Sunday, August 1, 2010

In Cars

An important part of many a young man's life is getting his first car. It's a early step toward independence and responsibility. All at once he can both go somewhere his parents don't feel up to going and run up town at eleven at night to get a gallon of milk for his mother. The 'first cars' of our little group caused quiet a stir and spawned a few interesting stories. My first car was a 66 mustang. It has a lot of stories behind it, but I'm going to save them for later. For now I think it will be enough to share some of what happened with the other guy's rides.

Jesse's first car was a little truck that his Dad had given him. I don't remember what make or model it was, but it was small and primer gray and somehow it seemed to suit Jesse. It was as if that truck was made for him. By the time Jesse had gotten it I had wrecked my car, so while my mustang was awaiting repair we cruised around in Jesse's truck.

I do have to mention another ride that Jesse got later on. After his truck he got a Mustang of his own. With it he picked up a number of bizarre ticks that used to drive me crazy. For one thing every time we came to a stop light he would take it out of gear and wiggle the shifter back and forth until the light went green. He would also thump the gauges like some world war one fighter pilot in the movies. One day he thumped the oil pressure gauge and said:

“Looks like my oil temperature is getting a little high...”

That was all I could take.

“Three things Jesse! One: it's oil pressure you moron, not oil temperature! Two: anywhere in that line that is between the low mark and the high mark is normal! That's why it's labeled normal! Three: if you thump another gauge today I'm going to lay you out!”

It may seem that I went a little over the top, but you weren't there. I assure you that you couldn't have taken it as well as I did. I had grown up with him and was used to it. Anyway, the following stories don't touch his Mustang, but I had to mention it.

It was a blast going places with Jesse. When he was behind the wheel he was a different guy. He had a certain charm about him that you would never see when he wasn't in his ride. There was a confidence that was hard to understand or explain, but it was easy to see. I can't even describe it. Fortunately I can think of an example.

One day while behind the wheel of this tiny primer gray truck he was trying to get up a steep hill in Aiken. The old girl just didn't feel like climbing up and so was moving at around three miles an hour. A car full of beautiful young girls pulled up beside Jesse just as the truck had come to a stand still refusing to go any higher. Jesse looked over at the young women, smiled and yelled out to them “Too much power baby! Too much power!” as he revved the engine and the truck refused to move. You can't buy confidence like that! Needless to say the girls only laughed and drove away. Still, it was a beautiful thing to see a young man so full of self assurance, even if it was misplaced.

At the time Jesse and I went almost everywhere together. In fact we even started a little recycling business. The truck could haul loads of metal and we liked to ride so it seemed like the perfect idea. We would drive around town looking for scrap metal and once we had a load we would head out to Orangeburg to cash it all in. It was a lot of work and we didn't make much money, but it seemed better than working a real job.

We were out doing this one winter and we decided to ride down the old train tracks from Williston out to White Pond. Now, this may seem like a crazy thing to do, but two points should clear it up for you. One, we were crazy. Two, the tracks had been torn up years ago. The “old train tacks” was actually the “old dirt road” that nobody ever used. We just decided to ride down them and see where it took us.

It turned out to be far less interesting than we thought it might. It was just a long strait dirt road that was down in a valley between two hills most of the way. After we made it to White Pond we decided to head home. Jesse dropped me off and then headed out to his house. A few minutes later I got a phone call.

“Hey bro.” Jesse said as I picked up the phone.

“Hey, what's up?” I asked.

“We were seen by the police.”

“What do you mean?”

“When we were driving down the train tracks.”

“So. Is that illegal?”

“I don't know, maybe, but that's not why they are looking for us.”

Here I felt a sinking feeling. When talking about the police you rarely want to hear the phrase “looking for us”. Still, I was always an optimist.

“Why are they looking for us?”

“They think we are wanted criminals!”


“Well, I mean, they think that the truck was being driven by someone who is avoiding the police and moving from town to town in hiding.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I heard it on Mom's scanner!”

Mrs. Dicks was with the EMS service in town at the time and so she often had a police scanner tuned in to what was going on.

“Well what do they know?”

“They know the color of the truck and their searching all over town for us!”

“No problem! We just lay low until tomorrow. They are sure to think we've moved on by then.”

Jesse agreed and we stayed in our hideouts all the rest of the day. Fortunately nothing more came of that, but it wasn't the little gray truck's last run in with the police. I will here ask that any Williston or Barnwell police officer that reads this will laugh at it and then forget it. I don't know what the statute of limitations is on this, but it has to be a misdemeanor and it was over fifteen years ago.

We had ridden up to the courthouse in Barnwell together. Jesse had to go in to check on something. I don't even remember what it was about, but I had decided to come along. The parking spaces at the court house had to date back to the nineteen twenties, either that or they were supposed to be motorcycle parking spaces. Whatever the cause they were not wide enough for a real car, even a car as small as Jesse's truck.

The police themselves didn't seem to have a problem using these spaces, but then they used them all the time and usually only had to open one door when they were at the courthouse. Jesse never parked in these spaces and we needed enough clearance on each side to open both doors. As we were pulling in Jesse asked me for guidance. It was hard to see and he was pulling between two cars. One off them was a cop car.

