JOY RIDE – 1992 17 YEARS OLD
Bo and Luke jumped rivers in the General Lee, the most racist car on television; we tried it with a 19-foot Crown Vic.
It all started at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) juke joint, otherwise known as a Legion. Brian, Ray, and I were paid to collect the cover charge and check everyone’s I.D. We were only 16; I am not sure how we got the gig. Maybe we blended in better than I would now like to think. It seemed to make sense at the time.
Our parents only allowed it because we would be graduating in a few months and moving out anyway. They merged us into full independence, unlike the freshmen girls at college who ended up on the cover of Girls Gone Wild. Different than today, our parents did not go with us to register for classes, harass our teachers, pick our apartment, or show us how to buy groceries. A smile and a wave was all we got as we drove off from the house. Well, my dad was definitely smiling; Mom seemed a little sad.
The VFW was jammed with rural Georgia’s finest. I never saw any minorities at the bar; I guess they were either excused from foreign wars or just not invited to the crappy redneck after-party. All the men drove trucks, sported mullets, and proved their strength by lifting truck transmissions with one arm. Jeff Foxworthy could have sat in the parking lot and written a book each weekend. The women also rocked mullets or perms or both, and looked like tanned leather in heels. If we watched closely, we could even see the occasional lady dipping Copenhagen — it was a real classy joint. When the bar closed there was usually a fight or two in the parking lot, and we would comb through the rocks looking for loose change and jewelry when they were finished.
In a scene straight from Wild Kingdom, we would watch the old wildebeests do their mating dance each night. Their dancing looked like someone had stabbed a drunken stork with a pitchfork. It was a disgusting sight, but not watching was out of the question. As the night wore on, pairs were formed; the shallow end of the gene pool expanded, and once again Darwin was proven wrong.
It didn’t take long for a plan to hatch out of this weekend party dipped in ass. On the night of Operation Joy Ride, we carefully observed and examined all the patrons. We had the herd picked apart and the most vulnerable beast marked.
Sheila was a character. She liked to dance, drink, smoke, dip, fight, and more than anything, screw. Her hair looked like sun-bleached bailing twine. The jeans she squeezed into Saturday night ought to be in the denim hall of fame. Her perfume was a cross between trashy and sophisticated; one jelly jar of Southern Comfort would tip the scales in either direction. Sheila came to the bar looking for a good time, and she always seemed to find it in one position or another.
This is 1991, when a “cougar” was still a large cat, not a woman who is hot, old, and preys on young men. Even so, Sheila could not be categorized as a true cougar; she scavenged as opposed to hunted, and the age of her prey was irrelevant. She might be better described as a sexually aggressive hyena. Sheila was also married; a fact that did not slow her down one bit, but is a very important element to this story. I am not sure what type of man would have married Sheila — I never met him. I always assumed he was at home with their six kids (of which, rumor has it, only three resembled him in any way — the six-foot-six red head being the most obvious outlier).
Sheila moved in for the kill around one a.m. She stalked a severely inebriated cowboy who was stumbling toward his truck. In this neck of the woods drunk driving was a sport, mothers were not only not MADD, they were usually riding bitch. That girl moved fast; I am not sure what she whispered to the cowboy, but it sure as hell worked. She was a pack of one, and within thirty seconds she was jumping into his truck, leaving her own beautiful boat behind. I hope he dipped himself in bleach the next morning. Our new ship was a white and rust colored Crown Vic with a 4.6 L V8 under the hood. We waited until three a.m. to make our move.
The parking lot had been empty for almost two hours and only a few cars passed on the road. To avoid the lights, we entered the woods and took the long way around to our target parked in the back end of the lot. The plan was straightforward: Ray would use his Slim Jim to break in and hotwire the boat. Brian and I would egg him on to do what he did best — drive like the illegitimate child of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty if they were able to procreate in some freaky man-on-man action.
Brian and I waited in the woods. Ray slid the Slim Jim between the window and door and then looked up surprised.
“It’s unlocked,” he whispered.
This was going to be easier than we expected. We all three piled in and Ray ducked under the dash with his pliers and flashlight. He came up ten seconds later, which would have been fast even for him.
“The keys are in it.”
It was meant to be.
