Riding in Mustangs

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Rain spatters against my forehead so I yell at Chris to roll his window up. It’s so hot and humid and smoky and knee-jerking cramped that I sit contorted forward, pulling the muscles in my gut so I can angle my shoulder into the console. The windshield against the night looks like space, deep dark space with white missiles streaming in at us faster and faster. Randy kicks the shifter. Whoaaaaaa…wump!—whoaaaaa. Each jerk of the gears sucks against my abs. We pump the Jensens. We pump our hands against our Levi’d thighs. Everything on a Friday night is tension and expectation—clumsy and awkward. Freaks try way too hard at weekends.

“Is that Casey ahead of us?  Speed up… I think Kelly’s with him.”

I say this but I don’t think I have a chance with her. Randy’s got the Mustang—Chris is his best friend. I’m just one of three ball-sacks in the back seat using my pants as an ash tray. Getting ashes on Randy’s seat could mean another one of his parental freak outs. His dad gave him his restored 69 when it all came down with his mom and the divorce. It was something no sensible parent should give a kid—351 horses for a pot head with an anxiety rope tied around his neck. Randy took the gift seriously. I guess he saw it as a spoil of war.

Every Friday night we do the same thing—blow out of his house in classic middle finger style. We light up smokes, pump up Zeppelin and grind the tires of Dad’s dear old Mustang through a cloud of choking white smoke. His mother stands by the living room window watching—arms folded, chest heaving. I see her disappear the same way every Friday. Sometimes I wish I were back there with her, sick as that sounds. I feel sorry for her. We’d watch Rockford Files, then Dallas.  I’d mix her a whiskey sour and say, “Don’t worry Mrs. Brown. It’s okay. Your son’s not a total ass.”

Randy lays into the gas and the front of the Mustang rises up like a German shepherd pouncing up on a ground hog.  He keeps riding up on Casey then backing off. “Come on, Randy—fuckin’ lay back, man!” I yell. “Stop flipping out…” he says, laughing. “I’m just teasing the dude. I mean, seriously, man—a Dodge Dart.”

“Just cruise up next to them. Let me see who’s in the car. Chris—roll down the window,” I turn to Jimmy who’s in the middle seat, wedged tight against Toby’s fat ass. His chain wallet digs into the side of my back. “Gimme a light, man,” I wave my fingers up towards my face. I have the cigarette hanging out of my mouth and after I light it I turn my head and bore a smear of grey ash across the back of the front seat. “Fuck!”  The burning head of the smoke falls down under the seat. “Shit, man. Give me the lighter again.” “What the hell, man,” Jimmy says as he jams his elbow into my side. Randy punches it and we fly into the lane of oncoming traffic.

“What are you doing, Randy, you dumb ass!” I yell as we crash back against our seats. Toby’s laughing hysterically. “Damn these ludes rock!” he yells out, a line of laugh-tears run against the side of his face as wind and specks of rain blow in across the back seat. “You took yours already, you dick!” Jimmy blurts out. “Wait till we start drinking—shit, what the hell!”

“I am drinking!” Toby yells back, opening a can and spraying the back of Randy’s head. “What the fuck, asshole!”

My head is now smashed against the back of Chris’s head rest. My half lit cigarette hangs sideways, broken by the filter. I suck in on the smoke, trying to cup the two pieces together with my fingers. “Fuck it.” I reach up to flick it out of Chris’s half open window and hit the bottom part of the glass. Sparks and ash blow into my face, breaking the whole cigarette off as the 70 mile an hour wind blows it past my face, or out the window or behind me on top of Randy’s new Jensens. “Slow ride—I’m sick of that fuckin’ song, man!” Chris hit the channel button. My Sharona. “NO!”

“Who was in the car? And why the fuck did we blow by so fast?”  Randy just smiles back at me as he slides the shifter over to fourth. The Dart is at least two miles back.

“They’re going to the lake, man. Isn’t everyone going there?” Randy says.

“Not in the rain, butt wipe. At school Casey said he was heading to that Glen Arm party, man. Shit. I have no idea where that is. Jimmy—you talk to anyone?”

Jimmy looks up and starts to talk. “Like, ah…” “We’re doing the lake!” Randy busts in. “What the fuck’s with the lake!” “Cool out, Jimmy!” Randy again busts in. Jimmy and Toby start laughing. “The ludes, boss, the ludes!” “Pass a beer!” “Miller time!” “Open it, dick wad!” Randy punches it and we’re cruising down the single lane straights by the fishing center. We’re topping 80 by the time we hit the curves at Seven Sisters.

