The 302 cubic inch motor purred, then roared as Mark kicked the accelerator of the 1970 Ford Torino GT. For obvious reasons, when we went cruising, his was the car of choice. My 1972 Chevy Vega, while a good-looking car, had a wimpy 4-cylinder with 140 cubic inches, which impressed nobody while cruising Tenth Street. And any eighteen year-old guy in those days knew that if you didn’t have a girlfriend in the car to impress, you certainly needed to impress those outside the car. The beautiful red fastback was an eye-catcher and it could move down the road.
To this day, I have visions of another friend, Eli huddled down in the back seat of that beautiful car, as we flew down Ware road at 105 miles per hour, screeching, “We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die!” That night, I was about to miss my curfew and Mark was determined that it would not be because he got me home too slowly. We didn’t die. And, the two minutes we arrived late must have passed unnoticed by the timekeepers inside the house, because we leaned against the car in the driveway laughing about the evening’s activities for quite some time without interruption from them.
Mark has been a friend of mine since I was barely a teenager, even though he is a year older than I. You remember how it was back then. Eighth graders didn’t deign to stoop to the level of seventh graders and the younger juveniles didn’t aspire to reach to the heights of the older ones, except to emulate them and hope to be noticed, at least. I have marveled again and again at how the years between people shrivel to nothing as we age. We now think nothing of close friendships with couples who weren’t born when we got married, and the camaraderie we feel with octogenarians is often akin to what we have shared with those we grew up with. By the time I graduated from high school, Mark and I were fast friends. We had been in youth group at church, gone to summer camp together, and even chased the same girls a time or two. As much as I hate to admit it, we went through the citizen’s band radio craze together, right down to “10-4 good buddy” and a CB foxhunt or two. (I may have to elaborate on that some day.) We’re still good friends today in spite of that.
Those crazy teenage days are long gone, but many of those moments are still frozen in my mind, hot steamy summer evenings when we drove aimlessly around with the windows down. The air conditioner worked great, but you didn’t just want to be cool, you wanted to be COOL! And, that couldn’t happen if you were isolated from the other cruisers. How would you ever be heard when you called out to the pretty girls in the next car at the traffic light? And how could anybody hear the Quadraphonic stereo system blasting out Three Dog Night or even the Eagles with the windows closed? There was one night when I wasn’t happy to feel so exposed, but I’m pretty sure the window wouldn’t have helped much. We were gliding along, listening to one of Mark’s eight track tapes, and we came up on the left side of a car that he recognized. “I know this guy”, he said, so he gunned the motor to get the driver’s attention. I quickly wished that he hadn’t done that, as the driver looked at me and aimed a revolver in my direction. I yelped and flopped over on the front seat, to hear him and Mark break out in laughter. “That’s just Freddie,” Mark said. “I think he’s harmless,” a description belied by the very real firearm which was withdrawn soon enough. Freddie drove beside us for a few blocks, peeling out at the traffic lights and breaking several other traffic laws. As we pulled up to a major intersection, he turned right, burning rubber as he left, with Mark frantically trying to warn him with hand motions of the police cruiser approaching in the oncoming left turn lane. The policeman followed as quickly as he safely could, but was unable to overtake him. I found myself secretly hoping that he would catch the lunatic and find the gun. It was one of the oddest feelings I have felt in my life to have a gun pointed at me, on a dark night, from a strange car. I met Freddie personally eventually, but never could bring myself to quite like him. I was sorry to hear a couple of years later that he had drowned in a riptide while swimming at the beach.
There are lots of good memories of those days and nights in my brain. Funny, but I wouldn’t go back there for anything. We enjoyed life and hadn’t a care in the world, except for fifty cents a gallon gas (really expensive to us!), but for all of the weight of the issues that face me now, with relationships, world and local events, economic issues, etc., I’m right where I want to be today. We love to reminisce, love to recreate those days in our heads, but they belong to the past and we belong to the present and the future. We learn from the past, but there’s no going back and it’s a good thing. I wouldn’t get in the “Back To The Future” DeLorean with Marty McFly on a bet!
The one important thing I’m really glad we don’t have to leave in the past is the friendships. Mark and I are good friends to this day. Miles separate us and we see each other only rarely, but when we do visit, the years disappear, and we’re best buddies again in the instant we shake hands (now we hug, too). There’s no awkwardness, no fumbling around for words, just comfortable enjoyment in each other’s company. And that’s the way it was meant to be for us all. Events occur and become history, the temporal trappings change (no more 8-tracks!), and our bodies grow old. But, our love and joy in companionship only grow as the years pass. I think it’s one of God’s best bestowals on us, the gift of friendship…of human fellowship.
It’s good when we can jettison all the unhappy, unsettling events along the way, and just settle in to the comfort of being old friends. The new ones we’ve picked up on the journey are kind of nice, too.
“A good friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg, even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”
(Bernard Meltzer~American radio announcer and talk show host)