(This is part 12 of a multi-part series. If you wish to start at the beginning, click here)
Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is. –Francis Bacon
When we last left off, a 1986 Toyota MR2 came home, capping a comeback nearly as miraculous as the ’85 Royals postseason. But before that, and sandwiched between the Crapstang and the MR2, was a stretch of school where I (thankfully) was allowed part-time use of my stepfather’s ’86 Accord LX-i for school transportation.
There was this morning….walking away from the parked Accord in the school lot towards my homeroom building. I turned back to a sound of gunned engine, tinny guitars, and deep percussion emanating from a new soft top Wrangler. Piloted by “Philip” (as in Philippians that reminds us to be “content in all circumstances”). Philip, with his near perfect chiseled jawline and stereo slamming out Led Zep’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” perfectly hitting the climactic hook
as the Wrangler found its way into a spot. I know it logically untrue, but popular peeps (in jeeps) seem to glide gracefully through parted waters as we less desirables look on longingly.
Humorlessly, I imaginated some fine day having a cool ride of my own to present triumphantly to the parking lot crowd, with my music choice just right, enjoying the fanfare like Aladdin entering Agrabah.
That day had come. Today was the day after the “Showdown at the National Car Sales Corral,” and it was time to sail Mister Two on its maiden school voyage.
Driving to high school in your new-to-you car paints an original veneer on the daily mundane: the morning commute, parking lot, school itself….all felt new again, full of possibilities. School was about 25 minutes from Dad’s, so I had plenty of drive for the elation and euphoria to surge. Felt very exotic to pull in the school lot and park. I paused once, then twice, maybe three or four times to look back. Ok, five. Sorry new friend, I parted, can’t wait to be reunited with you at three-p.
The driver-car relationship was off to a good start and our bond grew well over the following weeks and months. Next up was to rescue the sound system from the deceased Stang. The 12” salvaged subs weren’t going to easily transition to the MR2, but my car audio relative’s shop managed to break them into individual enclosures, stuff one behind each seat, and get the amp under the driver’s seat. Now just needed the right song... Found it ‘o’er the hills and far away’ when I spent an overnighter fall weekend with older brother at college. He or his roommate had discovered this new band “Pearl Jam” and their CD “Ten” was getting constant play. I was enthralled by the new sound. PJ took a while to trickle down to the high school crowd (Nirvana was way bigger), and “Even Flow” became my morning anthem, queued up to blast every time I pulled in or out of the parking lot.
Once I became more comfortable with rowing a manual, it was time to see what this little origami Yota could do. In 2002, Chad McQueen (son of Steve) recreated his father’s famous movie scene in San Francisco with Ford’s re-released Bullitt.
Though it went unnoticed by local media, in 1991 I recreated my father’s 914 roundabout screamers on Meyer Circle with my mid-engined car multiple times. Its cornering prowess lives up to legend, but low horsepower consigned it to lose nearly all stop light drag races. Acceleration was not its shine with 0-60 times quoted around 8.2s. In fact, I had a supercharged MR2 pull up next to me once with the owner eagerly staring me down. I noticed the oversized exhaust tips and S/C specific wheels and knew I had no chance. I didn’t even bother to rev off the line, but was still rather amazed at how quickly that S/C walked away from me (quoted 0-60 around 6.5s. I’m guessing he wasn’t stock, but damn was it fast).
I have to admit the lack of power did bother me some. My version was pretty stripped out (manual everything, flat roof), and in my haste to bring the car home I failed to notice it didn’t have A/C. Still, the lack of extra weight and A/C should have conspired to make it among the faster of its brethren. Another classmate had a version with all the bells and whistles: t-tops, a/c, automatic. One night we swapped keys and I swear his car felt much quicker than mine, despite the add-on amenities. I often wondered if my engine was operating at 100% capability, though it never failed to pass inspection.
All in all, Mister Two and I were fast friends, and I’d found a car that could do nearly all I asked of it. With just two seats, I typically wasn’t the group driver/chauffeur, but we once stuffed 4 people in that thing…for about a block.
Still fighting that insecurity of popularity thing.
