The Knuckleheads of Summer

Raw excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. If you are new to this blog, please consider checking out the About Dave (link above) who we celebrated and toasted at his Viking Funeral and who this book is about.. As with any blog the most recent post is featured on the top. To start at the beginning please scroll to the bottom. This is one of the very few stories actually written by Dave!

As you remember, Dave and I spent many hours meeting to discuss writing his book but died before really getting it started. My mom found this story in a file last fall (2019) as she was cleaning, preparing for the sale of her house, after 52 years of life at that address in that beautiful home.

As I read it cold, out loud to my husband with no idea where it was going, I began laughing so hard as the story unfolded and grew progressively worse, he couldn’t understand me. I had never heard this story and was so grateful Dave dictated and printed it out and that my mom saved it. I have edited it for clarity, but the voice and perspective are from the first person, Dave. These events occurred the summer after high school graduation about two months before he was hurt.

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The Knuckleheads of Summer

The only reason I’m taking any time to write about this; it is such a clear memory of how I defined my physical prowess. I had no way of knowing how much and how drastically my life would change in a very short period of time.

Brian and I rode in his 1967 Chevy Chevelle Super Sport to Bruce’s house, where another friend, Paul, was going to meet us. The four of us rode in Bruce’s van to our favorite liquor store, where we bought a case of beer. We drove to the Castaway restaurant parking lot, which sat on top of a hill known as Little Mountain in San Bernardino.

The restaurant had an extremely steep driveway that was approximately 200 yards long. Once at the top of the driveway, you were in the main parking lot. If you veered to your left, there was a downhill connection to a lower parking lot, that had an amazing, at least two-hundred-degree view of the San Bernardino Valley.

Brian and I were sitting in the back of the van, where Bruce and Paul joined us after we parked. The four of us sat drinking a case of beer. It took approximately an hour to an hour and a half for the four to drink all the beer. I neglected to mention that it was after 11 p.m., the restaurant was closed. There was no one in the parking lot except the four 18-year-old knuckleheads that we were.

Bruce had his stereo cranked up, and the two side doors of his van were open as we enjoyed the night, beer and the view. As I look back and remember one of the things I liked about my group of friends is that we were not angry drunks who went looking for a fight after we had a few beers, we were more interested in having fun than looking for trouble or fighting.

It had to be well past midnight when Bruce decided he was going to show us how powerful his four-banger Chevy engine was by peeling out and laying rubber in the parking lot. Brian, Paul, and I remained sitting in the back of the van. Bruce crawled into the driver’s seat, turned the ignition over, revved the engine, stomped on the clutch, dropped the column shift gear into reverse then sidestepped the clutch.

The van never moved; the only thing Bruce accomplished was to completely sheer off all for motor mounts and dump the engine sideways, leaving us sitting in silence. The three of us in the back of the van were in absolute hysterics. Bruce just sat there as we continued to laugh.

After a few minutes, we finally calmed down, we got out of the van and attempted to assess the damage with a flashlight with batteries that were rapidly dying. Brian, Bruce, and Paul had spent their junior and senior year of high school in Auto-Shop, so it didn’t take long for the three of them to assess the damage. Fortunately, the gas line didn’t break, and there was no damage to the oil pan.

Far below the plateau of the restaurant parking lot was a narrow two-lane road that transitions into a long sweeping s curve connecting the top of E street continuing north to Kendall Drive. Heading south, it led to a very gross motel a short distance away from us. That was where the closest payphone was located. After lengthy discussions of what our next move should be, it was decided that Paul and I would go down the embankment at the end of the parking lot to make a call.

Paul and I climbed over the railing. It was approximately 200 feet from the guard rail of the parking lot to the road below. It was also a steep hill of which Paul nor I gave any thought to. We simply jumped over the edge, then had to hold on to the cactus-like weeds for dear life as we slid our way downhill fast and landed on the road, hard. There was no sidewalk, curb, gutter, or shoulder. The two-lane road was narrowly cut into the side of the foothill. We landed in the northbound lane of traffic on a big sweeping curve, very dangerous.

We walked in the road, about a quarter of a mile to the payphone at the seedy motel. We had determined that the only person we could call at this time of night was Paul’s older brother. Paul’s brother was 22 or 23 at the time and had just recently been married. None of us wanted to call our parents, so we figured Paul’s brother was the way to avoid getting into trouble. It took several minutes. The half of the conversation I heard for Paul to convince his brother to get up out of a warm bed shared with an attractive woman and rescue four drunk idiots.

