I dreamed of freedom last night, Dreamed that I was on my own Surrounded in my own space With no one to answer to but…
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There was once a place known by a handful of teenagers in South Central Los Angeles during the early 2000s. It was sort of like…
There was once a place known by a handful of teenagers in South Central Los Angeles during the early 2000s. It was sort of like a nightclub; well, it was actually an event hall that a local church rented out every Saturday night. That place was known by many as the Soda Pop.
Our tale begins in the year 2001 with a girl named Autumn. Her parents gave her that name because of her rich chocolate complexion, and that she was born during the Fall season. Speaking of which, it was her seventeenth birthday. Her cousin Saniyah wanted to take her out to this place called the Soda Pop, situated on the corner of 54th Street & 6th Avenue, to big her up on this special day. Now Autumn was no stranger to house parties, but she had never heard of the Soda Pop before.
"Maybe you can invite your boo to come along with us to celebrate," said Saniyah. "I mean, it is your birthday after all."
"I could try," said Autumn, "but lately we ain't been spending that much time together because he's either busy with school sports or may have plans when I wanna kick it."
"Girl, call him!" Saniyah pushed. "Ain't no excuse in the world for him to miss your B-day when he's usually free on Saturday nights. Hit him up now, cuz!"
"Okay already! Damn," Autumn cussed.
At that moment, Autumn proceeded to pick up her bedroom landline phone and dial her boyfriend's number. She was hesitant about hitting him up while Saniyah was sitting there and grinning like the Cheshire Cat from Alice In Wonderland. Autumn didn't know whether she should shake her head at her cousin or smack her.
"Hello," an older female voice answered.
"Hello Mrs. Smith, this is Autumn. Is Rydell home?"
"Let me go get him," said Mrs. Smith as she called her son Rydell. He rushed to the phone with no hesitation.
"Hey, Rydell?" said Autumn. "You wanna come with me to this spot called the Soda Pop tonight? My cousin Saniyah wanted to take me there for my birthday and asked me to invite you."
"Uh yeah, I got something to do tonight," said Rydell, "so I may have to pass on that one. Happy Birthday, by the way."
"Okay, sure. Thanks," Autumn said dryly.
"And, what's the deal? What'd he say?" Saniyah asked.
"He said he had to pass tonight because 'he had plans'," Autumn replied sarcastically. "For him to be a basketball player on the varsity team, he can never come through in the clutch when it comes to a date."
Later that night
After showering up and applying her Liz Claiborne Curve lotion and perfume, Autumn was ready to hit the dance floor at the Soda Pop. Her ensemble was simple, but fashionable; she wore a light blue Ashley Stewart camisole top, a form-fitting denim skirt at knee length with a small slit in the back, a letterman cardigan, and some baby blue Saucony sneakers. She wore her hair long and parted in the middle, somewhat reminiscent of the late R&B singer Aaliyah (folks said that Autumn looked like a darker version of her). Her cousin Saniyah wore a white tank top (known more commonly in those days as a "wife beater"), some hip-hugger jeans, and a pair of classic Adidas shelltoes. She had her curly hair pinned up in a messy ponytail.
"Now we gotta be there before 8:30," said Saniyah. "Plus, we need to have a flyer so we can get in free. I got us a few, just in case."
"I see you stay prepared, huh?" said Autumn.
"Girl, you know it!"
Luckily, Autumn lived merely a block away from the church grounds. She and Saniyah decided to go to the liquor store on the corner of 4th Avenue first to grab some sodas and snacks. It was when she walked in that a handsome boy caught her eye; rather, she caught his. He was dressed in some slightly baggy jeans, an ocean blue Polo shirt, and some crisp white low-top Forces.
"Hello, beautiful," the young man coolly spoke. "So what's your name?"
Autumn blushed and introduced herself to him.
"So is there a way I can take your number? I wanna get to know and possibly kick it with you," the boy said.
"The thing is, I'm sorta with somebody," Autumn explained. "I wanna get to know you too, but I can't when I'm still with that dude."
"I can understand," said the young gentleman. "By the way, my name is Eric. It's a pleasure meeting you, Miss Autumn. I know you said you got a dude already, but let me give you my number instead." Eric then proceeded to take Autumn's hand and kiss it as though he were King Arthur and she were Guinevere. She didn't want to, but Autumn reluctantly exchanged numbers with the finely molded, cocoa brown statue standing before her.