Brian and I were riding shotgun; no one was demoted to the backseat on this trip.
“You boys better buckle up,” Ray ordered as the V8 came to life.
Although we ran amuck in almost every way, self-enforced safety standards like this kept us alive. Another one that really paid off was not aiming loaded guns at each other.
I love two-wheel drive. Ray mashed the pedal like it owed him something and dog-whipped three tight doughnuts. Captain Ahab then slid it out of the last doughnut cocked at 45 degrees from the direction in which we were traveling. I think this is called “drifting” in one of those crappy car movies where the manly men drive around in souped-up Honda Civics. He took this path all the way to the street, where the Crown Vic grabbed the asphalt sending a strong torque though the car. I felt a brief stir of panic in my stomach until I saw the grin on Ray’s face.
“Yo, Nate, chill the fuck out. I got this bitch under control. Kick back and enjoy the ride,” the grin smirked.
It took a while for the tires to completely catch up to the car, but once we were up on plane we were doing around fifty.
“Stand on it!” Brian ordered.
Brian was always guilty of daring Ray, and Ray was always guilty of taking him up on it — not that he needed any encouragement. The Crown Vic was closing in on triple digits. The shell of the car was floating off the frame in a side-to-side motion. Driving this fast down rural paved roads was extremely dangerous with diminishing thrill; we needed dirt roads to maximize the thrill while minimizing the risk of death and dismemberment.
A car passed us in the oncoming lane. It was not a cop, but it gave us a good excuse to run from somebody. Ray slammed on the brakes in order to hit a hard right down the pipeline.
Our ship was on dirt. Ray must have been born on a dirt road; he was the Beethoven of red clay. The pipelines in Georgia are a large network of dirt roads and trails most NASCAR drivers cut their teeth on in their early teens. The road we had chosen was more of a dirt bike trail, but Sheila’s boat managed to fit. We had driven the trail before, and Ray knew which trees we could and could not run over. It did not take long to lose both side mirrors. Our chauffer clipped a few abandoned cars and 50-gallon drums, digging inch-deep furrows down each side. All four quarter panels were now concave, and the front windshield had a spider web cracking up from the bottom right. The ventilation in the car was poor, and I was starting to get a dust headache when Ray yelled, “Here comes the river!” It might be truthfully described as a large creek, but we called it a river to make it sound more impressive in the event that we cleared it.
“I think we can make it!” screamed Ray over the rocks and debris hitting the car. Negative, Ghost Rider. The pattern was full.
Small hills flanked the river making nice ramps for dirt bikes and four wheelers; I doubt they were designed with oversized speeding cars in mind. The car went airborne, and we heard the telltale whine of the wheels free spinning in the open air. Unlike the Dukes, Waylon Jennings was not playing music in the background or delivering the brief narration before the commercial break.
It was dark, so I am not sure how high we were, but I think not being able to see the ground made it seem even higher. The landing was far from Mary Lou Retton and nothing like the cars that fly horizontal on TV. It dropped like that gangly white guy who fought Tyson. We hit headfirst into the upcoming bank, which subsequently shoved the back end into the opposite bank, effectively bridging the creek with the car. The seat belts had done their job and Ray was gassing Sheila’s Crown Vic to get it unstuck. A smooth ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzz is all we heard.
“I think the ride is over,” Ray said as he unfastened his seatbelt.
We leaped from the car, now five feet off the ground. Our boat was dry-docked and bookended by the river banks. Even with all three of us pushing on the car, we could not get it to budge.
“It was fun while it lasted,” Brian laughed.
As we started walking back, the story grew and grew each time it was relived. It took us 45 minutes to get back to the bar, find our own truck, and head home.
The beautiful Crown Vic was left right where it landed; it would be discovered the next day by whoever took the trail first. We were not nervous about the owner trying to track us down. It would be hard for Sheila the Hyena to explain to her husband why her car had been left at the bar and subsequently found suspended above a river five miles down a motorbike trail. I am not sure what story she told him, but it never came back to us.
The moral of the story is this: If you are going to cheat on your spouse, do not leave your car at the bar unlocked with the keys in the ignition when 16-year-olds who believe The Dukes of Hazzard was a documentary are running the door.