Monday, June 13, 2005

My First Drive

In 1985, Mark Malone became the first of our group to turn 16. His father, the owner of a successful business that just happened to include the Allen Park Police Department as one of its primary clients, rewarded him with a brand new Ford Mustang to go along with his brand new driver’s license. Not about to let such a momentous development go uncelebrated, the rest of us decided to throw a momentous party in his honor. Lucky offered his house as the site of bacchanalia, which should have been ominous sign that something was going to go horribly awry before the night was out.

There were six of us at the onset of the festivities. There was Lucky, Mad Dog, Mark and myself, as well as two girls that I do not believe we ever saw again after that night. It was Mark and myself who had embarked upon the beer run and after picking up the libations (and discarding the diapers and tampons we had bought with it) we proceeded to try and drink as much of it as we could before anyone else showed up. We did a fine job. An hour after getting back to Lucky’s house, half of our stock was depleted, the six of us were pleasantly smashed and the lights had been dimmed while two of the guys started making out with two of the girls. Not being one of those two, I decided to step outside for a smoke but realized that I had left my pack of cigarettes in the car. I asked Mark, who was one of the two making out since (among 15-year-olds anyway) driving rights seemed to have beneficial effects on mating privileges, for the keys to his car. After a quick interrogation to find out what my intentions were, he tossed me the keys and I made my way to the Mustang.

I entered the car through the driver’s door and grabbed the pack of Newport. Before leaving however, I kind of felt the twinge of adrenaline at sitting in the driver’s seat of a actual, operational motor vehicle. I put the seat back to get more comfortable (Mark had the height of six-year-old pygmy from the Congo Basin with near-fatal vitamin deficiencies), placed my hands on the steering wheel and imagined myself tooling around down with the windows down and the stereo blasting the theme from “Shaft” from the over-sized speakers mounted in the trunk. Once my pimp fantasy ended, my psyche morphed into “Dukes of Hazard” mode and I pictured myself in the much more realistic scenario of trying to outrun the flock of police officers on my tail while I darted recklessly in and out of traffic trying to get the cheerleading team I was dating home before curfew. The sound effects that accompanied my daydreams were woefully inadequate but the best I could do with the vocal chords I had inherited. I needed something a little better so I took the key, put it in the ignition and turned the engine on.

It was an awesome feeling. Once the engine got going I felt as if I was holding the reigns of the most powerful beast the world had ever beheld, contained by my will and able to be unleashed upon my whimsical command. It was not so much the Mustang itself that brought forth these emotions, it was just the idea of being in the driver’s seat of any vehicle. I probably would have felt the same way had I found myself at the controls of a rusty old Escort. Still, I was awe-stricken. I revved the engine a couple of times to get a feel for what was contained beneath the hood and then I had every intention of turning off the car and rejoining my friends inside Lucky’s house. I really did. Honest.

Before I had the chance though, the driver door was ripped open unexpectedly, scaring me half to death. I was so caught up in my automotive fantasy that I had not seen Mark bolt out of Lucky’s back door and rush the car at full speed. Before I knew it I had been body checked right out of my seat and was laying half across the center console. Mark may have been short, but he was a hockey player. He knew how to use his weight well. Using his hands, he then kept pushing me until I was on the passenger side of the car. Panicked, I started stammering out explanations, none of which he bought or for that matter, even heard. He had loosed a string of obscenities that drowned out both the industrial strength stereo he had installed in the Mustang as well as the “Shaft” theme song that was still playing in my head.

Once he was in, he threw the car in gear and then went to stomp on the accelerator. He probably missed it by a good six inches, so he pulled the seat up and tried it again, this time spinning the tires and peeling out into the road in front of Lucky’s house. Thoroughly enraged he screamed, “WHAT THE F*** WERE YOU TRYING TO DO?!?!”

“N-n-n-nothin’ M-m-m-ark,” I stuttered. Under normal circumstances, I am sure I could have taken Mark in a street fight, but at that moment he was pretty motivated. I tried to come up with an explanation that would not infuriate him any further since it was doubtful that he was going to believe the truth. “I-I-I j-j-just was…”

“BULLSHIT!” he spat. “IF YOU WANTED TO GO SOMEWHERE, YOU JUST HAD TO COME GET ME! YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO TRY TO STEAL MY FUCKING CAR! WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU WANT TO GO?”

“Nowhere. I was just listening to the engine.” I sheepishly replied, deciding on the truth anyway since I could not come up with anything better.

“What?”

“I just wanted to listen to the engine.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

Mark went silent for a couple of moments while his rage transformed into pride. “So, how did you like it?”

“It was awesome!” I then went on to gush shamelessly over his set of wheels.

After listening to me expound upon the virtues of his new Mustang, Mark tossed a sly grin over at me and asked, “You want to try driving it?”

