‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’
We’re cruising south on Riverside Drive near East 31st Street on a warm spring day with the top down in my best friend’s blue Chevy Nova.
The wind is whipping through our hair (we both had an abundance of it then), and we are freshly minted high school graduates. The radio is tuned to the Mighty 97, KAKC, and The Beatles are singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
The sun was warm, and Greg Chalmers and I both remembered something our moms had said: You’ll look back upon this as one of the best years of your life.
We could not have agreed more with Marge Chalmers and Joyce Hamill at that moment in 1964.
I know I’ve previously written something about this in another publication many years ago. So forgive me if I repeat myself, but that ride in Greg’s Chevy Nova is particularly pertinent this spring.
The hoopla, well deserved as it was, about the 50th anniversary in February of the first Beatles appearance in the United States on “The Ed Sullivan Show” brings that spring day in 1964 into clear view.
Greg and I missed Sullivan’s Sunday show. We were probably at the home of then-attorney and future judge Tom Brett and his wife, Mary — they were the adult leaders of our Presbyterian youth group. And, as for “The Ed Sullivan Show,” well, we’d long outgrown Sullivan’s big-eared puppet pal, Topo Gigio. And the fact was, while the girls were screaming on CBS that February night, Beatlemania had not yet fully enveloped Tulsa.
By spring, however, “She Loves You — Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” and other Lennon and McCartney tunes were seared into our brain cells. And, in particular, that oh-so-innocent “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
For, indeed, those were our last days of what could be called innocence.
We’d navigated through 13 years of public school, been the first graduating class from that far southside school, Memorial, and had been accepted into the colleges of our choice.
Our sins, as such, were confined to drive-in movies, an occasional nip of illicitly acquired liquor, and cigarettes, now that varsity athletics were in our rearview mirrors. As for the latter, we were certain smoking made us look more mature.
My biggest prank at the time was to “fix” Greg’s car when he stopped at a Git ‘n’ Go and turned off his Nova. While he was buying a pack of Old Gold cigarettes, I would screw off the white gear shift knob from his automatic on-the-floor transmission, turn on the windshield wiper switch, tune all the radio push buttons to KRMG, the “good music station,” turn up the volume, pull out the cigarette lighter, turn on the heater switch and turn the fan on high, and scoot the seat as far forward as possible. When he returned, cursed, adjusted the seat and started the car, all heck would break loose.
This was considered great fun. At least, by me.
Then, when he tried to signal a turn, Greg found nothing but air. I’d produce the turn signal stick from my pocket. In 1964, it was easily unscrewed from the steering column.
It would be many years before we would join our cohorts in what seemed to be the standard for our generation: divorce. Then, few of us had heard of a country called Viet Nam. And we had yet to fall short of some of our dreams.
But 50 years later, we still have that moment on Riverside Drive with The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” filling the fresh spring air of Tulsa. The sun, the wind, the top down.
The year 1964 may not have been the best year of our lives — but that moment in 1964 certainly was one of the best of times.
Unfinished business: A belated “thank you” to the crack research people at the Tulsa City-County Library for their quick response in providing an address for Hale’s Grocery Store for a previous column.