Saturday, February 15, 2020

North Main - Chapter Two

Shortly after my shenanigans with my sister's Mustang I was told that I was not allowed to drive it anymore. This was probably for the best as I had also recently performed my own testing with the car to see if it would actually do 160 MPH, because that was what the speedometer maxed out at. I mean, why would they put it on there if the car wouldn't do it, right? At least that was my thinking at the time as best as I can recall. I decided to conduct my test on a long stretch of a two lane road that was buried back in the orange groves near my house. It only had one stop sign and that was towards the end of the road where it made a sharp right. Staging the car at the opposite end of this road, I did absolutely nothing to prepare for my top end speed test. Tire pressure checked? Nope. Lug nut torque? Nope. Engine oil level? Why? I did check the fuel gauge prior to departing and managed to put $3.75 worth of gas in the tank. I was also very safety conscience and actually used my lap belt. What could go wrong with bias ply tires and manual drum brakes? I think I was reading too much Mad Magazine because Alfred E. Neuman was definitely having a negative influence on me. What, me worry?

In the end my top speed test was successful, sort of. I did manage to bury the speedometer needle at the 160 MPH mark, or at least that was where it was bouncing to. I know I was well over 100 MPH and was fixated on the speedometer, and not the road ahead, when I suddenly realized that I was very quickly running out of road. That stop sign was coming up faster than a Japanese bullet train and I needed to get that Mustang stopped now! Luckily I did not panic and mash down on the brakes, but rather I slowing starting braking at first and gradually increased my pedal pressure. The only problem was that I wasn't really slowing down, at least not as quickly as I had envisioned. I could now clearly see the stop sign ahead of me, glowing red in color, almost as if by anger. Why wasn't I stopping? More pedal pressure, then more pressure, then with both feet pressing for dear life on the pedal. I witnessed a car drive across the road at the stop sign ahead, the very same stop sign that I was barreling towards! The interior of the Mustang reeked of hot brakes and I was pulling on the steering wheel with my hands so I could exert even more leg pressure on the brakes. Suddenly both rear tires locked simultaneously and the car started to skid like it's on ice, right through the stop sign! I swear it happened in slow motion because I could totally see the stop sign to my right as the Mustang seemed to slowly skid past it. Stopped at the intersection was a nondescript Plymouth of some sort. I could clearly see the driver's angry scowl on his face as I skidded through it. Ours eyes locked for a second and I saw his squint a little, and then I noticed the white collar and black shirt. He was a priest! Not only was I going to die but I was going to hell as well!

The Priest in the Plymouth continued on his journey, probably upset that I had caused him to take the Lord's name in vain, but unfazed. I wish I could have said the same for me. Remember what I said earlier about the road making a sharp right? Well, the Mustang ended up skidding through that turn and straight into a dirt berm. As luck would have it the stang ended up mostly climbing up the berm. I say mostly because that bit of off-roading did not come without some consequences. After rolling off of the dirt hill backwards I finally brought the car to a complete stop and quickly got out to assess the damage. To my enormous relief all that I noticed, besides the stench of hot brakes, was a bent front bumper. The bumper was actually still fairly straight horizontally but was bent vertically at an upward angle. With smoke still coming off of the brakes I fired the engine back up and headed for home, too full of adrenaline to be scared over what had just transpired. As I was driving home the adrenaline started to wear off and was quickly replaced by fear. How the heck was I going to explain the bent front bumper? My sister would be livid! My dad would be pissed! I would be in big trouble!

It has been reported that people in fear for their lives can suddenly sum up super human strength. That is what I needed to straighten out that front bumper, or did I? Maybe all that was needed was super human thinking because as I was taking the long way home, in hopes of coming up with a good excuse, an idea suddenly popped into my head. I quickly made a detour to a local parking garage and after a brief search found the exact parking spot that I was thinking about. The space in question had a large, low cement out cropping that created a pocket of sorts at the head of the parking spot. I would see cars nosed in there, the concrete hovering only a foot or so above their hood. This would be perfect for my idea! I figured that if a bumper jack worked from the ground up, it should also work from the ceiling down.  Do you see where I'm going here? With the Mustang nosed into that spot I pulled the jack assembly out of the trunk and proceeded to use it on the front bumper, upside down! That low, concrete overhang worked perfectly. I had to move the jack around to a few different spots on the bumper to get it even, but before long that front bumper was just about as straight as it had been before my "accident". Thinking about it now, it's kind of funny how I was so worried about the front bumper when I probably also boiled the brake fluid and crystallized the brake shoes from heat. Ignorance is bliss...

Now that the Mustang was off-limits to me and my dad was driving the only other cool vehicle we owned, the Datsun mini truck, I was left with the family station wagon to drive to school. It was either that or take the bus! My jonesing for my own car continued and was made even worse after I had went for a ride in my best friends 1967 Pontiac GTO. It originally was his dad's car that had been carefully stored in his grandfather's garage for years and then was given to my friend Duane on his 16th birthday. The goat was equipped with a 400 cubic inch V-8 and a Muncie 4 speed transmission. Just what every 16 year old needs, right? Well on this particular ride along Duane had just finished installing a tri-power carburetor setup on the goat. This time it was me riding shotgun as we took off down the street, slowly at first, and then Duane mashes down on the gas pedal and starts rowing through the gears on the Muncie. As he revs the Pontiac big block dangerously toward the tach's red line, I was suddenly transported back in time to when I was riding in my cousin's Camaro, as the g forces pulled me once again mercilessly into the black vinyl bucket seat. Just like when I was 10 years old that feeling of raw horsepower overtook me and left me wanting more. The roar of the big block V-8, the shifting, and the multiple carbs! I could actually hear the carburetors sucking air or maybe that was me trying to catch my breath... It is hard to put into words all the emotions that are felt but if you have ever been in that situation you know the feelings I am trying to convey. After this thrill ride I vowed to somehow procure my own ride come hell or high water.

 I begrudgingly drove the station wagon to school daily and parked it in the back parking lot as far away from everything as possible. Now I know some wagons can be cool but this one was the farthest thing from cool and big enough to hold a baseball team. My family just happened to own one of the largest vehicles General Motors ever made, a 1970 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate station wagon. Heck, even the name is long! This thing was a tank and built like one also. Optioned with a 400 cubic inch engine, a TH400 transmission, and a third row seat, it rode on a 1/2 ton truck suspension and also used the brakes and rims from the same. To make matters worse, it also had a luggage rack on the roof and stickers on the rear side windows from all the states we had traveled to in it. And, for a finishing touch, a "Have You Dug Wall Drug?" sticker was plastered on the rear bumper. If this were not enough incentive to get my own car, I don't know what was. As it turned out I would not have to drive this bulging behemoth for too long as I had recently spotted a very cool looking car in my neighborhood that I was hoping I could talk the owner into selling to me, but I was about to discover that I was not the only one looking at this particular vehicle...