HIGH ADVENTURE: '69
HONK! HONK! HOOONKK! "WHILE WE'RE STILL YOUNG, ALRIGHT? Where do
these guys get their licenses from outta Crackerjack boxes, or what?" HONK!
HOOOONNKK! COM'ON MAN...THE LIGHT'S GREEN! MOVE THAT PIECE OF JUNK, WILL
YA? Changing his tone and turning to his friends, Steve astonishingly
observed, "The guy in that car is eighty five years old. I'm tellin'
ya: Eighty five minimum! He's carryin' a license to kill!" Leaning
out the window again he added, "WHO GAVE YOU YOUR LICENSE MAN, YEHUDI,
From the back seat Gault, genuinely interested, queried, "Who
the hell is Yahooty?"
"I'm supposed to know everything, right? You're sick Gault.
O'Brien saw the opening and added sarcastically, "Your the
one who's goin' to college, aren't ya?"
"O'Brien, cum'ere a minute would ya," Steve tempted
in a put on aristocratic tone while O'Brien leaned forward resting
his head on his hands, staring comically, blinking his eyes in
anticipation of Steve's next words. "No really, cum'ere for
a second...just a little closer," he added gently, then laughingly
screamed, in assimilated New York broken Italian, "Soosa I
cannah KEELAYOU!" They all cracked up. They knew a superb
Botchagaloop imitation when they heard it. No 'bout a doubt it.
And why not? They lived and breathed Abbott and Costello reruns;
comic reruns of any kind (even Jerry Lewis once in a while).
HEE HONK! HEE HONK! Steve's wide eyes surveyed the rear view mirror
scrutinizing the anxious motorist urging him on from behind. The
light had turned green to red to green again since he had last
blown his horn to usher forward the motorist that was previously
in front of him. "Time does go by when you're having fun," he
thought comically as he checked his gas gauge. He had been idling
away thirty five cents a gallon Sunoco HI Test that was generously
spiked with a few supplemental additives learned about from reading
a HOT ROD magazine article entitled "Street Machines and Fuming
He leaned out his driver side window, and looking back bellowed, "BLOW
IT OUT YOUR YING YANG..." The words disintegrated before they
hit the morning air as he simultaneously stomped the gas pedal,
calling up all the obtainable horsepower his machine could supply.
With the rear tires spewing clouds of smoke, the surprised image
in his rear view mirror became a dusty Rockwell painting.
Frank, turning anxiously, grumbled, "Enough foolin' around,
okay? Let's just get there." He pushed in the loyal, ever
ready eight track cartridge and immediately Hendrix sang spoke, "Crosstown
traffic..." Everyone began playing air guitar; Steve sang
A suburban sun would be rising over Long Island in a few short
minutes. On the pedestrian walk over expressway bridge, a select
few were waiting in adolescent anticipation of the sun's initial
glimmering orange yellow ray beams. Five transistor radios, all
selectively tuned, chorally reproduced Deep Purple's soon to be
classic, "Child in Time." The soprano chorus weaved through
small scattered clouds of Panama Red. Party time. Definitely party
The rules had been set; they had never changed: two in a car,
from a roll; at sunrise. The predetermined stakes: One hundred
bucks. One hundred scrapped together "balloons" collected
from an assortment of Autumn clean up jobs, after summer school
grass cutting, a reliable brother, and tons of saved up quarters
covertly culled when overloaded parental pockets silently begged
to be emptied (refusal would be unimaginable). But the most prestigious
contributions came from close buddies; "I'll fall on a grenade
for ya" kind of guys. They believed in Steve, and it felt
good. Real good. The best.
"Ninety five ‘scadolas.' Where's the other five bucks,
man?" Steve said as he nervously finished counting, clutching
the green wrinkled bills. His absolute concern was the kind that
a two year old rug rat musters when it instinctively grasps its
mother's stabilizing hair for some Neanderthal reason only the
apes in the Bronx zoo still truly understand, while its mom unconsciously
blends the morning coffee. "Where's the other five bucks,
man?" he repeated.
"You're drinkin' it," Gault laughingly spit; his face
the image of crumbling sand, pock marked and greasy.
"What! You know those guys. If there's not exactly one hundred
beans here, it's off. It's all off. Sonofa...I don't have any more
money to tune this thing up with," he whined staring straight
at Gault. He hoped a miracle would occur and he'd be blessed with
X ray vision so he could melt Gault down to a puddle.
"Steve, what's the use of doing this thing if there's no
beer, heh?" Gault logically countered.
"You wanna know the use, Gault? You really wanna know the
use? I'LL SHOW YOU THE USE!" Leaping over the front seat he
grabbed Gault's black sleeveless T shirt, but instead of breaking
his neck he only to succeeded in breaking the collective pent up
tensions rising from the four of them.
"Take it easy man. Take it easy, will ya?" Frank physically
interrupted, pulling Steve back into the front baby blue bucket
seat. "I'll get the extra bucks. I'll get 'em. Trust me. Have
I ever lied to you guys?" Steve, Billy, and Gault looked slowly
and deliberately at each other and, in a time worn rehearsed comedic
nonchalance, looked back at their target and yelled in unison, "SURE
It was true though, Frank never did lie unless it was to cops
or girls, and then that was only when he had to save his tail.
He could get the five bucks. If any one of them could he could.
