astoria, over the 59th street Bridge into Manhattan and then downtown into the West Village. As a former NYC Police Officer, I now know why I didn’t get pulled over: What teenager would ever steal an AMC Hornet to go joy riding??? And I was probably driving like my grandmother– so slow, that even little kids on skateboards were blowing past us.
Our first stop was Canal Jean Company. Canal Jean Company was known for selling vintage clothes like 1950’s hoop skirts and really cool urban dance club gear. I picked up a pair of blue “genie pants”… these big, baggy, cargo pants with draw strings around the waist and ankles and I had seen older kids who went out dancing wearing them. Then we drove over to 8th Street and 6th Avenue–the “Shoe District”– where I picked up a pair of Grey Suede “Webo” boots. “Webo”, which means egg in Spanish (huevo), was also the name of a very popular dance step that everyone in the dance clubs was doing at the time. I ended my shopping spree by buying a red bandanna and a black leather studded belt from a head shop (aka drug paraphernalia store) on Delancey Street. Then I drove us back home to Queens and dropped Rosemary off in front of her house. I must of impressed her because before she got out of the Hornet she kissed me on the lips goodbye and asked me to call her when I got home from the “club” that night.
Feeling very manly, I drove the Hornet back home and carefully put it back in the garage like nothing ever happened, in Police jargon, that’s what called committing a crime “without incident.” I spent the rest of the early evening cutting holes into a grey sweatshirt that I had, (circa 1980s Madonna “Everybody” music video) and digging through dresser drawers, living room couches, and pants pockets around the house to gather up enough money for my big night out in Manhattan.
At around 9:30 pm, I swung open the door to my house on 27th Street and 23rd Avenue and strutted past my startled neighbors. I was wearing my cool new genie pants, black leather-studded belt, grey suede Webo boots, my cut up grey sweatshirt; the red bandanna was around my neck and my grandfather’s Clark Kent-looking Fedora sat atop my moussed hair. I strutted all the way to Ditmars Boulevard and caught the RR train to NYC. I felt like a million bucks!
Bond’s International was previously Bond’s Men’s Clothing store, a huge warehouse of a space. With no I.D. in my pocket or permission slip from my mother, I paid the $10 dollar admission at the box office. To my surprise, the bouncer let me right in. I’ll never forget the nervous feeling I had walking up the stairs to the club. I could hear the booming bass coming from the gigantic speakers. The blinding strobe lights were spinning in every direction. And suddenly, all the anxiety I was experiencing quickly disappeared when I looked around that cavernous club and saw that everyone there was dressed like to me.
There were hundreds of partiers in Bond’s International that night, but my crazy friend Mike Rodriguez was not one of them. My homeroom buddy was nowhere to be found. I was fine with it though. I bumped into a girl from my high school, a senior named Hope. Hope had a brother Mario, who like me was a freshman at St. John’s Prep. Hope was surprised to see me at the club since her brother was already home sleeping. Hope and I hung out–we danced and I treated her to a Tequila Sunrise. It was a great night.
I have a 17-year-old son. Sometimes I look at him and think what would I do if he got caught drinking Vodka on school property, if he stole my car and drove it all over Manhattan just to impress a girl. I’m pretty sure I would yell at him and punish him, but I couldn’t be too hard on him, considering all the stuff that I got away with back in the day.
Featured image courtesy of Mark DeMayo