Yeah, yeah, firecrackers start blazes and sometimes leave people with colorful nicknames like “Stubby” or “Three Fingers.”
You safe-andsane sissies no doubt feel smug about the ban on fireworks, which has sapped the snap and sizzle out of the Fourth of July in Spokane.
Let me tell you, there are some things a lot more dangerous than a kid with a fistful of Black Cats and a smoldering punk.
Try two 16-year-old punks in a ‘56 Dodge.
Mulling over my past 44 Fourths, how I celebrated the big day in 1967 is hands down the most memorable and life-threatening of them all.
And I never lit one fuse.
A bottle rocket is no match for the power of a teenager in love.
There was this girl, see. I needed to be with her. Had to be with her. But her cruel parents took her off to make her water-ski and have fun.
She was Guinevere trapped somewhere on Lake Roosevelt near Gifford, a town I’d never heard of. I was Lancelot stuck in Spokane. Although I’d turned 16, I hadn’t taken the driver’s test.
They say a friend is someone who’ll help you move. A good friend is someone who’ll help you move a body.
Gary was in that second category.
Convinced my heart sickness was terminal, he agreed to be the agent of my salvation.
So on the morning of the Fourth, we snatched Gary’s big brother’s car. Stealing has such a nasty ring to it. We preferred to call it “borrowing without asking.”
Thus began our quest. With a Conoco (“hottest brand going”) map as our guide, we found our way onto Highway 2, heading due west.
Our first challenge appeared a few miles past Reardan. Some fossil in a new yellow Cadillac. He blew past our old heap, honking with scorn.
Old heap my butt. Under the hood of this salmon-colored barge growled a 426 hemi.
Gary punched it. In seconds we were in a fender-to-fender battle with the snobmobile. We watched as the speedometer climbed: 100, 110, 120.
I never did well at math or physics. The possible consequences of hurtling through space inside an all-steel container with no seat belts never entered my mind.
What counted was that we swung wide at 125 and let the geezer choke on our exhaust.
Somewhere north of Davenport on Highway 25, the Goliath engine made a sudden, troubling sound.
We weren’t mechanics. We were knights on a mission. We forged ahead.
Our steed, as it turned out, was never quite the same.
I won’t bore you too much with how I found the girl. Or how I spent the day being laughed at as I failed at learning to water-ski.
Gary and I left for home in the late afternoon. I sat in a brooding funk, wondering why I wasted my Fourth on such a star-spangled dud.
I came out of my stupor a few miles past Fruitland, another town I’d never heard of. The Dodge began to experience what must be the automotive equivalent of cardiac arrest.
Curious. The harder Gary pushed the gas pedal, the more the car slowed until, finally, it died.
We hiked to a telephone and then waited like convicted killers in line for the electric chair. It was midnight when Gary’s dad pulled up in his truck.
He opened the hood and made a rasping sound. Then, like an angry pathologist at an autopsy, he rattled off a string of curses and mechanical causes of death.
Our chase bent a rod, whatever that is. There was oil in the radiator. Very bad. We should have stopped, for god’s sake. The damaged engine heated and heated until it fused itself into the world’s largest paperweight.
Ruined, the poor man kept muttering. Ruined.
I’ll give Gary credit. He never flinched. Never showed a tic of fear while his red-faced old man chewed him a new orifice.
Gary knew this was just the warm-up act.
Back home, big brother was waiting with the real fireworks show.