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McHookups 2 (of 2)

Continued from yesterday…

Once Mom and I formulated our hypothesis, we continued to observe. We were in the ideal research vehicle to avoid contaminating our subjects. It was like we were invisible—you know, in our 59-foot long, 18-foot tall Road Warrior monster pulling what was essentially a Toyota Corolla. Rarely did any cars pull up next to us. (And if they did, I avoided eye contact. Mom, on the other hand, waved. She was not educated in the finer points of scientific observation, as I was.)

Eventually, our hypothesis became a full-fledged proof. There could be no doubt. We continued to watch, fascinated.

After a little while, we observed one young man whose behavior was slightly different, though no less odd. This guy, probably 19 or 20, parked his hatchback, got out, walked around to the back, opened his hatch, and rooted around in the back of his car. The hatch was full of trash bags, each of which contained various clothing items. And he changed clothes. There behind his car. Outside of a McDonald’s. In the middle of the night. You know, like everybody does.

I don’t know how you were raised, but that’s not “normal.” He’d put on some outfit, go into the restaurant, and come back after around 15 minutes or so. He’d open his hatch, jumble around in the bags, select some other set of clothes, and change again. There behind his car. Outside of a McDonald’s. In the middle of the night. We observed him perform this ritual at least five times.

My best guess is he was either participating in some kind of fashion show I’ve never heard of before—you know, like the kind they have in McDonald’s restaurants along the Connecticut Turnpike in the middle of the night in summer—or, he was turning tricks in the McDonald’s restroom. :( Neither scenario seems to have much of a bright future.

And then suddenly, right in the middle of our naïve schooling, a shimmering light. A brilliant beacon of happiness that still spreads a smile across my face to this very day. A red convertible Ford Mustang (with the top closed) pulled up. It broke the monotony, in that this particular car contained two guys. They were young-ish, college-aged, early 20’s, I’d estimate. They pulled in, quite literally, right into the middle of this hip scene, and parked. The driver turned off the headlights. They didn’t get out. They didn’t go into the restaurant. They didn’t look around at the other cars. Instead, they reached into the back seat and produced two pillows. Each guy tilted his respective seat back, leaned as distantly far away from the other guy as was possible, leaned against his own door, and attempted to get some sleep. My mom and I looked at each other and smirked knowingly. This was gonna be fun to watch.

They were there for probably 15-20 minutes, trying in vain to sleep. I don’t know if you know this, but the thing about sleeping in your car in a parking lot is, it’s a serious hassle when every 2-3 minutes, another car pulls up alongside you and turns off, and its driver sits and stares at you for several minutes. Then, once it becomes obvious to that driver that you’re not going to return his gaze, he starts his car, turns his headlights on, and moves on to another space. This cycle repeated itself for our Mustang honeys several times.

The passenger, now visibly irritated, looked up and rubbed his eyes. He sat there blearily, looking all around, watching the cars moving around. After several minutes of watching, he reached over and grabbed the shoulder of his buddy the driver, shaking him awake. A heated argument ensued, with lots of hand gesturing, the kind borne out of that frustration that you can really only experience when you are truly, completely, utterly exhausted.

The passenger convinced the driver to see for himself, so they both sat there, looking around for several minutes, while the meat market ritual continued all around them. They spoke some more, far less angrily—more bewildered, really. The pillows were jettisoned into the back seat. Both seatbacks flipped suddenly upright, like catapults. Seatbelts were whipped around and fastened. The engine was gunned. Tires screeched. As quickly as they had arrived—actually, much more quickly—they were gone.

Sadly, they still had only each other. And the rest of us missed them terribly.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever observed on the Connecticut Turnpike? What about elsewhere? Did you ever have a crazy awakening to a completely different lifestyle?

McHookups 1 (of 2)

This story is difficult to tell, so it may take a couple of days. Not because I’m ashamed of it or anything, just because it’s long and involved.

In July of 1999, my dad drove my mom, Kendra, Kenny and me in their RV from Oklahoma up through New England, our Geo Prizm in tow. Kenny was two years old. So many memorable moments: Crossing 6 lanes at breakneck speed in Philadelphia, arriving in Boston during 5:00 PM rush hour, Niagara Falls at the Fourth of July. But Connecticut offered us our greatest awakening.

Before our trip, Dad had given me a crash course in RV dynamics so I could spell him sometimes at driving. But this scenario was not optimal in his mind. RV-ing is a serious commitment to him. To me it was a big car that, in no particular order, allows you to make sandwiches in it, nap, and relieve yourself at your leisure—all without ever having to pull over.

Because Dad had to drive so much, when in the middle of the night we found ourselves on the turnpike in Darien, Connecticut (outside Greenwich), his faculties fading, we had to stop. Number 17 of his “119 Rules for Brannon Driving My RV” was “Brannon can’t drive the RV at night.” His eyelids heavy, his forearms twitchy, all of us road-weary—every sign pointed to “Park.”

That 24-hour McDonald’s seemed a Godsend, a shimmering red and gold archy oasis in the darkness. Dad pulled in, chose a spot way out in the expansive lot, and parked. He methodically selected optimum placement: Easy pull out, away from the traffic, yet close enough to the restaurant and its lights to assure our “safety.” Dad shut everything down, skillfully flipping switches like he was bringing the Millennium Falcon down from light speed. He adjusted the thermostat to his liking and crashed on his bed in the back.

I helped Kendra square Kenny away in the middle section (away from Dad’s snoring). Mom was already in the passenger’s seat. We were both too exhausted to sleep, so I climbed up into the driver’s seat and drew the curtains closed behind me. Unfortunately, the thermostat was in the back with Dad, and he had it locked on “Siberian Winter.” Mom and I whispered conversation, shivering, trying to wind down enough to sleep.

While I had been fussing with Kendra and Kenny, evidently Mom had been conducting reconnaissance from her perch. Once I was situated in the driver’s chair, she said, “Watch for a few minutes. Something weird’s going on out there. See if you can tell me what’s going on.”

“Now Mom, what could possibly be going down at a Connecticut Turnpike McDonald’s in the middle of a summer weeknight?” A lot, as it turns out.

What she had already observed was an odd social phenomenon—odd to us, anyway. I don’t know how they roll up there in Connecticut; I suppose what we saw might seem completely normal to them:

A car would pull into a nearby parking space. The driver would park, turning off his headlights and engine. Then he’d just sit there. He wouldn’t get out. He wouldn’t go into the restaurant. He’d just sit there in his car for a while. Then another car would pull up and park in the same way. Then a couple more. Then another. Every so often, one car would start, turn on its headlights, and move to another space nearby and repeat the ritual. Then suddenly—abruptly, even—two of the cars near each other would start up, turn their headlights on, and leave, one car kind of following the other.

I say “he” when I refer to the driver, because in every case, each car had only one occupant: a man.

In my addled state, my normally Sherlock Holmesian mind was a little slow catching up. But it became apparent: We had stumbled smack into the ever-elusive homosexual hookup hoedown. You pull in and park, check out some of the guys parked around you, and if one suits your fancy, you give him your call sign, and the two of you retreat to—???

You know what? None of my business. Like they say in Jersey (or so I’ve heard), “Fugghedaboudit.”

What do you think is gonna happen? (Lots of fun, I can assure you.) Why do you think my dad has to have it so cold when he sleeps? And have you ever observed a hook-up ritual that you had never seen before? Tell us about it.

Be sure to tune in Friday for our conclusion…