Frank was a street smart street kid; outlandishly attractive with
long flowing shoulder length Swede blonde hair. The kind girls
say they can't do anything with. The kind that causes old men and
women to spurt out "...he looks like a girl when ya see 'em
from the back, don't he Martha?" But what did they know? They
had never been hit square on the bridge of the nose by Frank's
Gibraltar like fist. Besides the great rock and roll look Frank
had a reputation that followed him too. He was headstrong, tough,
a spectacular resourceful fighter; totally wild when peaking and
instinctively calculating when evaluating the opposition, but never
foolish. If you really wanted to fight and not cowardly defend
yourself with cool lines from your record collection then: Say
hello to Frank. He did have a weakness though, as do all great
personalities no matter how highly acclaimed they are. It was a
basic flaw; a chink in the armor of his coolness. A masked impairment
only his closest friends could detect and it was probably the reason
they liked him so much. In between his bar-bell body built shoulders
lay a great big unselfish heart.
The engine sputtered to a stiff stop. The quartet parked at the
edge of the walk over bridge, just across the street from the enclosed
chain linked baseball field. It was such a strange place to build
a ball field: parallel to a four lane expressway. It was bad enough
kids threw stones over the surrounding five foot barbed wire topped
fence forever attempting to land bulls eyes on the constant stream
of 60 mph passenger side windows. But now the existence of the
field gave the added opportunity to amplify their delinquency.
Simply by picking up a Louisville Slugger and a few loose roadside
rocks at game's end, and with the eager energy all young people
don't know what to do with, they could easily smash out some well
placed window shattering home runs without getting caught. But
that was the day time. This was the night. Even front door house
lights electrically burning in silence could not stop what was
going to happen. The race was on.
Steve's car glistened under the night lighting power of the sodium
street lamps left over from the 1950's housing sprawl. The lamp's
life shone directly down, giving the car's factory white paint
an eerie aqua glow.
"Wait a minute. What are ya tryin' to pull? Beer ain't no
five bucks." Steve said, turning to his companions. "Alright.
What did you do with the five bucks? Where's the change?"
Billy broke the silence from the back seat, "Look, I bought
a couple of packs of Marlboros and some mints...for the celebration.
So kill me, alright?"
He was right. They needed something. Miller, the champagne of
bottled beers, smokes and mints. Miller, Marboros, and mints. Ah,
why not? he thought.
"Okay, okay. We've only got a few minutes so let's get up
on the bridge and get the extra money thing happening. The Chevy
guys will be there soon. Y'sure you can get it, Frank?"
"No problem, man."
"Okay..." Steve suddenly paused as though he had just
forgotten his car keys while leaving for a big date. "I hope
Durgalo makes it," he said softly.
Gault smiled at him and in his best Brooklyn Jewish accent kidded, "Ya
shouldn't vorry Steve. He`s up at dis time every mornink to verk
vith his fartha..like a good boy should." "Yeah, yeah.
Okay already. You know you need help Gault, you know that?"
"FIRE DRILL!" Billy cleverly screamed to change the
mood. They reacted instantly and piled out of the car doing their
best "clowns out of a small car" bit. Running at full
speed, they circled the car screaming anything that came into their
minds. This went on for minutes. It was the closest thing to a
Zen consciousness they could ever unconsciously come up with.
The doors finally slammed shut echoing against the concrete pillars
of the walk over. "Just like in 'Westside Story'" they
Slowly they began the uphill trek to the top of the walk over bridge;
four abreast and now seriously silent. (It was as though their principal
had come into their homeroom totally unexpected.) They knew that when
they approached the upper bridge entrance that all eyes would be on them.
They would be the center of attention. Each knew he had to be ready;
had to be cool; and much, much more than usual. The car was ready too.
The time for racing was right. They might not get another chance; not
like this one. It was now or never; just like the Elvis oldie.
All the familiar faces were there: Richie and the bikers from
Northedge; Spit, the junkie from Holiday Park; Babbet and her biddies
from Mid Lawn; and Robin with her assortment of North Massapequa
dopers from hallucinogenic galaxies that no madman or woman had
gone before: space cadets all.
"Where's Durgalo?" Spit asked. "This thing ain't
happening without him, you know?" He sounded so concerned,
but was just there to cop some dope. It wasn't "I just do
it when I feel like it" anymore for Spit. He was robbing houses
at least once a week or so. First it was miscellaneous "junk" from
the family basement, and then the garage. Not anything special,
mind you, just things that weren't nailed down. ("Junk for
junk", he used to say.) Then it was old jewelry his parents
forgot they had; that they forgot they had it was a theory Spit
As his habit surreptitiously grew, his audience grew too. He would
steal anything from anybody if he was tapped for dope money.
Durgalo, Spit's connection, had a theory too. He knew Roosvelt: a town
of black ghettos sprinkled with special street corners that openly supplied
serious drugs. Spit's smack came from one of them and Durgalo knew them
all. "It's just a way to get some extra bucks for racin' and dates.
There's nothing wrong with that, right?" he'd always say.
"Hold your water Spit, okay?" Durgalo offered screaming
in his fat melodious voice: an assimilation of a young Jackie Gleason
and Mr. Tuscano the math teacher.
Tuscano was the guy who smashed everyone with his gigantic college
ring. He would wait until you had unconsciously put the toes of
your shoes under the front legs of your brown wood ballpoint scribed
desk. Then he would casually stroll by, look you in the eye, and
when you suddenly realized you were the next victim, he'd jump
on the top of your desk with all his two hundred and seventy five
pounds and pin your feet to the floor. Instant schoolroom crucifixion.
As you screamed in surprised pain, he'd lift his twenty pound
hand, hold it up to the class in grand gladiator style and slowly
turn the smooth stoned gold finger ornament downwards towards his
palm. Then with a Pontifical grace, combined with the awkward raw
power of a professional wrestler, Mr. Tuscano would repeatedly
rap his ring on your head while you flopped around like some fresh
caught flounder penned in a Jones Beach fishing bucket. It was
the epitome of humiliation: helplessness. He took no prisoners.
