Don't Play in the Street
Don't play in the Street
Artemis J Jones
There will always be something bigger in front of you. Unknown
We worked together back then, it was 1988. I was an Audi technician, thirty two years old. Dave he worked on Porsche’s, and nothing else. Dave was sociable enough, sometimes quiet, but not reclusive. He was twenty eight, had a sense of humor, very dry, with light sarcasm, but he was someone anyone could talk to. Dave was well read, and that was unusual for an auto technician.
My name is Jeff, and I like to get inside people’s heads, find out what makes them tick! Dave was the perfect subject for me, and I made sure we became friends. Today seems like a good day as any to break the ice with the newest tech in our shop, so I asked Dave to go to lunch.
“If you’re going to the sub shop where that nice blonde works I'm in.”
“Sure that would be great.” I agreed
As we sat down to lunch, with Dave still eyeing the blonde behind the counter, I asked him why Porsche? I meant that for him there seemed to be something beyond the style and reputation of the brand. He shrugged a little, not yet focusing on my question, designed to start a conversation, but then he replied, almost as an afterthought.
“Well, style is an element in my interest. I don’t like Italian sports cars for many reasons, with their sharp straight lines like on Lamborghini’s, and poorly designed triangular suspension systems. Ferrari’s they always break down. Porsche’s are curvy.”
He glanced again at the blonde saying, “like her” then added, “Porsches win a lot of races.”
“Is speed an element too?” I asked.
“Not that much. Speed is just a tool. Primarily speed is used to go around an obstacle. I do enjoy speed like everyone else. But it’s really just a tool for a driver. Speed is like the wrench in your toolbox that changes size, adjusts. The driver uses speed to go around and then escape from the obstacle.”
“What obstacles? You may have a lead foot, but you aren’t a race car driver. What makes you pursue speed? Are you asking to stand at death’s door, and foolish enough to think you cannot enter?”
I let him ponder my last three questions while we quietly ate our food.
This allowed me time to conjure up my next questions for Dave in silence, while he looked at the blonde behind the counter. Dave’s comment that he enjoyed speed like everyone else showed a strain in his mentality. His use of the words, obstacle and escape increased my interest. What was his meaning? While we ate, I was latched onto those thoughts. It seemed to me that he meant an obstacle was anything in front of him, and his context on escape, from what?. Was Dave running from something or towards something unknown? I sensed his deep buried emotions. Fear is what drives people to escape. But Dave is not admitting that, his fear of the unknown, fear of death … thinking he can confront it, without consequences, is irrational. Death not being a choice: its permanence stuck in the psyche of most men.
Before our lunch was over I asked Dave one more question.
“Isn't speed going to put more obstacles in front of you?”
“Yes definitely, but at some point you get by all your obstacles then you have a moment of pure speed and you relax.”
His use of the word you only meant him, but he used it globally as though everyone would think the way he thinks. I don’t relax with speed as Dave so mildly stated, and I don’t think he relaxes either.
I drove back to the shop and on the way I made sure we continued the conversation. So what is the obstacle that is stopping you from talking to the blonde? He answered right away, as though he had been thinking about it.
“The counter, it is the obstacle. I would have no problem sitting with her at a private table and talking to her. The counter is long and high with the spit shields in the way.”
He was quiet for several minutes. Then he talked briefly about obstacles saying.
“I learned a long time ago, to face every obstacle, to challenge everything without flinching. I might stop going there for lunch.”
“You mean that?”
I was confused by his words. Maybe he only faces the fears he can control.
We were on our way back to the shop. Dave’s blank expression created a silent barrier, I waited for him to speak. He began talking with lower dark tones in his voice: deepening his languid words without raising his voice to a normal level. His thoughts were resurrecting the past, and it was personal. I turned down the radio to hear him speak.
“I always face every challenge, and I always get around my obstacles in life.
When I was a child, probably ten or eleven I rode out in front of a car. The driver, an old woman, got out of the car and began yelling at me.
“Watch wear you’re going.” The hag screamed.
The yelling continued, from the old women. But I don’t really know what else she said. I just sat there on my bike looking at the car. It was huge and only inches away.
The next week, I was riding on the same street, far from my house, when I had an impulse to challenge the cars. It was me against the big mighty machines, driven by young mothers who were always smoking their long cigarettes and popping pills as they drove on the roads - and the fathers, the older ones - who always stopped at the bar before they went home for the night. It was me against them, I played chicken with the big mighty machines.”
He paused for a moment ….
“So I start riding down the street. I go straight at her— the young pretty mother, driving and smoking her cigarette—and I don’t move out of the way.
