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Monday, 07 June
Boy Versus Car

Growing up in a small town in Idaho, finding fun things to do with one's spare time was generally a challenge, and let's face it, rolling hoops with a stick or even shooting countless thing with BB guns gets pretty old pretty fast. The problem became worse once you hit high school, because really, high schoolers are evil little fucks with nearly boundless energy and frequent spasms of hopeless idiocy. You see the problems that can happen once you give the little bastards some car keys. But every parent does, at some point--God knows why. Then, all of a sudden, there's things to do.

Remember, however, this was a small town in Idaho. So "doing stuff," by our faulty, limited barometers, meant much less than it might to some. In the absence of genuinely interesting-to-teenagers stuff--video games, cable TV, urban unrest--our "doing stuff" mostly consisted of driving around, usually--it was devoutly to be hoped--while drinking beer.

What a really great idea. Drunk kids operating heavy machinery.

My first car was a really hilariously ugly blue Chevy Monza. It had this leatherette-y material that sheathed the top of the car, and it was stricken by some awful mange; my friends delighted in peeling raddled strips of the stuff off my car while I yelled at them. They rightly ignored me; it would be like telling them to not poke a corpse with a stick. Boys ruin things, and my car begged to be ruined.

One night while out in my car, driving listlessly through the dirt roads that spread everywhere beyond town limits--and where cops almost always weren't--we drank beer and listened to music and hassled each other. (If this sounds boring, it almost certainly was; the thing is, it beat utter inertia.) At some point, coming up on a turn, we spied a pickup truck parked by the side of the road. We were able to identify it immediately, of course; we knew pretty much every vehicle in town as well as who owned them. This one belonged to D., an upperclassman who while normally docile, had been known when piqued to unhesitatingly kick ass. We rolled up cautiously and said, "Hey, D. What's up?"

He stared at us flatly and took a drink of beer, saying nothing. The silence spun out ominously. We tried again. "So, out cruisin', huh?" Silence. D. took another pull on his beer. He didn't seem to be in a very good mood, and we were probably pissing him off by bothering him. He continued to stare at us intently, and I began to mentally evaluate who of us in the car was the fastest; I knew I could beat a couple of my friends in a footrace, so hopefully D. would expend all his beatdown energies on them.

Suddenly, D. crumpled his beer can and tossed it into the grass. Then he said, "Hang on," and opened his pickup door. Oh, fuck, here we go, I thought. He's going to pull us out of the car and bend us into terrible shapes.

But he didn't get out of the pickup. He calmly leaned out the door and emitted a powerful jet of acrid vomit onto the dirt. Then he sat back up in his seat again, pulling the door shut.

"Was waitin' for that. I could feel it." D. opened a fresh beer. "What's going on tonight?" he asked cheerfully. "Out cruisin'?"


-----


Another night found me and several of my responsible school chums attending a party at J.'s house, J.'s parents quite stupidly being out of town at the time, allowing us to abuse their place with the enthusiasm of a Mongol horde. J. ran about trying to prevent at least the most odious examples of behavior, wearing a disconsolate look of resignation: I and only I will be cleaning this shit up tomorrow.

There were bigger concerns than J.'s upcoming housecleaning tasks, however: the party had run out of beer. So the usual flurry of activity happened: money was collected, designees were assigned driving duties, and someone with a fake ID was summoned. B., he of the precious ID, was driving, and a few of us went along for some reason . . . who knows? It wasn't really a group effort, but high school kids travel in packs.

(To be honest, half the time the fake ID wasn't even necessary. Hell, I bought beer a few times, and I resembled an 18-year-old about as much as I did an officer in the Spetznaz. Most of the time, though, the flinty-eyed trailer queens behind the counter didn't really give a fuck. Yeah, here's your beer, you little shit, they no doubt thought, Go piss your life away. I did. C'mon back when you need a job.)

