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Prompted By Parking

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I have already written about losing my parked BMW in 2003 (Finding the Car). Therefore, I will go in a different direction today.

During the summer of 1971, I worked as a counselor at the Jewish Community Center Day Camp, situated next to my temple in Oak Park, MI, not too far from my home. I was a rising college sophomore, 18 years old. The head counselor, Harold, had graduated from University of Michigan, was in law school and married to the cousin of one of my closest friends. There were two other college-aged counselors and two junior counselors in high school. We had the “Safari” group: 12 year olds who weren’t allowed to go to the overnight camp run by this organization for various reasons (usually they weren’t mature enough, or had some emotional problems). We had access to a bus with a driver and took them on trips each day (to a Vernor’s Bottling Plant, Greenfield Village, horse-back riding). On Fridays we went to the beach at a big local lake. It was a fun program and the kids were usually fine.

Early in the summer, Harold announced he wanted to fix me up with one of his fraternity brothers, a groomsman from his recent wedding. Mel had broken off his own engagement and was looking to date again. I was dating my close friend’s brother a bit; nothing serious. I told Harold it would be fine for Mel to call me.

Mel lived in Windsor, Ontario, worked in a plant in Windsor that summer to earn some real money, was also in law school, in Fredericton, New Brunswick; very far away. He had an older brother who lived in Southfield, MI, a neighboring suburb to mine. That could be convenient. Also, Michigan was on one of its “no daylight savings time” kicks, so Mel and I were not in the same time zone.

Mel called immediately and we chatted several times. We had long, lively conversations. He was charming and funny on the phone. I remember we laughed a lot. That was always a good sign. Soon, he asked me out. He had tickets to see a pre-Broadway concert version of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I was all-in. I remember just what I wore that night: the flattering peach pant suit that I wore on my first day at Brandeis.

For some reason, my parents had gone out before Mel came to pick me up that evening (unusual; they would normally want to meet a new guy before our first date), so I was home alone when I opened the door and saw the darkly handsome man with the mustache in front of me. He took my breath away. I thought, “This is what Rhett Butler should look like (Clark Gable may have done it for an older generation, but was never MY ideal Rhett Butler)”. I remember we had a lovely evening, really enjoyed the show, never lacked for conversation and he had me home at a reasonable hour, asking if he could see me again. I guess he also liked what he saw when the door opened, and enjoyed his evening.

me in 1971

We dated a lot for the remainder of the summer, going to movies or out for a meal, as his schedule permitted (since he was coming from a different time zone). Sometimes, he’d stay over at his brother’s house, rather than driving back to Windsor, though at the time it was easy to do – the border was completely open. My family used to go there for dinner, no passports required.

But if his brother (who was a doctor and married) was home, it was difficult as the relationship developed, to find a place for quiet intimacy, so his car was it. I don’t remember the locations we’d drive to, but we often “parked”; making out in his car. This was the era of sexual freedom and the relationship soon progressed beyond just “petting”; it got hot and heavy. We both really liked each other, even knowing that it would be difficult to keep up a long-distance romance. He took me to meet his brother, who was polite to me (at that point, I was about 5 years younger, which was a fairly large age gap, but I carried myself well).

Being intimate in a parked car wasn’t fun. It is cramped and one worries that someone will discover us. But we couldn’t help ourselves. The summer wound down. I went back to Brandeis. He went back to New Brunswick. We wrote a bit. I met Bob. Mel faded out. Some years later, my girlfriend’s cousin divorced Harold. I heard Mel settled in Toronto after law school.

While traveling to Toronto on business years later, I looked him up in the phone book (those still existed). He had become a prominent lawyer; I did not call. I was happy for him. Seeing his name brought up pleasant memories from that one summer. We had such a good time together, even if we had to “park”.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    First off, Betsy, many thanks for also writing about the more daring form of “parking; ” I was afraid that I would be the only one to do so despite its reference in the prompt. Sex, like misery, usually loves company.

    Second, what a lovely story this is. I kept expecting Mel to turn into a Rhett Butler-like cad, but he obviously never did, at least in your experience. And I really applaud your decision not to call him after you looked him up years later. (And, yes, the idea of a phone book now is indeed quaint.) Sometimes, just leaving pleasant memories alone is the best idea. And thank you for sharing them with us.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I mention at the beginning of my story, John, I already wrote my best story about the other form of parking (“losing” that BMW that some thought was a “senior” moment but I always chalked it up to a series of stressful events; I just wasn’t paying attention to where I parked the car that day), so I thought I’d go with this one. For once, I have only good memories of a long-ago relationship. We knew it couldn’t get really serious, so we just had fun. Isn’t that wonderful? And I agree, sometimes it is best to leave the fond memories intact.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    “Parking” was definitely a dating “thing” when I was in high school in Michigan. There were certain places people would go on some of the country roads outside of East Lansing, though always the threat of a police visit. My experiences were fairly tame compared to yours Betsy, but it wasn’t my favorite either—just felt threatening and not fun. Fortunately I was dating a truly nice guy who didn’t push me.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I doubt it only happened in Michigan, Khati, but given the emphasis on cars, it made the environment conducive. I was a bit older in this story (already in college), hence I was willing to go further. I assure you, this was not true when I was still in high school. And yes, the threat that a policeman might show up dimmed the pleasure. Glad your date was a truly nice guy.

  3. Marian says:

    I like your take on not calling Mel, Betsy, and enjoyed vicariously reliving those fond memories. Your “parking” was a fun and accurate picture of that time!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Marian. I think it was a reflection of those times. Given that I was married (and I’d heard that he was too), I didn’t see the point in actually calling Mel. Best to leave it alone and let the memory glow.

  4. Suzy says:

    Great story about the other type of parking, Betsy. I’m so glad you shared it with us. My favorite line: “But we couldn’t help ourselves.” I think in your place I would have called him when I got to Toronto – you were obviously thinking about it or you wouldn’t have looked him up in the phone book. But maybe it would have been disappointing, so probably you took the wiser course.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Glad you enjoyed my take on “parking”, Suzy. I guess I was more curious about Mel’s whereabouts than in actually speaking with him. I confess, as I wrote this story, I googled him and saw his name still with a law firm (it came through LinkedIn; somehow, long ago, the account that I set up was merged with my husband’s, and we were never able to unwind them, so I didn’t pursue it, since it would be Dan looking – that would raise questions).

  5. Aw Betsy, I wish you had called him, then you needn’t tell all, you could simply say, “that’s another story”!

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    I was wondering if anyone would venture into “parking,” as opposed to merely parking, territory. A nice depiction of the dilemma many young people face at that time in their lives.

  7. Sweet story, Betsy, although I must admit, I never felt very romantic to be relegated to the back seat for such a lofty endeavor. I may have been a dog, but one or both of us always seemed uncomfortable.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I agree, it was uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally, but we didn’t have other choices at that point, so the car was it for us that summer, Chas. At least I am petite and don’t take up much space. I suppose that is something.

  8. Oh, Betsy. I’m certainly NOT criticizing. We were all there, big or little. Loved your Rhett Butler note!

  9. I like a guy who’s not afraid to work in a factory while putting himself through law school. I’m glad you liked him too–and collaborated in some hot and heavy parking action with him. Transnational petting. Fun to read.

  10. Laurie Levy says:

    As a fellow Motown girl, I loved this story Betsy. So many local memories for me. This was a great take on the other meaning of parking.

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