Discrimination was nonexistent: no one survived.
Both Durg and Tuscano even had some of Gleason's anatomic nomenclature;
especially when they were viewed from the back. Both were ridiculously
overweight, having the same jet black hair and pudgy cheeks all
synthesized by a typical ethnic "joe schmoe" expression
that glissando trombones amplified so well. But they were cool
and that, after all, is truly what legends are made from. It's
all that really counts.
But this was not school. Here Durgalo was at the head of the class. He
was the teacher and of the utmost importance to the coming event. He
would be the presiding judge of the outcome; the king, as it were. It's
good to be the King; and he knew it. On this June morning he would hold
the equivalent executive authority that Nixon had in Saigon; that Kubla
had in China; that steady girl friends have on Friday nights. He would
be the bottom line and only his plenipotentiary vision would decide whose
car reached the walk over bridge first. Standing in the middle of the
walk over, Durgalo would stare down, the way a jeweler scrutinizes the
intricacies of a Swiss movement, and eagle eye the screaming front ends
as they desperately reached out for the imaginary white striped finish
Durgalo represented street racing here. He was respected. His
reputation transcended the lines of counties and towns, schools
and back streets, heresay and rumors. Winning at the Sunday drags
was a habit with him. Once he even tried out for the Nationals
but his engine came apart during the preliminaries. He had been
close. Closer than anyone.
But Durgalo had respect for others. He knew the man who built
Steve's car and respected him in the same way Catholic ladies do
their parish priests. He didn't play favorites either. It was all
business when it came to racing. The best man wins and all that.
But he was curious about Steve's car and that's why he was here.
That was Steve's ace. They all wanted to know what kind of heavy
metal was under his hood and what it could do or was it all just
a hype, or some insane attention getter?
"Durg, what's happening, man?" We didn't think you
were gonna make it, it bein' so early and stuff." Steve, standing
toe to toe to Durgalo, smiled, truly appreciating Durg's presence,
but that was as close as he would ever come to emotionally showing
"Come on Steve, you knew I'd make it. This is nothin' compared
to the crazy hours I do for my old man...Com'ere, walk into my
fist with your face for a second, will ya?"
Nervous laughter erupted from everyone within earshot of the words.
They knew how serious Steve looked, how he was going to college
soon and wasn't getting high on a regular basis anymore. But he
had good reason for concern. He still didn't have the five beans
for the hundred buck beat
."You got the money, or what?" Durgalo slashed out.
"Yeah, I do but..."
"But what, man? But what?"
"Look Durg I had a little trouble..."
"Shit man. I didn't figure you for a liar. Do you have it
"Yeah I got it, I got it... hey, Frank? Frank? You got the
money?" Steve coolly shouted, still lying.
Frank grabbed him by the arm and swung him around slapping five
one dollar bills into his palm, yelling: "One, two, three,
four, five! I told ya! I told ya man!" They automatically
hugged each other in their awkward macho manner and jumped up and
down flouncing in a circle screaming proudly, "Alright, Alright!"
"Here's the fuckin' money, man," Steve said straight
out giving the new found bills to Durgalo. Hands started slapping
hands. They were the four musketeers and Frank had thrown the grenade
back at the Japs.
"Give me five," ordered Gault to Frank.
"I just gave him five. You too?"
The typical marijuana laughs started to congest the walk over.
The kind of laugh you never had before, but somehow comes out of
your mouth after lighting up. Where it comes from, no one knows.
Just like the five bucks. No one knew where that came from either.
Frank never said. It really didn't matter. In a couple of years
Frank would fall off a speeding Harley doing over 100 mph. No one
would ever know.
Durgalo smiled at the scene he saw and coolly kicked in, "Look
guys, I don't want to break this up, you fuckin' Marys, but let's
get this race started. Okay?"
A deafening, silence shattering, exhaust header roar came from
the opposite side of the walk over. It caught no one by surprise;
they all knew who it was. Six figures came walking up the west
side of the bridge ramp, hurrying along, checking out the eastern
sky for orange rays. The sun was just about to peak over Montauk
and spray gold down Sunrise Highway. Soon early morning drivers
would be scooting around to get their Sunday papers and rolls.
The police would be out too, but having just changed shifts they
were probably in diners eating free sunny side up eggs, homefries,
and coffee black--to get their hearts started. 813 would be around
soon too, so the race had to get underway. 813 cruised the expressway
every hour or so, or whenever he wasn't sitting on the side of
the road playing with himself while waiting for speeders.
"Here's da hundrid," Ross shouted, giving the single
crisp bill to Durgalo. Ross was the competition: the Chevy; the
final piece in the game. But no one seem to care except his retinue
of greased out maniacs; they were right out of Mad magazine.
"Here's the rest of mine. Count it up," Steve said eagerly,
being as cool as possible.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute, alright? Whadda ya think I
am, fuckING Einstein. You got quarters here!...fuckING guy," Durgalo
whined, flustered by the math. He would hold the money: he was
now in full control.
As Durgalo counted, the racers talked. Ross was first.
"So you really think that piece a crap is gonna beat me,
heh? I couldn't believe it when you made the challenge. This is
gonna be the easiest hundred I ever made and the quickest you ever
lost." His sidekicks started laughing, increasing his power. "Your
dreamin' man. Your really dreamin'."
"Your the one who's dreamin', man", Steve screamed. "That
50's hotrod shit your into is over! Man, ya just watch how I smoke
you." Catching his temper he changed to his serious side as
though he were painstakingly answering a question in Algebra trying
to avoid an inevitable zero. "Who's ridin' with ya?"
