In 1962 when I was a high school senior Dad gave me my first car, a ’51 Plymouth. The car had a secret weapon, its emergency brake. It would decide on its own that a stretch of dry pavement was an emergency worthy of a blistering, locomotive-style, sparks-flying, screeching halt that would throw me and my posse from here to breakfast, or at least a little too close to the windshield.
Those sitting in the back would be hurled against the front seats, leaving nice impressions on their foreheads. Even so, my little group was willing to ride with me. One of this merry band spoke up while we were cruising through Greenup one spring evening.
”I can’t believe the things you get away with, Dan,” Dick said.
What things I wondered—I had the reputation of being a “good boy”, which was the kiss of death to a teen age guy. I guessed he meant that I was driving around downtown Greenup with no adult supervision. Not only that, I had a couple of guys in tow, Dick and his buddy, John, who was a year older than Dick.
John had failed the book portion of Driver’s ED, but it wasn’t his fault: the class was held right after lunch when he was too sleepy to focus.
Dick couldn’t take driver's training until he was a sophomore, which wouldn’t be until next fall, a long ways off.(At 15, he was in the throes of teen-age rebellion.) Dick's sister, Linda, had her license, but didn't have a car. What she did have was a younger boyfriend who also didn’t have a license. Such was my posse.
Do you see a common thread here? I was the only one with wheels. This gave me a certain amount of status. Guys would ask me about my ‘51 Plymouth —they had heard it had a powerhouse motor.
I was clueless: I was pretty sure it had a motor; it was always there when someone (not me) opened the hood. Just before I blurted out something really stupid, Dick would rescue me by explaining the Plymouth’s V-8 Chevrolet motor, or whatever it was.
Dick also came to my rescue that afternoon at the filling station. I used to dread getting gas for fear an attendant would tell me my oil was a quart low, and askwhat kind I wanted. I would try to think: Gee, black, maybe?
Dick saw me struggling and said, “You use 10-30 don’t you, Dan?” The gas jockey nodded as though I had made a wise decision.
And on this fine spring evening with 50 cents worth of gas—about two gallons—under the Plymouth’s belt we were going to the show. (It was usually called “the show”, not the movies, as in “Are you going to the show?”, or “Who are you going to the show with?”)
After cruising Greenup's main drag a few times-- a short trip, as Cumberland Avenue was only six blocks long--we pulled up in front of the Old Trails Theater.
At this time angle parking was the norm, which made it easier for me. Even so, I had gotten a couple of tickets within a week of getting my driver's license. I had trouble staying within the lines. I was grateful we didn't have parallel parking. I knew the only way I could manage that was to be helicoptered in.
Within minutes of buying tickets and loading up on popcorn, I lost Dick and John. Determined to catch up with them I did a quick search of the theater, using my pen-sized flashlight that was great if you wanted to zero in on a guy’s shirt button.
While trying to juggle my flashlight and a tub of popcorn, I managed to toss half of it in the face of Buzz Henry, a guy who had made a career of sleeping in class, but was unluckily semi-awake at the show. He came out of it and growled in my general direction.
"Buzz, you want the rest of my popcorn?"
He accepted the tribute. I think he had a soft spot for me, as I shared my lunch with him at school—I was a picky eater and often would have a entree for him. He would gobble it down and slump over to get a little rest so he would have the strength to sleep through his next class.
I was about to continue my search when I heard: “Hey, Wild Man, why don’t you sit down before you put somebody's eye out with your pen light?"
It was my buddy, Malcolm, a preacher's kid who liked to call me “Wild Man”--he signed my yearbook as "Civilized". Malcolm’s Dad was also a English teacher at our high school; I think Malcolm chafed under this double burden, but he was very good humored about it.
The theater then got unusually quiet, for we were about to see Blue Denim, a movie about teen age love, which meant it would require our full attention.
Blue Denim, was released in 1959, but it didn't make its way to the Old Trails Theater until 1963. Usually movies showed up on TV before they landed in Greenup. I suspected some movies were projected on bed sheets in Third World villages before we ever got them.
I quickly got absorbed in the movie, but I was shocked at some of the language. One of the characters actually swore: said "hell" and "damn". I was stunned—what a corker of a show! I forgot all about looking for Dick and John.
Malcolm enjoyed the movie, too, but in a more sophisticated way. He didn't elbow me when somebody said "pregnant”; he understood the phrase going “all the way”, which I thought was a Frank Sinatra song. Malcolm, at times, pitied me for being so clueless.
After Blue Denim was over, I was a little choked up—it was kind of sad.
“You’re not going to cry, are you, Wild Man?”
I got my hanky out: “It's my allergies”.
Luckily, Dick and John interrupted us. I asked, "Hey, where were you guys? I looked all over for you."
Dick winked at John and said, “We've been around. How was the movie?”
“Oh, it was good. Didn't you watch it?”
“Nah, we had better things to do,” John said. “Dick, you really took that curve—thought you were going to lose it.”
“What are you guys talking about? Was this last week when you went to Toledo with Buzz?”
“No,” Dick said with a grin. “It was tonight.”
“You mean you left the show?”“Yeah, we went to Newton”.
I was staggered, as the county seat was a nine mile journey. And even more stunned to realize that Dick and John had taken off in my car while I, clueless, watched the movie.
“But how did you get that far without the emergency brake acting up?”
“Didn't have any trouble with it. It doesn't do that for anybody but you, Dan.”
The next Monday when I rolled up at school we had the usual crash landing.
“Gee, Dan, can't you keep your knee off the emergency brake?” Dick asked while rubbing his head.
We then ran into Malcolm as he was getting off the bus.
He glanced at Dick’s forehead: “I see you've been riding with Danny again".