In widescreen, with Technicolor and stereophonic sound, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made the finest Hollywood musicals of the 1950’s. As excellent as these films are they can’t begin to compare with the real life musical extravaganzas that make up our own personal lives. Our lives are journeys filled with music. The music flows from radios, cars, family & friend gatherings, offices, schools, stores, movies, airports, bus & train stations and that stereo inside your head. The times of your life, the best, the worse, the marvelous and the mundane, are stories woven into a musical soundtrack, because as the Ritchie Family sang, “Life Is Music”
Life Is Music:
by Rix Roundtree-Harrison
Celine Dion’s accelerated remake of the Cyndi Lauper classic “I Drove All Night” was roaring from the car stereo as I rolled down I-395. I looked up at my rear view mirror and saw the familiar flashing lights and pulled to the shoulder of the interstate.
After looking at my driver’s license and insurance the State Trooper asked, “Mr. Harrison do you know what the speed limit is?”
“Ahhhh 55?” I said with a smile.
“That’s right. Now do you know how fast you were going?”
“No, try 88. Where are you going in such a hurry?”
I rummaged through the files of my mind trying to find a good convincing lie that would keep me from getting a ticket, but I could not find one. Exasperated I gave up and decided to tell the officer the truth and said, “Its Mother’s Day, I’m on my way to see my mother.”
I don’t know why but my answer caught the State Trooper by surprise and it showed on his face. He then said to me, “Alright Mr. Harrison I’m going to let you go with a warning; slow down. I’m sure your mother would like to see me alive and in one piece.”
I fired up my car’s CD player and country icon Hank Williams sang of the “Lost Highway” as I pulled off. I was thrilled not to receive a speeding ticket (also at the speed I was traveling it would have also been reckless driving), but I was furious with Rocket as I felt this was all her fault. Rocket is my car, I love Rocket, she’s fun, she’s fast and I have gotten more tickets and warnings with Rocket than all the other cars I have owned combined. Rocket is just an awesome driving experience, but my first car, that was another story.
When I was in high school my stepfather bought me my first car, an old 1963 Ford Galaxie 500. He bought it from a guy who had bought his son a brand spanking new Mustang for his high school graduation present. He sold this gargantuan boat to my step-pop for a whopping sum of $25 (okay that should tell you something about this car).
I wish I could say I was appreciative of what my stepfather had done for me, but I wasn’t. First off, this car was a Ford and we lived in GM country. All the kids at school, including me, made fun of Fords because to us the name FORD meant, Fix Or Repair Daily, or Found On Road Dead.
The Ford Galaxie was a humongous, white, ugly, smoking, sputtering, oil burning demon that vibrated like crazy (think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from hell). It looked like it had zits as it had red primer spots all over it. This was because the son of the guy who sold it to my step dad hadn’t finished his body repair work before his pop surprised him with his new Mustang. Besides the horrible looks, the thing was noisy because the springs squeaked and groaned loudly.
My stepfather actually had to force me drive it, because I wouldn’t. One day after noticing I wouldn’t touch the thing my step pop said to me, “Ricky, start driving that car! I paid good money to get that car for you!”
I thought to myself, “Yeah, twenty-five whole dollars; spare me.” But I reluctantly started driving the thing to get him off my back,
The Galaxie was so big that I could get every kid at the bus stop in it, if they wanted to get into it, which they did not because the car was so ugly and loud.
As I drove up to the school bus stop Carl Douglas’ classic hit “Kung Fu Fighting” was kickin’ from the radio. The shaking and vibrating Galaxie seemed to kung fu kick and jump along with the song. I asked the kids if they wanted to ride to school with me. The kids looked at the Galaxie disapprovingly; then they all cast me a look that said, “Are you crazy?” Then in unison, they all gave a quick and firm “No!”
Later the kids told me that the Galaxie’s springs were so loud that they could hear my car coming from a mile away. They said that long before I arrived at the bus stop the kids would dramatically hold a hand to their ear and say, “Hark, me thinks I hear Ricky’s vehicle approaching,” and then they would all shriek with laughter. Personally, being that I was driving this monstrosity I didn’t see the humor in that.
But as ugly and loud as the Galaxie was I did have two enthusiastic riders, my sister Loretta and my friend Mike. Those two would proudly ride in the car, because as far as they were concerned it was much cooler to arrive at school in a car, even and ugly squeaky, groaning, sputtering one than the school bus. Another benefit of riding with me is we didn’t always go directly to school; we sometimes would make stops at 7-11, Burger King, or Mickey D’s.
