Creative Cruisin’

We sat in the back pew as evening services were drawing to a close. I had an overpowering feeling of emptiness. The pastor’s words fell on deaf ears and all I could think of was the one thing that could fill the void. I leaned closer to my friend Gary and whispered, “Cheeseburger.” After the usual ten seconds of Gary’s dramatic pause, he replied, “Which car?” There was no expression of any kind on his face or in his voice. I leaned closer again and said, “My car’s on empty.” Gary nodded and it was all set: my car would be dropped off at his place and we would use the Green Bomb for our Sunday night cruise. As my mind continued to wander, I recalled the time I asked Gary about his dramatic pause. The usual ten seconds grew to twenty before he informed it was to create suspense. Fearing the increase in suspense would be exponential, and not linear, I pressed no further. Contemplation of this and other equally important matters was suddenly interrupted when the congregation stood for the final hymn. Church was over and it was time for cruisin’.

Once we were outside there was the usual crowd of punk kids wanting to mess around with us rather than go home with their parents. Three or four of the guys were about fifteen and they looked forward to the day when they could hot rod around too. Gary and I had four years of driving behind us and took turns impressing them with our style. Our reputation as hot-rodders, however, was completely unfounded. The only thing hot about my ’67 Plymouth was a tachometer of questionable origin. Gary’s car, a ’52 Ford we called the Green Bomb, was far from high performance. We eventually installed a radio so the Bomb wouldn’t be totally boring. Our driving habits weren’t all that fast either. We rarely broke the speed limit – by more than ten miles an hour – and even the police didn’t bother us at those speeds. The hot rodder reputation was hardly justified but the kids thought we were great, no matter what our driving was called. Still, we preferred to think of what we did as CREATIVE CRUISIN’.

Suddenly a horn blared, tires screamed, and the Beatles belted out “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” We turned to see Larry in his mom’s station wagon. All we could see was teeth. Then he stopped grinning long enough to say, “Wanna run it?” Gary and I just looked at each other. The punk kid had his license.

The trouble was Larry and the rest of the punks had seen all our maneuvers but didn’t know how they were done. Like the old passing on the crest of a hill at night. maneuver. It only works after dark when headlights of oncoming traffic told us if it was ok to pass. If there were no headlights, there was no traffic. The professional driver is like the professional boxer who uses everything in the ring to his advantage, even the ropes. The punk didn’t know the “ropes.” When something goes wrong, an experienced driver already has two or three escape routes in mind, especially when executing a tight maneuver. A new driver like Larry wouldn’t be inventing hypothetical exits because he’d be too busy with things that are second nature to the accomplished driver. Let’s face it, Larry didn’t know anything important, not even the fine art of spotting cops.

Like many art forms that look easy, being a show-off with a car is a lot of hard work. We were big on gravel. At relatively low speeds we could break the rear end loose and hold it off to the side like Bobby Unsure on a flat track. The maneuver looks impressive and scares the girls, but no big deal; just practice a lot without an audience beforehand. Looking spontaneous takes a lot of practice sometimes. We used to spend hours checking out and practicing a small jump or a hill-climb in some field or construction site. Then on the night of the big cruise we would casually execute the daring maneuver and get our wheels off the ground on the “first” try. Our following had a bad case of hero worship and we loved it. As we waited for the rest of the group to check with their parents, I kept wondering if all this admiration was going to get somebody in trouble.

Before long, parental consultations were over and curfews were established. The next order of business was to drop my car off. I could have left my car there at the church but the tradition was to race to Gary’s house. We never really raced, although we would sometimes start by burning ‘em off as we left the parking lot. The lot was gravel, no big deal. Even Marge who was seventy-two and the president of the local chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, threw gravel when she left. Couldn’t be helped. The race was more of an exhibition of class and style: Make the light and pass of the right with maybe a wheel or two on the curb just because it was cool.

We loaded up the cars and headed out, Gary left first and I brought up the rear. Gary was cooling it as much as possible which didn’t bother me a bit. Neither one of us wanted the punk to get in over his head. Larry was swinging left and right trying to get around Gary but he just couldn’t quite make it. Gary kept him in his place without seeming to do much of anything. He was obviously trying to set a good example while keeping the punk under control. Then it came, the shortcut.

Traditionally, whoever was behind the leader had the option of taking the shortcut. The shortcut was forty feet of lawn on a corner lot. There was no curb, sidewalk, or ditch. The maneuver was easy, just cut the corner and stay between the telephone pole and the tree. We had done it so much the lawn had permanent tire tracks. The tires would fall in the grooves and we barely had to steer, I’m sure the owner was amused. As we approached the shortcut Gary began to pick up speed. It looked like the plan was to stay in front of the punk and show him who was boss. Larry had other plans. The punk wasn’t sure how fast to take the shortcut, so the faster the better. You should have seen the sparks. There was a sickening crash. The front end of the car lifted off the ground. The whole neighborhood was lit up by the sparks. The owner had decided to add a large boulder to the landscape. Nice touch, but hard on Momma’s station wagon. Rounding the corner, my left rear tire broke traction “Oil slick, probably lost his pan.” My passengers were duly impressed with my knowledge of such matters. Gary’s house was another two blocks and we all made it, even Larry.

Larry was less than rational at this point, so Gary and I inspected the damage; it didn’t look too costly, but it couldn’t be fixed on the spot. I really felt sorry and even somewhat responsible for Larry as he paced up and down saying over and over, “Dad’s gonna kill me!” As I watched Larry, I wondered if we had somehow let him down. I had an uneasy feeling of emptiness. Looking at Gary I said … “Cheeseburger.” We waited in suspense. Ten seconds later, turning toward the Green Bomb, Gary said, “Let’s cruise.”

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4 Responses to “Creative Cruisin’”

  1. Lucinda Sage-Midgorden Says:

    Harry, Your story reminds me of some of my teen adventures. Thanks for painting such a vivid picture.

  2. Mary Schramm Says:

    you need to tell the story of all the “ary”s

  3. Susan Gregory Says:

    This is such a ‘universal’ experience that I shared it with my hubby. It is very fun reading your blog, I’m glad you followed your gut and finally started releasing this talent in a way that WE can appreciate!!!

  4. BINDY MERRITT MARSHALL Says:

    Oh boy does that bring back Good memories ! Lots of Creative Crusin was had by all !!

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