Thursday, May 21, 2020

Getting to Know the FGR - Part 2

Nothing says it's time to write about stupid illegal shit you did in high school like a pandemic Sunday morning with a Catholic mass playing on the television in the next room. Having never been to church on consecutive Sundays, I never knew how much they like to hammer home the message through repetition. It's kind of like having the Golf Channel on in the next room. Just replace swing path with life path and commercials for the Square Strike chipper with readings from the Holy Gospel According to John . . . both of which could help me immensely if I didn't refuse to embrace them out of pure spite (way to keep it light). 

This was the face of gang violence
in Annapolis during the 80's.

(Note: This is not me)
As I'm sure you remember vividly from Part 1, I was raised in a fairly affluent neighborhood on a fairly affluent river in the fairly affluent city of Annapolis, Maryland where the two favorite pastimes are sailing and acting like you don't live 25 miles from Baltimore. Seriously, walk-up to someone in downtown Annapolis, ask them for directions to Baltimore and they'll either say "Baltimore? . . . never heard of it" or they'll start blowing a whistle while dialing 911 and trying to wack you with a Topsider.*

When I was growing-up back when people didn't care whether kids lived or died, you didn't have to be of a certain age to drive a boat. The primary reason for this was that the authorities didn't want to discourage children from driving their drunk parents which made sense considering that the average home in Annapolis had 2.37 alcoholics when you included the deadbeats still living in their parents' basements. 

That meant that us kids were like aquatic Uber drivers in a society unburdened by laws to prevent petty crimes like open containers, drunk in public and child neglect. This arrangement did have its perks. At the age of 14, I was free to roam up and down a river almost unchecked and the great thing about being on the water is that it makes you feel invincible because hey, it's just water and hey, no cops and hey, there's always a bathroom. Did we do stupid shit under these false pretenses like make the boats go really fast and then jump-off the sides to feel like flying or drive at a dock full speed in an unwinnable game of chicken against an inanimate object? Um, maybe. But hey, it was a simpler time and we're the better for it. At least those of us who survived.

At 16 we graduated to cars and then things really got stupid. Everyday was a new version of the Smokey and the Bandit bet** (more on this later) or the car race from Against All Odds. In one particularly ill-advised version of the latter, we were racing from school to Rocco's Pizzeria at lunch and got stuck behind someone who didn't get the memo to clear the streets for us. I was then running in second place and about to lose under a caution flag situation so I decided to avail myself of the left lane which had been designated by the authorities for oncoming traffic only as evidenced by the wide grass dividers that separated one direction from the other. 

As I flew down my newly created passing lane with a wave and a grin to the sucker I was racing, my victory celebration was cut short because the driver of the car in front of him turned to face me in horror and I immediately recognized her as my first grade teacher. Didn't see that one coming. At that point I was fully committed to the maneuver so there was really nothing to be done but go get some pizza and see where the chips fell when I got back. 

And man they fell hard as she was waiting for me in the parking lot and, to her full and everlasting credit, unloaded on me with the passion of a naval air traffic controller who just got his tower buzzed again (yes there will be a Top Gun reference in every one of these entries). Good thing my high school was so laid-back and crunchy that our mascot was a gluten free pizza in the shape of a peace sign which meant there were no real consequences. After all, consequences would have only jeopardized the delicate learning environment of my mind and we couldn't have that.

Back to the Smokey and the Bandit bet. One rainy night I was out skulking around with that guy from high school who racked-up points on his driving record like it was a fucking pinball machine. (The point system was apparently less of a deterrent for the hard-scrabble boys from P.G. County). After some aggressive driving on a wet and winding road, we found ourselves in a full spin that didn't end until we had miraculously come to rest in between two brick pillars at the end of a driveway. After cackling at our good fortune, we sped-off in search of more lurking death.

Fast forward a couple hours and we're sitting around a random kitchen when someone reaches for a cigarette and discovers the pack is empty. Suffice it to say we knew just the guys to remedy that situation. Especially when the challenge of "I'll give you guys $5 if you can make the run in 5 minutes" was laid on the table. After quickly doing the math . . . 2 miles to the 7-Eleven at 60 mph on another wet and windy road left us a full minute to run in and buy the smokes . . . challenge accepted!

It should be noted at this point that we were attempting this in a Renault Alliance, a French car manufactured in Wisconsin with an emphasis on fuel economy and faux prestige. . . not performance. Or safety. Imagine a tin can with four wheels that's powered by a wound-up rubber band with the handling of a mule cart. This car would lose a race to that contraption.

I can assure you that no one bought
this car to impress a woman.
We made the outward run and picked-up the package right on schedule. With just a couple turns to go before the finish line we had it. WE FUCKING HAD IT MAN!!! Suffice it to say that we didn't have it. This time we spun and slammed backwards into a ditch. After a moment to check the functionality and connectivity of our limbs, we surveyed our situation and realized that we were both in a reclined position with the seats tilted to one side like that psychotic Simpsons ride at Universal Studios that scarred my kids for life. Nervous laughter ensued.

When we got out to survey the damage, it was bad. Really really bad. Unfortunately we couldn't just spray paint "DIE RIDGEMONT" on it and leave it in the school parking lot because (a) our school wasn't called "Ridgemont", (b) we didn't have a football team, and (c) no one would trash a car over a lacrosse game. Especially not one of ours. 

I'm not sure what we did next but I assume we walked the rest of the way and delivered the cigarettes along with the story. I do know that we stood there looking at the car with my dad a few hours later and he said "damn you idiots were lucky" (a line I would repeat almost verbatim to my own son under very similar circumstances some 32 years later . . . ah the circle of life). I also remember him saying it with a bit of a wistful jealous tone. 

The following summer or the summer after that I found myself in the passenger seat with the same guy driving a faster car on the way to the beach because he definitely learned his lesson right? We had a group of friends in a car following us and at some point we thought it would be fun for me to lob empty beer cans out of the sunroof with the goal of trying to kill them I guess. After the sixth or seventh can, a third random car entered the picture and came flying-up next to us and it was a guy and his wife which didn't make any sense until he flashed his badge at us. Hmmm. Didn't see that coming. (I'm detecting a trend). 

We were probably doing about 85 mph in the eastbound lane at the time and I can still feel the centrifugal force of the hard left turn that bounced us across the grass median and "hey look we're headed west now." Boom. We ducked into a neighborhood, had a couple more beers while we waited for the coast to clear and an hour later we were Hans fucking Gruber sitting on the beach earning 20%. (You're a year too early on that reference . . . dad).     



* Topsiders are really uncomfortable leather shoes. Their two fashion missions are to show people that you (a) are too cool for socks and (b) hate your fucking feet. 

** The Smokey and the Bandit bet was $80,000 if Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed could drive from Atlanta, Georgia to Texarkana, Texas, pick-up 400 cases of Coors beer and get it back to Atlanta in under 28 hours. Car chases, wrecked police cars and hilarity ensue. Seriously. It's a good time. I have no idea how it holds-up today but my poor kids are probably about to find out.  

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