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, OR WHAT?"

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 Fuels."

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 lead vocals.

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 time.

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 FRANK!"

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 collectively thought.
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 had developed.

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 line.

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 it.

"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 or not?

"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 boss` competitors.
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 cool.

"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 once debated.

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 hall: "AAAAAAAHHHHHUUAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!"

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 lungs.

"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 the car.

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 into it.

"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 and/or Sunday.

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 to hearing.

"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 silently sputtered.

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 over.

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' exploded!"
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."

"The what?"

"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?"

"Alright, alright."

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 now."

"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, 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 balls.

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 duty high.

"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; decisions, decisions.

"At least stop the car so I can walk around. My legs are crampin' up."

"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 was it.

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 smoke.

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!"

Giliberti 2011