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Youth Learns The Hard Way

by Robert Adcox

The other day I was feeling nostalgic and daydreaming about my youth. The misadventures I experienced were often harrowing while they unfolded, but now they seem like the good old days. Many of those memories centered on experiences with my dad’s car and too much free time. Like the time I spun my dad’s ’66 Dodge Polara out on a road running parallel to I-81. That’s an attention-getter as it is, but when you’re passing cars going 60 while you’re doing 70 -backward- is, well, a new experience in white knuckle terror. As frightened as I was at the time, I managed to sneak a look at interstate traffic. My visual acuity allowed me to see the astonished looks on my fellow motorists’ faces as I glided past; drivers showed irises surrounded by huge spanses of white.

That was unpleasant enough, but when I got the Polara stuck in a ditch I recalled the drivers-ed instructor’s advice for getting out of a ditch when your dad’s car gets stuck after travelling 70 miles per hour backward: put anything you can find under the rear wheels which might provide traction. In this case, my tee shirt would have to suffice. Now, I’m not one to advise on automotive engineering, but let me tell you right now that tee shirts don’t make good traction devices. No sir. It did, however, leave a nice tire tread emblem on my finest from Fruit-of-The-Loom.

Did I mention that this occurred in a very rainy muddy afternoon in February?

A tow truck was called by someone who must have gotten to a pay phone asap. Sure enough, here came “Five Dollar Davie”, so-named because of his fees: five dollars to hook the car up, five dollars to put it in neutral, etc. Donny took me and the Polara to the nearest garage for an inspection. Meanwhile, I put my once-proud tee shirt back on. You can imagine what the shirt looked like after it failed as a traction device.


Dad drove across town and picked me up. He took one look at the remnants of my shirt, acknowledged that it was a guy thing, and home we went in the mutually understood silence understood by a father and his son who’s going to be doing extra chores until he’s thirty-five.

What wasn’t as mutually understood was the look on mom’s face when I came into the house. Dad had told her that I had been in “an accident.” Standing resplendently before her, in still-damp remnants of my tee shirt covered with both mud (now dried enough to look like caked-on blood) and tire tracks across the chest,

I felt somewhat confused by what sounded at first like scolding, followed by a stifled shriek. “WHAT HAPPENED?!”, asked my incredulous mom, staring agape at my Goodyear retread-autographed shirt.

“Ummm”, I replied, hoping that such a long and drawn-out conversation filler would buy time to think. “There I was, driving along Loch Haven Road when . . . a dog ran right out in front of me. I had to swerve! I didn’t have any choice. In fact, I think my driving was both courageous and heroic”, I said in a desperate attempt to both sound mature and retain my driving privileges. After a long bout of frenetic scolding (the dog saga wasn’t bought so much), it was deemed that “Richard Robert Petty” would spend considerably more time on math homework and less on playing stunt driver Ala “Bullitt”.

If only I could have convinced mom that such outings were really studies in physics and geometry that also served to increase my vocabulary.

If only.

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