Friday, May 30, 2008

Thayer St.

Now I can't say I'm a big fan of cars nor ever have been other than having appreciation for their utility at being able to provide transportation for oneself and one's stuff from point a to point b. That being said I must point out that I did grow up in North America during a time that new highways and burgeoning suburban enclaves made it appear that the future was to be ongoing technical and mechanical Utopia for all. The size, power and design of Detroit built cars reflected this belief of constant improvement and the car that epitomized the height of the auto-makers vision was the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible.

Early one afternoon as we walked toward our favorite Thayer St. hangout in Providence one of those was parked right out front - so long it took up two parking spaces and all gleaming white with chromed everything else. It was beautiful. Happily, our usual table outside Andrea's was just being cleared so we ordered our beers and spanikopitas while sitting back to watch the summer parade of locals and visitors stroll by. We liked the spot because there was a crack in the sidewalk right next to it that only the previously initiated would avoid tripping over. We'd take great delight in watching snooty rich people come to check out what qualifications Brown University and its environs could offer their young scions against Harvard or Yale. Invariably one of them would trip on the crack but, since we were connoisseurs of pratfalls, we wouldn't laugh out loud but give one another hand signals indicating points for style and flair in recovery just like they do at the Olympics.

On this particular Sunday the Caddy was of special interest since cars like it were always rare and by the mid-80's were next to extinct. Even now there are still more Model T Fords in regular operation than there ever were Eldorados and the few that existed were owned by very wealthy people.

As usual some friends came by pulling up extra chairs and eventually an extra table too. When I moved my chair to make room I found myself sitting rather close to a tall man of early middle age with languid eyes set in a milk chocolate face. He was dressed casually, almost carelessly, in clothes that were of the very best quality as well as the last word in fashion. He smiled and I felt my heart melt all the way down to the happiest places. It wasn't long before he and his friend-driver were sharing jokes and stories with the rest of us. The low rumble of his laughter was so infectious and sensual that people at other tables who couldn't possibly have heard what had been said laughed as well. We learned he was a talent agent with offices in New York and Hollywood and they were touring the country in a car he'd bought for the sheer luxury of doing the trip at his own pace in style and comfort.

Our waitress, Rachel, who had high hopes of becoming a Broadway star, was also very interested and our tables were getting a lot of her very personal attention much to the general outrage of other patrons. This was New England, after all, and the natives tend to express their irritation volubly when they don't get their food and drink replenished immediately. We heard a lot of comments like, 'Hey, bitch, where's our fucking beer and cheese dip?' and even more impressive variations of where they were planning to look for their meals.

Rachel was not only oblivious to the comments but was getting even more caught up in what she appeared to feel was her one chance of winning fame and fortune. She'd found some odd chromed bar utensil inside that she began to use as a pretend microphone while she proceeded to go into a full Debbie Reynolds routine that you'll understand if you've ever seen 'Singin in the Rain'.

We got to hear a capella versions of 'Some Enchanted Evening', 'Someone to Watch Over Me', 'Send in the Clowns' and 'Anything Goes'. When she got to that one she put down her tray and microphone, took off her shoes and continued to sing while turning cartwheels up and down the sidewalk. By then even the most jaded of Rhode Islanders were beginning to look a bit stunned and more than a few were hoping right along with her that she really would get a chance to go to Hollywood. Naturally, they were also hoping she'd just go away and another waitress would come out to serve their tables.

The Cadillac owner sitting next to me just kept smiling except for once when he looked my way and winked. Flirtation is a funny and subtle thing when you have nothing to gain but the pleasure of mutual understanding. Rachel had finished her acrobatics near the restaurant door and had gone inside. Everyone outside assumed she'd finished but two minutes later she was back for her unrequested encore - microphone and all.

She started to sing that all time favorite song of Broadway musical hopefuls - 'Summertime'. The level of emoting was something extraordinary to see on a city sidewalk and as she got more and more physically engaged in expressing the passion and sadness in the song she got closer and closer to the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, stroking its long sleek lines, tickling its chromed bumper and finally slithering up onto its gleaming white hood where she writhed and moaned out the last lines of the song.. 'So hush little baby, doon't youuu cryayayayy!'

It was a moment to be remembered. Anyone less cool than the man sitting next to me would probably have picked her up bodily and thrown her off the Caddy. He smiled. We said good-bye to all and walked home having enjoyed another fine afternoon on Thayer St.