So B. and the other four or so of us, borrowing J.'s car, drove to the store, and beer was procured, and there was general good cheer all around in the car. So much good cheer that I suppose B. felt that a little celebration was in order. Spying a largish dirt lot off the road, B. turned into it and began whipping brodies in the lot. (For the uninitiated, this is making your car spin in circles fast.) This teenage tradition probably has a little to do with the fact that whipping brodies is, marginally, fun; and probably a lot to do with the fact that in a spinning car, many things fly around in the car and can fall all over you, things like high school girls.

So many brodies were whipped, and we screamed and laughed, and then B.--another venerable tradition--suddenly killed the headlights. We spun and spun, and the girls screamed and screamed, and it was TRA LA LA WE CAN DO NO WRONG!

That's when B., blind as the rest of us, spun the car over an eight-foot drop into a creekbed off the side of the road. There was a disgusting belly-plummet for a second, with some really piercingly authentic new screams along with it, and then WHA-RUNCH! (This tremendous noise was, I learned later, the drive train snapping like a skier's femur.)

Silence.

We finally climbed out of the car and stared at the sagging, dead beast, steaming impotently into the night. "Dude" was said, many times. B. looked particularly ashen, as He Was The Driver. And that's when, as high school students, we well and truly acted according to our natures.

"I . . . I gotta go . . ." "Yeah, I'm freaked . . . " "Oh, geez, I, uh . . . I don't wanna . . . "

Yes, we were foul little weasels, and one by one we mumbled our way away from B., as if he were the carrier of some unspeakable disease that we wanted no part of. And he was, of course: that disease was called responsibility, and to a teenager, there's nothing worse. We scuttled into the night, leaving B. to his lonely, doomed trek back to J.'s, to explain to him how J. didn't own a car any more.


-----


Finally, one last night, again back in the piebald Monza, driving around on the back roads with my girlfriend at the time, K. K. and I hadn't been going out long (and we wouldn't last long), so just the novelty of being in the car together, driving nowhere at all, was enough to somehow entertain us. For a while. Then, of course, my brain remembered that I was a teenaged boy, and so promptly directed me to start acting stupidly.

The roads we were on were sort of familiar to me, but not that familiar; I knew enough that I wasn't going to get lost, but not well enough to know all the details about the terrain. This sounds like the perfect place to drive recklessly, doesn't it? Sure it did. So to give us some thrills, I started driving very, very fast, taking exciting corners at unwise speeds and otherwise just going like a bat out of hell. It was exhilarating, and K. jumped and screamed adorably, and I was having a helluva time. I accelerated some more, as we were on a pretty straight stretch for as far as I could see. We were probably doing over 50 on those lonely dirt roads, some terrible music playing in my stereo.

Then we hit the train tracks.

The train tracks weren't even the big deal, you see, apart from just abusing my poor old car's suspension a bit. Kind of a rattle to ride over, but not that much of a biggie, right? Well, the thing was, it wasn't hitting the train tracks that did any damage; it was what the train tracks meant. As I mentioned, I was driving roads that I wasn't all that familiar with, but the moment I felt the tracks, I remembered what was immediately after the train tracks: one of those sharp, precipitous dropoffs in the road, the kind you see in San Franscisco. And in that famous time-dilation you experience right when everything goes hellishly wrong, I had time to remember, Oh Christ the road just drops out from under you five feet after the tracks . . . I also had time to scream, "HANG ON! I'M SORRY!"

And then we were airborne. I think I invented new forms of poetry in my head as we sailed; odes filled with pleading and grief, lamentations of lost promise, sestinas that described the precise geometry of fucking up. It went on for the standard eternity.

KA-WHAAAAM! My poor, tormented Monza finally hit the gravel with tremendous force; we jounced wildly in our seats. I noted with some surprise that on impact, both car doors suddenly popped wide open, and I was also shocked to see my cassette player violently spit the tape that had been playing all the way into the back seat. The dashboard lit up spasmodically, the equivalent of the car throwing up its hands in disgust, and the engine coughed and died. We rolled to an unsteady stop, the car doors waving in the slight breeze like unsightly giant ears.

We sat for a moment, and I heard K. breathing harshly with shock, and starting to settle into some good sniffles. For my part, I was still gripping the steering wheel, and laughing. Weakly, but still pretty hard, considering. I was laughing, laughing into that vast night, because we had sailed stupidly up to the edge of mortality, had stared the beast in its maw, and we had come back to tell about it; the oldest story, and the best story.