Though the Galaxie 500 was big, loud and ugly it did allow me to find every record shop in town. In a used record shop I asked the clerk did he have an old record whose title I did not know, but I thought it was called “Lazy Punk.” He say’s “Never heard of it.”
I then I proceed to stand there and sing a line from the song. I said “It goes like this. “They call me lazy punk, lazy punk, its alrightttttt ahhhhh.” A couple of customers walked into the store just in time to witness me badly croaking out the tune while simultaneously flapping my arms. My legs would bend at the knees so that my body would move up and down quickly in a sort of tight constipated pump. The look of uncertainty formed on the faces of the customers and they then turned and quickly walked out of the store.
The clerk abruptly stopped me from massacring the song any further; he informed me that the song was called “Lady Bump.” He then found, it sold it to me, and hustled me out of the store quickly, I guess before my singing and dancing could scare anymore customers away.
I bought gas for the Galaxie and took care of its endless need of tires, exhaust pipes, oil, mufflers, belts and hoses with the money I made from mowing lawns. Filled with nothing but hate and loathing for the Galaxie 500, I took on additional lawns and I saved up a tidy sum of dough. I told my stepfather that I wanted to buy another car with this money. My step-pop would not allow it, he said that the Galaxie was a perfectly good car and I could not get another until it died.
Although the Galaxie smoked and sputtered it would not pass on to the great car lot in the sky, so I figured I had to help it along. But my stepfather was no fool; I had to make the Galaxie’s death look natural. I gave the Galaxie a deadly gaze and hissed, “And now you must die, die die, my darling.” I quoted the demented Tallulah Bankhead when she spoke that same line to the fright filled Stephanie Powers in the ‘60’s horror film “Die! Die! My Darling.”
In order to murder the dreadful Galaxie 500 I slowly and methodically ran it with very little oil in the crankcase, virtually no water in its radiator, and I sabotaged its electrical systems. But no matter what I did to it that car would not kick the bucket.
With it menacing metal grille that stretched across its entire front end, the Galaxie seemed to sneer at me and taunt me. I could almost hear it say, “You think you’re tough enough to take me on....little boy? You’re not! You can’t stop me no one can! I’m here and I’m here to stay! If anyone is leaving here it will be you….little boy!”
The car was like some abominable horror from a 1960’s horror B-movie, thus I dubbed it, “The Car That Wouldn’t Die.” Who says American cars aren’t built to last?
After high school, I escaped from The Car That Wouldn’t Die by joining the United States Coast Guard. After completion of USCG basic training, the first thing I did was buy a used 1973 Chevy Impala. It was a burgundy 2-door coupe with a black vinyl top.
It was with this car that I learned that parents were mere mortals and not gods. Just like most boys think of their fathers, I thought my stepfather knew everything and could do anything. When I bought the ’73 Chevy, the air conditioner did not work. My stepfather diagnosed that the AC compressor was bad. So we went to the junk yard, got a compressor from a wrecked Chevy and installed it into my Chevy, but surprise the AC still did not work. My stepfather was dumbfounded.
ABBA’s “Take A Chance On Me” was playing on the radio as I drove back to base. I decided to stop at a service station and have them take a look at my AC. The mechanic informed me that the compressor was fine it was a small plastic electrical device that had wires attached to it that plugged into the compressor that that had gone bad. He replaced that and the AC worked like new.
I got a several lessons out of this experience. I learned to take your car to the professionals to have work done. I learned how to replace a compressor. I learned that auto junkyards are the places to go for car parts. And I learned that parents know a lot, but they don’t know it all.
My next car was also used and old, it was a 2-door 1976 Chevy Malibu and it was literally a hunk of junk. It was sky blue with a dark blue vinyl top that developed zits. Large bumps appeared on the vinyl top. The bumps would pop leaving ratty little vinyl holes filled with rust. The dashboard cracked in several places. The bumpers began to rust, and I would discover that the reason I kept having to pour a quart of oil into it weekly was because there was a small crack in the engine block. I literally watched this car fall apart before my eyes, it was the worse car I ever bought.
Then in Norfolk Virginia as Donna Summer’s rock-disco concoction “Hot Stuff” danced from the radio, this old man in an old tan Pontiac sedan, ran a red light and hit the passenger side fender of my Chevy heap.
When the police reached the accident scene they discovered that the old man did not have a driver’s license, the car he was driving was not his, and it was not insured. The policeman turned to me and asked, “What do you want us to do Mr. Harrison? If you want us to take this OLD MAN off to jail, we will take the OLD MAN to jail if that’s what you want. But maybe you and the OLD MAN can make out a payment arrangement where he pays you for the repairs to your vehicle. But if you’d rather we take this OLD MAN off to jail Mr. Harrison, he’s OLD but we’ll take him. It’s up to you.”
