I think nearly everyone has one of those idyllic summers that are often the centerpiece of Stephen King stories of youth, like “The Body.” I’m not talking horror stories but coming-of-age pieces that, when you look back upon them as an adult, seem to form the absolute best times of your adolescence. For me, it wasn’t a summer. It was two weeks in the spring of 1989 when, toward the end of 11th grade, the teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District went on strike.
I’ve written about this before. Today, me and my friends who lived through the strike look back on it fondly. Our spouses, who didn’t live through the strike, have gotten quite sick about us talking about it when we get together, and I suppose if I were in their shoes, I would be sick of it too. But I lived it. And as a 17-year old, it was two weeks of unheard freedom during the spring. Two weeks when school was closed down. Two weeks when we had our parents permission to leave campus and do whatever we wanted.
We didn’t go crazy and that’s part of what was great about it. Over the course of the first few days, we simply hung out at friends’ houses near the school. As the days stretched on, we began to expand our range. We went to the Peppertree theaters, a cheap second-run movie house, and the guys went to see John Ritter in Blake Edwards’ Skin Deep, while the girls went to see Beaches. On another day we went to the beach. It was absolute heaven.
Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” is a big reminder of those two weeks. There are lesser reminders (like Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” and R.E.M.’s “Stand”), but “Free Fallin'” became not only an reminder of the Strike, but an anthem for those last days of school before the summer of our senior year. We went to high school in Reseda, California, and there is a line in the song that goes:
And it’s a long day, living in Reseda,
There’s a freeway, running through the yard…
It makes it feel like the song was custom-made for us.
When Tom Petty showed up in the movie The Postman, I was humming this song to myself as I watched it…