Safe by John L. Neel

Before I could go into the Army, I had to get a waiver for my driving record.  It was terrible! I had at least four speeding tickets and had three accidents to my name.

It wasn't that I was a bad driver, it was that everywhere I went, I went as fast as I could go.  We all did.  Racing in the streets of Birmingham was a popular pastime and the cars we drove were built to go fast... and straight...big engines, terrible suspensions, and drum brakes. 

Our favorite road was Clairmont Avenue, a residential two-lane, split in two by a grassy median, winding through the hills of Birmingham from 56th Street to Rockford Road.  We would follow each other going one way, change the lead and race back going the other.  There was a Mach 1, a Firebird, Camaros, a Chevelle SS 396, and me in a Galaxy 500 302.

It is a wonder I lived long enough to go into the Army.

Mom and dad spent very little time teaching me, expecting me to learn at school in Driver's Ed.  Well, true to form, I didn't sign up for the class, waiting until all the classes were full.  I spent my AEA break, after I turned 16, taking a class that Dad had to pay for.  He was not happy about that.

The car I was supposed to drive on dates was a 1967 Dodge Coronet, canary yellow, with a black vinyl top, and a 318 CID engine, Mom's car, SHARP!

My bother, Jim, wrecked it. 

He wrapped it around the Food Basket sign pole on First Avenue in the rain.  He spent some time in the hospital and I spent my teen years driving a pea green, 1968 4-door Galaxy 500, used, a former rental car.

Thanks, Jimmy.

In his defense, he was stupid at the time, having just broken up with the sweetest girl ever for an absolute...well, I liked the sweet one.

I came to love the Galaxy and we became something of a legend.  I named it Camel and we'd take on all comers.  Though not the fastest of cars in the straights, I was crazy enough and skilled enough to out drive them in the curves.

The speed limit on many Alabama highways back then was "Assume Safe Speed." What is that supposed to mean to a Seventeen-year-old boy? Ethel gasoline was less than 50 cents a gallon.  We would sometimes drive to Panama City, 270 miles, for a day-date.

Camel's top end was 110mph which I took her to, often.  Go, Camel, Go! Sometimes the heater hoses didn't survive.  The car threw a rod one day as well.  Mom was driving, but Dad blamed me for the abuse I gave the car.  He was probably right.

I put the first dent in the right rear of Camel hitting a mailbox, backing out of a friend's driveway.  It wasn't that bad, just a scratch.  I put a nice dent in the left rear backing into a telephone pole while racing Carey Martin, in reverse.

Mom got sick of that car quickly.  She needed something more sporty, more reliable.  Dad bought her a 1971 Dodge Charger, royal blue with a black vinyl top, and 318.  It wasn't that fast, probably just over 150hp, and it handled like a boat in high seas, but it was a looker.  I thought I was much cooler driving it.

On a rainy Saturday night, while driving downtown on a date to go see Vanishing Point for the seventeenth time, a guy pulled out in front of me and I jerked the wheel to the left to miss him.  The car got sideways, I overcorrected, and slammed the right rear end into a telephone pole, cutting the pole down and sending my date to the hospital with a gash in her head.

The car was never the same and I owed the city $50 for the pole.  Dad was unimpressed though the witnesses told him it wasn't my fault.  I was going slow for a change.

It was also not my fault when the old guy hit my VW Bug the day after I got it.

There have been other wrecks, these are just the ones before the Army.

As for the speeding tickets, beginning with the first one, I set a pattern of getting caught going just over ten mph over the posted speed, at the low end of the 57 in a 45.  I've never been cited for reckless driving or excessive speed, just for this piddly-assed chicken-shit.

I am hopeful that one day, I will get pulled over for excessive speed, that I'll be 100-years-old, driving Bess, the last gas-powered driver-controlled car on the road, that I'll be doing at least 130, Springsteen on the radio, and armed.

"The Last Beautiful Free Soul on this Planet." ~ Super Soul, KOW Radio, Vanishing Point.


the ufo


mandolin rain



too young to drive

chief pin cushion and bottle washer

don't come home tonight

motion man

the cult

no no-gos


soldier names

fishugh and neely

a photo too far

meeting kady

under the tennis ball

why i don't drive chevys

huggin and a chalkin

there's a bug in my ear

forty below


stranger in a strange land

john's on the bus

sheep swatters

e's playground

a war song

the girl in barracks

broken knife

osko, i gotta go

the man in the middle

turk coffee

the maury river and me

boy, you better find that dog

horror at sunrise

the alarm clock was not set properly

i used to be

cleaning the barracks lights

not racing petty

the little things

hot butt

wrestling the gods

northern Ireland medal

notes to my grandkids

the kedis


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