Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Driving Sleds

Back in the glory days of fast cars, unspent youth, and limited responsibility, we had some fun. Not so much with the brains, but that's OK when you're invincible. There were all kinds of things to do with a car, a BB gun, a sled, and a rope. Only two of those things played into my night in jail. But, that's a story for another time. One dark winter's night, my friends and I had watched all the TV and eaten all the pizza we could stand. Star Trek and Mission Impossible were done, only the infomercials remained. The Mountain Dew was gurgling and working its fizzy magic on us, keeping us alert into the wee hours. What sort of adventure could we have on a night like this? Too young, ignorant, and innocent to find a late-night party, we had to make our own fun. My house was in a closely-packed neighborhood, with quiet lighted streets, straight sidewalks, and large trees. We snuck out the side door from my basement lair, gathered some supplies from the garage, fired up the Monte Carlo, and eased out of the driveway. After driving around a while and not agreeing on what to do, I hit upon an idea. I pulled over, grabbed a length of rope and a red plastic sled from the trunk, and tied it to the bumper. "Okay, who wants to be first?" I said, rubbing my hands together enthusiastically. My friend Greg and I had a long history of sledding exploits. Our Jr. High (middle school?) was atop a large, wide hill. Every winter recess would find kids by the gross flinging themselves down the slope, building ramps and jumps, and trying all kinds of daredevilry. He and I would position ourselves in the middle of the hill and hijack sleds. The goal was to get the rider off the sled and continue their ride to the bottom, but jumping on top of an occupied sled like a stack of flapjacks was OK too. Most of our victims thought it was great fun and we rarely got a complaint or a bloody nose. After school, we'd go to Greg's house, which was nestled against a hilly forest. There was a long, fork-filled narrow trail that emptied out at a creek near the highway. The trick was to get all the way down attached to the sled, avoid the trees, and bail out before the creek. He would ride on his knees every time, bouncing around like a springy jack-in-the-box, sometimes flying to impressive heights. I, being the fat kid, would usually ride only on padded surfaces, of which I had plenty. And try to remain facing downhill. I wasn't surprised when Greg volunteered to be the first contestant in our carsledding experiment. He jumped (!) onto his knees into the sled, grabbed the reins, and said he was ready. I climbed back into the warm car, adjusted the sideview mirrors down, and pulled away from the curb. He swung back and forth like a water skier, jumping the ruts in the road. I rolled down my window a crack and heard him whisper/shout "Faster!!" There was no traffic; all the houses were dark. I gave it some gas and turned a corner, fishtailing a bit. He swung around, skidding up against the curb, and banked back into a smooth ride. I could hear him having a great time. The kid next to me wanted to try, and I hit the brakes. The car slid to a stop; Greg slid into the bumper. He hopped in the passenger seat, rubbing his forehead, while the other kid took his place on the sled. Greg said it was a riot, but I should have gone faster. This car could certainly go faster, so I stomped on it, shooting a rooster tail of snow past the kid. Until the car swerved, which placed the flying snow on a path with his face. We roared with laughter while the poor victim got a high-speed whitewash, which must have made it hard to see where he was headed. By sheer luck or determination of some poor angel, he dipped under a pickup truck, in and out between the front and rear wheels, dodging a MFN headache. We raced, turned, stopped and started through the city blocks, reaching ridiculous speeds. Like I said, it was a good thing we were invincible. It was my turn, and I wasn't sure who should drive my car. Greg, who was unlicensed; or the Other Kid, who may be harboring some bitterness about the ride I provided. I went with Greg. He took off slowly, getting a feel for the car. The silence of the night was broken by the crunchy squeaking of tires and the whish of sled on snow. He began to gain some confidence, speeding up on the straightaways, and allowing a little swoop in his turns. I careered into a curb, nearly capsizing near a telephone pole. I righted my sled and willed it toward the center of the car. He rounded a corner, playing crack the whip with me. I saw the Buick logo on a parked car approaching my face. I cringed. I ducked. I opened my eyes to find that it had missed me. We went over a speed bump (so called for the high speeds at which teenage drivers take them) and I was launched from my little patch of plastic. I had enough height to land on the trunk, but Greg gunned it and I bounced on the slick pavement, my empty sled snaking out in front of me. I slowly rose to my feet while Greg slid around another corner, oblivious to his missing rider. I started walking home, expecting him to come back around eventually. As I neared home, I saw my car in the driveway, still idling. Greg gripped the steering wheel, pale as a ghost, staring straight ahead. I wondered what happened, until I saw the sled. It was wedged solidly under the rear wheel of a truck. The rope had ripped free of the sled, bits of red plastic strewn along the road. I approached the car and knocked on the window. He screamed like a girl, with feeling and vigor. He took a breath and screamed some more. He stopped when I started laughing. I explained what happened, and he took some comfort in that - but he was jumpy until he finally fell asleep. It didn't hit me until the next day what could have happened. That still didn't stop us from going carsledding the next weekend.

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