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02 August 2009 @ 11:02 pm
Chapter 4, August 27, 1970: Culture Clash  
Almost (but not quite!) too late for the day, here is my contribution to Day 4 of the 42 Days of Metallicar countdown -- a look into 1970.

The Impala Chronicles (Forty-some Years In A Life), Chapter 4
August 27, 1970: Culture Clash

“War! Ugh - good God, y'all, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Palms drumming on the Impala’s steering wheel, Stuart belted out the lyrics along with Edwin Starr as he passed Bert’s Barber Shop and angled the car into a spot not too far down the block from Jay Bird’s Diner. Since his car windows were wide open in the summer heat, he got more than a few looks from passersby, but he didn’t care who knew his opinions on the war. He leaned across the long seat and rolled up the windows before getting out of the car.

On the map of the usual tensions between town and gown in every college town across the country, Jay Bird’s Diner was neutral territory. Even though classes weren’t in session yet, he hadn’t been in Lawrence for a week before figuring that out, along with which joints catered to students and which ones were just asking for trouble. Scoping that out was simple survival in the wake of Ohio State, the Hard Hat riot in New York, and Jackson State University in Mississippi. College kids had died in anti-war protests that spring; only a fool wouldn’t pay attention. And whatever his parents thought, Stu wasn’t a fool. Hey, he’d settled for the secondhand Impala when what he really wanted was the new Pontiac TransAm; he understood what he (and they) could afford.

Jay Bird’s hired both college students and the local high school ones, mixing the townies and the college kids without regard for background. The diner was affirmative action dispensing with segregation between the college and the town and succeeded where others failed; after all, everyone needed chocolate shakes. Not to mention burgers and coffee.

He banged through the door, and heard the Beatle’s The Long and Winding Road playing in the background. The diner featured a gentler playlist than the rock station he favored in the car: no Black Sabbath, no Zeppelin, no Grateful Dead, but at least he’d heard Free’s It’s Alright Now once during lunch while he’d been hunting for housing. (He was unspeakably grateful he wasn’t a freshman and expected to live in campus housing …) He suspected the diner’s owners of being more into Simon and Garfunkel and the Carpenters, but he had no objections to the former and could live with some of the latter, although the saccharin level sometimes gave him spiritual tooth-rot.

He grabbed a stool at the counter next to a black-haired kid nursing a chocolate shake, and ordered a burger, fries, and a Coke without bothering to look at the menu. An earlier diner had left his newspaper behind; Stu flipped through the pages, and snorted when he hit the op-ed page. The kid next to him glanced at him curiously with a raised eyebrow, and he tapped the paper in explanation.

“This is bogus,” he said. “Some dude is grumbling that rock festivals are corrupting today’s youth; he says the Isle of Wight Festival concert is just the latest, along with Woodstock, Monterey, and Altamont, to extol drugs and make light of war. We’re not making light of the war, man – just the opposite. We’re protesting the war – and that’s deadly serious.”

The kid just looked at him for a minute, and then shook his head.

“Doesn’t really matter to you, does it? You’re not going.”

The scornful dismissal in the kid’s voice cut deeper than he thought it would, and he flared up in automatic defense.

“What do you mean, kid?”

The kid’s blue-grey eyes were dead level.

“I mean, you’ve got a student deferment, right? So you’re not going to ‘Nam, are you?”


“So the whole protest thing falls kinda flat. You’ve found a way around having to put your own life on the line; you’re not going to be called up. So protesting about those of us who are and calling us bad names is kinda, well, a cop-out.”

He looked more closely at the kid. He was probably sixteen, maybe seventeen, but seemed both younger and older: younger in his innocence, but older in his eyes. Encouraged by Stu’s silence, he kept talking.

“A lot of us can’t afford college. But we’re not going to dodge, either. My Dad was a Marine in World War II; I figure, when I turn 17 next year, I’m going to enlist and be a Marine, like my Dad. Beats waiting to get drafted and winding up in the Army, anyway.”

“That argument sounds like you’re just picking the lesser of two evils.”

“So? At least I’m picking, and not running.”

That cut to the quick.

“I’m not running. I’m going to school; there’s a difference.”

The kid sucked noisily on the straw at the bottom of his drink, chasing down the last of the chocolate and ice cream, and then pushed the empty, fluted glass away.

“Couldn’t prove it by me,” he said, and dropped two bills on the counter, nodding at the counter man. “Thanks, Dave.” He slid off the stool and looked thoughtfully at Stu before heading for the door. “Do you really believe the war is wrong, or do you just don’t want to go?” he asked, and then was out the door before Stuart could respond.

His burger and fries landed in front of him, and Stu found himself just looking at them instead of digging in. What the kid had said hurt in unexpected ways. He really believed the war was wrong – just look at the whole My Lai thing, for one – but he also remembered having had to register for the Selective Service, and seeing his number come up in the draft lottery last year He’d been scared spitless, and then pathetically relieved when he’d been accepted at the university, meaning that he could submit the deferment papers letting him off the hook until he’d completed his four-year degree or turned 24, whichever came first. Transferring for his sophomore year from Alabama to the prestigious sociology department at Kansas, the very home of sociology, he hadn’t even thought about the deferment – he’d been more caught up in being able to justify getting his very own car, and making it that black Impala – but it was still there.

And now, finally, prompted by that black-haired kid, he wondered: how much of his opposition to the war really was on moral grounds, and how much on his own fear?