“Slow the fuck down, ass!” “Hahahaha!” My abs are stretched and burning as we hit the first turn at the dam. I hold on to Chris’s head rest so I won’t smash Jimmy and Toby to the other side of the seat. “More than a feeling! Bwaa Bwaa Bwaaa-Bwaaa-Bwaaa!” “Boston! Hahahaha!” “Punch it” “Slow down!” “Shit!” The mustang slides on the second turn. “WOOOOO!” Randy’s holding it. “Fuckin’ trees!” “Hahaha!” “Til I see Mary Ann walk away…” “Jesus!” “We’re gonna bite it!” “Bite me!” “Hahahaha!” “AAAAHHHHHHH!” The Mustang 180’s on the last turn, slides sideways, backspin. “Fuck!” Across lanes. “AAHHHHHHH!” “I see my Mary Ann walkin’ a-way a-a-a-aeee!! Bwaa Bwaa, Bwaa-Bwaa-Bwaa!” “Hahahaha!”

The Mustang swings to a skidding stop in a fire road entrance. The dam is just around the next turn. We sit back. Mouths open. “WKTK Baltimore radio FM 104 has all…”  We sit there shocked, not saying a word. Steam drifts across the front of the hood. Randy pulls out like nothing’s happened. We all light up smokes.

We turn the corner into the parking lot at the dam.” “Damn, man. There’s no one here.”

“Dam, man,” Toby says and points at the dam. Jimmy and Toby laugh with a muffled snort. Jimmy laughs at everything Toby fucking says.

We sit listening to lame Al Stewart sing about some fuckin’ cat. The drops of rain mix with the click of my can top. I suck in the warm Miller as foam pours down and soaks my crotch.

“Hey—isn’t that Casey’s car pulling in over there?” Off in the corner, hidden in the rainy shadows stands Casey’s green Dart idling with the lights on. Puffs of blue smoke rise up from the windows, mixing in with the fog.  We rumble slowly over and pull up along side them. Chris rolls down the window.

“What’s up, Casey—where’s that party on Glen Arm?”

“That party sucked.”

“What, like—no pot, no beer, what kind of suck?”

“The parents were upstairs. It was like some kind of birthday shit.”

 

We sit in silence for a few seconds.

 

“You guys got any beer?” Casey says from the crack in his window. I can only make out his mouth from his mop of curly blonde hair. I see the red dots of his pimples along the side of his chin. Casey’s not lucky in that department. The rain picks up again. Chris looks back and rubs his sideburns like he’s thinking.

“Naw, man – like, down to like three. Sucks.”  Jimmy snickers and I kick his foot, which is placed on top of a pile of unopened Millers.

“Is that you, Tex?”  A girl’s head pops forward from Casey’s back seat. It’s Kelly. Her long, frizzy brown hair falls forward in front of her face. She’s smiling and looking straight at me. I lean up to the space between Chris’s seat and the window. “I like riding in Mustangs!” she yells and her friend pulls her back, giggling.  Casey starts to talk…”You guys wanna go some…” “Especially if it is yours!  Hahaha!” “Somewhere to like, this other party I know of…” “I wanna ride on YOUR Mustang! Hahahaha!” “What…like….”

“We’re just gonna cruise.” Randy cuts in. I just sit there like a dumbass. Randy fires up the engine, revs it and starts backing out. I can still hear Kelly and her friends laughing as we pull out. I feel high. I feel like she likes me—thinks about me. Maybe she’s just being a sarcastic shit. Maybe Kelly’s jokes were a way to get Randy’s attention. I’m used to that. But maybe not. She looked at me. I could tell. Her brown eyes paused when she leaned forward to see me. I could feel her eyes take me in. Pull me in. Hold me.

We turn out on to York Road and cruise at a rumbling pace. Rain hits my face. The engine hums steady and we take in the flashing lights. “Here come the jesters…one, two, three…” Flash—Dunkin Donuts, flash-flash, street light—Grand Union, street light–flash, neon crab, red-green, 7-Eleven. We pull in so Jimmy can get some smokes. He comes out with a bag of chips, peanut M&Ms and three burritos. Toby looks out at Jimmy and smiles. “You’re a total trip, man. I soooo need a bur-ri-to…toe-toe-toe, a-huh, a-huh.” He draws in on his bong, blowing a cloud of white smoke out onto the other parked cars as we pull away. “What the fuck are you doin’, man!  Let’s just get busted, already. It’s a 7-Eleven, asshole!”

As we begin picking up speed Chris leans across the front seat, making a monkey face back at Toby. He has a burrito in one hand, which is dripping down on Randy’s stick shift, and his other hand hangs outside the window. His monkey speak elevates to a snorting laugh. He itches his face with his half-eaten burrito, smearing bean across his cheek. He’s completely wrecked. The rain makes everything shadowy and silver. We’re entering the surreal zone of boring Friday nights—a dangerous place for freaks. Randy punches the engine and picks up speed. “Hahahaha!”

