“A garage so nice you could serve drinks in it”

My first visit to Alabama was in college with my boyfriend to visit his great-aunt in the town where his mother had grown up. We drove from Chicago in his mother’s alligator green Buick convertible. Or, technically, he drove, because I did not have my license. Remember the movie Diner and the football test? That was kind of like me getting my driver’s license at age 25, just before the wedding.

Which is totally within the bounds of normal if you’re from NYC, unless you spend summers somewhere with cars. In fact, I ran into my K/1 best friend at the DMV when we were getting our photos taken. She was only doing it so she could use her dad’s house in the Hamptons.

Seinfeld is New York City told from the point of view of a person who lives in the city but did not grow up there. Cars play too big a role in the lives of the characters. They have not resigned themselves to the folly of urban car ownership, indignant to be hindered by crosstown traffic and lack of parking. Hookers are using my car. Paranoid suburban fantasy. Growing up, a car was a show-offy extra, like skiing; driving was a vacation skill, something I dabbled in, but frankly it was never going to come in handy.

The older I get the more I realize that life is like a 12-part novel cycle, with recurrent themes and characters who disappear only to turn up years later when you least expect them. Running into A. at the DMV, for instance. A college road trip that ends up laying down tracks for future life experiences.

The boyfriend, now husband (I passed my road test), would drive and drive, and the drive through Indiana is flat and boring, and we would stop at Cracker Barrel and guess what he would do? He would play an arcade driving game. I remember these paper placemats advertising bee pollen with testimonials from Nancy Reagan, who was then the First Lady.  I would read about the miracle benefits of bee pollen and he would drive a pretend car and then we were back on the road. It was the summer of the Ollie North hearings and of Tammy Faye Bakker. The world was a mad place. Mad and hilarious if only you didn’t have to believe any of it.

What would we do in Alabama for a week in June? It would be hot. It is a town of 3,000. You could go swimming at Mrs. X’s house. She has a nice pool. And then would come a description of the house, the work Mrs. X had done, the garage so nice you could serve drinks in it. We loved that line.

We have been using it ever since, with all its nuances.

We said it sometimes when we were househunting.

In the time we have lived here, I have been to two parties in garages. One was on Halloween, a party with folding chairs, beer and crockpots of chili. The other was a half-saree, a coming-of-age party for my younger daughter’s friend to which all of the girls and female teachers of the grade had been invited. A mural had been painted on the wall of the garage and there was a buffet table. There were white fairy lights in the greenery and the effect was transformational rather than the rather dire image of the original party we had imagined, or the lives that might be lived there, even ours.

I read a version of this post on WLRH (my first piece for the Sundial Writer’s Corner.) You can listen here.


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