Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Summer of 16

I turned 16 years old in the fall of my sophomore year in High School. A few months prior to the big day, my grandfather drove down from Southern Indiana with a six year old Chevrolet El Camino. It was maroon with a white vinyl top and hub caps. Not the cool El Caminos that you saw at the beach, but I was very grateful to have something other than my mom's car to drive. My brother had turned 18 that Summer, so I could drive to school if he rode with me.

For some unknown reason, he was willing to do it. My first day driving to school did not go so well. As we were preparing to leave, I saw a kid from my class out front of the school in the u-shaped driveway. With my brother's prodding, I pulled up to talk to the kid who began talking trash about my newly acquired ride. He ended his comments by daring me to spin a tire.

Like a foolish kid with something to prove, I took the challenge. I stood on the throttle and spun a tire around the U-shaped drive and out onto the street in front of the school. As we sped past the school, I looked over my shoulder to see the kid's expression. But what I saw instead was the towering figure of the school Principal standing in the arched doorway of the school motionlessly watching my show. A sense of impending doom sank over me.

The next day at school, nothing out of the ordinary seemed to happen. That is until 6th period, the final class of the day, metal shop. Ten minutes into the class, the door opened and in walked the Principal. He spoke briefly to the instructor and a couple of students. He then coolly turned to make his way to the door when he stopped beside me and said, "I guess we probably need to talk. Why don't you stop by my office after class." And then without another word, he walked out the door.

My instructor was kind enough to let me go on to the office without having to sit through the rest of class and percolate with the fear of what was my fate. I made my way to the Principal's office. He greeted me and invited me to have a seat. He quickly made his point and concluded that if he ever saw me do something like that again, he would call the city police and let them handle it. Being a know-it-all teenager, my immediate thought was, "like they would do anything". I promised that I would not repeat my performance and thanked him for not taking any further action on the situation.

I was genuinely grateful that he had not called my Dad as I knew I would have gotten licks with a belt and probably had my keys to the El Camino yanked.

I managed to get through the rest of the school year without any major issues related to driving. I got my driver's license the Saturday after my birthday and began driving to school on my own and enjoying the freedom.

As Summer approached, I had dreams of spending the Summer going where I wanted and hanging out with friends. The first Sunday night of the Summer, I left Sunday night's Church service and stopped in the city parking lot to chat with some friends. When the conversation concluded, I remembered I needed to pick up a dish my Mom had sent to Church with me for youth group. So I drove to the end of the parking lot to turn into the alley that led to the Church parking lot. As I turned, I drove through a small bit of sand and barely spun a tire. It was not anything up to my standard for lighting a tire up. It was a small chirp that I thought nothing more about. Halfway down the alley, I suddenly see blue lights in my mirror.

I turned into the Church parking lot and met a very short city cop with an attitude that exceeded his small statue. He quickly informed me that he had been on top of one of the buildings downtown observing the parking lot with binoculars and had observed me spinning tires.

He had me follow him to the City Police station where I called my Dad. Needless to say, he was less than pleased with the situation. The cop wrote me the first traffic ticket of my life, and my Dad told me to drive straight home, pull my car into the backyard, and hang my set of keys up in the kitchen.

When Dad got home, he told me I was grounded from driving for the entire Summer. Just shoot me. He told me I could borrow his bicycle for anywhere I wanted to go.

So, Monday, I got up and wanted to go to the American Legion swimming pool to hang out with my friends. So, swallowing my pride, I grabbed Dad's bike and headed down the street feeling sorry for myself and how humiliating it was to be back on a bicycle.

I did not think for a minute about the fact that Dad's bicycle had long street fenders as opposed to the short fenders the bike I had ridden to elementary and middle school. My only thoughts were how bad the summer would suck not getting to drive. Halfway down our street, I kicked the pedals, yanked the handle bars and stood the bike up in a wheelie like I had done hundreds of times on my old bike. But as I did, the long back fender grabbed the asphalt and I was unloaded before I could think another thought. Clad in a bathing suit and a t-shirt, the asphalt opened both knees and forearms.

I carefully pedalled my bruised ego and bloody body back to the house to clean up by abrasions. My Mom greeted me at the door with minimal sympathy and helped me clean myself up.

It was a tough summer, but I had a lot of opportunity to mature some of my thinking.


Unknown said...


I can relate . . . but when I graduated I purchased my first car, a '56 Chevy 2 door 210, 6 cyl 3 on the tree. Not enough power to spin anything so I didn't get into any trouble. Years later I got a '67 Mustang 289 convertible and cruised the hot spots

Riding the Wet Coast

Allen Madding said...

bobskoot -
I would give my eye teeth for a '56 Chevy 2 door these days. I had a buddy in school whose Dad completely restored a 57 ragtop and a 57 hardtop. I used to drool everytime I saw those cars sitting outside their garage.


RichardM said...

I can't remember any incident like that. Maybe I have a really bad memory. My first car was a '65 Mustang, 289, 3-speed manual that I got when I was a senior in high school. It was a piece of junk but it was still transportation. To pay for expenses, I got a job as a mechanic at a car dealer. Here, I got to drive much more interesting vehicles the most notable being an Jaguar E-type V-12 and a Citroen SM.

Good memories...

Allen Madding said...

RichardM -
I was always a big fan of the looks of the Jag 12 cylinders. Over the years, I have heard so many people complain about their electronics and engines that I have admired them from a distance.

A few years ago, I was at a buddy's garage in Southwest Georgia. There was a Jag XJS sitting in the line of customers cars. I commented on it, and he took me over for a closer look. He had transplanted a Corvette V8 and transmission into the XJS. He said it cured all of the Jag's ills :)


Jack Riepe said...

dear Mr. Madding:

I never got the allure of the El Camino. However, I did understand that guys with cars had access to much prettier and faster women and school functions and parties.

I think you should have asked the cop if he was up on the roof watching guys piss in the woods. That would almost have certainly improved his humor.

So what happened to the El Camino?

Fondest regaards,
Twisted Roads

Allen Madding said...

reep -
There wasn't much improving that particular cop's attitude. The El Camino got replaced when I graduated from high school. My Dad kept it a while and then he parted with it for a new pickup. I always wanted to peel the vinyl top off and paint is a solid burgandy, remove the hub capped steel wheels and replace them with aluminum rims. But, a broke kid in high school barely having gas money never had the funds for those improvements. It withstood the punishment I gave it, so I have no complaints.