Suddenly Ross became the black hooded ghost of Scrooge's future
and pointed out a tall and skinny guy wearing a blue ski jacket
with punkishly tailored cut off sleeves over a dark blue garage
jump suit thoughtfully adorned with gas company logos of all his
The kid must have just worked on Ross' car, or just that second finished
a night shift at a local gas station. His cavernous face and blood spotted,
skinned hands were black patched with Valvoline 10/30 and road dirt.
He easily could have changed into army fatigues and done some early morning
reconnaissance in 'Nam. Too bad he was so wimped out.
"No class, man. Your man has no class whatsoever," ending
his speech in a John Lennon accent copped from selected WMCA Beatle
interviews he had memorized during ninth grade lunch periods. Surprised
that Steve would put him down so loudly, Billy, caught by the surprise,
started laughing uncontrollably. The skinny garage rat, with intentions
of beating Billy's brains into the new white cement work, instantly
jumped forward to wrestle him to the ground, only to be intercepted
by Steve's right forearm placed neatly in the enemy's face.
"What are you crazy, man? Are you fuckin' crazy?" Steve
yelled. That was all the persuasion the kid needed; he backed off. "What
are you, crazy," he repeated and clutched the rat's throat
searching for the Adam's apple. The rat instinctively grabbed onto
Steve's wrists. Ross' garage rat's fingernails were so dirty they
would probably take days to clean; maybe weeks. Steve couldn't
take his eyes off the dry wood like stumps as he continued to squeezed
the kid's throat. They reminded him of slim Lincoln Logs. He felt
that it was his duty to let this kid know that human beings needed
air to live. He'd learned that in Earth Science and figured trying
to make the kid faint would be educational.
"Look at them nails, man; would ya? No class man. Zippo!" Gault,
never to let a set up go by screamed, "You want a light, Steve?...Zippo." And
he pop his lighter out. "Ya git it?...Zippo, light, lighters?...Don't
you get it?"
Steve calmly looked him in the eye and said, "Oh ho are
your gonna get yours," doing his best Ralph Kramden and then
laughingly pushed the rat over to his friends. Steve was slow getting
started but didn't take anything thing from anybody either. Although,
in terms of sanity, he was only a microsecond ahead of his present
company it was enough to get by.
His nose illustrated the street war scars. The unnatural lines
above his grey brown eyes were not premature wrinkles, but the
remnants of school rings and bare knuckle crunches that doctors
reap a hundred grand a year cat gutting. Mild mannered suburbia
was a myth; especially on the Island. Everyone's relatives lived
in and around the city, Brooklyn and the Bronx mostly, so the gang
scene was hot. Blood dripped from cuts initiated by gravity knives
and baseball bats adorned with ten penny nails be it in the Bronx
or in Suburbia.
Fighting for its own sake is universal. Here it was just another
way of surviving the citified suburban environment created by World
War II veterans who, together with their new brides and plentiful
GI loans, had hoped to leave the big city hassles behind. No roaches,
no fifteen relatives on the same block or in the same house, and
no landlords. That was the real dream: no landlords.
They had become their own land barons of quarter acre plots accompanied
by above ground circular blue pools in backyards where white hot
Bar -B-Qs could glow every Saturday night under the moody red light
of oriental lamps. They didn't need the city now. They could still
drive there to see their once a year Broadway shows, but they had
television and small kids to raise and educate now. These modern
day pioneers could give their kids the things their parents couldn`t
give to them. That was the other dream.
But forty five minutes from the city was simply equated as open
space to Steve and his friends. Space to race. He had never heard "Forty
five Minutes From Broadway," or anything even close. And if
he had possibly caught a flickering glimpse of James Cagney swagger
to that tune during some restless Saturday afternoon movie, he'd
still never recognize the melody. All he knew was his car could
get there in twenty five; Brooklyn was even closer; Queens: with
this car, he could beam himself there. No sweat, no problem. And
if he was lucky, no tickets.
"Whose ridin' with you?" Ross calmly asked as though
his friend and faithful companion (who was just regaining normal
breathing status) was simply not there.
"I'm riding with 'em. What's it to ya?" Frank was always
"Robin here is gonna flag us, okay? We ripped off this 18th
hole flag from the golf course," Steve proudly stated. Taking
the bright green triangular banner from the bean pole redhead girl.
He looked at Ross again and probed, "Okay?"
"Okay." Ross smiled and for a second they were friends, "Ya
guys are nuts, you know that? Really fuckin' nuts...a golf course
flag? Fuck it. Let's do it!"
Everyone scattered to get a good seat for the show. Peering through
the chain link like monkeys in a zoo was about all anyone could
hope for. Just being on the walk over was more vital than having
a good seat. Durgalo slowly moved to the center of the walk-over.
The spot was his and no one debated the choice.
Spit was getting high in the shadows; he always did somehow. Babbet
and the space cadets could have cared less about the race, but
it was just "sooo" social they just had to be there.
What else would they talk about while they rambled through their
eight periods at school on Monday. No one wanted to do anything
on Mondays anyway; not even the teachers. The girls recited the
tautology to themselves "this thing better be good," and
even if it wasn't they'd probably forget about it by Monday afternoon
anyway. Memories are short, especially with such serried minds
aided by tons of grade A smoke to help cloud the way.