She slams on the brakes, tires squeal, as the car stops. She gets out of the car, there is a burn mark on her dress.” ‘Are you alright?’ She asks.
“She is shaking a little. I am still. I stare at her and then the car, she walks in front of me and kneels down and begins to talk to me.
‘Are you alright, I could have killed you. You can’t ride your bike in the street, you’ll get hit by a car.’ She is still shaking. I stare at her golden blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes … those distant glazed eyes.”
“I am fine,” I say.
“She stands, and begins to admonish me about my behavior. ‘Look both ways before crossing.’
I tell her, my Mom says ‘people shouldn't smoke.’”
“She’s right, it’s a bad habit. She replies while crushing her cigarette butt in the street.”
“And you shouldn't litter either.” I add, while she gets in her car and drives away.
I start to ride home, as I get farther from the car, the surge that I felt as I challenged the car fades in my body. I enjoyed what I had done, facing that car, scaring the young mother to death.
Later that week, it is time to do it again. This time I pick the older man, the one who has kids in high school. I have seen him at Kelly’s Pub near the supermarket. This time the other kids from the neighborhood are watching. They see me and line up on the sidewalk ready to witness the spectacle.
They all began to shout, ‘gonna play chicken,’ ‘jump over the car, Evil Knievel.’”
“Inside they are all afraid- afraid they might witness death and afraid for themselves- knowing that they could never face anything so boldly.
The older man is driving a Ford station wagon with wood panels on the sides. I ride straight at him. His eyes are looking up, for a cigar case attached to the visor. I am closer. He lights his cigar. I look right at him. My intensity builds, while he drives the big machine towards me. He does not see me even though he is looking right at me, his expression never changes. With more speed from my pedals, I aim for a spot between two parked cars. He still does not see me. I lean to the right, and his car touches the tip of my handle bars. I hold on with all my strength and crash into a parked car. He never saw me, and he never heard the scrape of metal from my handlebars. He just kept on driving.
The huge monstrous station wagon, goes to the end of the street, and turns in the driveway. The older man sits in the car. He waits several minutes before he goes into the house. I see him combing his hair. He splashes cologne on his face, then opens the door of the car and he gets out. Waiting another minute, he slowly walks in the house. His tiny little fears, pushed away, by his lack of sobriety.
I rode home listening to Mothers Little Helper and Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones on my Sony Walkman.
That last episode with the older man, ended my playing chicken with cars on my bike. All the kids that watched me told their parents and phone calls started going around the neighborhood. Soon the phone was ringing at my house. My mother asked me, ‘if I had been up to North Quaker Street?’”
“No, just the end of our street.” I replied.
She looked at me, told me to go to my room, and yelled,
“Your father will be home soon.”
I looked at Dave in silence for a moment.
“Why did you tell me that story, and I hope it is all fiction, because if it isn’t, you were one crazy boy. Why did you do something so insane?”
Dave laughs and says.
“You know you liked it, hearing that crazy stuff … I’ve never told anyone about that, and I’m not sure why I told you. Maybe it’s because you like to ask a lot of questions. Why do you think I did that?”
“Cause you’re nuts!” I injected.
“NOT!” Shot back Dave.
“What really bothered me was watching how grown up’s faced their problems. Popping pills, smoking, all while driving, using that privacy of the moment, to mask their psyche from things to come – or for some stopping at the bar before they went home. They always tried to cover it up, before they walked in the house. What were they afraid of?”
“I saw those things too. Can’t recall reacting the way you did.”
“I had to challenge what was in front of me—my way. Their behaviors all seemed like big obstacles that I had to violate in some way.”
“The people with their isolation, I needed to scare them. Or do something that would make them change.”
“The young mother, it’s strange but I know now that I was attracted to her, but also appalled by her at the same time. The ways of all the young mothers were the same. They stayed home being consumed by all the ills in their lives, and espousing lessons to their family that they never followed. She was being consumed and she never even knew it, her life was chewing her up, and some day she’d be an old hag, yelling at everybody, totally dissatisfied or if she was lucky—dead. But I was fascinated by her, and I wanted to scare her and save her at the same time.”
“Save her from what?”
“Dave, you created a dangerous situation, that could have caused her severe emotional distress. And you would've been fine staying away from the cars.”
“No I wouldn't. Not then and not now”
“You really are crazy. I’m serious. My old man was a drunk but he left home one day and we never saw him again.”
“For you the problem went away. I had to challenge something that was bigger than me, it was right in front of me, and I couldn't explain it.”
