The Folly of Youth

I never made it to my prom.

I had the date, the dress, the corsage. My parents were actually going to BE there, chaperoning for an hour.

For the big night, my friends and I had set up what we thought was a brilliant plan for us and our dates. We had pre-prom plans and post-prom plans. It was a whole weekend of events.

Pre-prom looked like this: we would start at one of our houses for appetizers and “drinks” (we were all underage, of course,) go to the next house for dinner, and to a third for dessert. Then on to the prom.

After the prom, we’d go to another person’s house to watch the sun come up. Then we’d all drive to Galveston, where we’d spend the weekend in two rented beach houses.

On paper, it looked great.

In reality, in retrospect, it was a plan rife with flaws. At least the pre-prom plan. There were 10 of us girls, and we’d each be taking separate transportation, supplied by our dates. This was in Houston, TX, a city that is spread way out. It’s huge.

The prom was being held in a space downtown, which is east Houston. The houses we’d be going to beforehand were in far west Houston. Even if alcohol hadn’t entered the picture, we were still pushing the odds by having ten cars driving all over the city like that. Why none of use thought to rent a big bus, I do not know. MADD had been formed, but perhaps it was not in the forefront of every parents’ mind yet the way it is now.

And alcohol was in the picture. A lot of it.

My date was Ron McPure (names have been changed to protect the guilty.) He was a very cute boy who drove a 1960 cherry red Mustang convertible, and he made me laugh. I hadn’t met him at high school. I’d met him at a bar one night. He was a freshman at college. SMU, I think. (My parents didn’t know that of course. I told them he went to a neighboring high school, which he had, just the year before, but that was a little detail I left out.)

In retrospect, he also had a bit of a drinking problem already. But I digress.

We started our pre-prom journey with drinks at the first house, moved on to the next, having more drinks with dinner, followed by dessert, and yes, more drinks. I think we’d told each house’s parents that it was just the one drink we’d all be having. By the time we were all heading off to the prom, we were well-lit, floating. None of us should have been driving anywhere.

As we were about to get into the Mustang and head off for the prom, Ron got a stash of two huge bottles of vodka and some mixers out of the trunk and presented them to me with flourish, “Taa-daa!!” He mixed us each a drink in jumbo red plastic Dixie cups.

We headed off on the 30 minute drive across town to the prom venue.

I don’t recall much of that drive. Laughter, yes. Traffic. The light of late afternoon and early evening turning into pitch dark night.

But then (maybe I sort of sobered up a bit,) I realized that we seemed to be driving a long time and that where we were didn’t look like downtown Houston at all. I suggested we turn around, that we’d gotten lost or something. Ron agreed, pointed to a parking lot ahead and said he’d turn around there.

He pulled into the parking lot and looked for a place to turn. He decided to turn down a ramp that led to what looked like an underground parking garage. I didn’t want him to for some reason, but he was adamant, so we did.

That decision sealed our fate. As we drove down the ramp, we suddenly found ourselves nose to nose with a sheriff patrol car. Of all the places to choose to turn around, we had happened to drive into the parking lot of the Sheriff Department!

As he hurried to put the car into reverse to back out before anybody noticed, Ron quickly directed me to put the bottles of booze in front under my dress (which I did.) The car, being a classic, did not go into reverse easily or quickly, and before he could do so, a trooper was heading over.

Ron put the car into park, and told me to wait while he went in to calmly say that we were lost and to ask for directions.

This plan seemed perfectly reasonable to our alcohol-soaked brains. No matter that we must have reeked of booze and he was nothing but cohesive. He got out, adjusted his tux, and walked a somewhat straight line over to the trooper and into the building.

That’s when it happened. I was suddenly struck quite sober, and in the next moment, I panicked big time. I guess in my logic, I could get us out of this by moving the car. That THAT would be the determining factor against us getting out of this. It would look less bad for us if the car weren’t facing the wrong way.

So I hiked up my dress, straddled over the gear shift, and put the car in reverse. Unfortunately, the car being a classic, it did not actually have a very good pickup to go reverse uphill from a standstill, and the car started to slowly inch towards the sheriff’s car.

It was the luck of the Gods that I hit the brakes in time. I put the car back in park, and just at that moment, another patrolmen came out, walking towards me in the car. I popped a mint and tried to seem collected.

He told me that my boyfriend was suspected of driving under the influence and said I had to get out and come in. I willed every fiber in my being to walk as steadily as I could, following him into the building. Once inside, I was led to a waiting area.

I think because we’d been on the way to prom, he took pity on me. He said I needed to call my parents to have them come pick me up. It turns out, we were in Pasadena, which is about a 20 mile drive out of Houston.

I got really panicked then, as I recalled that my parents weren’t home, they were actually AT the prom. I started tearing up as I explained this to the cop, and he asked if there was anybody at home. My older brother John, I said between sniffles.

So I called my brother, who somehow got word to my parents (this was before cell phones, so maybe they called home when we hadn’t shown up to see if I’d called.) Somewhat relieved, I expected my brother to pick me up. But it was my parents who turned up an hour and a half later.

Ron was actually released to their custody. That ride from the Pasadena Sheriff’s Department to drop him off at his home was one of the most uncomfortable car rides of my life. And Ron was not especially helpful to the situation. He would not look at me, and he gave tense monosyllabic answers to my parents’ questioning on the eternal drive back.

I will say this though: my father showed particular restraint. Still, it was awful, as well it should have been. We had really screwed up big time, and were damn lucky to be alive and to not have hurt or killed anyone else.

Of the 10 of us and our dates going to the prom that night, three couples did not make it. Don and I, and then another couple who had gotten a ticket on the way and had (smartly) decided to go back home. A third couple had had a serious wreck. The boy had to have his jaw wired shut and was bedridden for months.

I wish I could report that any of that had a significant impact on us and our ideas around “partying,” but it didn’t. What is it about youth that creates such stupidity? I reflect back often on how lucky we all were that nothing worse had happened.

I am forever grateful to have survived my own stupidity that night, and that no one in our car (or on the road) was hurt. That was the last time Ron and I went out together, understandably. My parents were not too keen on him after that.

I’ll always wonder what the prom was like. But it seems a small price to pay for being spared from tragedy as a result of my own poor, irresponsible decisions.

Inspired by The Daily Post Word Prompt: panicked