Dorothy has just brought back some really dusty memories of music and machine. Music that was so much a part of me, like a second skin. The boom box welded to my right shoulder as I walked those thousands of Teenage Suburbia miles. My teenage years had a soundtrack and it played 24/7. I woke to music, showered to it, ate breakfast to it, walked to the bus stop with it on my shoulder and then stood off the road in the woods, smoking dope to it. My music played on the bus, blasted in the courtyard in between classes while we fried more brain cells before they could be wasted on such things as American History, Algebra and Physical Science. Music skipped school with me, nearly every day. It came on as soon as the door slammed behind my departing ass. It followed me everywhere, all day and late into the night as my friends and I partied away our youth in backyards, house parties, keggers in the woods, at the beach and the dark street corners of suburban Detroit.
We lived on Classic Rock, Album Rock-the golden age of Rock and Roll. Led Zeppelin, Rush, REO Speedwagon, Black Sabbath then Ozzie, J Geils, Jeff Beck, The Who, Styx, Aerosmith, Humble Pie then Peter Frampton, Van Halen and a host of rock gods whose hair went from long to BIG as the 70’s glammed into the eighties. Looking back I find it hard to think of anything that interested me outside of chicks, music and a good buzz.
Throughout junior and senior high I had a good friend who was given his dad’s old car. It was a burgandy, 1970 Plymouth Valiant with an indestructible, but temperamental slant-six and a host of issues that were sometimes the bane of my existence. The particular issue that Dorothy dredged up from the dusty corners of my memory was that the car disliked turning left. It would go straight forever. It LOVED to turn right. Force it turn left and it would retaliate by stalling at the most inopportune moment. Two such moments came to mind tonight as I read Dorothy’s post. The first time “Left Turn Revenge” manifested itself; my buddy and I were tripping on mescaline, heading to the local 7-11 to grab a pair of Slurpies to cut the hash-induced cotton mouth. He decided to turn left into the store, right in front of a speeding semi truck. The car stalled, we both screamed, shouted and I tried to push the car by straining against the dashboard, watching in horror as 75,000 pounds of steel barreled down on us. He managed to get the car going again in a matter of a couple seconds and we squealed into the parking lot, just as the jackknifing truck slid past us, brakes smoking and horn blaring.
Now, it might have been the fact that we popped the same mescaline, smoked the same hash and drank the same JD and had hung out together since we were runny-nosed cub scouts, but as we pulled into a parking space, we both had the same thought. “We almost died while listening to England Dan And John Ford Coley!” The horror. I think I cried. At that moment, both of us had become disciples of The Church of Always Listen To Damn Good Music Just In Case You're About Die. We talked about it often-which tune would you prefer to go out on, would you take it with you for eternity, what if God was into Disco and we always put on a favorite before turning left. Thirty years later, I still think about it and try to have good music on at all times. Who wants to die while listening to Barbara Streisand, or Simply Red? Not me, dammit.
The near-fatal left turns continued. We never did figure out what caused it and planned routes, accordingly. We NEVER turned left in front of a semi, again and we always had good music playing. A few years later the stereo and cassette player in the car died. My boombox accompanied us on every drive. Leaving high school, it was perched on my right shoulder banging out Live Wire by Motley Crue and my buddy saw another friend walking down the road to our left, cutting the wheel hard to make the closest side street, in order to pick the guy up. Did I mention the car had a host of other issues that were the bane of my existence? Bane number two manifested itself for the first time as my buddy slammed the car into a suicide left turn and I sat holding a 20-pound boombox on my left shoulder. My fucking door swung open and I went right as the car went left. Holding on to the most important possession in my life, except possibly the hand-carved pipe that sported an extra-large chamber stuffed with killer thai-stick that had been curing for the last month; accumulating resins at a rate that only a true 70’s pothead could appreciate, I was presented with a large condundrum. In the microseconds I had left to live, even my tar-encrusted brain realized that dropping my bombox to save my miserable life was not an option and trying to save it would kill me.
I ended up leaving a bluejean stain across 4 lanes of 5 Mile Road, in a graceful, left-hand arc right into the curb at the corner of Oporto Street. I had my thumb hooked around the handle of the boombox and my little finger curled around the plastic door lock. The car stalled; he lost power steering and the car slammed into the curb instead of completing the turn. So did I. As the curb ripped me the rest of the way out of the car, the lock snapped off and I cupped the boombox to my chest and rolled onto the grass next to the church that looks like the bow of a ship and up to the feet of a very surprised friend who declined a ride home. I wonder why? I ended up with a massively bruised hip, missing skin on various parts of my body, including my ass, but the boombox was unhurt and still playing Live Wire.
We never fixed the door and while it came open all the time, I never put the boombox on my shoulder after that day and got good at catching the door as it popped open with no warning. I think that was also possibly when I started wearing a seatbelt, regularly. One of the last times I remember the door opening, it happened during a quick trip to my buddy’s house from a warehouse we both worked in. Two other guys came with us to take a quick dip in his pool. On the way back, as we blasted down a washboard-like dirt road, the car began to slide right into the bank on the side of the road. My buddy jerked the wheel left, the door flew open, hit the bank and slammed shut so hard the window shattered all over us. Nobody said a word. We drove in silence back to work and after walking into the break room; I took off the cowboy hat I was wearing. Shattered glass spilled onto the table and floor and we laughed and laughed.
One of the last road trips in that car was, fittingly, to a huge outdoor music festival. We left 2 days early because we didn’t think the car would make it. That night it rained hard and we drove through a very deep puddle at about 40mph. The rusty floorboards in both foot wells disintegrated and a wave of muddy water washed over both of us. We had to turn around and drive home an hour to change clothes. We placed cardboard over the holes and avoided puddles that weekend. It was one of the best concerts I have ever been to and that damn car made it back home, though we were sure we would end up hitch-hiking.
That car ran for only a few weeks after that, but before it was put to rest, I remember how it became an ambulance for a neighbor of mine and how with the combined police force of 3 large cities looking for it and knowing he was going to a hospital, they lost him. I listened to the search on a police radio, not knowing it was my buddy in that Valiant, or I could have told them what would happen. That he would pass up 3 other hospitals in order to avoid left turns until the last possible moment (sometimes it wouldn’t start back up) and drive 8 miles, straight down Five Mile Rd. with that piece of shit floored; running 16 red lights with eyes closed, in order to only have to make one high-speed left turn and coast up to the ER entrance at a hospital 2 towns away. Despite the heroic effort of car and driver, our neighbor died, bleeding out in the backseat with his head in the lap of another friend-the victim of murder by an off-duty policeman. I met my fiend later that night, in Homicide and knew instantly what he did when I realized it was him and his car. The night spent at Homicide is a story in itself, as is the trial we ended up part of, but they are for another day. We watched the sun come up that morning, sitting on its hood getting shit-faced with two Detroit cops after a long night down at homicide. The car was retired after that-too much blood in the backseat and too many memories.