NO EXIT: The Apple Grove Gang, Book 1 by Hamilton C. Burger on the Independent Author Index
Benny Churchill and Bug Beetle are off and running on the last day of school. They are ready for a great summer of fun with the Apple Grove Gang. Instead, they learn a lesson in politics. When the Apple Grove Community Center is closed, the Gang finds out just how hard it is to fight city hall. Finally, when their backs are against the wall, and they find out that there is no exit, the real fun and excitement begin.
“I want you to go down to Apple Grove this afternoon,” a voice spoke in Lester Babbish’s office at the State Highway Department. “There is work to be finished with Mayor Macalister.” A fist slammed on the desk. “Don’t make me go down there, to take care of things myself. Do you understand?”
“I’ll take care of it. I’ll head to Apple Grove right now, and I will do the job. Don’t worry,” came the answer. *****
The athletic director of the Community Center, Cliff Beetle, also held the position of office person, janitor and every other function that needed to be done or could be imagined. Last summer on his vacation, Cliff had even painted the old, weathered siding of the building. He also climbed up to the roof to check for damage from the big hailstorm that hit town, in the spring, last year.
Cliff was ten years older than Bug and after two years at State College he had come back to Apple Grove to get a job. He not only ran the front desk, but he also supervised the kids at the community center from 4 pm until 8 pm, Monday through Friday. At closing time, he swept up, turned out the lights and locked the doors.
On Saturday nights, Cliff became “Cool-Cat Cliff”. He would spin stacks of wax for all of the “cool cats and cool kittens” at the weekly sock hop. Pops always said, “Cliff, you’re the best DJ I have ever heard.” Most of the kids from the middle school and high school went to the “hop”.
Not a lot of dancing went on at the hop – at the beginning anyhow. Usually the boys all lined up on one side of the gym with the girls against the opposite wall. Everyone would take his or her shoes off so the gym floor wouldn’t suffer damaged. That is why people called it a sockhop. Cliff would start spinning the tunes, and eventually girls would match up and start dancing. It took almost the whole night for the boys to build up enough courage to ask the girls to dance. Because of this, Cliff always made the last song of the night a slow dance.
During the day, Cliff worked as a toll-taker at exit 23 where State Highway 37 exited into Apple Grove. He sat in a small, wooden structure that had one door and windows on all sides. Cliff collected tolls from everyone that left the highway and took the road to town. “That’ll be ten cents please.” Cliff would repeat this, when a car, truck, or motorcycle motored up to his booth.
One day while Cliff ate his lunch, an olive green, two-door, panel truck with a yellow wooden ladder strapped to its roof, drove down the exit ramp. The coils of rope and spools of wire hanging in the back window swung back and forth, knocking against the door with every bounce in the pavement. It stopped at the window of the little toll booth in which Cliff was sitting. “Hello Bill, that’ll be ten cents, please.” Cliff said, putting down the taco he was eating and reaching out his hand.
Bill joked, “Cliff, that taco certainly smells delicious and it looks terrific too. You should consider selling tacos from your little window. I know I would buy some. When I need to hurry, being able to get my food and keep driving would sure save me some time!” Bill McGhee was the local telephone technician, and he came through the tollbooth at exit 23 several times a week.
“I don’t think the Toll-way Authority would approve, Bill. Besides, I just don’t think that it would catch on. People don’t want to eat and drive!” Cliff laughed. “I just don’t see that ever happening in my lifetime!”
Handing a nickel and five pennies to Cliff, Bill said, “Oh, I don’t know about that. I think it could catch on. Let me know the next time you’re making tacos. I would love to have one.”
“Oh, here Bill, I have a couple of extras. You can have some today. I hope you like them.”
“Thanks Cliff, they sure smell good.” He chuckled, put the truck in gear, and away he drove.
Cliff had been to the Crazy Dog Drive-In down in Summerville many times. He thought it was neat to see the car hops skate around the parking lot. However, he couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams driving up to a restaurant window to buy his food, driving off, and eating in his car while motoring down the highway. Oh, I bet they’ll sell water in little plastic bottles before that’ll ever happen!
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