Several minutes passed while Paul and I stood there waiting for his brother, in the distance coming down the road above us was a vehicle that was becoming more familiar as it grew closer. It was a cop car. Paul and I just stood there with our hands in our pockets, trying to act like nothing was wrong. As the car grew closer, it began to slow down and stopped directly in front of us; there were two officers in the vehicle. The officer closest to us on the passenger side rolled his window down and said: “Do you two morons belong to the numb-nuts with the broken motor mounts in the Castaway parking lot?” We look at each other, shrugged our shoulders and sheepishly said “yes.” Without making eye contact. Both officers began laughing instantly. We both stood there, unsure of what to do. After a moment, the one closest to us, trying to hold back his laughter, asked with less than a straight face if we needed help. Paul quickly responded, “Help is on its way.” With that, they broke out laughing again and continued doing so as they rolled up their window and rolled away.

Shortly after, Paul’s brother showed up with his wife driving. As I remember, there wasn’t much conversation; the passenger door opened, and once we were in, the question was, “Where to?” It was a very silent, cold ride from the phone booth under the Penguin Motel’s buzzing neon turquoise cursive lettered sign where they picked us up to Bruce’s house approximately 5 miles away. When we arrived at Bruce’s house, it was well after midnight, probably after 1 a.m. Paul and I stepped out of the car, and they drove off without a word. No “Good luck,” No comment whatsoever, they just drove away, leaving us standing in the street.

Looking back, why Bruce didn’t go with Paul is beyond reason to me. The tools and equipment that we needed to get his van home were locked up in his garage. Neither Paul nor I could open his garage door, and if we had tried the odds of his father coming out his back door ready to fire his shotgun at us was a frightening possibility. A new plan was needed.

We jumped into Paul’s Datsun pickup that he left at Bruce’s earlier and drove back to where Bruce and Brian were waiting for us. They shared their entertaining version of their encounter with the police. Initially, the policemen approached with caution, but after they inspected the engine with their flashlights and saw Bruce’s motor laying sideways in the engine compartment, these two outstanding representatives of the law began laughing hysterically. They asked Bruce to explain, “exactly how this happened,” which he did. His response caused an even more hysterical pitch of laughter between the officers. Once Bruce conveyed help would soon be there, they got into their patrol car and drove away only to find us, the pathetic “help that was on the way” knuckleheads with our hands shoved deep in our pockets waiting on the road in front of the very scuzzy Penguin Motel.

 

I stayed with the van. Paul took Bruce and Brian back to Bruce’s garage to get the tools and equipment necessary. Brian drove his Chevelle back because Paul’s pickup was not strong enough to pull Bruce’s van up the driveway of the lower parking lot. By the time the three of them returned, it was past 2 a.m., at which point Paul bailed out on us, saying, “If I don’t get home, I will be in trouble.” Brian, Bruce, and I looked at each other as if to say; you’ve got to be kidding? He wasn’t, and as we stood there incredulous, he drove away!

Bruce grabbed the rope that they had brought with them and attempted to secure the motor so it would not move around any more than necessary while the van was moving. The three of us pushed the van, so it lined up with the driveway to the upper parking. As dumb as it sounds, Bruce had removed the original bumpers on his van and had replaced them with some custom wooden bumpers he made in shop class. People did that back then. Of course, they made his van look cool or so he thought, but they were absolutely useless in terms of protection in an accident, not to mention the possibility of withstanding having to be towed.

We positioned the van at the far end of the parking lot to get a good running start at the fairly steep incline to the upper parking lot. Bruce secured one of the ropes to Brian’s bumper and the other end behind the front wooden bumper of his van. He then instructed Brian to continue driving after he reached the upper parking lot for Bruce’s van to clear the steep driveway. We wanted the van to be on level ground at the top of the parking lot, so we could untie the tow before heading the van down the steep driveway.

Brian assured Bruce he knew what he was doing, got in his car, and started it up. Bruce got in his van and closed the door. Brian put his Chevelle into first gear and gently eased the clutch out to take the slack out of the rope. Bruce began yelling, “Faster! Faster!” Brian shifted into second gear, and his speed picked up considerably, as he headed for the uphill driveway. By the time he hit the bottom of the driveway, he had shifted into third gear.