  1. Given the aversion to anyone invading personal space or touching their stuff, it's hard to fathom anything like this happening these days. Great story, lush with all the little details, as always.

  2. How could you watch this without choking or laughing hysterically?! Disbelief, no doubt? Wow. This goes to affirm why I've never had an inkling to be a performer! :)

    Great story! And what a fun place to sit and watch snooty rich people trip... with a beer and spanikopita!

    Oh, and I love this line... "Flirtation is a funny and subtle thing when you have nothing to gain but the pleasure of mutual understanding." Wonderful!!

  3. "He smiled and I felt my heart melt all the way down to the happiest places."

    I love your story and your
    drawings, Susan. I suspect
    the waitress wasn't the
    only one auditioning.

  4. What, only three comments for this amazing piece of retro-writing?

    Well, now there's four!

    ...And them's the coolest illustrations I've ever seen outside of a New Yorker magaxine. :)

  5. randal - I know. I dated a few guys who were really into cars and particularly, paint jobs. 'Yeah, it's got 40 coats of candy apple red lacquer'.. geez.

    b - It wasn't easy but you're right in that there was something amazing going on. She was so caught up in the moment and was trying so desperately to make a good impression in one of the worst possible audition forums you just couldn't laugh.

    sera - You caught me. My audition was successful as you can tell.

    cr - What a nice surprise having you visit. I've been doing the stories since February and so long as they remain an enjoyable activity I'll keep going. Thank you very much for one of the best compliments ever and I hope you return.

  6. that Summertime song is one of the all-time most fun things to sing there is. and one of the all time most badly done, as well. it's right up there with Fever and Danny Boy. i can't imagine fabricating your own audition on-the-spot. i love to perform, but i HATE auditions. .... it's past midnight, and much to-do in the garden tomorrow. thanks for the lovely bedtime story.

  7. What a great story Susan! And the drawings are fantastic. You're fun!

  8. Susan - this is such a wonderfully, written and sad tale to tell. On the one hand you have this really cool talent agent making a rare appearance in Providence looking for the next big thing. On the other is this wacky waitress who's been waiting for this opportunity all her life. While American Idol has built it's viewership on this storyline, this comedic tragedy sounds so much better in your words. I can't imagine how painfully funny it was to witness that scene. I'm envious.

  9. gfid - That's certainly true about 'Summertime' and our waitress didn't do one of the better jobs I've ever heard covering it either.

    gary - Thanks :-)

    spartacus - It was while considering the implications of American Idol in our sadly demeaned culture that I remembered Rachel and her desperate bid for fame and fortune.

  10. Absolutely brilliant.

  11. Summertime, and the living, she is easy. Whether she ever made it to Broadway or not, Rachel sounds like a real natural.

    On the subject of cars, apparently Chevy Impalas are a big deal with collectors/retoolers. It strikes me as kind of funny, since Grandad used to run errands in an Impala. Who knew?

  12. Fabulous. And she had to have some chutzpah to attempt "Summertime" under any circumstances. Few can sing that song.

  13. chad - Thanks for your visit and the compliment is much appreciated.

    ben - Grandad had several Impalas and when he finally did get a compact car one of the neighbour's kids said, 'Mr Mills, I've never seen your head above the steering wheel before.'

    cdp - I'll just say she was no Sarah Vaughn.

  14. What a great story with equally outstanding illustrations. All of those musical numbers are favourites with me, ‘Summertime’, 'Some Enchanted Evening', 'Send in the Clowns' and 'Anything Goes'.
    You may have caught up with the latest revival on Broadway, ~ Rodgers and Hammerstein classic South pacific, synonymous with Some Enchanted Evening,’ but I saw the clip from the current production “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair “and it was a simply fabulous rendition with an equally outstanding chorus. The reviews have been quite stunning. But back to your story which reminded me of my boss in the sixties who drove one of those large Dodges imported from The USA , and being small in stature he sat on several cushions so that he looked quite comical driving it around , there he was in his splendor with his ginormous car!!.I can also recall I think seeing a 59 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible, there were a few imported over here. It would seem like an engineering feat that such that convertible could be produced to be so huge and ostentaious!! .

    Best wishes

  15. lindsay - How nice to see you've been over to visit. Yes, I also love those old songs especially since we always had recordings of the new Broadway shows when I was growing up. 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair' was always one of my favorites to sing (living in the countryside had the advantage of nobody being around to listen).