The four musketeers sauntered down the walk over ramp which would
lead them to the street and to the machine that their hearts kept
promising would make times to remember. Gault started walking a
little faster than the nervous cadence the group had already inadvertently
created. Ever so slowly Gault initiated a faster step, then a bit
faster still. Billy caught on right away, then Frank, and finally
Steve got the silent message. All of a sudden they were jogging,
then running at top speed, simultaneously screaming some unintelligible
prehistoric utterances conjured up from an unearthly Neanderthal
past;..."possibly a past life in California," they had
Billy was the vocal leader audibly reminding them of the hysterical
occurrence they had shared the week before. A past picture that
they all could distinctly see in their minds; the minds their teachers
said were nonexistent:
The auditorium was filled to capacity, or it would be any
minute now. Crowds of students were anxiously anticipating the
obligatory "assembly". It was a free period no matter
how important the school made it out to be. If you could cut
out of the long lines and sneak to the boy's room or girl's room
for a forty-five minute smoke, it was considered a successful
week. But Billy had another avenue to stroll down. He would survey
the auditorium with the same precision as the journeyman who
had surveyed the Montauk Lighthouse. He would wait and check;
mentally measure distances, spy, and then nod his head out of
sight, dipping it up and around to get the best visual angle
on the closest teacher or teacher's aid in the vicinity.
Timing was everything. It always is.
Soon the human barricade of students would hide him from the
perpetual searching eyes of the instructors and unknowingly transform
him into the Invisible Man. The conflicting din of Beatle boots
and penny loafers would fade slowly the way his Wranglers had;
the straight leg ones that he'd been wearing and breaking in
everyday for the last two months. Suddenly, and without the slightest
notice to anyone in the vast void (except the lucky chosen few
within eye contact), a nonhuman sound of pain echoed off the
fifty foot ceiling and rushed around the six hundred seat assembly
Billy had had a fake heart attack again. He recreated the masterpiece
once again as they ran down the walk over. It was truly a work
of art. The kind of art form four human beings, brought together
by some baby boom, would appreciate until they croaked. Art appreciation;
their kind. Picasso, eat your heart out.
As they reached the street God's sun was giving way to a soon
to be sky blue morning. That was the moment they knew their time
had come. It had to. It just had to.
Out of breath, laughing hysterically, with tears only uncontrollable
eyes and minds could shed, they reached the car and rested on the
fenders heaving hot air from their one and one half pack a day
"This is it guys," Steve said, wiping the tears from
his eyes. "Are you ready or what Frank?"
"I was born ready. You know that Stevarino."
"How could I forget, that's all you ever fuckin' say." Ducking
to miss a well aimed punch to the temple, Steve deflected Frank's
hand and started to giggle as they both jumped arrogantly into
Billy and Gault checked the tire pressure to make sure the cheater
slicks would grab the road tight; the way they grabbed themselves
on horny Saturday nights. Billy, making believe he was washing
the windows, asked Steve, "Like your oil checked sir? Windows
cleaned? How about a..."
"How about I stick my fingers up your nose, okay? Quit fuckin'
around O'Brien, alright?" Frank screamed.
All Steve could mutter in response was an audible picture of Gleason
looking at Alice, "Ah hoo you dirty...aaahhh," fading
his voice out like the tail end of a well mixed forty five Top
40 super smash. Timing is everything. He glanced in his rear-view
mirror and saw the sky. The sun had risen, and it was good.
Gault signaled a three fingered OK giving a worn out grease stained
key the chance to twist and lock into the motherly arms of the
ignition switch. The open header exhaust creased the still morning
air with the power of an F-14 sailing out of Grumman Aerospace
for a midweek checkout.
"CONTACT!" The shout came from everywhere. The word's
inflection represented years of imitating the 3 Stooges doing their
award winning doctor sketch. The four of them had logged hundreds
of hours watching the Stooges; they were TV babies and were totally
"CONTACT!" Billy was on to it screaming, "ANNA
CANNA RANNA, CONTACT!
Gault responded immediately, "Make it six inches!" Cotton!...COTTON!!!"
The gas pedal pushed the carpet; carpet stolen from suburban garbage
nights, redyed to match the deep blue interior. The ignition Line
Loc snapped in holding all the brakes as rigid as a jujitsu strangle
hold, while cleverly retaining the leverage to spring back at any
second like a tiger in heat.
Steve smashed the reworked automatic into First. He eased the
gas pedal to the floor again as the tachometer read the revs. The
numbers began to move higher incrementally by hundreds and finally
thousands. The car gracefully arched upward, its rear end cat high
in the air: Detroit slantin', quivering, ready to pounce like an
albino panther from an old Sheena Queen of the Jungle episode.
The pit crew backed off from the machine to soak in the religious
experience they would now be a part of: EEEEEEEEaaaaAAAAAUUUUUUU!!!
The Line Loc expertly let go and a white dart shot out from the
spot of asphalt where a mere machine once stood.
"Take a little air outta the right rear slick, okay?" Steve
shouted as he backed up to the invisible starting point he had
created. Gault released the pressure examining the tire gauge with
expertise of an RN checking her needle's liquid level; as a junkie
would checking out his works.
"We're goin' back to the bridge. Good luck man," Gault
said plaintively, heart honest, as he turned walking away. Billy
peered into the two-door and said to his kindergarten friend, "Good
luck Stephen..for real."
Billy scooted up to reach Gault almost tripping over his own feet
as he ran. His arthritis always hurt him in the morning. It had
bothered him ever since he was twelve years old when he had been
hit by a car and thrown off his bike, landing in that mystical
place called unconsciousness. By forty he'd be a rock and roll
cripple using a cane if he didn't have major surgery. The only
thing that would keep him sane would be free weights: Monday: Shoulders
and chest; Tuesday: Back and arms; rest Wednesday; Thursday and
Friday: same as Monday and Tuesday; Black forest cake on Saturday
Steve started rolling up the window to help cut down wind drag
when he saw his hysterical friend screaming and jumping up and
down, trying to steal his attention. "What the hell does he
want now," Frank stammered evil eyeing Billy. Bill came up
to the window and snapped out his fingers tapping Steve on the
shoulder. Instantly Steve's concentration and tension broke up.