Author’s Note: To me, 1970 was the anti-Vietnam War protest movement. I remember kids I went to high school with – although they were in classes ahead of me, since I was born in 1956 – who wound up drafted, and some of them didn’t come back. For me personally, the biggest thing that year was Apollo 13, and the memory of a lunar mission that almost didn’t come back, but Apollo wouldn’t have mattered that much to Stu. The second thing to stir my aeronautically inclined soul was the first flight of the Concorde, but again, not something relevant to Stu. 

And if you think you recognize that black-haired, 16-year-old kid in Jay Bird’s Diner (and for those of you who don’t know, Jay Bird’s is a tribute to the Jayhawks, the University of Kansas athletic teams) – you’re right. I didn’t expect John Winchester to turn up quite so early or quite so young in these stories, but I guess that just goes to show that even writers can get surprised by the stories they tell!

Current Mood: surprisedsurprised
Current Music: "The Long and Winding Road" by the Beatles
[fʏʃ]: Alias - Dude I knew it!fueschgast on August 3rd, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
Nice story, as always. :o)
Ha, it's John! I knew it!
bardicvoice: Death Star by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on August 4th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
Thanks! I was surprised to find John sitting there, but it made too much sense not to use him!
(Deleted comment)
bardicvoice: Death Star by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on August 4th, 2009 01:53 am (UTC)
Thanks! I don't think guessing John was too hard to do ... *grin*
ErinRua: Fiat Luxerinrua on August 3rd, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
This was wonderful. I love your use of an internal soundtrack to underscore both the story, the time, and the characters. I love that you put us there in the midst of those hard times, and young John was a stroke of pure genius.

Last but not least, as the wife of a Vietnam vet (and former Marine), I thank you for your thoughtful treatment of a prickly subject. So very well done, lady. *Hugs you*

Also, I hope all is well with the renovations! :-)
bardicvoice: Death Star by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on August 4th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
Thank you, my very dear! It was a hard time with no clear lines. The protesters were very earnest, but the soldiers were doing their jobs; I always thought that the very worst outgrowth of 'Nam was the attacks on soldiers when they came home. At least we seem finally to have learned to separate our disagreement with decisions by the political administration from our support for the men and women who undertake to defend us and others!

Thinking through the soundtrack for each story and making certain that I use only songs released before the date of the story has been both challenging and enjoyable. I grew up with all this music, and revisiting it has healing properties.

The remodeling has hit multiple snags, about which the less said, the better; tonight in particular I am not happy and not comfortable, since conditions in my house are not what they were supposed to be by tonight. I'm currently sitting in my neighbor's house borrowing their washer and dryer to do a critical load of laundry (thank God they're still in Portugal!) because when the guys set up my machines, the washer didn't work. It worked just fine before all this started - I'd even had it given a maintenance visit less than a month before the remodeling began - so I have to think it was something the guys did. And my bed isn't fully set up, either; when they took it apart, they misplaced some of the hardware, so tonight my box spring and mattress are sitting on the floor. I'm wearing my grumpy face and have a headache ...
ErinRua: hugserinrua on August 4th, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
Aw, man! And here I'd hoped things were going along as planned. Damn. That just sucks out loud. I'm so sorry, hon! It's so freaking annoying when ineptness causes trouble like that, and then they have the nerve to act all innocent, and not even entertain the chance they might have screwed something up. Yeesh.

Hang in there, lady. *HUGS*
zofia27zofia27 on August 4th, 2009 02:11 am (UTC)
Very nice Professor! I was hoping that was John at the end and I'm glad it was! It's all fitting in so nicely!
bardicvoice: Death Star by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on August 4th, 2009 02:24 am (UTC)
Thanks! I hope they keep working for you ...
sen1995: J&J impala ewsen1995 on August 4th, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)
Thanks, Mary. These stories have all been wonderful, but this one really hit close to home. In the spring of 1970, I was finishing up my sophomore year in an Ohio high school, plotting with my friends about what college we would go to in a few years, and Kent State University was on our short list. Then May 4 came to pass, and the horrifying events of that day changed everything for me. I guess it was like the end of innocence for me, and following and reading about Vietnam, watching the evening news, following casualty numbers and antiwar activists and demonstrations, etc., etc., came to consume much of my free time. Believe it or not, to my mother's horror, I ended up joining the Army when I graduated from high school in 1972 instead of going to college. Though I spent most of my enlisted time in Germany, I met many guys who had served in Vietnam but very few who wanted to talk about it.

The late 60s/early 70s was a strange time in our history, beginning really in 1968 with the assassinations of King and Kennedy, the triumph of the moon landing in 1969, and then 1970, with the near-tragedy of Apollo 13, the Kent State massacre, the deaths of Hendrix and Joplin, and the break-up of the Beatles, followed in 1971 with 18-year-olds being given the right to vote (resulting in my first vote - for McGovern - in 1972), the release of the Pentagon Papers, etc., etc., etc. Your stories are bringing much of this back, and I look forward to future installments.

Thanks again for sharing these stories with us. Boy, I feel old!


Edited at 2009-08-04 05:04 am (UTC)
bardicvoice: Death Star by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on August 4th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Deborah! And I know what you mean about feeling old; revisiting those days is making me feel all of my years ... :)
raputathebuta: Big Daddyraputathebuta on August 4th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
Excellent entry, Mary.

My dad got a student deferment, but he (& my mom) have both told stories of their friends getting drafted.

I love the tie-in of having Young!John at the diner & making a connection with the Impala's current owner. See? The Metallicar was meant to be a Winchester all along!!! *runs to the next story*
bardicvoice: Death Star by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on August 4th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Rap!

Reliving all this history has given me a fresh appreciation for my past, and brought old memories bubbling up to the surface.

I was very amused when young John turned up on that seat in the diner!