After the police made me feel guilty about this man’s advanced age I told them not to take the man to jail, I’d work something out with him. I got the old man’s phone number, and later I received an estimate on repairs to my car which were $600. I called the old man and informed him of the cost. Each week for six weeks the old man sent me money orders for $75, this totaled $450. Then the money orders stopped coming. I didn’t feel like going through the hassle of trying to get the remainder of the money from the old man so I let it go at that. I also didn’t bother to get the Chevy heap repaired because it was junk anyway.
Now out of the service and in college I bought another used car. This one was a 1980 Chevy Impala 2-door. It was cherry red with a white vinyl Landau top. It was beautiful to look at, but one of my college school mates christened it “The Rolling Death Trap.”
I have to say that this was an accurate description. Let’s see, where do I begin? Okay, Duran Duran was singing out those delicious background “ta, na, na, na’s” from their monster hit “The Reflex” when the Chevy’s steering wheel came off in my hand……while I was driving.
I was driving to class and groovin’ to Big Audio Dynamite’s “Contact” when the Chevy suddenly filled with steam. I couldn’t see a thing and almost plowed into a tree. Later the mechanic told me that the heating coil had gone and would cost $400.00 to repair. I was a student with very little money so I opted not to have the heating coiled replaced. So, in the dead of winter I had a car with no heat and no defrost. But the tape player worked so I was able to groove to Book Of Love’s “Boy.”
Sometimes the Chevy’s brakes worked sometimes they didn’t, so I drove the Chevy very slowly. Then when the carburetor went bad sometimes the Chevy would start, sometimes it wouldn’t.
I lived close to the college campus. When the Chevy would not start, or if it did start but I felt that it would not stop after I applied the brakes, I would trek happily to class by foot with my Discman loaded with Electronic music, House music, PWL and Italo Disco.
During my senior year of college the Chevy decided it could no longer make any treks of any distance and it quietly died. The last song to come out of its speakers was Sinitta’s PWL smash, “I Don’t Believe In Miracles.”
My first automobile purchase after college was the ferocious Inferno. Inferno was a tiny, mean-looking, glistening black 1978 Datsun (before they changed the name to Nissan) truck that had attitude and a mind of its own.
With its 4-speed manual transmission, Inferno was one wild ride. Completely customized it had fog lights peering from beneath its front bumper. Its windows were tinted so dark that you could not see inside the cab. It had wide fat tires and gleaming custom alloy wheels.
Inferno was so low slung that the truck’s body almost sat on the ground. Beneath this body were roaring pipes that extended from beneath both the driver and passenger doors. The placement of these pipes was a bad idea for two reasons. One was speed bumps; you had to take speed bumps very slowly and with care or you’d tear the pipes off. The other reason was your legs; if you didn’t exit the cab carefully you would burn your legs on the hot pipes. So it was also a bad idea to wear shorts, clothing that was flammable or would melt....like polyester. During the winter the hot pipes sent warmth into the cab and that was good because the truck’s heater didn’t work. But during the summer, the heat from the pipes made the cab an oven, making it impossible to stay in the truck for long periods of time.
Sometimes Inferno wouldn’t start, but no problem, just pop the hood, jiggle the few wires and viola, it would roar to life.
Inferno was hard to control, and I was constantly fighting it. I wanted to go in one direction it wanted to go in another. Many times I would just give up and let Inferno go where it wanted, and eventually after it had had its way Inferno would let me go where I wanted.
The low slung little beast didn’t just look fast it was fast. As Magnapop, Veruca Salt, the Pixies, Liz Phair and Sugar spilled from Inferno’s speakers, Inferno would scream down I-64 putting every vehicle on the road behind it. One thing though, I never ever got a speeding ticket with Inferno, not one.
Inferno’s engine thundered and roared. Guys would pull up next to me at a stop light and challenge me, everyone wanted to race Inferno. But I did not accept the challenges because I was afraid of Inferno and did not want to unleash it as I might never regain control. But Inferno was ready to race; it was as if the tiny terror could tell when it was being challenged. It would start to snort and buck like a wild bronc, the engine would scream out a frightening roar and the tires would loudly screech and squeal. I felt that if I didn’t tightly hold on to the gear shift Inferno would throw itself into 1st gear and take off like a bat out of hell. I think the thing was possessed.
When I would leave my mom’s after a visit, she would stand at the door watching me (after I jiggled the wires) and the worried look etched on her face said “Lord, please don’t let demon vehicle take my son away from me.”