Billy softly said, "Gotcha last..." and in a hobble run,
clambered up the bridge never looking back.
"You sonofabitch!!!" Steve screamed.
Frank astonishingly looked on as the madman sitting next to him,
who, instantly and with no provocation, became divided between
wanting to kill someone, and laughing uncontrollably. It was embarrassed
laughter reenforced by childhood memories. Since kindergarten they
had played this game. As Billy ran up the bridge the two racers
looked at him and then at themselves, cracking up at the moment,
never hearing their laughs over the screaming roar of the engine.
The bridge transversed the expressway east to west. Enclosed in
chain link and curved safety bars, it began to glow a yellowish
gray; the sun was slowly regaining its power. The spectators had
found their spots, like dogs settling into a vacant space on a
rug. Their all important visual vantage points would allow them
that split second glimpse that this gathering was all about. It's
a thrill to see a winner; a genuine thrill; and they wanted it.
The distance from the bridge was a precisely calculated quarter
mile despite the fact that the savants who accomplished this mathematical
wizardry had flunked every math course they had ever taken. All
the two drivers knew or cared about now was a spicule formed copper
haired girl, as slender as the 18th hole pennant she carried, standing
a hundred feet in front of them. Their reaction to her sweeping
flag wave would change their day to day lives for weeks to come.
The challenge was a ten mile per hour roll, nose to nose, until
the flag dropped. If you misjudged the flag, you would almost certainly
lose. It was no different at the real drags where a sequential
light tree was used. The problem was the same: reaction time. It
didn't really matter if you sat and watched lights speedily transform
from red to yellow to green. The key was how you reacted to the
stimulus. This time out it was a 12th grade female beanpole parabolically
swinging a triangular piece of green and white cloth with the numbers
1 and 8 stitched into it. She would swing the flag down to the
ground and all the drivers had to see was the top of it fly. Once
it flew, they could too. Timing was everything.
The racers lined up at the end of the expressway. Construction
was still in progress on this stretch of macadam so traffic was
very light in the daytime and even at rush hour; at sunrise it
was basically nonexistent. It was unquestionably a perfect location.
The pitch black Nova pulled up to its spot. It was a 283 cubic
inch, dual four barrel with a Crane cam, Hooker headers, and some
secret internal piston work to raise compression. No one really
knew what or how much. Its simonized blackness gleamed like a reversed
image of a black and white negative. But even with all its polished
glitter your eyes were immediately drawn to the white, hand painted
raised tire letters painstakingly applied during some leisurely
day Ross cut school.
From the smoked black windows of the Nova, Ross' head turned with
the animus movement of a conquistador and checked out the competition.
The sound emanating next to him was very unusual. Now that he had
time to study it he realized that he had never heard anything like
it before. It was not the normal street rod noise he was accustomed
"Those small blocks sound like bees," he thought. Ross
knew Steve had something. That was why he was here. "No small
block is goin' take money from this Chevy. No way," his brain
The Line Loc clicked. The Lancer smashed its brakes to the drums.
It was a 6 cylinder automatic: a 3 speed, beefed and reworked;
more money than was fit to put into a car like this people said.
The '61 Lancer was ugly and comically strange to look upon; a standard
early 1960's drunken Chrysler design, but it had the horsepower-to-weight
ratio advantage. It was a light 1750 pounds and its horsepower
greatly exceeded its cubic volume.
But then that was the point, that was the ace. This was not the
car that Steve had bought from his father's work buddy two years
ago. The stock engine that putted to the city five days a week,
day in and day out, would never recognize itself now: 12:1 compression,
Crane cam, high compression pistons and reworked rods; bored and
stroked, dual Webers, a custom tuned header, reworked and balanced
crank and on and on. An atypical blueprint. Small block madness
some guys called it. It took hold of you like the plague and ate
you up until you proved what most people thought was impossible:
less is more. Wiping the big blocks was possible and now he'd get
his chance to prove it...even if it cost him his reputation and
a hundred bucks.
A hundred bucks for a forty hour work week, after taxes, still
went a long way these days; not great, but liveable. He could blow
it all in fifteen seconds. And why not? It was more than the money.
It was what made this thing called life such a "crackup." Ross
and Steve knew that. Deep down they all knew that.
The machines stood ten feet apart, engines idling, exhaust headers
slowly rumbling, camshafts lopping loosely, and then as the gas
pedals were punched, the engines began blazing and screaming. Over
and over this heaving mechanical ululation continued. It sounded
like the mating calls of wild, violent jungle animals searching
out their consorts; ready to leap out at any presence that might
block their paths or break their concentration.
Through their tightly shut smoked glass windows the drivers momentarily
tried to search each other's eyes for a faltering or disruption
of character that might surface from their personalities now that
the pressure was on. A psyche out at this point in time could change
the outcome of the race. Their eyes became cold and lifeless. They
disguised all their emotion covering their uncovered faces with
dark cool shrouds.
The mutual microsecond glance seemed as long as a hundred years. And
then their eyes looked coolly away focusing all their being on the walk
The burn outs were next. With eyes glued to their tachometers
the engines roared randomly in and out of sync with each other
SCREEECH! SCREEEEEECHHH! Tires burned and deflowered the expressway
pavement. Again and again they screamed until the detonations made
one imagine being blindfolded in the midst of a war with only ears
to substantiate the ungodly events.
Now the roll. Amidst the floating masses of tire smoke, the racers
strained to peek out while situating their machines hood parallel
to hood, bumper parallel to bumper. Even though they would race
from a rolling start fair is fair. They had agreed to keep everything
on the up and up so there would be no excuses later.
