Few songs on the radio trigger such a visceral reaction for me as Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date.” This instrumental piece featuring a piano with a strings’ accompaniment takes me right back to my childhood and the roller rink where I spent endless hours skating on Saturday and Sunday afternoons with my friends. As soon as the first chords of the song start playing, I can see the houselights dim, the colored lights shine on the disco ball hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the rink and hear the dull sound of metal roller skates on the polished wood floor as the rink fills with skaters.
The most exciting part of “Last Date” was the inevitable appearance of several couples on the rink floor who were far from the amateur skaters my friends and I were. No, these high school or even post-high school couples, sailed around the rink with a fluidity that was enviable, dipping and turning and skating backward with ease. The boys’ James Dean haircuts and white teeshirts made them look tough, as if they were street fighters straight out of Westside Story. The girls with their teased hair and frosted pink lipstick could have stepped right out of the movie set of Grease. My friends and I watched as they glided from the edges of the rink to the middle and back again, arms around each other, moving with choreographed precision. They slid over that floor as if they were connected on a soul level, anticipating each other’s moves, slipping out of one another’s arms and then coming back together with a snap that made you feel as if you were looking through partially drawn bedroom curtains. Even as a kid, I felt the sensuality of their movements and the intimacy of such coordination. I didn’t have words yet for what I was witnessing, but I felt a yearning to experience that level of connection. I never saw one of them stumble or fall. I had no idea when or where they practiced to gain that level of expertise. All I knew was they appeared as soon as Cramer started playing the first chords of “Last Date” and they retreated back into the recesses of the rink once it was over.
I loved those couples. They gave me hope for romance and love in my future. And now, “Last Date” transports me right back to rural Texas in the early 1960s and the pure innocence of my youth. Hearing that song makes me sigh.