“Hypocrisy? Is that what you were challenging?”
“Maybe, all I knew was…I never wanted to be like them. And I knew the young mother still had some humanity—that’s why she stopped—unlike the old man driving the station wagon.”
“How did the other kids in the neighborhood react?”
“Some thought I was trying to kill myself. Others—like you—thought I was loony. But I never had problems with bullies after that day, they ran their mouths from a distance, but never started any fights with me.”
“So what did you do?”
“Nothing for a month, I was grounded. But later I started to ride again.
When I was eleven, I felt like a big shot, when I rode in the street. A big shot as long as my mother didn’t catch me.”
We arrived back at the shop and saw Franz, our boss, waiting, looking at his watch.
“I wonder what he wants.” Dave asked.
Franz motioned to Dave to follow him to the closed garage behind the main building. Dave walked with him. I knew what was in the garage, but Dave did not.
Franz opened the door, as Dave stood there observing, and then Franz pulled the cover off of the car that was protected from sunlight, dust, and prying eyes.
It was a 1973 Porsche 911, at first ubiquitous to Dave, in the low light. Once uncovered, it captured his imagination like no other car could ever do.
Franz closed the garage door, and turned on the lights. Dave walked around the car and inspected every inch of the metal, he commented favorably on the factory flared rear wheel wells and the rest of the cars body work.
“The paint is exceptional” Dave said with a wide grin on his face.
Franz smiled. Dave asked him about the engine.
“Ya Ya” replied Franz in his heavy German accent as he walked to the rear of the slate metallic car and lifted the engine cover.
Dave looked at the engine closely and commented,
Franz nodded. Dave looked at the carburetors, commenting.
“They are big.”
He looked curiously at the fifty-six millimeter Weber carburetors on a 3.3 liter engine.
Franz nodded again, while Dave’s inspection continued, then Franz held up two camshafts.
“I want you to install these when you have time.” Franz said.
Dave looked at the numbers stamped into the ends and asked Franz.
“Where did you get these?”
Franz smiled saying
“I still have friends at the factory.”
“You know we have no specs to set them properly.”
“That is something you can figure out.” Franz replied.
Dave helped Franz cover the car, Franz turned out the lights, and they walked out of the garage.
I watched both of them and I could see something was going on. Both of them were thinking about that car, but for different reasons.
On a cool fall morning, several weeks later Franz and Dave rolled the car out of the secretive garage, and moved it into the Porsche service bay. I knew the engine ran, but Franz preferred to push the car there, like he pushed race cars back in the old days only running a car when needed, never giving the competition a chance to hear the sound of your engine.
Dave worked on the car for a week, and finally closed the garage door late Friday afternoon. Before he went home I asked him if he had any plans for the weekend.
“No not really, I might stop by the sub shop on the way home, the lunch crowd will be gone.”
“Good luck with that. I’m going to work this weekend. My wife and I are starting a painting business, part time right now, but I hope we make it grow. I do not want to work on cars my whole life.” “I get that. Later! I got to go.” Dave said, shrugging his shoulders.
As I drove home I thought about what was going on in the minds of Dave and Franz. All week they were different, much quieter, and focused to a point of obsession. Franz had some grand days in his past, setting up race cars for TV stars. He traveled the United States and even to Mexico for race events. Dave had worked for a race car driver, as a tech, but not on a race team. I knew when it came to driving, in my opinion, Dave was crazy. I also knew that Franz never let anybody else touch that car. He used to work on it in secret, in the garage, but he never even let his family near that car.
Monday morning, Dave got to the shop at 7 a.m. He had already run the engine on Franz’s slate metallic 911, and he was working on balancing the carburetors when I showed up at 8 a.m. Franz was out getting parts for some cars I was going to work on. Dave remained focused on the 911.
That car, is the kind of car that stares at you through its glass crystal headlight lenses. It had the grin of a wise ass teenager in the shape of its air dam. Sexy—yes—especially if you focused on the sinuous curves that flowed from the front to the rear of the car, nothing linear about that car. It always shimmered in the sun-light and looked foreboding in the shade. To me it was a beast and I had no interest in touching it.
Franz came back from his parts run, walked over to Dave first and they both looked at the sky. Franz then walked over to me.
“So are you going to drive it today?” I asked.
