The Gravel Pits

My friend Skeeze was a dishwasher at our local watering hole, The Soda Fountain.

He was tall and gangly, fought the good fight against facial acne, and would’ve been considered awkward and shy if he wasn’t the best goddamn drummer in the entire school.

Along with band, Skeeze sang in the choir and later even joined the Pop Singers, our school’s vocal group.

He made a deal with his folks he’d stay away from drugs and alcohol. In exchange they bought him whatever drum kit equipment he needed.

Anything as long as he didn’t do drugs.

We became friends in 1976, just after I got my driver’s license. While Skeeze wasn’t the kind of guy who rode along in a friend’s mother’s car—he insisted on driving his dad’s Cadillac, picking me up for our regular trip to the 7-11 in Spring Park, where we bought peanut M&Ms and washed ’em down with bottles of regular Coke.

Skeeze and I had a similar philosophical bent, so we talked a lot about the meaning of it all—the core to our belief system being the latest objects of our affection.

For a time, just after Christmas, things were good between me and Kim. We went to high school basketball games, or out to movies. My favorite thing to do was just hang out at her mom’s house and listen to records. I still can’t hear The Beach Boys’ “All Summer Long” without thinking of Kim.

Skeeze, on the other hand, had just lost his virginity to a senior girl named Patty and his heart to a diminutive brunette named Sherry S., who had a twin sister, Shelly.

But it was Skeeze who first introduced me to the Religion of the Gravel Pits.

On Nov. 7, 1976, I drove Mom’s Dodge Dart, with Skeeze riding shotgun for a change, to the Wayzata Bridgeman’s for dinner. On the way back to Mound he told me about the Gravel Pits, how it was a very magical place and, given there was a full moon that night, we went to check it out.

There was already snow on the ground, reflecting the moonlight as we crossed a field and came to the crest of a hill, below which lay the Gravel Pits. A concrete wall stretched across the far side, making the place look not unlike an ancient Greek amphitheater.

Skeeze had been out there before, and had already developed his own mythology: it was, I think he said, like a ritual shrine, the place he went to when he wanted the universe to know he’d made a decision and was ready to “cross a line in the sand.”

That’s exactly what we did that night, vowing to stay true to our loves, Kim and Sherry, into the new year.

On Jan. 2, 1977, I wrote a way overblown year-end summary to the 1976 diary, recapping the year in the “best” writerly style: “A moment in time. Ticking past the calling moon forever warming the Gravel Pits.”

After 1977 started, I got to return the favor, introducing Skeeze to a place I’d discovered a summer or so before, in Long Lake.

It was a retreat called Andromeda Chapel of the Open Door and it, too, had an open-air amphitheater. But on a Monday night in late December 1976, it was completely destroyed in a fire. I visited it on Saturday, Jan. 22, 1977, writing in the diary: “…stopped by Andromeda and took a look at what was left after the recent fire. The remains left me breathless. Desolate tower chimneys, all that’s left.”

The next day, after lunch at the Soda Fountain, I showed Skeeze the Andromeda site. He, too, was amazed.

In my February Smoke Signal column, I tried to summarize my thoughts, tying it all together with the story of a family—any family, maybe mine—that lost their home in a fire.

I wrote about “older brothers with their deep-voiced laughter and secret trips to the railroad tracks to try their hands at cigarettes…” or playing music in dimly lit basements “their guitars in hand and fame in mind, piping out bizarre mixtures of blaring chords and screeching feedback.”

The column concluded: “From what I read in the local paper, the old house burnt down at dawn. Days later, after the workers had completed their task of digging through the wreckage, signs began to appear upon the surrounding trees…” A new gas station was to be built on the spot. “I can’t remember if I spat on the sign or not.”

“Anyway, it meant very little to me.”

~ by completelyinthedark on January 1, 2012.

5 Responses to “The Gravel Pits”

  1. Mike, it’s so true we were always exploring the philosophical and deeper meaning of Life, Love & Rock & Roll. The Gravel pits were scarey at times. but we would face our fears. Together we had such a special bond and I hope soon we can hang out and take a trip back to the 70’S thanks Mike for your friendship and not only being a great writer and life guru back in the day, but thanks for being a great listener. Hanging out with you always enriched my soul and the way we could talk through music was so cool !
    I love you man,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The thought places are important, but a lot of them don’t last.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Still editing all-new 2-part post, and republishing this oldie about celebrating changes. Happy Independence Day, y’all!


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