Joy riding: reflections on an innocent, insane adolescence

When I was in high school, I’d always find something to do, even if I had to get creative.

On Friday nights, I’d pack eight to twelve people into my ’93 Jeep Cherokee and we’d drive around, usually stopping at friends’ houses. Most of them weren’t expecting us.

It was a portable party, and where we’d end up was anybody’s guess.

Usually we’d start by getting something to eat, taking over a Steak’n Shake or Donato’s Pizza, then we’d take to drive to Stephan’s or Kim’s or David’s.

When people aren’t ready for a portable party, you get some great reactions. I did this to my own parents a few times, too. My dad would love it, usually, and my mom always would have preferred some notice.

These “joy rides” picked up steam fast. After a few months of adventures, we suddenly had a caravan of two or three cars – maybe 25 people – going from place to place.

It was insanity, but it was innocent insanity. There were no drugs or alcohol involved. It was just a bunch of teenage boys and girls being ridiculous.

We had our regular crew, but we also had first-timers about every week. We were welcoming to any and all, and open to whatever came our way.

There was no agenda and typically no plan, either. Just get in the jeep and go.

One time we went to the grocery store where I used to work, I put on my work shirt and started bagging.

I hadn’t worked there in months, and, in fact, didn’t ever work at that particular branch. As I started bagging, the cashier looked confused, but she had a job to do and didn’t really know what to say to the customer. Some of my fellow joy riders then stepped into the line behind the customer and one tried to purchase a single grape.

We left before the managers asked us to leave.

Then there was the time Adam Grapes left his backpack at my house when we were doing a project for government class. I told him I’d return it for him that evening.

As you can imagine, the Grapes were beside themselves as 20-plus Hamilton Southeastern High School students came to their door. The one who rang the doorbell was wearing a Bill Clinton mask. Another was recording the moment with a camcorder. Others watched on, some laughing so hard they almost fell over.

“Your son, Adam, appears to be missing his backpack. He left it at Mr. Denison’s,” my friend in the Clinton mask said in an Arkansas drawl, shaking hands with Mr. Grapes, who had a bewildered look on his face. “Here it is, sir. Thank you, and please, don’t forget to vote this November.”

Those are just two of many stories. We were absolutely absurd, and we knew it. It was unpredictable, impulsive and harmless.

We were easily amused, finding laughs by squirting cars and pedestrians with washer fluid when the back windshield wiper blade broke. I never replaced it. Instead, I made it a goal to squirt as many vehicles as possible.

That jeep became like “one of the guys.” We even gave it a name: Gunther.

So what inspired this trip down memory lane?

When I look at teenagers today, I am not seeing them come up with many creative ways to have fun on Friday nights. And, as a result, teens around Lewistown (and in many places) complain too often there is nothing to do.

Instead of complain, I encourage kids to think of fun things to do, even if it’s stupid, silly stuff. Get together with your friends and be silly. Go out and explore and experience. There is always something to do. Whether it be creating a portable party or squirting someone’s vehicle with washer fluid at a red light, there are plenty of ways to stay entertained without resorting to anything illegal. Get out of the house and make some memories. Be absurd. Be wild. Be young, and enjoy it. But, also, don’t drive distracted. Leave the phone calls, texting and all other coordinating to the co-captain in the passenger seat. Focus on the road, stay safe and enjoy the ride.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)


Myself and members of the joy ride crew in 2001

About CharliesTrail

Originally from Indianapolis, Denison is a writer and musician who has picked up culture and influences from eccentrics all over the U.S. and overseas. He is a University of Kentucky Journalism School grad and an award-winning Montana journalist. Through the years he's had work published by "Chicken Soup From the Soul," DVD Netflix, Montana Quarterly Magazine, NUVO and Americana Highways. He has a solo album, "Whispers of the Lonely," and continues to chip away at his first novel. Currently Denison is the editor of The Boulder Monitor in Boulder, Montana, where he lives with his wife.
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