Friday Field Trip: A & W Root Beer

While in high school, the fictional Claire Jordan and Libby McCormack spent their summers working at the A&W in downtown Carson City. It’s that job that gave Claire the needed experience to work the counter at Jolly Kone in Bridgeport when she desperately needed a job after college. It also put her off root beer for the rest of her life.

Here’s a deleted scene from Us, Now and Then. A similar event happened to me at my friend Joan’s house, although it was sloe gin fizzes and her sweet father who called my parents. See? Writing what I know.

Drinking Rum and Coca Cola

Libby was on her knees wiping down the bottom shelf in the A&W’s storeroom, when Gary, their chubby manager called to her from the doorway. For whatever reason, it was slow tonight. She’d only taken a handful of orders in the past two hours, so Gary had put Claire and her on grunt detail. Libby scrubbed the gross and grimy corners of the dark storeroom shelves. Yuck.

It was the summer between their sophomore and junior years and usually this job was fun. Everyone in town came to the A&W. And since it was right on the highway, even visitors stopped in. Older guys too. Of course, the girls had been warned not to flirt with customers. Libby usually obeyed. Claire rarely did. There had been a few times when Claire had left her behind to walk home alone. Mostly for boys with cars or motorcycles.

What Libby hated most about the job was the dorky uniform. It didn’t seem to bother Claire though. Anything looks good on that long Twiggy body.

Libby dropped the Lysol soaked sponge back into the bucket and turned to look at Gary over her shoulder, giving him a most unflattering view of her bent-over backside, she was sure. An errant strand of hair escaped its bobby pin and fell across her sweaty face.

“What?” she huffed. She puffed her hair out of the way. Was there one more menial task to perform?

“It’s still pretty dead. Even for a Wednesday. You girls have done more than your share of side-work tonight. You wanna take off early? Hard to justify keeping both of you here for another two hours.”

“What did Claire say?” As much as she wanted to go home, she and Claire operated as a team. Usually anyway.

“She’s just finishing the napkin dispensers now.”

“Okay.” Libby stood, removed her rubber gloves, and dumped the bucket.

“Regular time tomorrow?” Gary asked.

“Sure.” What else was there to do?

Libby and Claire stepped out into the fresh night air. As hot as the day had been, once the sun dipped behind the Sierra, the temperature dropped and a breeze picked up. While they both had gotten their driver’s licenses this year, neither had a car, so they walked the few blocks home.

Claire said, “You can come to my house. Watch TV or something. Mom’s out for a while. Playing Bridge, I think.” The quiet Jordan house was always preferable to hers. No one to fight with over what to watch on TV. No mother poking her nose into every little thing she was doing.

“Sounds good.”

Claire’s house was dark as they walked up the driveway to the back door. Once inside, they unbuttoned their plaid vests, kicked off their shoes, and pulled off their caps and aprons leaving them on the kitchen table. Libby untucked her white blouse as Claire opened the fridge, where a six-pack of little bottles of Coke waited. She pulled out two bottles, found the opener and glasses. Coke was a sometime thing at Libby’s house. Her thrifty mom gave them milk, Kool-Aid, or lemonade. A little orange juice for breakfast. Soda, almost never.

“You wanna get the ice?” Claire asked as she took a large bag of Fritos from the pantry.

“Sure.” Libby found aluminum ice trays in the freezer, pulled the lever to release the cubes, and filled two glasses. She refilled the tray at the tap before placing it back in the freezer.

Claire turned on the TV in the living room. Libby heard the theme from “Peyton Place,” a show she loved and could never watch at home. Too racy, according to her mom. They sat on the floor at the coffee table eating Fritos.

During a commercial they went back to the kitchen for refills. Libby removed another ice tray from the freezer. Claire reached over her head to get to the cabinet above the refrigerator. The liquor cabinet.

“Hmmm. Where is it?” Claire shuffled several bottles out of the way.

“The rum. Mom drinks rum and coke sometimes. We should try it.”

“I don’t know…”

Claire opened and poured some of the brown liquid over the ice in their glasses.

“What’re you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid…” But she was, wasn’t she. Claire always pushed her. Was Claire ever afraid?

“What’s the worst that could happen? Getting caught? Nothing can happen if we stay here. No one will even know.”

Libby took a tentative sip and admitted it tasted good. Soon, liquid warmth spread throughout her body. Claire kept refilling the glasses. More Coke. More rum. More Coke. More rum. They just sat there and drank. And drank.

When “Peyton Place” was over, Claire turned off the TV and put on a record. They danced and sang along, laughing and tripping over themselves. By the time Mrs. Jordan walked in, the six-pack and the rum bottle were nearly gone. Libby fell into the coffee table, spilling their drinks and knocking over the rum bottle. And she couldn’t stop laughing.

“Spending the night, are we, Libby?” She helped Libby to a place on the couch and mopped up the mess with a kitchen towel. Claire collapsed next to her.

“Yesh, ma’am,” Libby slurred. Oh crap.

“Good idea. I think I ought to call your folks though.”

Libby panicked. Oh, God. Not her folks. Please don’t. They’ll be so angry, but mostly disappointed. Disappointed was worse than angry. Her brother Mitch was the troublemaker. Not Libby. But realizing she was in no condition to argue, Libby listened as Mrs. Jordan spoke to Libby’s dad.

“It’s so late and they’re having such a good time. Listening to records and dancing. I thought I’d better make the call so that you’d know it was okay with me that Libby stays over.” Mrs. Jordan was very convincing even as she was shaking her head and glaring at Claire.

“Thank you, Mishush Jzordan,” Libby managed.

Mrs. Jordan picked up the rum bottle, shook her head and said, “Claire, we’ll talk tomorrow. When you’re sober. This really is not okay. At least you girls were home where you’re safe. Bedtime?”

“Yesh, ma’am.” Libby gave a sloppy salute.

“Before you go though, drink two full glasses of milk and take two aspirin. It might help make tomorrow look a little better.”

It didn’t.

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