Excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. If you are new to me and this blog and figuring this all out, consider scrolling down to start at the beginning chapter (blogpost) March 13 or clicking here to read about Dave
When the weather was nice, the guys would mix things up and plan a Guy’s Night Out, GNO, somewhere in town to get Dave out of the house. Usually, a drive-in movie morphed into the par-tay that followed Dave everywhere. A long caravan of cars lined up to enter the drive-in with ONE lone driver in each and a suspiciously low-riding trunk full of several unaccounted for passengers. My husband observed, “that was a flaw in planning on their part, having just ONE person in the car. Two would be the perfect cover for a low dragging trunk like that.” Regardless, this is the standard protocol all of their friends followed when they entered the drive-in. I love thinking about the perspective of the attendant taking their money, they were fooling no one. Somehow though, each car was always waived on in.
Dave had a Chevy van that was a pale yellow, early 70s vintage, somewhat like the Scooby-Doo cartoon’s Mystery Machine. My dad cut two boards that were used as ramps, they were inexplicably blue. Knowing my dad, they were likely made from scrap wood found in our garage. The guys called them “the blue loaders” and used them to get Dave in the van and up steps at a variety of places as needed. His van was not designed to have anyone sitting in a wheelchair, which I am sure is no surprise to anyone, especially since this was the mid-seventies, years before The Americans with Disabilities Act, wheelchair ramps anywhere or cool retrofits for disabled-use were conceptualized.
Dave could not sit up straight in his wheelchair in the cargo area of the van. He was 4-6 inches too tall between the height of his wheelchair, which was slightly higher than a regular chair and his own height. He was not that tall at 5’11,” but maybe he had a long torso. The guys were very careful to avoid hitting his head when getting him through the van doorway, but he also had to tilt his head to one side or the other the entire ride from point A to point B.
Someone thought of the elegantly sophisticated placement of a spare tire laid flat on its side between the two front seats, the only seats in the van, by the way, to place and elevate his front wheels. This tipped his wheelchair back enough to keep his head from hitting the roof. He couldn’t see out of the van all that well having to bend his head to the side, but with no windows in the side of the van, he really couldn’t see anything but the roof being tipped backward. Going anywhere with his friends was always worth it and usually a short duration, so not a big deal.
The guys brought folding lawn chairs to sit on, and they rolled around with Dave as you would expect not being formally fastened to the vehicle before the federally mandated seatbelt law. Having spent untethered miles in the back of that van myself, I can picture them in their aluminum lawn chairs, more than likely a bit tipsy, rounding a corner, arms, and legs flailing as they bashed into the walls or for balance, well, not Dave’s arms or legs, Dave just had to go with the flow. Everyone would be shouting in escalating pitch to no one in particular, “Whooo-ooo-oo-aaaaaaa, Buuuddy!!!” In time all the guys learned how to drive quite gently with smooth starts and stops, considerate rounding of corners, going over speed bumps or rough roads extra slow to give Dave the smoothest ride possible under very, very crude passage conditions.
They unfolded themselves from the trunks of all the cars, spread themselves out at the movies with their ice chests, food, illegal beer, chairs, their favorite people. They always had a great time laughing at their uncanny ability to sneak in. That was before they were old enough to discern that the attendant at the gate was the same age as they were and didn’t give a shit about allowing a bunch of people to smuggle their way in.
After the movie-par-TAY, even after the consequences of arrests, court dates, fines, and probation, they would still cruise E Street. This is apparently how young people connected when they were too young for bars and obviously decades before social media. I feel like I have to outline that last part for those who are young and cannot fathom a time when one had to leave the house to socialize.
Kids of driving age from all the surrounding towns arrived to cruise E street, and the convergence of so many cars with no real intention of going anywhere fast always turned into an enormous traffic jam. People purposely abandoned their vehicles in the middle of the street, doors left open, to mingle about as if at a traditional house party but in the middle of a four-lane wide street with a suicide turning lane in the middle. After a few years of this popular phenomenon, local law enforcement figured out a way to stop this from happening altogether, but not tonight. For the time being, it was the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night. I can’t say there is much more for young people 16-21 years of age to do in most cities to this day other than the movies, so I’m glad the internet is an option.
