It was a morning not too much unlike any other–if the criteria were based on me doing something stupid. I had recently met a friend, we’ll call him Jarred (I can’t remember his real name), who lived not far from me. It was summer and Jarred was in town visiting his uncle (again, I’m making this up because the truth escapes me). Both of us lived about 4 miles outside of town where there were many a backroad and almost no cops. I was still in high school and living at home, frankly, my parents didn’t let me do anything fun (i.e. go to the mall and run around through the security halls, etc.), so my friend and I had to resort to our own ingenuity.
That’s not to say we actually had ingenuity. I wasn’t allowed to have that either, so we had to pretend. It didn’t take long to put 2 and 2 together to come up with about minus 5: I had a friend, I had a car, the car was a junker, I had keys to the car (yes, I had a license too), and we had about 6 hours to kill before somebody would wonder as to our whereabouts.
So we went for a drive.
My car was a 1970’s AMC Hornet that I had bought for $500 from some unsuspecting moron. (Or was it the moron who bought it?) The color was that crude orangish-brown that should have been illegal. A defining characteristic of the car was that it got about 100 miles per quart of oil. I always enjoyed seeing how many miles I could drive before the “dummy light” came on. The car served the sole purpose of getting from point A to point C. (I was also disallowed from going to point B.)
On this glorious morning, I had received my mother’s permission to drive over to Jarred’s house for the day. From there we headed for the backroads to explore new territory. Unexplored territory. To boldly go where no AMC has gone before!
It didn’t take long for things to go awry
‘Twas about 11:30; late morning. The sun was already burning the crisp, dry summer air. You could see the heat waves rising from the ground like ghosts escaping the dry, parched earth. The car cruised a steady 26-MPH around the bend and there it was… the uncrossable rift in the ground.
The Mighty Rushing Creek.
OK, so it was just a large stream about 1 foot deep and 25 feet wide.
I hit the brakes, the tires locked, and the car slid endlessly down the overgrown dirt road. Panic quickly overtook our otherwise clear thoughts. Closer, closer it came. We could hear the water trickling down its course. Escape seemed impossible. It had us. Its swift pull forced us to go where we did not want to. It was too late to resist. Much, much too late!
The Great River
The car stopped about 12 feet from the water’s edge. Silence enveloped us as we contemplated the risk. The question wasn’t so much “should we try it?” We were long past that. The question that remained was “would we make it through?”
The water wasn’t all that deep. Nor was it all that swift. It was more of a lazy stream that made its way down on its own time, not anyone else’s. By all means, this really should have been an easy task. The water was not high enough to get into the tailpipe, the creek bottom was relatively flat and free from large rocks, and hey… I was driving!
After 5 minutes of contemplation, we made a decision. We hopped into the Hornet, I revved the engine, shifted the transmission into L1, and pressed the accelerator. The car lurched forward faster than I anticipated. The front wheels entered the stream forcing a brown wall up, out, and onto the car. We were doing it. We were going to make it.
With anticipation, we crossed the deep middle.
With excitement, we began our ascent toward dry land.
With shock we stalled.
It wasn’t so much shock as it was disgust and fear mixed with the sudden awareness of
our my stupidity. Jared got out first as I didn’t want to get my feet wet. He was tasked with seeing if the tailpipe was submerged.
Could we have misjudged the water’s depth?
Well, we did, and we didn’t. The pipe was underwater, but not completely! Just enough to inhibit the normal amount of airflow and allow water to back up into the pipe.
The car really shouldn’t have stalled. A real car certainly wouldn’t have. But my Hornet was, well, a Hornet.
I tried to start it again. There, there… there it goes. Nope. Stalled.
I tried again.
The engine whirred over and over but wouldn’t grab. I let it rest, then tried again. More whirring, but now they were getting longer in between. You know how it goes: whir, whir, whir…, whir…., whir……., whir……., whir…..……. whir…, click, click, click, click, click.
It was time to get my feet wet. I took off my shoes and socks and stepped out of the car to join Jared who was still midway up his calves in creek water.
What now? I could just picture the conversation, “Hi mom, I lost my car today in the river.” Then she’d reply, “Oh well, it was just a beater anyway.”
For a few moments, we thought we could push the car out, then start it from dry land. After a great deal of effort and only a few inches of proof, that idea died.
“My uncle has a truck,” Jarred said.
“Can we borrow it?” I asked in desperation. We could use the truck to push the car out! But… what happens if we get the truck stuck too?
“No, he won’t let us borrow it, but he might tow it out for us,” Jarred said.
Great. Just what I wanted to do–get the adults involved. No way. All adults (i.e. parents) have this mysterious network. Even those who don’t know each other seem to have this way of communicating without ever talking to each other! Nope. There had to be another way.
“There wasn’t” –Narrator.
We walked to Jarred’s uncle’s house trying to break the news with as little embarrassment as possible. Surprisingly, he understood. It took us about 5 minutes to drive the half-hour that we had just walked.
There she was in all of her glory: The Hornet. It sat as an icon of worship surrounded by the glorious brown murk of the creek. We stood in awe for what seemed several very long seconds.
A Cold Wind Blows
“Hook’er up,” Jarred’s uncle said.
Jarred and I looked at each other. Somebody had to hook the rope to the rear of the car. And the only place to do that was under the car. Which meant getting wet. Not just a little wet, but a lot wet.
Of course, I was volunteered for the job. Now, you have to know, I hate being wet. Even now, as an adult. So here, Mr. Doesn’t-even-want-to-get-his-socks-wet gets to go swimming in his clothes. Brilliant.
All hooked up, and me cold and wet, it only makes sense for the world to start moving in slow motion. Ever so slowly, the truck began to move. The rope pulled tight between the two vehicles. The Hornet rolled. Within seconds my car was out of the water.
Being soaking wet, I wasn’t allowed to ride inside the cab. Mr. Hates-to-be-wet-and-cold gets to ride in the back with Mr. Wind. Not fun.
Jarred and I watched water drizzle out of the tailpipe leaving a trail the entire way. You could literally follow the water trail back to the creek.
They Always Know
When we got back, we went inside for a couple of sandwiches and Jarred’s aunt and uncle left us alone, as if what just happened never really did. A half an hour later, I went out to start the car.
As usual, when I did something stupid, I was ready to be alone. One stupidity per day was quite enough, and sticking around was really no different than begging for more. I had enough for the day, so I said goodbye and drove home.
Weeks went by with the event lost somewhere in the back canals of my brain that stores memories of such things. Jarred went back home somewhere in California, and I don’t recall ever seeing him again.
One afternoon talking to my mother she mentions my incident of creeking my car. “And you thought I wouldn’t find out,” she said. “Parents always have a way of finding out.” Damn that parental connection.
To this day, I still don’t know how she found out.