They began to move. Their eyes locked onto a pelican legged girl
whose fire engine red hair was awkwardly trying to move in time
with the crisp morning breeze. (The crystalline lawn dew that had
accumulated in it since she lay passionately recumbent only twenty
minutes before held it back like Brill Cream. She had already made
it a night to remember.)
They glided on waiting for the 18th hole pennant Robin held so
powerfully above her head to fall. She screamed, "Ready? One.
Two. Three!" The flag swished downward. Screaming smoke blew
out of Steve's rear fender wells as the initial acceleration pinned
him to his seat. Steve's peripheral vision revealed that Ross'
hole shot was a good one and he was tearing up the road next to
him. They remained nose to nose.
It seemed as though they had stayed at the starting line and were standing
still. Steve slammed second gear. "Rev! Rev up!!" his brain
pounded. As his finger finally pushed the Drive button of his torque
flight, a cherry bomb like explosion drilled his ears and his heart sank.
But he was still revving and still moving. The sound had come from the
left, not from under his hood. He turned and for an instant saw Ross'
car become a speeding blow torch, then it disappeared.
Frank squinted at the conflagration as his head revolved following
the scene. "Look at that. Would you look at that? He fuckin'
Steve never turned. All he could see was the grey ceiling of the walk
over as he and his machine passed under it doing ninety five. When he
did scan the rear view mirror, not fire but an artificial electric flashing
red bubble ignited in the distance. They had been waiting. Some cops
do do their jobs despite the bad press.
His foot released its pressure from the gas pedal and the machine
slowed down to sixty five, the sole header burping, spitting luminous
spurts of carbon monoxide and fire. "I'll go down to the turnpike
and come around," Steve said. "I think that cop was heading
towards the walk over."
"Look again, man. There are three cars. Two went to the walk
over. The other one's turning on to the exit...and he's comin'
straight for us!" Their eyes met, and together, as though
they were mystically reading each other's minds, scream laughed, "AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" A
quick reacting foot stomped the gas 65, 75, 85, 95, 110 until the
speedometer began straining out what little numbers it had left.
"I'll weave into the development an' try an' ditch the car.
Wait a minute! I've got an idea. Reach into the glove compartment
and take out the electric garage door opener."
"It's a square plastic white thing. It's in there, keep lookin'.
As soon as we get into the development use that screwdriver and
tweak that small screw on it. My shop teacher says even though
all the receivers have different frequencies you can tune into
them. We'll open a door and hide in someone's garage."
"He probably told you that ya can talk to the Easter Bunny
with it too, right?"
"Just do it Frank, okay?"
With headlights extinguished, cruising now at a sane forty five,
Steve turned off the ignition and started free wheelin'. Frank
nervously held the device and turned the screw. "Anything
happening," he inquired.
"Nothin' yet." Frank squeaked.
"Just keep tryin'. I'll check for the cop... Hold it! Hold
it! Look!" Steve screamed. An interior garage light illuminated
and a door began to rise.
"What did I tell ya? Science is great, right?"
"Look again Mr. Wizard. Some jerk's just getting his car
ready for work."
"I must be a little stupid today," Steve cowered.
"Today?" Frank said glowering, as he threw the device
into the back seat. "Look, the cop's probably gone by now
anyway. Let's go back. If they're there, they're there. Fuck it."
Red and white beams of whirling light reflected off the newly
formed cement stanchions. It was like a scene from "The War
of the Worlds." Uniforms everywhere, small huddled flocks
of civilian sheep wondering what it was all about; wondering if
it was all a dream.
A few hundred feet north of the walk over lay a blacken mechanical
pile of waste. It was a Rube Goldberg disaster: The Nova had blown
a rod which severed a fuel line causing gas to spill onto the red
hot exhaust headers, which in turn, burned up every hose and wire
under the fiberglass sculptured hood. It was a complete total.
A volunteer fire truck had already unloaded an eight man emergency
squad who were busy extinguishing the flames. Two worked, six gaped.
Their fire hat encircled faces verbalized their inner thoughts: "Gee,
fires are so much fun!"
Ross stood motionless next to his dead machine. His eyes dripped
tears that he blamed on the burnt paint and rubber smoke that was
raping the road. It was an obvious lie. He lost.
Steve and Frank parked along side the expressway and jumped over
the fence to join the crowd that had gathered around the doomed
black car. Durgalo was standing next to Ross to avoid being pushed
to the curbside by the cops. He always seemed to find the right
spot at the right time. Timing, he had it if anyone did. The police
continued to corral the mass of spectators to the sidelines only
to have them regroup somewhere else. Steve approached Durgalo and
Ross, "Too bad man, too bad. I'll take my two hundred bucks
"The fuck you will!" Ross screamed. "My car's totaled...there
wasn't any race, ya low life bastard..." Instantly a closed
tight fist loosened three left front teeth in Ross' mouth. He fell
to the white fire foam stained road like a stringless marionette.
"What are you fuckin' crazy, man?" Steve screamed licking
the blood off his knuckles while stomping on Ross' chest. "Durgalo,
I won it fair and square!"
"Shut up man," Durgalo whispered bobbing his head in
the direction of the oncoming cop. A blue arm grabbed Steve from
behind and a thick cocobolo night stick lodged against his throat.
"So you were betting too, were ya?" the cop satanically
offered. "Betting is against the law or didn't you know that.
Punchin' people out is too. Obviously YOU didn't know that either," he
said as he tightened his grip on Steve's throat.
"I can't let you get away with that, can I? How would it
look? Okay! Everyone. Empty your pockets...NOW!"
Durgalo knew the routine and pulled the money roll from his chino pocket
and gave it to the cop.