I shook my head vigorously. “No way. I’ve never driven a car before.”

“There’s nothing to it. I’ll teach you.”

I protested enthusiastically a few times while Mark pulled over. I protested a little less enthusiastically as he exited the car. I was still protesting once I was back in the driver’s seat, but at that point the smile on my face surely betrayed my overwhelming lack of sincerity. After I restarted the engine, gave Mark one more opportunity to back out. I lit up a cigarette, cracked the window and asked, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Instead of responding, a look of uncertainty flashed across Mark’s face. It was as if he had just then realized that we had both been drinking very heavily for the past couple of hours and someone who had never previously driven anything more powerful than a ten-speed bicycle was about to take off in a 200hp Ford Mustang capable of doubling the highway speed limit. I believe he was on the verge of changing his mind when, in an attempt to get mobile before he expressed his doubts, I sent the gas pedal plunging down into the floorboards drowning at anything he was about to say with the sound of the revving engine.

I made it about a block. I tried to take a left at the first corner but was going way too fast. I bounced off the right curb, over-corrected and sent the car careening straight for a house on the left side of the street that looked sickeningly familiar. Frozen in horror, all I could do was watch as we were sent relentlessly forward into what was sure to be a legendary collision. Then I saw stars. Then I saw leaves. Not that leaves are particularly fast, but I was seeing them in slow motion. I then felt the sensation of being lifted out of my seat as the car rolled to the right. I fell to the ceiling, closed my eyes and tried to brace myself the best I could to ride out the chaos until the thunder died.

When it finally did I found myself sprawled out on the ceiling of the Mustang, my cigarette still dangling from my lips. Mark, who had buckled his seat belt, was hanging upside down sporting an expression as if he had just seen both Jesus and Elvis. He surveyed his surroundings and then stared down at me meeting my gaze. I flashed him an apologetic smile and said, “Oops.”

“Oh shit,” he answered. “You better put that cigarette out before the car explodes.”

I removed my smoke and looked around for a place to extinguish it with little luck. Then I noticed the ashtray was on the center console so, in too much shock to think rationally, handed it to Mark to put out. As the car was upside down, we were both assaulted by a shower of sparks as he did so. He then undid his seat belt and fell to the ceiling. “What are we going to do now?” I asked.

“Get the hell out of here.” I remember our conversation being unnaturally calm considering what we were going through. Mark pushed open the passenger door and stepped out, instinctively shutting it behind him. I tried to push mine open but it would not budge. Attempting to punch out the window to crawl out, I cranked back my arm as best I could in such cramped conditions and gave it a right hook with everything I had. The window survived the blow perfectly intact. My right wrist and fingers however were a different story altogether. As I was cussing and writhing in pain, the driver door slowly swung open.

Once I got out of the Mustang, the first thing I did was look at Mark. He was taking in the catastrophe we had just caused and drifting closer and closer to a nervous breakdown. As I looked over the scene myself, I felt I was not too far behind him. After bouncing off of the right curb, we jumped the left one head-on. We would have sailed right into the house but we catapulted up the curb and landed on the tree. We then effectively drove the car up the young maple, completely uprooting it until we rolled off the side of it into the driveway. The car came to a rest perfectly aligned in the driveway, with the exception of having the wheels pointing toward the sky instead of resting on the concrete. Once the scene sunk in, we started to come to grips with exactly how much trouble we were in. I was stunned and nearly catatonic, shaken out of my reverie only by the frantic cries of Mark yelling, “WE GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE! TURN THE GODDAMN CAR OVER!”

We might have had even odds of turning the Mustang back into an operable condition if we had both tried to lift the same side of the vehicle. Unfortunately, Mark ran and lifted the passenger side while I ran and tried to lift the driver’s. Predictably, the Mustang barely moved. As the porchlights started going on up and down the street, Mark and I gave up and resigned ourselves to our fate. It was then I took a closer look at the home we almost hit. “Hey Mark, isn’t this Carl’s house?”

Carl was another member of the group. He was supposed to be showing up at the party at Lucky’s house as well. Mark nodded his head, straightened up his collar and started walking up to the porch. Lucky for us, Carl had one of the cool moms. She opened the door before we even had a chance to knock.

Once Carl’s mother got the door open and spotted the carnage we had inflicted upon her yard, her eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. As she was marveling over her martyred tree, Mark said, “Hi Ms. Bryce!” as if he had just run into her at the grocery store. “Is Carl home by any chance? We’re having a little car trouble at front.” By the tone Mark was using, one could have thought that we had just run out of gas as opposed to automotively ravaging the Bryce family’s landscape. Carl’s mom just looked at him as if he had just stepped off of the moon. She then turned her gaze towards me as I was walking into the light and turned white as a ghost before letting out a horrified scream. Now I’ll freely admit that I’m no Mel Gibson, but I thought that was a bit uncalled for. Mark then turned to see what was wrong and went white as well. I could see his knees go wobbly and he stepped to the side to get out of my way. “Oh my God,” he gasped. “Your face.” I then looked over at my reflection in the picture window and almost passed out. I was so covered in blood I was barely recognizable.

