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Oh to be sixteen again!

I live a life of self-discipline 99% of the time. It is self-imposed and often causes distress to my bride especially when I’m driving and pointing out other peoples liberties. I admit this, but what really cooks her proverbial goose is when I’m not. This week was one of those times and you know what? It felt good.

I was 15 when I bought my first car and I can assure you, my buddy Dandy Don Cunningham will follow this story with great interest, as will other car-loving folks of the 60’s. Was my first car a 1967 Pontiac GTO with a 389 C.U. motor? Or a kick booty 68 Chevelle 396 Super Sport like Butch Hodges has? No.

It was a 1963 maroon Corvair Monza with two 1-barrel carbs and an honest to god 4 on the floor! I drove that car like a literal scalded ape. I say that because I am convinced that is what a scalded ape would look like if it had 4 tires and was driven by a 16 year old male. My mom would watch me drive slowly down the asphalt road in North Georgia and I would turn off onto a hilly dirt road and ease out of sight.

At this point I would become a seasoned dirt track driver for the doomed Chevrolet Corvair; the car Ralph Nader said was “Unsafe at any speed”. Supposedly, the rear coil springs would fold under turning stress, but I could never duplicate the dangerous maneuver, no matter how many donuts I cut. I would have that rear-engine 4 banger rapped out and around and around I would go until I calmly returned to the pavement and deliberately drove home under the speed limit.

Years would pass including the Vietnam War and my part in it and I came out the other side being a very different person. No more risks or shenanigans that were potentially out of my control for me contrary to appearances. A famous dare-devil, which incidentally was killed doing a stunt, explained his life like this: “We remove all possibility of an accident before the stunt, and then do it.”

Well, one stunt had an unexpected variable and that was all it took for his safe stunt to kill him. My act of irresponsibility was along the same line of thought and worked out for me with nothing more than egg on my face, or rather a filthy Jeep stuck in a ditch. I reasoned beforehand that I were to get stuck, one of the passing trucks would lend a hand.

Now before I give the slippery details, let me state that I did not tread heavily. I didn’t leave giant tractor-turning-over ruts. I was cool and calculating and made a common error of wrong approach or I would have gone in one side and out the other. In off-roading, you almost always tackle a depression at an angle and that is what I did and nice and slow. Only in professional racing and car commercials do you blast through an obstacle.

Easing down into the 4 feet of water-filled ditch, my passenger-side tire slid to the left and dropped me into the ditch.  If I would have tackled the ditch head-on with power, I could have blasted through, but left a lot of disturbance. I drove up and down the ditch and soon realized that I could not get out. At that point, I waded out of my Jeep to the back and pulled out 70 feet of chain and straps and a shackle.  I hooked them up to the front and pulled the long line up on the road to await extraction by what turned out to be another Jeep driven by Shaun Holloway.

I watched burly pick-up truck after truck blow by with not so much as a wave - to my disappointment in my fellow Texans. The day before I had rescued an 82 year old lady and her son from a stalled car in the rain and the very day I was stuck, I changed a flat tire on I-10 and Sjolander for 2 ladies in distress.  The Jeeper pulled me out after a bit of strategy and I was on my way.

Now, did I learn my lesson?  Yea.  I learned this lesson 40 years ago, but it did feel good to revisit my teen years. I can’t say if this line of reasoning will appear again anytime soon, well, maybe in another 40 years.


Anonymous said…
Bert feeling his oats. Fun read. ...Debi
Anonymous said…
Dandy Don Cunningham‎

Excellent, excellent column in The Baytown Sun this morning, Bert. You are absolutely right, you had my attention from the start. Believe me, I have been right there where you are/were, rowing that 4-speed and breaking those back tires loose. MMMM, mmmm, mmm! Great column this morning.
Anonymous said…
MM: Loved it.
Anonymous said…
Yes, very good story.
Anonymous said…

60 years ago I bought my first new auto - a 56 Ford 2 door Fairlane w/202 T-Bird engine.. It was on Thad Felton showroom floor, cost $2,500.

Speedometer max was 120. A section of I-10 between 146 and Trinity River was complete but not open.. I maxed out at 120 mph one night alone.

I wrecked left front then right front in 1961 and traded for a new 1961 Carona Cream Corvair. It was on Bob Robertson Chevrolet showroom floor in Houston, cost about $2,500.. Wife BR and I drove it to Houston daily to work downtown then sold it when first baby came along.

You and Don C. have nothing on me..............

Winston Gardner
Anonymous said…
SW: Behave yourself!!!

Loved, loved, loved the article!

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