“What the fuck is that!” Randy yells over at Jimmy.

“I’m holding a shopping cart, man!  Hahaha!

“Let it go! Jesus! What the fuck!”

“Red Light!”

“Shit!”

“Look at the cart!  Hahahaha!  It’ll still going, man! Hahaha!

“SHIT! Not before the damn light! Not before I stopped!”

 

Jimmy, Toby and I are smashed in between the seats trying to see around Randy.

 

“It’s turning left with the traffic!  Hahaha!” “It’s tailgating that Pinto! Woooo! Don’t lock it up, Pinto boy!” “ Now it’s going… Now…. Whoa!….”  “Whoa!..” “Oh fuck! Texaco! Hahaha! Check the fuckin’ oil! Hahaha!” “Wait! The mail truck nailed it!” “Nooooo!” “Missed! Hahaha!”

 

Randy turns a sharp right before the light turns green and cuts down into a neighborhood. He’s pounding on the steering wheel, laughing and yelling, red faced, pissed and cracking up at the same time. “You dumb ass!  What… man….  If you scratched my goddamn car like one… shit….”

He starts down a narrow back road. We’re breathing heavily, nervously mumbling just for the sake of hearing ourselves talk. Silence means the thought of cops. We creep towards three sleeping ranchers. Creeping past one…. Creeping past two…. Creeping past three….“Whooooap!  Whoop!-Whoop!” “Fuck! Shhhhhh…” “Ah Jesus, man.” “Hide the fuckin’ cans!” “Push ‘em under the seat.” “Fuck…like where?  “Don’t crunch the can asshole!” “SHHHHH!!!””Don’t duck down. He’ll fuckin’ sho… BONG!” “Jacket!” There-there-THERE! DUMBASS!”“Shhhhh..” We’re so busted…”“Shut up” “Shut up” “Shut up” “You shut up” “Shut up.” “Seriously, shut-the-fuck-up…. Here he comes…”

“ Yes, officer….”

There’s a pause that lasts hours in our heads. No one moves. My right leg cramps as I stretch my ankle across a pile of empty cans. Beer-sweat-cigarettes- burrito gas-cigarette smoke-spilled bong water—it all hovers around our feet and mouths, oozing upwards and wrapping around our necks, choking us to near panic. We try to suck in our own breath, deep breaths set to steady flashes of red, then blue, then red. The cop’s headlights make the side of Mark’s face look pale and stressed. His jaw hangs down and he’s trying to look unaffected. He stares blankly forward against the flashing lights, reminding me of a tired dad I once saw looking for his kids in a beachside funhouse.

“License and registration…”

“Yes, officer…here’s a….”

Beep! 221 in process – immediate response – repeat -221 in process–respond. Corner York and Dunkirk Lane-over, beep!

Within seconds everything goes dark again. No cop. No scary gun. No God’s flashlight. There’s just the emptiness and serenity of those 1950s Split-level ranchers. Some night birds are whistling. I hear the lonesome rumble of a Harley somewhere off in the distance. The cop car had swooshed off. The license and registration lay safely in Randy’s lap. We sit looking at each other. “WHAT-THE-FUUUCK!…GO! Go! GO! Hahahahaha! HAHAHAHA! Weeeee hoo!  Shhhhhhh!” “Shhhhhhhh” “Why!” “I don’t know!”“Crank it up!” “Hahaha!”

We start up through the developments, through the sleeping ranchers to the spilt levels and then up the hill to Eastridge where the houses get real. Each of us tells the story to each other over and over and each time we get louder until we’re screaming. “Big wheels keep on turning…” “TURN IT UP!” We pull back on to York Road and blow along the strip like fugitives. Casey’s Dart was turning right on Warren and we cross three lanes to catch him. It isn’t raining and the warm May air blows my hair up over my bandana. It whips back and forth against my face. I think about how the whole world is right here. Everything I need. Everything alive and now and moving fast. I can’t wait to tell Kelly. I can’t wait for Monday to tell everybody. The story will never get old. It will live and grow and change, but it will never get old. Nothing ever gets old in Mustangs.

Emerson Probst  is a writer living in Baltimore, Maryland.  He’s currently working on a collection of stories about the long-haired kids that came of age in the late 1970s. For him, this was truly the lost generation, not quite Boomers – not quite Gen-Xers.  Not hippies and not yet Wall Street players. Where Hunter S. Thompson claimed the hippie movement died somewhere west of Vegas in the early 70s, Emerson sees it as having died a much slower death in the quiet Baltimore suburbs of 1979. See his blog at:  http://emerson1.wix.com/emersonprobst

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