By Jamie Hammack
I was sittin’ on the fender of someone else’s truck
Drinking Old Crow Whisky, hot 7-up
Out in the parking lot.
Now there’s a couple of cowpokes puttin’ up their dukes
Wasn’t much to it after both of em puked
Out in the parking lot.
Now someone called the police and the police finally came
And they wrote a couple of tickets and they took a couple of names
Out in the parking lot.
Everybody’s gone, they’ve shut out all the lights
The dust begins to settle and it’s never been so quiet
Out in the parking lot.
Lyrics from the song, Out In The Parking Lot, by Guy Clark.
Lets take a step back in time. The time of cut off jeans and glorious mullets that reached down past the shoulders of dudes wearing mesh muscle shirts. To cassette tapes and stone washed jeans with rips in them. Lets go back to the late 1980’s.
Those weekend evenings all began somewhat the same. Usually without a phone call. There was no need for that. It was just habit to do the what we did. Meeting in town and looking for nothing but a good time. Before dark we’d gather in the now “old” Walmart parking lot leaving our vehicles on the front row facing the four-lane. We’d pack into a truck or car for the night ahead. Leaving the parking lot for Cherry Street next to the former Sonic that is now Cruizzer’s. Left from Cherry Street onto the four lane heading southwest towards Main Street. Right on Main (actually Mena Street, but we always called it Main) towards the courthouse. Turn left on Hickory behind the courthouse, but hide your beers first, taking it slow and easy. Make the turns around the courthouse, obey all signs, then right back onto Main and go back towards Sonic. Once at Sonic you had a choice. Turn into Sonic and drive behind it and then back into the Walmart parking lot, or continue down to the last turn in at Pizza Hut. It didn’t matter which because you just ended up right in front of the center of the universe and the beginning of some crazy, crazy nights for young people in the mid to late 80’s in Mena. Shelton’s Cone-n-Cue.
Wooderson and the cast of the movie Dazed and Confused had the Emporium. Happy Days had Mel’s Diner. We had a place just as cool as those. We had the Cone-n-Cue. A cozy place where we would settle into a booth and order chili cheese kielbasa’s, Frito pies, ice cream, and that incredible ham and cheese sandwich. The owner, Shelton, never made you wait long for your food and he always knew what you had been up to. You could walk into the Cone-n-Cue and Shelton would tell you what you had just done on the far side of town, in the woods or at the lake! We would hang out in the Cone-n-Cue for hours it seems. It became our meeting place. Sometimes it was before making runs to the beer joints across the Oklahoma line. Sometimes just as a place to go before cruising town. We dumped quarters in the jukebox, pinball machines and pool tables and exchanged money from lost bets on games. Gave each other a hard time and laughed at numerous jokes and stories. It’s too bad there isn’t a place like that now in town.
Just as on one side of the parking lot was the Cone-n-Cue, on the other was another favorite stop. The former Sonic, and now Cruizzer’s Drive-In. We all had our go to meal served to us on a metal window tray. You likely had a favorite spot to park and a favorite meal to order. Mine was second from the end on the cherry street side near the four-lane. You press the button and make your order (for me, a #2 hamburger, chili cheese tator tots and a medium Dr. Pepper-no cherry) listen for the guy to ask us “izzz there anything else we can getcha?” and then wait for Lois Stone (rest her soul) or one of the other girls to bring our food out. Sometimes we just ordered a cup of ice and filled our cups with beverages of our own purchased from The Beer Depot in Crystal Springs. Of course in retrospect it wasn’t the smart thing to do, but it’s what we did.
In between the Cone-n-Cue and Sonic was the now former Walmart parking lot. People came to Mena from all over western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma just to hang out there. On any given summer weekend night not only could there be hundreds of people gathered in the parking lot, but there could be a line of cars waiting to enter from the Pizza Hut down the four-lane past KFC and beyond. Pulling in you’d turn up the radio to a favorite tune and jam out. Sometimes you were there for a few minutes, hours or at times you was up all night watching sun rise from the parking lot.
It’s hard to recall all of the crazy things that went on in that parking lot. We’ve all seen the fights. Fights that couldn’t wait till gathering at Mena Lake. Some between men. Some between women. Some from couples breaking up. And we’ve all seen the weekend afterwards when those who fought each other were now riding around town together as if nothing had ever happened.
Some of the crazy wasn’t from having a wild side. It just plain stupidity, and I contributed mightily to the stupidity several times. I slammed a curb one night near the Cherry Street entrance in my truck while acting a fool and doing donuts. My passengers shall remain nameless. Some did worse. Some didn’t.
And the cars and trucks we had here! I’m not sure anywhere in western Arkansas had as many cool cars and trucks as we had here back in the day. “The Red Baron” and “The Red Baron 2”. The once orange and then yellow early 50’s Studebaker truck. A fellow named Red Meadows had a patchwork yellow Chevy truck that would scream. There were more than I can mention, but nothing held a candle to the legendary “Back In Black”, a 1971 Chevy truck that was black, beautiful and fast. I miss all of those old rides and often wonder what happened to them. Those Hot rods, hooptys, beaters, family sedans and farm trucks. We drove them spending many hot summer nights in the parking lot. We sat out there until we got bored and then we went to make that cruise up to the courthouse and back again.
How many times did we drive those roads over and over, then going round and round the parking lot? Music blaring from $40 Walmart Sparkomatic speakers. From George Strait and AC-DC to Hank Jr and ZZ Top. We cruised Main Street, the sounds of dual exhaust pipes and music reverberating off the walls of the buildings. How many races down the four lane have there been? All of the wildness on the road just to make it back to the parking lot. The Walmart parking lot. It was our town square. Our home sweet home.
So sad that nowadays the kids don’t congregate there. I know there are rules now against that, but even if there wasn’t, would they? I doubt it. Kids now have so many distractions. Internet on their phones, cable tv and the like. We were lucky to have cable. Usually we only three channels picked up from Tulsa, Little Rock or Fort Smith. We’d make our phone calls from the pay phone at the Cone-n-Cue, The North Side Super Stop or the “phone company” at ten cents a call. Calling to set up a date and making sure we had plenty of beer for us guys, and Boones Farm Strawberry Hill or Bartles and James for the girls.
Cruising the four lane was what we lived for on Friday and Saturday nights. It was a sight to see. Maybe someday at a multi class/school reunion we can get together and cruise the four-lane again. Windows down. Def Leppard or Hank Jr blaring from Sparkomatic and Pioneer stereos. That would be a blast to do. And maybe hang out, out in the parking lot.