“Nein, nein,” Franz shook his head sideways as he walked away from me and went back over to Dave. They worked on the car some more, Dave walked around it and torqued all the wheel lugs as Franz watched. Then to my astonishment, Dave got in the car and drove off. He came back quickly, Franz talked with him and he buckled into the shoulder harnesses and belts. Franz waved towards the expressway in front of the shop and Dave aimed the 911 at the on ramp. He let it roll slowly over some lose gravel, then waited for traffic to clear and in an instant all you could see was a blur of slate metallic hues and the sounds of that flat- six, horizontally-opposed engine creating a deafening howl at six-thousand rpm. In a few seconds he entered the expressway, probably over one hundred-twenty mph. Down through the underpass, with traffic in front of him, we watched as he came up the slight hill and immediately began negotiating his position on the expressway. Soon he drove out of sight—as my mind streamed in a deluge of negatives, crashing burning wreckage, innocents dead on the road, sirens police ambulances, fire trucks roaring, intense flames heat, I was a spectator, the kid on the sidewalk watching the freak show on the street, scarred of death, but looking for it, wanting to see it and not see it, yelling taunts to cover my fear, to sound brave—I look at Franz. Quiet listening, waiting, heart racing again, racing again in Mexico at the track, winning loosing, breaking down, time trails, tuning, secrets, engines roaring—go back to reality. I heard the howling beast returning. My gaze on the expressway distracted as I looked at Franz, he points, there it is—the beast—we watch intently. Franz smiles.
At that moment I figured Franz out. He was living a moment vicariously through Dave. He saw Dave as the only person who could take his car to its maximum performance level. Dave unlike him now-young, crazy and never appears to be afraid of anything. So why Dave was doing this, I would need to ask, if he came back in one piece.
When Dave zoomed by in the west- bound lane, on his way back to the shop, we only saw him for one second. He passed other cars at close to one-hundred-fifty miles per hour. I felt scared, fearful for the dangers that the other cars were in, not knowing what else was on the road behind them – and suddenly in front of them, danger come and gone in the blink of an eye. I had just witnessed my own fear in life, the stream of negatives made me face my own fear of dangers unknown in this world. Dave blistered the pavement at three times the speed of other traffic. Should I scold him, or act like nothing just happened, as though there was no danger to anyone.
When Dave returned, he immediately drove the beast to the rear garage. Knowing that he had to have aroused the attention of law enforcement, he got out quickly and locked the fence to the rear garage area. He looked at Franz, who was still smiling, and Dave said, it’s all good!
Then he asked me, if I wanted to go to lunch. I suggested the sub shop, but he said, “No, I want to go somewhere else.” I agreed.
On the way to our lunch destination, I asked Dave about the ride. I reminded him, that no one else has ever touched that car. He glanced at me with a questioning look and said
But he kept his mouth shut about his driving.
“I’ll say one thing about you Dave. Most guys would be bragging about how they handled that car, but you sure are quiet about it.”
While Dave remained silent, I started my part of the conversation by telling him about my weekend.
“My wife and I painted a house, got paid and cleared six-hundred dollars. We really enjoyed it … I think we are going to try to make it on our own very soon. I’ll need to give Franz my two weeks’ notice, maybe sometime this month. We already have two more jobs lined up.”
Dave just listened as he motioned toward the Circle S Burger Joint .
We walked in and sat down. Something was immediately different and obvious as the Waitress approached our table. She smiled directly at Dave. They already knew each other. After she walked away, I commented.
“So … no more blondes huh? Man, you are fast. Did you give up on the obstacles or did you just change your mind?”
The waitress, who had a name tag with Tina on it, came back for our order. Dave called her ‘Shelly,’ and she took his order first then mine, smiled at Dave and left for the kitchen.
“Wow, first name basis already!”
“I went over to the sub shop, when it wasn’t busy, and I asked her out. She said no, so I left the sub shop and came here. Shelly and I had time to talk, it was slow, she sat down and we chatted. I asked her out Sunday night and we saw a movie.”
I knew our time working together was going to end soon. Of course I would invite him to our house after we stopped working together, but there was no guarantee our friendship would continue.
I felt pressed for time, to understand this person who as child played chicken with cars in the street. Who as an adult drove cars with such intensity and focus and had no reasoning behind his: as I saw it, life threatening behavior. Whatever it was, I wondered if Dave would ever be able to go fast enough to out run it.
On the way back to the shop, I started my inquisition. Slowly, methodically, but ultimately to no
avail. Dave talked about the 911, but only about the technical aspects, not the reasons for his short but very intense ride. I asked him about the girl in the sub shop.
“Why did you just give up and move on, not accepting the challenge of pursuit?”
He quickly said, ‘I went around the obstacle, the counter, we talked a little, but she was not interested.’ and he saw no point in creating a challenge. ‘I’m not going to pursue a woman who doesn't want to go out with me.’
