Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My teenage encounter with road rage. Or..sometimes it's good to have a gun.

My teenage encounter with road rage.  Or... Sometimes it’s good to have a gun.
© Joel Baumwoll

When I was 17 years old, driving was as important a rite of passage as was having sex. Whenever we had nothing better to do, the next best thing was to drive around the lake and see what was "going on."

It was especially dead after Labor day, when the summer folks were back in "the city." I can't count how many times I drove my '48 Chevy coupe around the lake, hoping against hope to stumble into some fantastic party, or get invited home by one of the knock-out mother's helpers, whose locations I had charted as carefully as an artillery-spotter marking enemy gun emplacements.

Smoking Camels and cruising slowly in second gear up and down the hills, around the serpentine curves, my head swiveled left and right, on the lookout for a good time. 

Even today, I vividly recall a girl of sixteen or seventeen who just that summer had moved into a house along the hilly road that climbed past the clubhouse on the way to West Lakeshore Drive.  

She was a dead ringer for Brigitte Bardot!  

I had seen her in a bikini on the beach, taking care of two little kids.  My hormone-driven body vibrated with the thought of taking her on a late night ride to Upper Mountain Avenue.

Pouty lips, tousled blond hair, and a body that made my pulse race. 

Oh the fantasies and schemes that ran around in my head! To meet her, to date her. What was her name? Where was she from?

This particular September afternoon in 1957, I thought I saw her coming out of her house in her swim suit. Like a detective on stakeout, I slowed to watch her.

In the process my car drifted far over the center line. 

At that moment, a chrome-laden '55 Desoto with huge fins came barreling around the curve. Only my cat-like reflexes saves us from a terrible fender bender. Both cars swerved, narrowly avoiding a collision.

"Whew," I thought, "that was close," and drove on looking for a place to turn around so I could resume stalking Brigitte. I worked on my pick-up lines, rehearsing what I would say to her when I walked over to her beach blanket. 

Something smooth like "Hi, you must be new around here."  

I primped my Elvis-style pompadour and lifted my shirt collar.

As I crept toward the nearly empty parking lot of the First beach, I looked in my mirror to see the '55 Desoto roaring up the gravel in a cloud of dust, heading right for me. 

I was about to have my first exposure to what later became known as road-rage.

I figured I couldn't outrun this guy, and the thought of getting into a fist fight didn't thrill me, especially since I didn't know how big he was. 

What to do?

Now, in those days I was enthralled with guns. Especially German lugers and Walther P-38 pistols. 

I had purchased several from a company called "replica guns" that ran ads in the back of the "men's" magazines; the ones usually found in barber shops, that made up a vital part of my kid literature. 

These pistols were said to be “exact replicas,” made from cast steel, with working slides, magazines and hammers. They even came with solid brass cartridges.  Of course, the ad made it clear that these were "replicas" incapable of firing bullets, and were "for collectors only."

It so happened that I had one of these lethal looking replicas in my glove   compartment. 

As the Desoto slid to a stop, flying gravel into my door and window, I saw that this guy was really smoked. Cool as a cucumber, I took the black P-38 out and just held it on my lap pointing at the door.

The guy from the Desoto came tearing across the space between our two cars, his face contorted in rage, yelling something incomprehensible like "gerdfuginkidsdrivebreakyerneck." 

There I am, sitting preternaturally still and cool, kinda like Clint Eastwood did years later, when he said, "Go ahead, make my day."  A cigarette hung from my lips, formed into an insolent smile, practiced many hours in front of a mirror after seeing Marlon Brando in "The Wild One." 

In a frenzy to get to me, Mr. Desoto grabs the door and practically pulls it off the hinges. As the door swung open, he reaches out with his arms, fingers twitching, to grab my neck. 

Suddenly his eyes drop to my lap. He sees the gun.  I sat, unmoving, the Black Beauty flat against my thigh, the barrel pointing at his expansive gut.

He stopped so quickly, he looked like he'd run into a plate glass window. I was fascinated to watch the color drain from his face, like someone turned the color knob on the TV to B&W. 

"Don't get excited" he says, backing away slowly. I hadn't moved a muscle, and watched him walk quickly backward towards his car, his eyes riveted on the barrel of the P-38.

He fishtailed out of the parking lot, and I sat there, sweating and not a little scared.

I will say one thing. Even though I didn't connect with Brigitte, the day wasn't boring.

By the way, I never did meet that girl. Maybe she was just a figment of my imagination.  She lives on in my memory, like Ahab's great while whale.

Never saw the Desoto again either.

Jeez, the stupid things a kid of 17 can do.

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