Neon lights are gaudy and brazen and brilliant. They dot our highways and fill our cities and towns with promises of hope, adventure, and a chance to be a part of the world in a brand new way. I believe in the power of the promise that neon holds for us.
The summer of 1975, my parents hurried my brother and me so we would make it to the730 show. From the car, we could see the neon tubes bending and turning as it named the theatre in letters the size of my bicycle. Red, yellow, white, orange, and blue lights angled out of the building in one smooth line like the crook of God’s arm, beckoning to us to take hold of his elbow and walk down his path on Kennedy Avenue. On the marquee were just four letters—J-A-W-S.
We watched in red-faced glee as a beautiful girl ran naked into the ocean. Within minutes though, we sat, mouths agape, as she was devoured by something we wouldn’t see but we could hear and feel for hours. While the driving music resounded through our seats and up into our bodies, we curled up delightfully overpowered by it all. Afterwards, he and I looked over at each other with disbelief and joy on our faces. Movie marquees would never resonate the same way for us, never again. We would always look at neon as holding a promise of excitement and wonder and escape.
Neon offered up different promises when I got older. Once I turned sixteen, a few buddies and I drove twenty minutes out of our town to celebrate some other people’s heritage and to get to Greek Night. Before we could smell the lamb roasting or hear the DJ, we could see the neon as it brightened the purpling sky for miles.
All that neon promised us a chance for some real adventure. Someone slipped us Ouzo shots and we all snuck smiles at a couple of girls across the booths under the glow of the lights. The one with dark hair, I swore, even waved at me. Later, in the dance hall, I saw her again and while the DJ played “Let’s Groove Tonight,” under the glowing neon, we snuck a kiss before we both had to go. As she left, she waved goodbye with her fingertips while the licorice smells still lingered in the air. I never talked to her again but neon hinted at a brand new kind of promise.
Now, more than twenty minutes and over twenty years from home, I watch my son ride roller coasters and eat funnel cakes under neon skies or as he screams in horror and laughs as Harry escapes from Dementors. I see hope and excitement and wonder in his face. I see he believes in the adventure and the exhilaration those fluorescent bulbs possess. I see in him the power of the promise neon holds and, in this, I believe.
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