“Why not?” I asked
“Why?” He shot right back.
“You created life threatening challenges when you were a kid and you’re still doing it as an adult. The blonde was not life threatening!”
“The conversation I had with her felt like a game—a game I did not want to play.”
I ended the conversation with some chatter and a few questions.
“Dave what are you avoiding? Why are you so intense? Especially around the beast, and then, at other times, so relaxed around people. There are times you seem laid back. What is driving the intense moments?”
He only offered, a brief statement. ‘When I am driving, there is no impatience, no hurry for me to get somewhere quickly. But I feel a need to challenge every car in some way, and a need to break free from traffic, to be on my own. The cars in front of me are the challenges in life, the cars behind me are the dangers in life. I want to get around the challenges and prevail. Then I need to stay ahead of the dangers that could sneak up on me.’ We got back to the shop and did not say much the rest of the day. Something was eating at this guy, but I wouldn’t discover what it was. I’m not a shrink, and I guess I needed to stop playing like one.
I pulled into the 7-11 to get a drink, while on my way home from a job. As I got out of my truck, I looked at the Volkswagen GTI that pulled in next to me. I had not worked on a car for twenty years, but I knew the sounds of a performance car. The driver got out and looked vaguely familiar. He turned toward my truck noticing the paint scheme, and he looked right at me.
“Dave is that you? I ask. He looks again, and says ‘Jeff’ with a questioning look. We start talking and catching up. I invite him over to finally meet my wife, and my kids.
‘Okay,’ replies Dave and he follows me as we start to drive towards my house.
We stop at a traffic light. Dave is behind me and there is a nice corvette to my left and a mustang to my right. The drivers of those cars pulled slightly ahead of me and began talking. They are going to race. A terrible thought occurred to me. Dave must know what is about to happen. He will want to join them in the street race. The light turns green.
Tires squealed on both sides and, from behind my truck. Dave shot around me and went right after the Corvette, only a short distance behind his mark. Suddenly, his brake lights came on, he slowed and turned around and drove back to my truck that I parked on the side of the road.
Dave approached my truck, and I shook my head in disbelief, ready to chastise my old friend for reckless behavior. He stopped at my door and I put my window down. Before I can speak, he began to talk.
“ Three years ago I was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. Immediately, I felt as though I was set adrift in the air without so much as a parachute. I faced the most overwhelming challenge of my life, and was not prepared for it. The first doctor I talked to did not give me much hope … ‘if you’re lucky maybe two years, but probably less time, maybe only six months.’ From that moment, I pushed back at the cancer with everything I had. I used every resource—I grabbed every book about nutrition off the shelves, and read every article about naturopathic therapy—determined to blend it all together with whatever the Doctors wanted to do. There were times when I was losing, but I kept up the pressure. It made me crazy, but I still kept looking for a way around it—to push forward against it, while it snuck up behind me—for any ammunition that I could grasp. When the doctors said ‘You should consider palliative care now,’ I changed doctors. In fact I changed doctors six times looking for the right ammo to kill that crap. I knew that if needed I would eat or inject myself with anything that I thought would kill it. I was operated on four times and went through three tours of duty with chemo. Two times—I almost died.”
Silent for a moment, while I looked at Dave, and thought about our lunches together twenty years ago: trying to understand the intense moments that I witnessed in Dave. His stories of youth: creating and facing overwhelming obstacles—that he could never fully understand. His time as a young Porsche Tech: throwing himself into a situation of danger, on purpose. Dave had always had fears, but I always knew that whatever it was—he would stare it down into defeat. The sun was setting and the deep orange rays, crossed his face, I could see some sense of relief in his expression. Dave was finally letting his intense rivalry with fear go. In just the few minutes that it took for the sun to set, I witnessed a different man in front of me—the man from the past was gone.
“Well it is a blessing, for that struggle to be behind you now. Go, get in your car and follow me to my house. You are going to love my kids, and my wife, she is a sweetie!”
Copyright © 2014 Artemis J Jones
First draft. 07/01/2014
Second draft 07/08/2014
Second draft revision 08/10/2014
Some line editing 08/19/2014
Revisions interior monologue added to Jeff’s character 09/06/2014 (Not posted on blog)
Saved blog post before 09/08/2014
Posted latest version on my main blog 09/08/2014
Post Story development 04/05/2015 – added more dialog between Dave and young Mother.
Added more dialog about the young mother with character Jeff.
Main blog: ArtemisJJones.Blogspot.com
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