It may not be surprising to learn that on this occasion, we are way past the statute of limitations on drinking and driving, so I will assert that the guys were a bit beyond tipsy. They, I know three of the they at this point, no one can remember and I didn’t stop to ask who was in the van back when I first heard this story so we know Brian and Dave were in the van. I know Dennis B was driving. I think Paul K and Bruce R were in the van too. Anyway, THEY were in the middle of the cruise traffic jam of abandoned cars. They decided to abandon the van to join the crowd and more efficiently cruise on foot. Dennis put the van in Park, and they all hopped out. They went to find ladies with whom to mingle in the dead stopped traffic social scene.
The threat of getting some sort of ticket from local law enforcement was ever hanging in the balance, so they had to remain vigilant and always be prepared to dive back in the van to make a fast getaway. I do not understand whatever it is about the potential of getting caught doing something we’re not supposed to be doing that adds to the thrill of doing that thing. I can only assume they were but moths to this particular cruising (girls, girls, girls) flame and could not help themselves.
They like everyone else left the doors open, the two front and the double-doors on the side of the van open for the getaway. Dave stayed in the van because it took way too long to get him out or back in to have been plausible. He was perfectly happy to be with them in the middle of any adventure, enjoying their hilarious selves. People always stopped and poked their heads or jumped in the van to chat with him, so a bit of the cruise came to him. It was all fun and games.
The guys milled about the forbidden social scene. An unfounded murmur filtered across, and through the crowd, the mere thought of a cop was headed the general direction, and everyone bolted back to their cars to speed off, the guys included. All the doors in the general vicinity slammed, cars split. Dennis floored it.
The sudden jarring momentum caused Dave to fly over backward, toes upward, his legs always straight out in front of him in his wheelchair, stopping abruptly when his feet (protected by the boots of his braces) hit the roof of the van, thankfully lodging him in place and protecting his head from hitting the floor of the van behind him. As Dennis floored it, everyone else in the van realized and shouted that Brian was not in the van. He was running toward the front passenger door yelling for them to “WAAAAIT!!” Dennis reacted by stomping on the brakes causing Dave to slam forward into his original traveling position with his front wheels crashing down on the spare tire. The guys were busting up laughing at Dave jerking back and forth with Dennis’ subtle, concrete-heavy foot on the gas and brakes.
Brian had reached the van, but instead of getting in, he was banging on the passenger door, yelling, “My fooooot! My FOOOOOOOOT!! You are ON MY FUUUUUCKING FOOOOOOT!!!” Dennis overreacted by flooring it again to move the van the mere inches necessary to get off Brian’s fucking foot. The van instead lurched several feet forward and caused Dave to repeat his flight over backward, boots bashing into the headliner. Dennis slammed on the brakes again to fully stop the van’s forward momentum so Brian could get in, Dave thudded back down on the tire. Brian hobbled into the van quickly and slammed the door. Dennis floored it for the real getaway this time. Dave flew backward again and remained there in suspension, his head a foot above the van floor as they proceeded home. The guys were already out of breath, laughing at Dave flying around in the back of the van after the first false start. Brian’s fucking foot thing took them all over the edge with convulsive pants-pissing laughter.
The next day Brian called Dave and mentioned, “Man, I don’t know what I did, but my foot HURTS LIKE HELL.” After Dave caught his breath from laughing his loud barking seal of a laugh heard anywhere in the house, he reviewed the sequence of events that led up to Brian’s foot hurting like hell, “You don’t remember Dennis running over your foot? STOPPING on your foot? You shouted, ‘YOU’RE ON MY FUUUUUCKING FOOOOT?’” Brief pause. Brian remembered with a drawn-out sigh of, “Oooooooh, yeeaaah.”