I was more studi-er than parti-er, but I wanted to be, er, part…of the…–ier? I managed to attend some bashes here and there. To fight the self-consciousness, I discovered my way into alcohol to see what the appeal was. I’d up to that point distasted beer, but somewhere along the way I found that if one mixed orange juice into vodka, the taste was concealed. Finding alcohol underage was very difficult,but not impossible, and it was bad form to mooch other’s hard acquired liquor. I also found another conflict within HS parties is that they tend to end abruptly and most everyone gets kicked out –That meant getting home.
Some fall Friday night came, and with it a party at here or there’s house. The socializing was going down decently well as were the screwdrivers (the latter probably too well). A friend was with me and eventually the time was right to end the night. Started home in the MR2 and we were laughing about my stupidity in approaching an ex-girlfriend and promising a mix tape to her. I yelled, “THAT WAS SO STUPID OF ME, WHY DID I DO THAT?!!” as I whipped the wheel into the left turn of the intersection. Only, I was about to get an education into a concept that only years later would I learn there is a term for: snap oversteer. The MR2 over-rotated after drop-clutching the turn at 6000rpm. As I felt the back end sliding out, I overcorrected to the right, losing control and jumping the curb onto the grass and sidewalk. Thankfully, it was late at night and no other cars or pedestrians were around. I managed to quickly stop the car on the….um….sidewalk. The friend and I looked at each other and we each seemed to be fine other than bewildered eyes.
Thank-lessly, the engine had died with the clutch pedal seemingly perma-stuck to the floor. Engine would not turn over. In my high school inebriated brilliance, I saw were only a block and a half away from the party house and ran back to recruit pushing help for “car-off-sidewalk.” A few volunteers (along with some curious gawkers) came back and pushed the car back on the road, which magically popped out the clutch pedal. The car started right up and I cheered! Stupidly, the friend and I got back in the car to continue our sojourn home as the other revelers wandered back to the party house. However, within a block or two, I started noticing a bump-bump coming from the driver side rear wheel. It seemed to be getting more prominent. I pulled into a side residential street and got out. The rear tire was low on air. I kind of shrugged and said, “My mom’s house is only a few miles away. I bet I can make it there before it goes flatter.” My friend, making one of the few wise decisions of the night, opted to hoof it back to the party and get a ride home from someone else. I wished him well and got back behind the wheel. Traveled about four more blocks when the bump-bump became more violent and the back end began to swerve. I pulled over once again, but this time on a rather busier two-lane road. To my horror, the flattened tire had fully deflated and had basically shredded the sidewalls so now large pockets of silver rim were showing through. Huh, went my idiot, alcohol-soaked teen brain. A car pulled up behind me and stopped. I went to the window of the stopped SUV to find a nice young couple who asked if they could help. I gratefully accepted and requested a lift to a gas station/pay phone (pre-cellular days). They did and I sat in the back thinking, “What luck! Such nice people!” Got to the payphone and called Dad (much more preferable to Mom) about the flat. It had to have been around 1am. Dad mentioned that the police had found the car and, going through the glovebox, found the registration (in his name) and had just called him. He was probably relieved to know I was ok (can’t imagine the horror of getting a PD call late at night about your child’s abandoned vehicle with tire damage), but I bet he suspected something was amiss. “You’d better call your mom and let her know” he said somberly. I said ok and hung up. No way was I calling Mom right then. Too scared. No plan. The nice couple drove me back to the MR2, but as we approached, I saw flashing reds and blues and a spotlight on the car. Starting to panic, I stammered out the only thing I could think to them, “Please don’t stop!” The wife, who was driving, glanced back at me confused. “Why?” she asked innocently. The husband said quietly, “I think maybe there’s alcohol involved.” I guess my state was pretty clear. My fate was in the hands of strangers and truly, whether they stopped or not, the responsibility of what transpired next was mine alone.
To my relief, they kept going and drove another mile and a half down the road, dropping me at the house of the party I’d just left. I thanked them profusely and went back inside (It gives me a lot of shame to recall and write these events). The revelers had further died down, but there were at least a couple of people still there. I found a phone and called Mom, coming clean only about the flat tire and asked if she could pick me up.
She did, but it wasn’t pretty. My “plan” fell apart as we drove past the scene of the shredded tire towards home. She turned to me from the driver’s seat and said, “Whatever gum you’re chewing isn’t working. You smell like a brewery.” I have no idea what she must have been processing. To that point, I was the child that turned his nose up at the “Here, have a sip” beer at family holidays. Now, mom was finding me sheets to the wind with a wrecked tire late at night. You would’ve needed a long tape measure to calculate which fall—1) grace or 2) innocence – covered more altitude that night.
