New Years and Old Ones

By Dan Conaway

NEW YEAR REMINDER OF OLD FRIENDS. The cutest girl on Tennessee’s campus sent me a message, and that sent me back to Houston for her wedding a lifetime ago, and just about the wildest weekend I’ve ever spent. Extant.

Calvin picked me after work at my summer job. We drove to his parents’ house, parked his p.o.s. Volkswagen in the driveway, stole his father’s Lincoln Continental and drove all night to Galveston, about 75 miles of it in fog. We rented surfboards from a gas station and watched the sun come up trying to find a wave in still gray water.

That’s how the weekend began.

Three days later at three in the morning we were somewhere around Little Rock headed back to Memphis. KC was driving, Calvin was riding shotgun, and I was out cold in the back seat. All four of us were a wreck. The three college students and the Continental. The air conditioning had crapped out, the front end was smashed in from a lost battle in a Houston intersection, and it was smoking more than my pack-a-day habit at the time. KC was about five-six, maybe, and wearing a brand-new cowboy hat that was bigger than that.

That’s what the troopers saw – a smoking, smashed ship of a car with out-of-state plates, the windows down, and apparently being driven by a kid in a cowboy hat since that’s all they could see above the gunwale of the driver’s door.

They pulled us over and one approached down the driver’s side, the other down the passenger side, just as I woke up and sat bolt upright in the back seat, surprising both cops, and causing the one I was looking at to point a nickel-plated cannon right between my eyes and suggest that I not move. I didn’t, but a number of things inside of me did.

We told them that we’d been to a wedding in Houston, that we were on our way home, and pointed out that the rented tuxes in the trunk would back up our story.

“Open the trunk,” they said. “You can’t make us do that without a warrant,” KC the pre-law major said. “Shut the hell up,” Calvin and I said and opened the trunk.

They let us go, and that’s how the weekend ended.

Space and decorum prohibit a detailed description of what happened in between, but there was a wedding, the statutes have run on everything else, and some of those things – like the Chicken Ranch – have passed into legend.

In Charlene’s message, she told me she wanted to surprise her husband, Garner – fraternity brother of those in the Continental – with one of my books for Christmas. She included a little family news and ended with “we’re still madly in love and still having fun.”

It doesn’t get better than that.

I’m a Memphian, and I’d like to wish all of my friends, past and present, and all of you a Happy New Year, and some wild and happy memories of old ones.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at