You know, I’ve never been really smacked up, to this point, but there are two crashes that come to mind. When I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 or so, a friend down the street had a ’72 Malibu that was more than an adequate conveyance for such shiftless and un-aspiring layabouts as us.
In those days, Romine Road was a two lane black top in the county with lots of curves and little pity. I really have no idea how fast Mike was driving when we took the last curve before the elementary school, but he was fudging the curve a little in his favor when the headlights hove into sight. Bright, blinding headlights.
As we re-took our lane the car began to fish-tail followed by a panicked slamming of the brake pedal which led to the ensuing power spin. I last remember holding and clutching at the dashboard for dear life and then being confused by the fact I was sitting on my ass in a cloud of dust in the ditch. You know how the air smells when you let it out of a tire? That smell was strong as I stood and brushed myself off.
Following the voices from out in the woods, I found the ‘Boo right at the tree line, sans tires – which had all been pulled from the rims. I’ve since been told that it takes a hell of a slide to get the tires off of the rims.
Fast forwarding into adulthood, the first time I quit smoking, I think I was about 28 years old, I bought a bicycle along with a couple of friends and took up riding. This was about the time that Breaking Away came out on HBO and we were all sufficiently fascinated with the cross-country thing. Of course we bought the cycling shirts, shoes, hats and all the racks and gew-gaws that go along with it.
One summer day, three of us decided to ride the bikes about 40 miles to a nearby National Park camp ground in the Ouachita Mountains. We packed our sleeping bags, food and cooking utensils and headed out. It commonly gets in the high 90’s in Arkansas in the summer and we went through a lot of water.
We arrived at the camp area around four in the afternoon and began to set up bivouac. The thought began to creep into our minds that a beer would be really good about now. Of course, traveling light, we had no beer, no ice, and no means to get any. But as we were setting up camp I kept noticing a middle aged blonde driving in and out of the camp area in a great whale of a car – a ’69 or ’70 model Oldsmobile convertible.
As luck would have it, she passed close enough to me that I was able to stop her and ask if she intended to go into town for supplies or anything like that. She said she’d let me know.
About 7:00 she drove up to our camp site and told me that she was going to the nearest store. I asked her if she would pick up some beer and ice for us, as we were on bicycles and unable to get any and she said no problem as long as one of us went with her.
A quick game of rock-paper-scissors elected me to go with her and I climbed aboard the U.S.S. Olds. Turns out she was a German woman working here at the University Med Center.
We started down the gravel mountain road at a surprisingly fast clip. I glanced around for seat belts but couldn’t find any. I guess I looked worried because she smiled at me enchantingly and asked, “Dose my drifing skare you?”
“No, I’m okay,” I replied. “Goot,” she said, “Ife neffer had a wreck yet!”
I looked at the speedometer at one point and it read 90. This is a curvaceous gravel road going down the side of a mountain, mind you. About halfway down we started to slide and it really was in slow motion. I’m not going to swear to it, but I think it slowed down to the point that her scream sounded low and base like a man… or was that me?
Déjà vu, all over again as I clutched and grabbed at the dashboard and we slid right over the embankment, down about 15 feet, the car turning on its side and the German woman tumbling down on top of me. I gasped for breath under her weight as the car hesitated and then dropped back down on its wheels.
“Are you allrrright?” She asked. Yep, I think everything is still here in one piece. I’m scratching my head trying to figure this one out when a car comes rounding the curve. It slows and then stops and I swear an entire high-school football team piles out. Those boys had us back up on the road in a New York minute and down the mountain we went.
She never slowed down and I began to pray.
When we got to the Bait Shop/Convenience store about 15 miles down the road I was a nervous wreck. Much worse shape than the door and side panels of the Oldsmobile. I bought two cases of beer, 40 lbs of ice and told my new friend that it had always been a fantasy of mine to drive a convertible. With a laugh, she handed me the keys.
There are still people in these parts that talk about the idiot in the big convertible driving 25 miles per hour down Highway 10 in 1984. And they always mention the attractive blonde, Germanic woman sitting next to him…