She coolly told me to go sleep it off and we’d figure the car out in the morning. I probably wouldn’t have slept well due to shame and worry but the alcohol put me out. Early in the morning and hung over, I got up. With a paucity of conversation between us, I called a tow truck out to meet us at the car. Wordlessly, she drove me out to the site. While we waited, she found time and words to express in detail her disappointment. The tow truck driver must’ve raised an eyebrow at the shredded tire and exposed rim, but all that was really needed was to throw the temp on and drive home.
Don’t really remember the aftermath, but Mom looked at me differently after that. We patched up of course, but no longer was I her baby boy. More of a mostly good kid that was also now a bit dangerous and couldn’t fully be trusted. But, I also wasn’t so much under her roof that year. Dad was going through his divorce. I felt like I needed to be there living with him. Plus, I liked living in the apartment. The bachelor pad. Eat what you want, mostly come and go as you please. I was ready to start spreading wings of independence and chafing at things like curfews (and apparently intelligent decisions).
I’d really like to say that I learned my drinking and driving lesson from that night but sadly, the problem continued. I went to another party many months later. The pressure was there: to fit in, to have fun, to cut loose, and alcohol was the catalyst. Then, the party ends and everyone goes home. Rather than ask for a ride (which, tbh, I had done on some occasions), I felt invincible enough to drive the MR2 across the city. Things went pretty well up until the last 5 miles. I was close, but oh so tired. It was late, the alcohol was pulling my eyelids down like shades lashed to 25 pound dumbbells. You do that thing: “I’ll just close them for a second. They’re sooo heavy.” But then a second feels so good, “let’s do it again.” Maybe two seconds this time. Somewhere down below a muffled voice is shouting, “DANGER! YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” Mind and body, inseparable, but fighting each other.
After likely reaching the point of almost blacking out, I slapped myself in the face and pinched it several times. I limped the car into Dad’s driveway, sleepy but alarmed at another near miss. I had barely avoided driving off the road. Something had to change.
Though thankfully I’ve never drank and driven again since that night, I take no pleasure in recounting this stupidity, and realizing then and to this day how fortunate I was to come through not only not injuring or killing myself, but other innocent bystanders.
I didn’t avoid alcohol during the college years and early on learned the part of the “weekend warrior.” Then I observed how consumption grows, as in college there’s always someone who wants to partake in “Wet Wednesday,” or “Thirsty Thursday.” Worked for a while, but it seemed to make for “Foggy Sunday“ and recovery was nether enjoyable nor conducive to academics. College was the first time I met clinically full-blown alcoholics whose lives were crumbling before many witnesses, and yet they couldn’t grasp what their habit was doing to them. I started to become more horrified by what I saw, and didn’t want to take that road.
These years I rarely drink at all. Maybe once a year, if that. It’s pretty simple really. I drink alcohol and I do dumb things. I’m thankful life has been exciting enough over the last couple decades to not feel the need for it. Plus, once babies arrived, it made recovery a whole lot less fun too; no day after to blow off.
In 1992, Pearl Jam’s popularity was on fire. Word came down they were playing a free concert at the University of Kansas “on The Hill” a few weeks before our graduation, and four or five guys and girls from my school planned to go. The MR2 joined the caravan out to the Lawrence campus. Parked and found our way to the grassy hill overlooking the stage and set up our blankets as did thousands of others that day. The concert was good. Some of the braver among us worked their way into the crowded mosh, but I stayed back, watching the scene, enjoying the weather, contemplating that within a few months the college environment and “the next stage” awaited me.
I watched as the mosh got rather frenzied. Someone in the pit kept slinging vinyl records (as in LPs) up in the air. After a song or two, Eddie Vedder stopped the concert to admonish the idiots, yelling something like, “Whoever the fucker is throwing the records in there….You need to fucking stop….You’re gonna fucking hurt somebody!”
Throwing records…Drinking and driving... Just listen to Eddie Vedder’s advice, man.
Coming soon, Part 13: gokstate Goes to K-State. MR2 Too
Vehicle: 1986 Toyota MR2
HP: 112 hp @ 6600 rpm
TQ: 97 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Soundtrack: Even Flow by Pearl Jam