That's all rank horseshit, of course. I was laughing because I couldn't believe my tape player had barfed that cassette all the way into the back seat. The back seat! I thought, continuing to wheeze. That's the funniest fucking thing I've ever seen in my life.


Note: Comments are closed on old entries.

Comments

I claim this post and its riches for the glory of myself and my descendants.

We should have grown up together, you and I. But then we'd probably be dead. Dead...of Teenage Kicks!

Comment number: 003361   Posted by: stavrosthewonderchicken on June 8, 2004 02:33 AM from IP: 169.140.198.38

Jesus, Skot, why in the world do you continue to refuse to take your writing seriously? Posts like that one are fucking masterpieces. Submit a collection of these for publication, I'm telling you. Get to it. NOW!

Comment number: 003365   Posted by: S on June 8, 2004 12:06 PM from IP: 67.42.103.96

My Mom had a purple Monza, and my Dad had a silver Monza. I was the coolest kid at my elementary school.

Of course, this was 1975-1979.

Comment number: 003367   Posted by: dayment on June 8, 2004 01:37 PM from IP: 64.105.86.146

I agree. Take it seriously.
You tell it like it is, but better.
Its probably a sad reflection on my pathetic life, but I actually look forward to reading your posts!

Comment number: 003369   Posted by: Scarlet Pimpernel on June 8, 2004 02:48 PM from IP: 24.82.23.235

I spent my adolesence in North Dakota, so this post is hauntingly familiar.

I totally wrecked our family car with TEENAGE KICKS!

Seriously, Skot. You should get paid for this.

Comment number: 003370   Posted by: Tracy on June 8, 2004 03:25 PM from IP: 66.194.126.26

Same thing outside Lacey, Washington. Dirt roads, big cars, train tracks, and nothing, I mean nothing, to do. Oh, add in a few hundred miles of military-owned forest with dirt roads -- the Expansion Pack.

A lotta people died young.

Comment number: 003372   Posted by: rachel on June 8, 2004 04:16 PM from IP: 198.81.26.45

I've tried to tell the story many times about how, at 2 in the morning on a desolate North Carolina road, and with a visiting Malaysian man in my passenger seat, my Pinto station wagon's headlights turned blue and smoke came pouring out of my tapedeck... but it's never sounded quite that funny. Such wasted potential on my part. You rock, Mr. K.

Comment number: 003373   Posted by: Mixmaster Mikey on June 8, 2004 05:37 PM from IP: 68.53.75.68

Small, isolated town ... shitty cars ... yeah, I know it. We used to toss stuff out of the back of a small truck at high speeds downhill to see the sparks and flying crap tumble along behind us. I think we managed a clothes dryer, once, but I can't recall where we got it. A lot of shopping carts, that's for sure.

And we were the absolute bane of mail-boxes, with our baseball bats.

While I never actually wrecked a car, I can say that logging-roads + snow-ice + teenage stupidity = some fucked up shit.

Sometimes on purpose ...

Comment number: 003376   Posted by: Kurt Montandon on June 9, 2004 12:36 AM from IP: 67.51.135.164

Hey Kurt? I have, like, twelve large appliances in my garage that I'm trying to get rid of.
If I rent you a big truck, will you go toss them somewhere? I'll bet you could get some wicked sparks.

Comment number: 003381   Posted by: dayment on June 9, 2004 09:45 AM from IP: 64.105.86.146
Seriously, Skot. You should get paid for this.
If not actually paid then perhaps a listless handjob once in a while. Any local readers with good forearms?
Comment number: 003385   Posted by: ColdForged on June 9, 2004 12:26 PM from IP: 66.152.60.98

You know you speak perfectly for those of us doomed to grow up in about a million square miles of Australia, don't you.

'cept we are on the other side of the road. The schools are pretty different, but the car thang binds us all.

Comment number: 003387   Posted by: david on June 10, 2004 04:33 AM from IP: 202.137.86.116

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