Brian cleared the top of the driveway and immediately slowed down. This, in turn, caused counterproductive slack in the rope. As the tension decreased between the two vehicles, Bruce’s van began to lose momentum due to the severity of the steep incline of the driveway. The van’s front tires just scratched the top of the upper parking lot, leaving the rest of the van still on the slope of the driveway.

Bruce had his foot buried deep in the brake, trying to keep the van from rolling back down the hill. Brian placed his car in neutral and put on his emergency brake, exited, and quickly realized he did not drive forward far enough. Bruce, frustrated, was pissed. Brian got back in his car, moved it forward in an attempt to remove the slack in the rope and bring the van the short distance up to the top of the driveway. Bruce gradually let his foot off his break, but there was no working momentum. Both vehicles were pulling against each other, and the rope snapped. Without power, the brakes were not sufficient. The van rolled backward down the short steep driveway and coasted back to the other end of the parking lot where the tow first started.

The van stopped. Bruce got out and was beyond mad; he was enraged. His arms were flailing, pointing at Brian at the top of the driveway and motioning back to his van at the back of the parking lot. It never ceases to amaze me the foulmouthed phraseology an 18-year-old can put together when they’re angry. The more Bruce yelled at Brian, the angrier Brian became.

I’ve got these two knuckleheads at opposite ends of the parking lot yelling unrepeatable curse words at the top of their lungs at each other at 2:30 in the morning. They made their way toward each other as they yelled. I couldn’t help it; I was laughing at the two of them. Neither one of them realized how ridiculous they had become over a busted rope. I took a moment to get their attention and pointed out how insane the entire night had been since Bruce sidestepped his clutch. Between defying death sliding down a steep hill of sticker tumbleweeds, walking on a dangerous road in the dark, using a payphone at a super sketchy motel, two encounters with San Bernardino’s finest, Paul’s pissed off brother and his even more pissed off hot bride, two trips to Bruce’s house, and now this. They both started laughing and realized that the best thing to do was to try again and make it work this time. The rope was retied, and this time the van cleared the top of the driveway by 20 feet.

One would think that was enough antics for one night, but no. I jumped in the back of Bruce’s van, Brian followed us down the long driveway and out into the street where there was enough of a slope to coast for at least a mile. Once we began slowing down, I removed my shoes and socks, opened the back doors of the van and placed my feet on the hood of Brian’s Chevelle, and used my body as a tow bar between Brian’s front grille and Bruce’s wooden bumper. How stupid was that?! Fortunately, it worked, and we were able to get Bruce’s van back to his home without any further event. Or so we thought.

 

As we pulled up to Bruce’s house, we were surprised to see the fire department leaving following a hiss of airbrakes; they roared back to the station by our house, the same station Brian would in the next few years start his career. At some point, during the night, Bruce’s mother got up around 1 a.m. to check to see if Bruce was home and in bed. She probably was awakened by one of the two stops made to their house by any of us.

As she walked through the house, she lit a cigarette. When she entered Bruce’s room, she inadvertently dropped some hot ashes from her cigarette on Bruce’s bed. She was unaware of what had happened and went back to bed. Sometime after that, but before we returned, she woke up to the smell of smoke, woke her husband, and they quickly found Bruce’s bed fully engulfed in fire.

Fortunately, the only damage to the entire house beside smoke was the complete decimation of Bruce’s bed. It had been removed from the house and lay wilted in the middle of the backyard, sad, stinky, charred, and successfully saturated with water by the SBFD.

By the time we had secured Bruce’s van, his mother was in the front yard yelling at him with worry, wanting to know where he had been. Naturally, he was equally concerned with why the fire department had just left the house. His dad sat tiredly on the front porch, and defeatedly said, “Your mother burned your room down.” Cutting off his mother’s explanation. It was way past 3 a.m., Brian and I wanted to disappear quietly. Without a word, we began backing our way to his car, knowing it was way beyond time for us to get going home and ending this night.

© Mardi Linane Copyright 2020

2 thoughts on “The Knuckleheads of Summer

  1. I love this story! It kindled my memories of The Castaway, although, mine aren’t nearly as exciting as this! Is the book available for purchase?

    1. It will be Elizabeth! I have shared the first third of it on the blog. It will probably go through three rounds of editing before publication. Hoping before the end of the year. So far about 135k words written. Just a few more to go. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment here and on Facebook. If you know of someone who would benefit from reading, please share! XO M

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