“Am I good?” He asked as we crept forward.

“You're good.” I replied.

We moved a few more inches.

“Am I good?”

“You're good.”


“Am I good?”

“You're good.”


At some point my mind began to wonder and I just kept repeating the phrase “You're good.” again and again. Suddenly we heard the sound of metal scraping metal and I actually took a moment to look out of the window.

“You're not good.....”


“You just seriously scratched a cop car.”

We backed up and drove home. Jesse decided he could take care of whatever it that he was there for later. Once we had gotten to Jesse's house we started thinking it over. We felt guilty about not letting the cop know what we had done and were discussing going back and turning ourselves in. Mrs. Dicks sat there listening to us quietly and then chimed in.

“I'm very proud of you boys for wanting to the right thing. You did something you shouldn't have and have gotten away with. Now you want to go back and set things right. That's wonderful. It's also very stupid! You are now guilty of a hit and run. Learn your lesson, don't do it again and shut up about it!”

We considered the wisdom of this course of action and let it drop. I will say this: it was the last time either of us ever hit a cop car without turning ourselves in. So, in a very real way we did learn our lesson.

Jesse often did get the worst end of the stick when we were cruising around. Again, I have an excellent example. Joshua and Jesse and several other members of the old crew were out riding. I don't remember where they were going or why, but fortunately that doesn't have much to do with it. The point is that Josh needed a rest stop and the driver (I think it was Sam) didn't want to take one.

“We got to stop.” Josh asserted.

“We're not going to.”

“I have to pee.”

“Can't you pee out of the window?”

Here it is important to note a couple of things. Josh never said he couldn't do anything, so asking him “can't you whatever” was sure way to get him to do it. It's also important to know that it was hot that night, so everyone had their windows rolled down. (I know what you're thing and the answer is 'Yes, that is what happened'.)

“Of course I can pee out of the window!”

“Well then go ahead!”

So, he did. At fifty five miles an hour Josh started peeing out of the window. Suddenly Jesse began to yell and sputter.

“Stop! You're peeing in my face!” He screamed at the top of his lungs as he waved his arms around trying fend off the assault flying into his window.

“I can't stop! Roll up your window!”

Here Jesse sputtered a few things which may have been something along the lines of “I can't roll up the window with you peeing in my face!”, but we'll never know. He didn't say anything anyone understood, but the window didn't get rolled up. It was rather too bad all around, because after that they had to make a rest stop to clean Jesse up so Josh had peed out of the window for nothing. It was just one of life's little ironies.

So far this has all been focused on Jesse. I didn't intend for it to be, but he was very entertaining behind the wheel. To close I'm going to use Sam and my subject and his Mustang. (Yes, we all had Mustangs: Mine was red, Jesse's was black and Sam's was white.)

Sam was and is and probably always will be a “I can do that better than you!” kinda guy. It's all in good fun and he doesn't mean anything by it, but he loves the thrill of competition and nothing fires him up like a head to head bout. He used to get people driving through the neighborhood to race their cars against my motorcycle. The results were almost always the same: “I almost had 'em!”

After Sam got his Mustang he really did have them. He could blow most vehicles off the road. William Owens had gotten a 240 SX and Sam wanted to race him. Now, ordinarily that Mustang would have passed that 240 SX with no problems. Sam was a good driver and had the better machine, but William had a few tricks up his sleeve.

They decided to race from where they were through Williston down to Church Street Station. The Station was a place where most of the teenagers hung out at the time. Josh needed a ride and it was decided that he would ride with William. They got in their vehicles, cranked them up and were ready to start. Both of them sprang away from the line.

William was faster off the mark and got in front of Sam. He weaved down the road eating up both lanes and not letting Sam get around him. He managed to keep Sam behind him all the way to the red light down town. Josh decided to speak to William about his chances.

“You're never going to beat him on this straight away. The curves in the road were all the advantage you had.”

“Just wait.”

“We've got close to a mile to go on a perfectly strait road. That mustang is going to blow us away on the straight away!”

“Just wait.”

“There's no way we can beat him. Sam knew that before we started.”

“Just wait.”

So, wait they did. They light turned green and William slowly rolled out into the intersection. He sat there quietly as Sam honked his horn almost none stop. The light turned yellow and William sat there. Sam leaned on the horn as hard as he could. The light turned red and William slowly made his left hand turn and drove away.

Sam's mighty mustang had been beaten by a red light. I always thought that it was funny that Sam had no problem racing, which is illegal, but wouldn't run that red light in order to win. That's another funny thing about Sam though. He didn't particularly care about legality, but he did care about dangerous.

My children are growing up every day. It won't be long and my generation's sons are all going to be getting their first cars. When I think about what they are going to experience it makes me smile. I can't help but wonder what machine my oldest boy is going to want and what he's going to do with it. The cycle of life moves very fast. It seems only yesterday that I got my first car and before too much longer my firstborn will have his. Time truly does fly and life is very short, but it's also very wonderful. I thank God for all the moments I've had in the Sun.

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