"Goin'on vacation son?" the cop jeered checking out
the bills. "I'll hold this until things are settled."
"I bet you will, you motherfucker" Durgalo whispered.
"Shut up, if you know what's good for ya. Now get the hell
outta here. All of you get home. Go on. Get going."
Steve, still choked at the neck yelled "This cop's stealing
our..." He never finished the sentence. The cop's night stick
pinpointed his solar plexus and knocked whatever wind he still
had in him out of him.
"You want your money back, do ya? You either leave now or
it'll cost ya a lot more than two bills just for lawyers alone:
disorderly conduct; striking a police officer; carrying knives
I saw the knives, you slime; reckless driving; speeding; defacing
public property etc., etc., and so on and so on. I can't wait to
see you with a crew cut for the trial," looking straight at
Frank. "You guys beginning to see the light? Alright, pick
up your shit and get the hell outta here."
"Go..a..head. Arrest me you goddamn Nazi!" The cop began
raising his stick to put Steve to sleep.
Ross instantly yelled, "Crack his skull open this time...yeah,
"Leave these guys," a sergeant's voice interrupted. "We
just busted some kid over here for dope. Two bags of smack. Disperse
these kids and get this car off the road. We gonna process him."
"Alright. You heard him. Get the hell out of here," the
cop said as he politely swatted their backsides with his stick. "Okay,
let's go, let's go."
"Come on Steve, 'fahgetabow' it man, forget about it. Let's
go," Frank colloquially reassured, putting his arm around
Steve while watching Spit being handcuffed in the distance.
Steve looked at Ross, "Sorry 'bout your car, man. Too bad
you didn't burn up with it. You suck!" And while Ross began
his mental process to respond, Frank kicked him in square in the
The cop screamed, "GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE--NOW, you goddamn
punks. Get outta here." Pointing to Ross' crew he said, "Pick
up your friend and leave. It's over. You want to fight about it,
do it somewhere else. Not here, okay? Now get outta here!"
All things considered, things were fine. A good time had been
had by almost everybody anyway. This was a night to remember. Money
isn't everything. The feelings emanating from the commodious bubble
space of the car's interior proved it: pure euphoria. Just a heavy
"Turn up at the next corner, okay Stephen?" Billy was
eyeing All American, the hamburger stand, while his fingers searched
his jean's pockets for loose change. Their tactile tips transmitted
calculations to his brain on food type and quantity affordable:
Vanilla shake; french fries, small; possibly a cheeseburger, definitely
a plain one. He totally forgot it was six in the morning.
"Hold it a second, Billy," Steve solicitously monitored
his side view mirror. Its reflection revealed a fortyish man in
a mid size sedan apparently sane enough, but in a high speed hurry;
probably to simply rush home to yell at his wife for some stupid
reason only he understood. It really didn't matter. He was tailgating,
plain and simple. "This guy behind me is getting me nervous."
"Steve, don't be such a nervous guy," Gault kidded.
"Fuck you Gault, alright?" Turning from Gault, he tried
to shout through the rear window, "Get off my ass, you sonofabitch!" He's
been tailgating me since we got on here."
"I'm starved man. Are we gonna get something to eat, or what?" Frank
whined. "I've been sitting in this death seat from the start,
man. Are we goin' or what?" The strain was too much. The car
had become a cage. Only punching out some twerp or getting high
might relieve him now. A strawberry milkshake might do it also;
"At least stop the car so I can walk around. My legs are
"Whadaya think, I've been in Hawaii all this time?" Steve
steamed out while looking in his rear view mirror again. "This
guy behind me is really beginning to bug me, man."
A red eyed traffic light flashed a stop and the car paused perpendicular
to the adjoining road: All American hamburger to the left and the
tailgater to the rear. Steve turned and surveyed the three faces
behind him who were waiting intently for his next action. As his
temper cooled, his mind wandered to images of a fish fry sandwich
accompanied by tartar sauce, melted cheese and a 7 Up, no ice.
The image faded as the sun blinded his eyes. Lunch was out. As
he was about to suggest breakfast a vicious deafening blast of
car horn rocked him against the blue leather encased steering wheel.
The din repeated. Twice. Three times. Finally a steady drone filled
the air as though an air raid siren had screamed out that the Russians
were making an approach run for the final big blast. Somebody behind
him was in a hurry again. Every man has his breaking point. This
In one unconscious cat like movement Steve reached under his
seat and grabbed his "emergency rock," the one he had
laboriously selected from thousands of multi-colored North Shore
stones left by the glacier eons ago and made baby smooth by the
gently crashing waves of the Long Island Sound. Releasing the inner
handle of his door, he got out of the car and, as if he'd stepped
into Yankee Stadium and the play was two outs, bottom of the ninth,
bases loaded with a full count on Mantle, hurled a lightning bolt
strike at the horn blowing head behind the intruding sedan's windshield.
The protective windscreen instantly became a glassy spider web
of hairline cracks surrounding a perfectly smooth, rounded, reddish
brown rock that rested in a hole it was prophetically destined
for. Steve's eyes flashed momentarily meeting the startled, glass
dusted eyes of the driver. Jumping into his rolled and pleated
bucket, he punched First and, with adrenalin flowing at high speed,
his race car disappeared under spewing gobs of coal colored tire
He turned to his friends and coolly continued, "I don't feel
like hamburgers anyway, ya know? How 'bout pizza?" He paused
and began to laugh, "I know a great place in Connecticut!"
A unison chorus, peppered with covert love and admiration known
only from the camaraderie that existed at that precise instant
in time, echoed from the backseat a locker room "ALLRRRIGHT!!" Gault
rolled down his window, staring back at the disappearing victimized
image and shouted into the air, "See you in St. Louie, Louie!"