"Let me get back to my cousin," said Autumn. "We're supposed to be going to this place called the Soda Pop down the block because she wanted to celebrate my birthday tonight."
"Oh, word?" said Eric. "That's where I'm headed."
"What a coincidence," Autumn stammered bashfully.
"We don't know each other too well yet, but let me wish you a happy birthday," Eric said kindly.
"Thanks." And with that, Autumn and Saniyah made their purchases and walked out of the liquor store.
"Niyah, I know damn well you ain't walkin' up in there with your breath smellin' funkier than James Brown," Autumn chided. "That's a bad thing if you're over here trying to out-funk the Godfather of Soul with all them Flamin' Hot Cheetos you be eatin'. Good thing I bought two packs of Tic Tacs because you need to pop a few." Saniyah had polished off the bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and can of Strawberry Crush thst she got from the store.
"I know you ain't talkin', Autumn," Saniyah retorted. "I keep tellin' your behind to leave them Funyuns alone, but you never wanna listen. Talkin' 'bout my breath stinkin' but you got all of Crenshaw Blvd smellin' like some onion rings. You gon' need them Tic Tacs more than I do, and I mean BOTH packs." Autumn had finished off a bag of Funyuns and a can of Sprite, her favorite go-to snack. She pulled out a pack of Wintergreen Tic Tacs and gave the other one to Saniyah. They did their respective "breath tests", as seen on the movie The Wood, and failed miserably. Whew, now I'm really glad I bought these mints because my breath is kickin' worse than Chun-Li from Street Fighter II from those Funyuns, Autumn thought. She would never concede that to Saniyah, though; her cousin would never let her live down that moment afterward. There was no point in walking to any type of teenage gathering where even a whiff of funky breath would destroy a person's whole reputation, even though the Soda Pop was well known back then for smelling like armpit sweat and various colognes mixed in.
The doors opened just in time. Autumn and Saniyah were the one of first 20 others in line with their flyers so they wouldn't have to pay the six-dollar cover charge to get in. Anybody else after that had to eat the cost to shake their butts. Now if they got there at 9:30, then they were really out of luck; the cover charge would have been hiked up to ten dollars. Just as they passed off their flyers to get in, Autumn spotted Eric giving the "bouncer" his flyer. Well, he did say he was going to be there, after all. She chucked it up as another coincidence and walked upstairs to the dance hall as "Superwoman" by Lil' Mo and Fabolous was blasting from the DJ Booth through the speakers, and got in a dance or two with some boys.
Speaking of coincidences, no sooner than when she looked to her left, Autumn saw who was supposed to be her boyfriend, Rydell, hugged up with some yellowbone chick at the booth seats. Not wanting to cause a scene, she took a sheet of paper from her small memo pad, scribbled a message, and walked to the booth where he and his new main squeeze were sitting. She stood there with a screwed-up look on her face until they came up for air after all the kissing and necking they were doing. Rydell was startled instantly when he noticed Autumn staring a hole right through his forehead. If looks could kill, there would have been a double murder on site.
"Autumn!!!" Rydell exclaimed. "It ain't what you think!"
"Save that bullshit, Rydell," Autumn shot back. "Take this note while you're at it."
Rydell accepted the note and opened it. What he didn't know was that Autumn was thinking about leaving him, but when she saw him with some random skeezer going all PDA in the booth, that was the last straw. The message simply read: "I'm good on you, dawg. We're done. Don't call my house, and don't even step to me on campus. And that's on everything I love." To add salt to the wound, the DJ put on the song "Heard It All Before" by Sunshine Anderson. Rydell was definitely in his feelings for the rest of the night.
Autumn walked back over to Saniyah and gave her the rundown with the whole situation with Rydell. "So that's why he backed out on spending time with you tonight," her cousin said.
"Yep, left his main course for some worthless side dish," Autumn fumed. "He could've gone to KFC on Crenshaw & Slauson for that one!"
Just then, Eric walked over to where the two young ladies were sitting. Little did Autumn know that he saw the whole thing unfold between her and Rydell. The music changed from upbeat tracks to some slow jams at that moment as "Differences" by Ginuwine came on.
"Autumn, may I have this slow dance?" Eric asked her.
