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Hell, some of the roads had no centerlines. Some ‘roads’ weren’t, in fact, roads.
Home late. Almost home, anyway. Still headed in that direction. Driving my ’64 Impala. Groove wheels. Even then, in 1970.1 Super Sport two-door hardtop. Midnight blue. Powder blue bucket seats, floor shift. Pulled all the dash lights out and coated them with a purposed semi-clear so they gave off a muted ice blue glow. Installed real oil, amp, and temperature gauges. Under the dash. Cool. Stud. Almost like being in the cockpit with the radium night glow.
All that was lacking was a tach. The 327 was a humper but not a real muscle car power plant. On-street drag-racing wasn’t my bag anyway.2 There was a for-real drag racetrack, a big deal, not fifteen miles away, but that was for serious motorheads. Which I wasn’t. What I had had enough muscle and cool for my needs.3
WBZ on the radio. Nineteen seventy, FM? Not a chance. No air either. You wanted cool, you opened both floor vents with the under-dash-mounted pull knobs, rolled the windows down.4 Anyway, WBZ. Might as well be a gazillion miles away but skipping through some atmospheric phenomenon not unusual in late evening and early morning hours. Playing the good music. The oldies from five, six years before, tops. Now and then a real antique from the late fifties or early sixties, but a good one.
That time of the morning, no one else in the world moving. Probably no one else in the world even alive. That’s what it felt like.
Not sure why I was working two jobs. Don’t believe I had it in mind I’d become a millionaire. Saw some big numbers in the service, but a million dollars? That didn’t make sense. Wasn’t real.
Not two fulltime jobs. One fulltime – day shifts in an office. Suit and tie, the whole schmear. Tech stuff I was properly trained for in the service. Weekends, which included Friday nights, holidays, and the exceedingly rare half-shift weekdays in uniform. Once you buy into the uniform, it’s difficult to not be uniformed. Averaged twenty-odd hours weekly. Part time chump change, but ‘in the business’ waiting for a slot in training to open.
“Late” was actually early. Early morning. Dew-icing on the grass. Damp smell in the air. Summer, in this case. Stand still in your shirtsleeves, you’d be chilled in five minutes. In the winter, an altogether different story, but this was summer. Weekends were rugged sometimes, even as a young buck.
I knew where I was headed. I mean other than home for the night and a few hours’ sleep. Had plans. Already I’d made two sizeable mistakes earlier. Chose not to capitalize on opportunities it took me twenty years to finally regret. Right then, I had plans that would cancel those two mistakes I’d not yet recognized. Not big plans, but good plans.
Things were going to change unexpectedly…
1 Work with me here. Might have been 1969 or 1971 or 1972. Fifty years ago, give or take. Today I have trouble remembering what I had for supper last night. Funny, huh? I can draw a deep breath and smell the hairspray from one of the ladies I never got to know as well as I’d have liked over fifty years ago. Yet I can’t remember if it was yesterday or the day before I called Thornton. Or did I ever call Thornton?
2 Doesn’t take much to get religion when it comes to speed. I love the feel of wind in my face and striped-lines becoming dotted-lines, sure, still. But the second time you brake down from 140 mph and feel your brakes go spongy, you have a different opinion – speed doesn’t have the same allure. Make it just 60 mph as you crest a hill to see a group of citizens standing in the roadway curious over the wail of unseen sirens, speed becomes a curse. “Let him go, we’ll scrape him off a tree.” Not a bad philosophy. Do recall it actually happening twice.
3 Cars were real cars then. Chrome. Sheet metal. No computers. No GPS. Imagine this: Stationed in OKC I could park my Chevvy in the driveway out on 78th or 84th street (I dunno for sure and who cares anyway?) with the windows down, the key (a real key) in the ignition and my golf clubs in the trunk. Biggest worry? Rain. Matter of fact, the stock ignition didn’t even require a key to turn the engine over. Sure, you could lock the ignition and pull the key, but why? Some nefarious fool came into the neighborhood to do some dastardly deed, if you didn’t wake up to shoot the sonova*****, your neighbor across the road would. That’s what neighbors are for. Neither you nor your neighbor would shoot at the d***ed fool bent on no good but pour one into the dirt. First. Which, if you’re not familiar, the sound of a magnum or shotgun at 3 AM, will make even the meanest cowboy mess his britches. Mean cowboy had it in mind to confront a citizen, he would be shot, and an ambulance called from DAL. Things have changed a tiny bit.
4 Rolled. Cranked. By hand. No electricity there, no sir. No power seats. No retractable seat belts. Maybe you had a lap belt. Dimmer switch on the floor. Ash trays. Cigarette lighter. Spare tire matching the other four. Tire jack to give you a hernia lifting it out of the trunk. An engine you could figure out if you understood the three essentials – earth, wind, and fire. No, no, no. That’d be fuel, spark, and timing. And timing could be a little off; the engine would run long enough to let you know what was wrong.