Ms. Bryce grabbed me and pulled me inside. Pushing me into the bathroom, she forced my head over the sink and gabbed an armload of towels while Mark ran to the phone. After I was sprayed down and wiped up, I looked into the mirror expecting to be met by some horribly disfigured reflection that I did not recognize. To my relief, nothing seemed at all out of place. In fact, I couldn’t even tell where I had been injured at first. Then I saw a trickle of blood emerge from my left eyebrow while two more heaver streams emerged from somewhere above my hairline. All three bled profusely but in the end were so minor that they did not even require stitches. After applying pressure for a few minutes, the bleeding stopped.

Somehow in the ensuing maelstrom, Mark and I found ourselves alone together. To my surprise, he leaned over at some point and said, “No matter what, our story is that I was driving. Got it?”

I shook my head. “No way. This is all my fault. I’m not letting you take the rap for this.”

“If you say that you were driving, I’ll be in a lot more trouble than I will be if I admitted that I was behind the wheel.”

“Mark, I can’t do that…”

“The hell you can’t! Listen, the only way you can save my ass right now is by telling everyone that I was driving. Got it? Besides that, my dad’s tight with the cops. It’ll get worked out.”

I nodded my head just as Ms. Bryce walked in and said the cops were just pulling up. She then caught a whiff of our breaths and handed us a tube of toothpaste off of the counter. “If I was you, I’d start eating some of this.”

Once the cops got there, we were dragged to the squad car. From later experience I know that the first thing they usually do is separate the two involved parties so that they can be questioned independantly, but for some unknown reason, this time we were put in the same car. The officer turned to us and asked us what happened.

Mark took over the conversation right away. “Well officer, we were driving down the street here and came to a complete stop at the sign over there. I’m so sorry sir, but as I was stopped I decided to light up the tires. When I did that, this car came out of nowhere, cut us off and after I swerved to miss him, ended up hitting the tree.” As Mark was working his “magic” with the officer, I looked out of the window. There were tire marks going completely around the corner, through the stop sign and did not end until they met the maple tree. All it took was one look at the ground to see that Mark was lying through his teeth. We were both doomed.

After Mark finished, the officer asked me what happened. I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “I have no idea. One second I was in the car driving down the street and the next thing I know, I’m getting my face washed off in Ms. Bryce’s bathroom.” Actually, that was not that far of a stretch. Most of what had happened came back to me over the following couple of days.

The cop just nodded at me and then told me to get out of the car. I lit up a cigarette and looked back at Mark just in time to see him getting ready to blow into the breathalizer. I don’t remember what level he blew, but I do recall that at was high enough to provoke a vengeful tounge-lashing from the responding officer that I could hear quite clearly over the sounds of the approaching ambulance.

Word about the accident spread quick. Mark’s father showed up right behind the ambulance and the people we were supposed to be partying with arrived shortly after that. As I was trying to relay the details of the accident to my friends, one of the Emergency Medical Technicians dressed me up in a foam neck brace. It was a tight fit and after a couple of minutes I ended up taking it off so I could finish my story. Once the EMT saw me without it, he rushed back to put it back on. “You need to keep this thing on you. Your neck could be broken and you don’t even know.”

“My neck’s not broken.” I assured him. I then started violently shaking my head, heavy metal style, to prove my point. My story to my friends was then interrupted by me being tied to a backboard and sequestered in the ambulance until I got a clean bill of health from the hospital.

In the end, everything worked out. Mark was right. His father somehow squared things with the officers, no one was seriously hurt and our reputations as THE premier party-animals were cemented. We had actually become minor celebrities in our Allen Park social circle. In some sort of sick way, I was almost proud of myself for participating in that little caper for a few weeks afterwards, feeding off of all the notoriety I had gained from the event. Then I visited Carl’s house in the daytime, which was the main catalyst that finally instilled a faint trace of restraint into my character.

It’s kind of funny how seeing several very little children playing within striking range of an out-of-control Mustang can suck all the humor out of what otherwise would have been a fond memory of inebriate excess.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Evan said...

I have to say, this story kept flashing in my mind every time I took a Viper into a banked curve yesterday.....

1:37 PM  
Blogger JEP said...

Evan, I'm sure driving the Viper was fun but you would have impressed me far more if you would have been a half bottle of Crown Royal in the bag while doing it.

2:57 PM  
Blogger GMTMan said...

True. In front of the director of SRT, too. That would have gone over well....

You've got me beat considerably. Don't worry about being usurped from your throne anytime soon....

7:32 PM  

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