"Sure," said Autumn. "I'm gonna need it."
Eric took Autumn's hand and pulled her close to him. The scent of his Dolce & Gabbana cologne had her under his spell. She may not have wanted to admit it to him, but Autumn was feeling Eric at that moment when they were at the liquor store up the block. At that point, she didn't have to admit anything; her actions told on her.
"So that dude you got into it with was the whole reason you didn't want my number at first," said Eric.
"I didn't want to come off as some trick moving from one guy to the next," said Autumn. "I do have respect for myself."
"I see that," Eric quipped. "I even see that you were diggin' a brotha too. You didn't even have to say nothing; your whole body language told me all I needed told me all I needed to know."
Just as the song was about to go off, Eric pulled Autumn even closer and gave her the sweetest kiss she could've ever imagined. Man, thank goodness for those Tic Tacs, she thought. The two continued kissing each other like their life depended on it as they slow-dragged onto the next song.
"This next song is dedicated to the birthday girl, Autumn Wright! So everybody up in here show her some love," the DJ announced from his booth. Minus Rydell and the Lite-Brite girl he was all hugged up with earlier (they dashed out in embarrassment from getting busted out), everyone in the building applauded Autumn and wished her a happy seventeenth birthday. The DJ then put on "Round And Round" by Jonelle and folks continued dancing until the whole place reeked of the infamous stench of cologne and armpit sweat.
"Hold up," Autumn spoke up. "How'd the DJ know my birthday was today?"
"I was sitting down the whole trip and talking with that fine, caramel-skinned cutie over there," Saniyah explained. "Unless of course, Eric must've-"
An exclamation point went off in Autumn's head from what her cousin let slip out of her mouth. "Wait a minute... Eric, you did all that?" she asked.
"Yep, I did do all that," he admitted. "Because I wanted you to be my girl. You're the most beautiful out of all these females up in this joint, but you at least have personality and a sense of humor."
"N-n-now, you ain't have to do all that," Autumn stammered jokingly. "Besides, I was already your girl when you started kissing me while 'Differences' was playing."
Then all the lights came on, which let everybody know that the party was over. "You ain't gotta go home, but you gotta get the hell up outta here!" said the DJ.
"Let me leave y'all two alone to get acquainted while I go finish up with that brotha I was talking to earlier," said Saniyah. "I'll meet you back at the house!" She ran off to get back to flirting with her dude of the hour while Autumn and Eric stood outside the makeshift teenage nightclub.
"Man, I wish this night didn't have to end," said Eric. "Wait, what did your cousin mean by she'll meet you back at the house? Don't tell me she's going home with that dude..."
"Nah, it ain't even like that," Autumn stated, clearing up any confusion. "We live around the corner from here. Like, literally right around the corner."
"So you don't mind me walking you home then, right?" Eric asked. Autumn had obliged. He then took her hand into his and escorted her to her house on 6th Avenue. By the time they got to her porch, Eric kissed Autumn as sweetly as he did while they were slow-dancing back at the Soda Pop.
"Call me tomorrow, said Autumn.
"Alright, bet," Eric confirmed, and gave Autumn one last kiss. By the time he left the porch, her cousin Saniyah made it back to the house with no problems. Autumn took her keys out and unlocked both her bar and main doors, and they both went in to retire for the night. Aside from whatever gifts the family got her on her special day, Autumn received an unexpected birthday present in the form of a debonair teenager named Eric Washington.
Many years later
Now the Soda Pop eventually went flat a couple of years later; in layman's terms, the teenage nightclub shut its doors for good and went out of business. Despite all that Autumn and Eric grew closer than before. Maybe it was a good thing that she busted her ex-guy Rydell that night; she would've missed out on that thing that they talk about in the Harlequin books. It was that thing they call "romance". Anyway, Autumn and Eric eventually got married and had Saniyah as the Maid of Honor for the wedding. They settled down with some successful careers and had a set of some wild little rugrats to solidify their family. Same with Autumn's cousin Saniyah; she snagged the prettyboy with the caramel complexion she was talking to that night, got wifed up, and started a family with him. Both ladies owed their new-found love to the old teenage party joint that used to sit on the corner of 54th Street & 6th Avenue in South Central Los Angeles, the place formerly called "the Soda Pop."
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