That's Why the Writer is a Vamp
I’m not saying I was the most capable or responsible driver extant. I admit I sought answers to important questions relating to the time / space continuum; like whether or not a Honda Accord with nearly six digits on the clock could do the ton. I planned my experiment carefully, selecting a deserted stretch of four-lane highway just outside of town for the daring deed. Give me a crash helmet and a stick of Beecham’s and I’d have been Chuck Yeager. I didn’t break the sound barrier, but I did peg it at 95.
In contrast, my classmates tested the upper limits of their ancient chariots between stoplights. Only the inherent limitations of their mounts (family sedans and old econo-hatches) slowed their progress. Other traffic didn’t figure. To accept a ride from one of my speed-crazed, hormonally-charged peers was like playing Russian roulette with half the chambers loaded. Fortunately, the brevity of the city confines limited the possibilities for automotive immolation. Unfortunately, our city was a small island in a sea of country roads, with endless opportunities to accel.
For those Boomers and Gen X’ers who came of age in a small mid-western town, the term “vamping” will bring back instant memories. For those of you who grew up in the burbs or amongst high-rises and belt highways, vamping was the fine art of launching a vehicle into flight over a bump. It was a relatively simply matter of blood, guts and a pair of lead feet. Find the right bump, back up a bit and go for it. As for the landing, well that WAS the tricky part. God help you if another car happened to be driving in the opposite direction.
There were more than 600 kids with licenses at my school, perhaps 2000 in the city. No one knew exactly who was riding this dark thrill-ride until they failed. And more than one did. Perhaps the knowledge that I was leaving for college after graduation kept me from vamping it up. Then again, that didn’t seem to stop my college-bound friends’ pursuit of “air time.” One particularly brazen pair of associates managed to mangle three cars between them. Two of the autos snuffed it in single car accidents. The other required a joint effort, in what became a famous “experiment.”
As in all towns, Springfield had a teen hangout: Quik & EZ (yes, we thought it was pretty funny too). This less than salubrious edifice sat on a corner, connected to a large strip-mall parking lot by a short, steep ramp. Despite the brief distance from the ramp to the street (perhaps 50 feet), our two heroes managed to drive their Nova onto the ramp at 50mph; enough to catch that elusive air. Emboldened by the accolades, the driver decided to perform their automotive stunt show in the opposite direction. Hitting the 45 degree parking lot connector at over 50 miles an hour, their car never actually touched the ramp. It flew from one lot to another, bottomed out, spun 180 degrees in a shower of sparks and plowed over an electric transformer.
Our heroes pulled themselves out, performed a quick inspection and discovered that the bottom of the car was fairly well fused. The car “looked like a canoe”. Since the police hadn’t showed (yet), and home was only two miles away, they decided leaving would be a good thing. They piled back in and headed home, shedding parts the whole way, driving into local legend.
For those who survived and got something faster; the next level was thrashing around the two-lane out by the lake. That road had lots of curves, little police presence and plenty of trees capable of cutting a Firebird in half (I saw the pictures). One particular stretch saw fatal accidents in three straight summers; proof of the road’s automotive allure and our local drivers’ courage/stupidity.
My luck ran out at the end of my senior year; I was rear-ended by a Sable in a driving rainstorm. For the next four years, my automobiling was restricted to summers and holidays; delivering Pizzas or heading out of town to boss hick kids and JD’s through cornfields. My first set of wheels would be a graduation “gift” of the sort that gave Trojans nightmares, but that, my friends, is another story.
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