Still Cruising E Street 1975

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

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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.”

The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time 1973

Excerpt from the upcoming biography, Viking Funeral. Thank you for all your comments and love. Scroll down to start from the beginning around March 13. Or click here to read about Dave

Right before high school graduation Brian and Dave were out in the world on a Saturday afternoon. They were down the street from our house when some friends drove by and asked them if they wanted to hop in their car to cruise E Street. Day or night E Street in San Bernardino was the place to connect with people.

Brian and Dave shrugged at each other with an unspoken why the hell not? and hopped in the back seat of the station wagon, joining their friends. The back seat floorboards were littered with empty beer cans level with the hump of the transmission that separated the two sides of the car. There was no room for their feet and no way to avoid the crinkle of the cans as they got in.

The car reeked of a range of beer fresh and stale. The two guys in the front seat had been playing softball all day and subsequently had been drinking all day, pitching the empties over their shoulder into the backseat spilling the dribbles of beer at the bottom of each can in the process. Dave and Brian had had nothing to drink so far, but it was early, and they JUST got in the car.

The guys headed for E Street and cruised up and down the crowded street, socializing loudly out the windows at people they knew and people they didn’t but maybe hoped to know. At some point, they were side-by-side with a car full of people they knew. They were shouting and laughing as they went. The question of beer came up as in, “Ya got any beer?” shouted to the guys in the station wagon. The guys in the station wagon did, in fact, have beer. They had loads of beer in the cargo area in the way back.

Dave decided to crawl back there, all 230 pounds of him over the back seat into the way back of the station wagon where the beer was in an ice chest. Ever friendly, helpful, considerate, and generous as he was, through the open back window of the station wagon, he proceeded to lean out of the moving car as far as he could to hand the requested beer to the passengers in the also moving car beside them in the next lane.

That is when they all heard the distinct sound of a siren make a single WOOOooooo. The car in the lane beside them took off. The guys in the station wagon were stuck and busted.

The two guys in the front seat threw their half-full open containers of beer into the back seat, pouring their contents all over Brian, who this early in the cruising process had had NOTHING to drink. Yet, he was now saturated in beer and worried. He was very worried.

The officer got out of his car and approached the station wagon from behind. Dave was the first one ordered to step out of the vehicle, which he obliged by awkwardly climbing, again, 230 pounds of bulky him out the window. He was directed to stand by the side of the road. “Yes sir, Officer.” Next, the three other passengers were ordered to get out. The driver and front passenger obliged quickly and moved beside Dave in line at the side of the road.

When Brian opened his door, empty beer cans unavoidably crinkled and fell out as he moved his feet to get out, he stopped, panicked at what this specific noise ‘looked like.’ He froze in place in the car as he made first completely sober eye contact with the young cop who was watching intently. The cop motioned impatiently for him to continue out of the vehicle. The empties crinkled and clanked as they uncontrollably fell out in the gutter with his every move. The noise that only an empty beer can make when hitting the ground echoed around them, and the stench of beer specifically exuding off Brian was stinky and heavy in the air. Things were looking really bad for Brian, the only sober one in the group. He moved to his obligatory place in line at the side of the road with the other guys, practically regretting the day he was born.

The officer gave the field sobriety test to the driver. The other boys stood in a line waiting for their fate, whatever that was. There was only one officer, and there were four of them.

Brian’s thoughts began racing. ‘I wasn’t driving. I haven’t even had ONE beer. There is only ONE cop I can probably make it through the field on foot, and he probably wouldn’t be able to catch me.’ He was torn away from his thoughts by reality and the handcuffs being slapped on his wrists.

Back-up officers arrived. All four boys were arrested. The driver and passenger were legally drunk, had open containers in the car as well as illegal possession of alcohol. Dave was hanging out the rear window of a moving vehicle with an open container of alcohol. Brian, the self-described innocent lamb on this day of days, was charged with illegal possession of alcohol. He was totally in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was so unfair.

Brian and Dave had the same date for their court appearances for their violations and planned to go together. Brian got dressed in his suit at our house and had my dad help him tie his tie. My dad was the kind of dad who would help you tie your tie if you needed it.

Sidebar: Brian had my dad tie his tie for many years. It was very sweet. They both enjoyed the special connection between found dad and found son. I didn’t realize this was a thing until years later, Brian was walking through the house with a necktie, tied properly but on a hanger that he carried in front of him on his way out the door as he said “Bye” to my mom and me. He closed the door and left. I looked at my mom, pointed his general direction, and inquired “What was that?” My mom said, “What?” “The tie?” “Oh, your father ties his ties for him as needed.” “Brian can tie a tie can’t he?” “Pretty sure he can, but he likes to ask your father to do it, and your father likes to do it.” Brian was a little older than mid-twenties, but then again he didn’t wear a tie very often as a fireman. I thought it was the sweetest thing that showed the nature of his relationship with my dad with our family. His tie on a hanger was a physical representation of that relationship, I loved it and giggled.

Back to court: The boys were assigned different courtrooms. Understandably they were both very nervous. They were less than a month away from graduating High School, their whole lives stretched out ahead of them. This day felt ominous. They each went to their assigned courts. Dave awaited his fate meeting his ‘judge and jury’ which was actually just a judge. He received a simple fine. An 18-year-old, hanging out of the rear window of a moving vehicle passing alcohol to another moving vehicle. He got a $50 fine. Dave paid his fine and left the courtroom, feeling very relieved. He waited in the hall for Brian to finish.

Brian came out looking defeated. He asked Dave how it went. Dave told him he had to pay a fine. Brian was stunned, “You ONLY paid a fine?” “Ya, $50 bucks!” “Fifty Bucks? I had to pay a $75 fine, AND I got six months’ probation!” It was so unjust! He reminded Dave and anyone who would listen to this day of this travesty of justice, “And I didn’t even have one beer!”

When the boys returned home, they dragged themselves pitifully through the door, heads hung low with long pathetic faces. My mom took one look at them and just knew something was terribly wrong and asked, “How did it go?” In concert, the boys sputtered “TERRIBLE. (Pause here for dramatic effect…emphasis on dramatic) The judge sentenced us to jail!” My mom went into panic mode at this TERRIBLE information. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVE TO GO TO JAIL? TO JAIL? JAIL??? WHAT ABOUT GRADUATION?” Her voice climbing in tember with each mounting question. “Did you tell him you are two weeks away from graduation?” Boys both nod without looking up, still with the long faces. “He said it doesn’t matter; we have to report to jail right away!” “Right away? What does right away mean?” “Today! We just came home to change clothes, and then we are off to jail. (pause again) Today.” My mom began to really panic at this point, so the boys finally burst out with a JUST KIDDING!!!

“OH MY GOD, DAMN IT, YOU TWO!!!”

Brian then had to tell her about his travesty of justice compared to Dave’s sentence for the very first time. It was the equivalent of being a five-year-old telling his mom about his skinned knee that he got at school at the end of the school day and animatedly reliving the pain all over again.

A few years later, Brian was a young Fireman on duty and ran into THE arresting officer. The officer remembered him clearly. They laughed about it at that point. If Brian had made a run for it at that moment he had fantasized about doing so; he probably would not be where he was, a fireman, the job, and career of his dreams. Good thing he only got probation.