I placed my work tote in the backseat, next to my not one but two gel memory foam cooling charcoal activated pillows. I was sleeping over at my parents’ house to take care of my bedridden grandmother while my grandfather was getting hip replacement surgery. Without those pillows my neck would kink, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink. My early morning meeting would be a disaster.
After pulling off the highway, I decided it would be best to stop at McDonalds for an iced coffee. Not to drink then, God no, I couldn’t drink caffeine after 5:00pm without it keeping me up all night. No, this coffee would be for tomorrow morning, straight from the fridge. I don’t love my parents’ coffee, and they don’t buy the right milk. Not that McDonald’s iced coffees do have the right milk, but if my stomach was going to hurt it might as well be from something delicious.
I turned into the plaza outside my parents’ subdivision and drove by the old men on their lawn chairs. A Bridgewood plaza staple. They’d been hanging out in these parking lots for as long as I’d been living here. In my head the quick math worked out to about 15 years, especially because the past two years don’t really count, but a more accurate calculation would put that number closer to 17 or 18 years. Some things never change.
The drive-thru was surprisingly busy that night, for a Wednesday at 10:40pm. I pulled up to the first window, and for a second I was confused as to why no one was there to take my payment. Then I remembered drive-thrus go down to one window late at night. I tried to remember the last time I’d even been in a drive-thru so late, but the only memories I could muster were from at least 5 years back. Maybe closer to 7.
As I waited for my coffee, a flashy gold Acura pulled up behind me. Their hip hop music blared through my closed windows, eclipsing You Live by Alanis Morissette that was set to a reasonable volume level 6 on my stereo, so as to not distract me or give me a headache while driving. The hooligans behind me, however, were not helping.
I rolled down my window as I rolled my eyes, and the beat of the cacophony hurt my lower jaw. I could hear them talking and laughing. One stuck his hand out through the sunroof. They were out of control. The 16 year older worker handed me my drink, and I thought protectively, “geez, I hope these guys don’t bother this girl while she’s just trying to work her shift.”
I pulled forward slowly, watching them drive up to her window in my side view mirror. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I definitely heard her response. A girlish giggle. A memory sparked. As I rounded the corner to exit the plaza, I saw her leaning out the drive-thru window, her eyes shining bright with delight off the metallic glare of the car. I recognized her behaviour instantly. She was flirting.
Suddenly I was transported to my own teenaged days spent in this very plaza. They didn’t feel all that long ago, there just happened to be a lifetime in between.
Beside the McDonalds was the coffee shop where we’d come when we were in high school. Back when only a few people could borrow their parents’ cars to drive, before we’d actually developed the taste or need for coffee. We’d order small hot chocolates and boxes of Timbits, all we could afford. We’d play cards and talk about school and flirt.
The cellphone store on the corner was where I’d bought my first real smartphone. The Dairy Queen beside it refused to give me extra hot fudge that one time even though they’d done it before, and I was willing to pay extra. That was next to the pizza place we’d ordered from on New Years Eve 2009.
On the other side of the plaza was the dental office from which we’d drunkenly stolen the planter a few years later, and dropped it off at my friend’s parents’ front lawn because they lived only a block away. Her mom still had it in her backyard.
A handful of doors down was the fluctuating multicultural food unit. I’d visited my brother at his part time job there when it was an Argentinian bakery, gone on dates when it was an Italian eatery, and hosted dinner parties in university there when it was an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant. I’d felt so grown up throwing my friend a going away to law school party. I noted that it was now a Mexican bar that I’d never been to before.
Behind the grocery store was the most secluded spot of all. That’s where all those heart to heart conversations took place. Where really hard decisions were made that would shape the course of our adult lives forever. Those last intimate encounters where smoking up, hooking up and breaking up took place behind foggy glass windows before we outgrew it all.
Though those youthful days of indiscretion have now been replaced with much more tame nights, the spirit and versatility of the suburban plaza lives on in all those young people playing their music way too damn loud. And with those old men and their lawn chairs who never stopped living the dream.