I got into a conversation over drinks last night with a bunch of friends from high school. Guys I hadn’t seen in years. In between manly talk of girls that were gotten and grid iron glory the topic of real true greatness came up.
One friend told us about how he had almost been drafted by a local minor league baseball team. He pounded his chest telling us all of how if it hadn’t been for a nagging knee injury he would surely have had a career as a New York Yankee.
Glasses were raised and drunken chants of “Yankees! Yankees! Yankees!” could be heard by half-drunken middle-aged men from our little corner of the bar.
More grunts and groans soon surfaced with tales of lost treasure and a futile attempt to be cast as an extra in a Tom Hanks movie. Finally it was my turn.
I don’t really like to brag but there once was a day where I almost became a superhero. Now before you go having your doubts and laughing like they did let me tell you the same story I told them. I didn’t rescue a cat from a tree or save a girl tied to the railroad tracks by some nefarious fiend. But I did almost stop a speeding bullet once.
Well, in this case it was a car.
It was the summer of 1985, the year I was going to turn sixteen and get my driver’s license. As a child there are really only three birthdays you look forward to. The first one being your 10th birthday when you’re finally in “double digits”. Next is the year you turn 16 and get your driver’s license (and if you’re female, a “sweet sixteen” party might also be in the cards). Finally, your 18th birthday when you officially become an adult. At least as far as the courts are concerned.
I had already applied for my learners permit and could not wait to get behind the wheel of my own car. Any car! It didn’t matter if it was my Mom’s 1985 Chevy Spectrum or my Dad’s 1965 Ford Mustang…I just wanted to drive.
Growing up in a “car” family there was almost always a beat up clunker sitting on our property. Usually these cars would appear out of no where from relatives or friends when they were broken down. They’d then just sit on the hill next to our house until they were either fixed up or hauled away. As “luck” would have it, there was a car sitting on the hill that summer.
It was a 1976 Chevy Vega. A car that my brother Bones had driven until it broke down and he moved on to driving a truck. It was a white, stick shift beauty with red and blue pin stripes. I assumed that the unique color combination and pin striping had something to do with the Bicentennial celebration which made it even cooler to me. Even though I had only driven cars with automatic transmissions very short distances and had absolutely no idea how to drive stick I immediately fell in love with it and could think of no better vehicle to have as my first car.
I had spoken to Bones about the car and he informed me that it needed a new carburetor before it could run. Day after day I would peer out the window at the Vega sitting on the hill and dreamed of me taking it out on the road for the first time. I could picture myself with dark sunglasses on cruising the strip and giving “the look” to the girls as I drove by. I couldn’t think of anything better than having a beautiful female riding shotgun in my first car. Unfortunately, my desire to get the car on the road soon became overwhelming.
It was a typical summer afternoon and I had absolutely nothing to do. Bones was away and it was only me and my Grandmother at home. I was so tired of seeing the Chevy Vega sitting lifeless and the thought occurred to me to move it down the hill. Although I knew it wouldn’t run the least I could do is put it in a better place so when we did get the new carburetor for it we could install it easier.
I went out to the car, hopped in and put it in neutral. I started to rock it back and forth a bit to get it to move but it wouldn’t budge. Suddenly a little voice in my head began telling me: “Bones is going to be pissed when he finds out you moved this car!” Sadly, this wouldn’t be the first time I ignored my conscience.
Inside the car I noticed the steering wheel was moving freely and I thought to myself “This should be easy” but as I continued to rock back and forth the car still wouldn’t move. A dilemma. What to do?
I exited the car and went around to the front to see what could possibly be keeping the car from moving. I noticed that a large brick had been placed underneath the front tire and my pushing from inside wasn’t enough to move the car over the brick.
What happened next still remains a blur to me.
For some reason I got the brilliant idea to tug on the front fender of the car to help get it “over the hump” if you will. Sure enough, I succeeded. The car started to roll down the hill. Only one problem, I was in FRONT of the car and not safely inside controlling it.
Did you ever have one of those experiences where your life flashes in front of your eyes? One where you relive all of the things that have happened to you in your short life span of sixteen years? Well, this wasn’t one of those times. I was too damn scared.
All I remember as I’m trying to hold the car back as we’re both going down the hill were the following four sentences: “Gotta stop this car… Gotta stop this car! … I CAN DO THIS!! ..Uh, oh – this is NOT going to end well.”
The next thing I know I am pinned between a 1976 Chevy Vega, a metal swing and the side of my house. I am literally afraid to move because I think bones have been broken and internal organs damaged beyond repair.
As I’m slowly coming to my wits I hear a pissed off Grandmother coming from inside. “JIMMY – WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”. Then she suddenly realizes that her favorite grandson (yep, I said it) was trapped in twisted metal and she immediately begins to scream “Oh my God…JIMMY!”
It’s at this point I realized that the damage to me wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened to the swing or the house and I somehow managed to get out of the twisted mess. Since it was quite obvious there’s nothing a seventy year old woman was going to be able to do to help me, she gets on the phone and calls my brother.
As I’m sitting on the side of the porch shaking like a leaf and looking at the gash in my lower abdomen I kept thinking of the beating I was going to take when Bones saw what happened. He was one of those brothers who liked to pummel you if you even breathed next to his food so I figured an extended hospital stay was definitely in my future.
Needless to say, I was relieved that he decided to give me more of a verbal than physical beating when I told him the story of how I stood in front of the moving car rolling down the hill and into the house. But one question he asked about my ordeal still sticks with me:
“Who did you think you were, Superman?”
I guess in some strange way I guess I did. At least for one day and I almost pulled it off. So whether or not you want to categorize this as true greatness you have to admit one thing. My story is way better than any baseball career or being an extra in a movie.
And I still have the scar to prove it.