The summer of 1980 was one of the hottest I recall.
The windows were down in my 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass. They were always down in the summer. I couldn’t afford to fix the air conditioner. But that summer was particularly brutal.
When I was young and broke, the summer heat was simply a fact life.
But, music? Music was life.
I was in college and had a pretty girl who allowed me to call her my girlfriend. The local radio station gave me the 8 p.m. to midnight slot. The slot when all of the young listeners were tuned in.
And Christopher Cross was the music I was playing a lot. Both on the radio and in my hot-and-windy Cutlass.
On dry days, I would do my cursory pre-drive routine of rolling down all four windows in that two-door coupe before turning the ignition to fire up its 350 V-8 Olds Rocket engine.
Fuel efficient it was not. Powerful and smooth it was.
Placing my foot on the brake, I lifted the console shifter up and into reverse. The motor idle would drop, but just slightly.
Easing out of the driveway, I shifted
into drive as I pushed my new cassette of Christopher Cross’s first album into the aftermarket Sony X-50 tape deck I installed myself.
That was a big thing then. You bought a used muscle car and immediately replaced the factory AM radio and single dash speaker with an AM/FM tape deck. You then put speakers anywhere you could find a spot.
I had just graduated from an 8-track to a cassette. When I connected it to the new set of 6X9 speakers I installed in the deck over the back seat, “Ride Like The Wind,” “Sailing,” and the other endless hits on Cross’s debut album surrounded me as I drove.
The feeling of driving down the highway with the wind whipping through your vehicle and across your face is one that once was common. These days, most folks have AC in their car or truck.
Even as hot as it gets during Southern summers, I believe that no AC, rolled-down windows, and a decent sound system should be mandatory for young people. It’s a feeling like no other and everyone should experience it.
That particular summer, neither Christopher Cross nor I had any idea that what we each were savoring in our lives would be short lived.
He won five Grammy Awards, and I started college and my broadcasting career.
Life was simple. It was good.
Cross’s popularity peaked in a two-year span. His style of music ran head first into a new thing called MTV. The heavily produced rock videos the network played focused less on good music and more on pretty or odd people.
I was single and free to do as I wished. It was the last summer I lived at home and had no rent, no bills, and few of the responsibilities of adulthood.
But, almost no one appreciates their current situation. Especially if you have nothing else with which to compare it. I was no different. I had no idea how good I had it.
Four decades later, I now appreciate that summer — the car, the music, and what life was like.
Christopher Cross recently came on my car radio on the day the temp first cracked the ’90s this summer. I was immediately taken back to youth, the Cutlass, and a simpler time.
I turned off the AC, rolled down the windows, and turned up the volume. For a moment, Chris and I both were right back where we’d been. Riding like the wind.
John’s book, “Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now,” is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can email John through his website at www.TheCountryWriter.com.