My Black Ford



When I was seventeen years old, I bought an old black Ford and drove it over to the Highway Patrol station to take the driver’s test. I had one heck of time just getting there because I did not know how to shift gears and work the clutch and brake at the same time, so when I had to stop at the top of a hill, after trying four times to go over the hill I had rolled back down the hill–good thing nobody was behind me.

I made it about a half-hour late and took the test. The first thing I did was back right into the wall of the station, but no damage was done. Fortunately the officer was very tolerant. After the test he wrote out a temporary license, handed it to me and said, “Drive carefully, son, and may God help you.” What a nice guy, I thought. Authority is not so bad after all.

Well, I was thrilled. So I drove down to Main Street, to Mel’s Bar & Grill. The horizontal parking downtown was tough going, but I got into a space on the third try. I went into Mel’s and guzzled beer with three Mexicans–I was already six foot tall, and nobody bothered to ID me. We got smashed, and while we did there was a big fight between the rubes and the Indians; one rube got sliced from his neck to his belly button; it was really cool. Anyway, I wanted to show off my car to my drinking buddies, so off we went with a pint of tequila one of them had.

Caramba! What a ride that must have been – I was so drunk I can’t remember much of it. We almost made it to the shopping center on the outskirts of town, where I ran into the median strip and lost control of the car. It careened across two lanes, knocked down the 15 MPH sign and the sign for the donut shop as well. I luckily missed six or seven other cars. My three amigos in the back seat shouted “Vamos!” I backed off the donut-shop sign, did a U-turn and got the hell out of there–believe me, I had never head the phrase “hit and run” yet.

I dropped off the Mexicans back at Mel’s, and, amazingly, made it to my house, where I parked the car, staggered inside, and called my best friend Jim. I told him what had happened, asking him how much it might cost to fix the smashed in front and side of my car. He told me about “hit and run” and said I would be in big trouble, so stand by, he said, and he would come over and check things out.

That he did, and when he saw the damage, he said, “Man, the cops will see this and add two and two, match up the paint, and you’ll go to jail for sure.”

What to do? “Get rid of the car.” So I drove the car over to the river with him following behind. When we arrived I aimed the car at the river, got out, Jim put a rock on the accelerator, and over the edge of the embankment it went, rolled a couple of times, and sank into the river. It was really cool to watch. But the back end was sticking out of the river! What could we do? We left.

The next day the cops came to my house while I was sleeping, banged on my door and asked me where my car was. “It’s outside,” I said, rubbing my eyes, hung over pretty bad. “Show us.” Outside we go.”Oh, where is it?” I said, “I parked it there. Somebody has stolen it!” The cop said, “We know what you did. You dumped it in the river.” I confessed right there, too naive to know he had made that up.

Next stop: the police station. No sweat, my dad bailed me. He was pissed but he saw how sorry I was so he did not lecture me much. Then to the courtroom, where I told the judge I did not know it was against the law to leave the scene of an accident or dump cars in the river. That was the first time I heard, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Damn! But I got off light. So did the community, fortunately: I realized people could have been killed. Nobody had been hurt, and I had to wash police cars for six months. And I had to work to raise the money to pay the fees it cost to retrieve my car from the river, tow it into town, and store it, but it was a worthless junk!

That’s about the time I started dreaming about becoming a serious writer.

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