The CJ5 Jeep was out of control, the dirt and rocks spraying up as it veered back and forth from one side of the gravel road to the other. As we headed for the bar ditch at the side of the road, I had a quick vision of the beautiful, blue, open vehicle flipped upside down in the field, with two bodies lying under it, crushed and bleeding. Right now, I know you’re asking, “What’s a bar ditch?” I can just sense the word nerd in you wanting to know the etymology of that term. Well, when I was growing up, most of the country roads in South Texas had a ditch paralleling them on each side, which we called a bar ditch. We didn’t know why then, that was just what we called it. As is true with most words though, there’s a reason for the name. Legend has it that the word actually might come from one of two related sources, either a “barrow ditch”, or a “borrow ditch”. The barrow term refers to the day before road graders, when farmers would use a shovel and wheelbarrow to dig a trench along the lane and build up the roadway above the ditch. The lane would be built either with “barrow” dirt or “borrowed” dirt, thus giving the trench it came from it’s name. Time has shortened the name to bar ditch and in that hot and dry climate, it serves a very real purpose of carrying water, both for drainage of the rare, but sudden deluges of rain, and for irrigation which comes from the nearby Rio Grande.
What’s that? Oh, you weren’t interested in the word nerdery, you want to know about the bleeding bodies. Well, let me start at the beginning. I was working for the pharmacy at the time and the breathtaking Jeep was my delivery vehicle. Yeah, it was pretty awesome! For an 18 year old, the possibilities were endless. Mud, dirt, even pavement were all playgrounds, waiting to be romped through. The mud and dirt need no explanation, but on the pavement, this beauty, in the hands of a daring young teenage driver, was dynamite! The short wheelbase made it maneuverable beyond belief, so bumper to bumper traffic was simply a Checkers game, darting past car after car, then squeezing into spaces which were barely adequate for its length. And, the torque this jewel had from a stop! You have never seen rubber laid on the pavement unless you’ve seen what could be done with mud tires and the first and second gears of this little doozy. I remember a black mark almost one block…But, once again, I’ve chased a rabbit trail, and you’re still waiting for the blood and guts.
On this particular day, my boss had asked me to pick up his daughter, herself a young beauty, from a friend’s house and deliver her to his home, which was about a mile down a gravel road. The girl was only fifteen and was learning to drive. As we turned onto the unpaved section of road, she begged me to let her drive. “Daddy’s taught me how to use the clutch and I’m a good driver! Please…” What was a young man to do? What a predicament! Obviously, I had no choice, so we stopped and exchanged places in the car. As she sat in the driver’s seat, looking nervous, I realized that she wasn’t as experienced with driving as she had led me to believe, but there was no turning back now. “Move the shift lever to first gear,” I instructed, and she did so, clumsily. This wasn’t looking so good. “Now, give the accelerator some gas, and ease the clutch out.” She revved the engine and popped the clutch. We jerked forward and the motor died. After a restart and a little more instruction (you do remember that I’m not much of a teacher?), she tried again, this time lurching forward a few more feet than before.
The final time she started the Jeep, and frustrated, she listened to my “ease the clutch out” speech one more time. This time, although she revved the motor until it screamed in protest, the clutch eased out and at last we were moving forward…albeit accelerating at an extremely high rate of speed. Did I mention the great low-end torque this car had? Wide-eyed, the young lady knew beyond a doubt that she was finally moving, but she was absolutely not in control of this juggernaut. As she careened this way and that, I screamed at her to push the clutch back in, but it was too late. We hit the bar ditch at an angle, thankfully not overturning, but seemingly flying through the air for many feet, before coming to rest with the tires still on the ground and not in the air spinning, as I had visualized during the terrifying seconds (which seemed like an eternity) prior.
We sat there stunned. After a few moments, she started to laugh and reached down to restart the motor. “Not on your life!” I shouted between gasps of breath. “You ride, I’m driving” With her still laughing, we drove slowly out of the bean field and down the gravel road to the boss’s house. It took half an hour to get the delivery packages back into any semblance of order, and finally I was back on the road, weaving in and out of traffic, darting into tiny spaces to make turns and accelerating out of the way of the braking, gesturing drivers around me.
I’m still not great at refusing beautiful ladies their requests, especially one in particular, but terror has a way of teaching caution. There were no more driving lessons, until a few years later when the Lovely Lady requested that I teach her to drive a standard shift car. With visions of that oncoming bar ditch in my mind’s eye, I assented. We may or may not explore that experience in future writings. Probably not…
“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”
(Alfred Lord Tennyson~English Poet~1809-1892)
“Treads rush in where wise men fear to fool”
(Bad 20th Century play on words)