When I owned Inferno I made a lot of new friends. These new friends, and old friends, and family were constantly asking me for favors, favors that required Inferno. I was asked to pick up appliances for them, help them haul large items, help them move furniture into new houses or apartments, and take that which they had discarded to the dump for them. I came to learn that when a sentence began with “You have a truck” the asking of a truck required favor was coming next.
So between the uncontrollable beast that wanted to be free and the people bugging me for favors that required the use of the beast, I decided I’d had enough and Inferno had to go.
I took Inferno to a Chevy dealership to trade it in on my first not used, but brand new car. At the dealership, a mechanic took Inferno to be checked to determine how much money they would give me for a trade. After the physical inspection the mechanic thought he would take Inferno for a quick spin around the block for a driving assessment. It was not a quick spin as the mechanic was gone for awhile. When he finally returned he looked pale, shaken and disoriented. Bewildered he said to me, “That…….was……an adventure.”
I responded with, “You’re telling me? Why do you think I’m here?”
My sister Glynis’ first car was a brown 1978 Mustang she named “Hurt Me.” I don’t remember the reason why my sister named it this but it fit. When it wouldn’t start big brother (that’s me) replaced the alternator, big brother changed the belts, plugged the holes in the radiator, when the battery died big brother jumped it, when the tires went flat big brother changed them, big brother spent many a dark night with a flashlight under the hood trying to make the thing go, that Mustang hurt me.
As appropriate as the name Hurt Me was for the Mustang, Push Me would have been fitting too. The Mustang was like a small child that had gone from infant to toddler. Though the child can now walk there were times they don’t want to. The child would hold up their outstretched arms and without saying a word they are telling you to “Pick me up and carry me, I don’t want to walk anymore.” That was the Mustang, with it’s grille that looked like the frowning petulant pout of a small child it said “Push me, I can’t go anymore.” And night, day, rain, or snow, push the broken down Mustang to the side of the road, out of a parking lot, or off the street, I did.
My sister Loretta’s 3rd car was a navy blue1980 Buick Regal. One day she came to me and told me that the wipers did not work. For clarification I asked did the wiper blades need changing. She said that wasn’t it, she informed that when you turned the switch to engage the wipers nothing happened.
The problem was the wiper motor was dead and the entire windshield wiper assembly needed to be replaced. We didn’t have a lot of money so I went to the auto junkyard and found a wiper assembly.
I carefully removed the Buick’s wiper assembly which included the wipers, arms, motor, and wires remembering how I removed parts and where I removed them from. I then reversed the process and installed the new wiper assembly. After completion I was so proud of myself, everything looked good and in the right place. I then tested the wipers and they worked fine.
When the first big rain came I sat at the living room window nervous, too nervous to watch the Pet Shop Boys “Love Comes Quickly” video on MTV. Loretta was out in the rainstorm and I sat waiting for her to return. Though the test of the new windshield wiper assembly I had replaced went well, I was still unsure of my installation work as this had been the first time I’d done this. I had visions of Loretta calling to say that she was sitting on the side of the road in the pouring rain because the windshield wipers had flown off the car. Or worse, a call from the police informing that Loretta had been in an automobile accident. The wipers had flown off her car, she was blinded by the heavy rain and crashed. Loretta’s accident would be my fault because I did not install the wiper assembly properly.
Loretta arrived home safe and sound. Excitedly I ran to her, “Loretta you’re alright!”
“And why wouldn’t I be?” my sister asked.
“The wipers…..I fixed them…..the rain…..you weren’t home….. Oh, I’m so glad you’re alive and well!”
Loretta gave me an annoyed look, said, “You’ve got issues,” and walked away.
My brother Ronald’s brown 1986 Camaro Z-28 T-Top was, in a word, AWESOME! My introduction to this car was quite unique. I was traveling north on I-95 to attend my sister Loretta’s wedding. It was a bright, sunny, brilliant blue sky day as a-ha’s sonic masterpiece “The Sun Always Shines On TV” exploded from my car’s speakers. Then I noticed that over in the southbound lanes of I-95 cars were swerving frantically. Cars were going into the highway’s right shoulder and others went into the center meridian. These cars were getting out of the path of a speeding, roaring, incredibly beautiful, glistening brown Camaro Z-28 that was haulin’ ass at 100 mph, at least. As the zooming Z-28 sped down I-95 south, from it trailed long wide white ribbons of flowing fabric.
As we drivers on I-95 north gawked at the fierce Z we weren’t paying attention to the road and tires squealed and vehicles spun as we nearly ran off the road or into each other. I looked behind the wheel of the flying Z-28 and was astounded by what I saw. Piloting the rocketing Z was my sister Loretta all decked out in her wedding gown. Next to her sat her maid of honor and best friend Debra Jean. Both girls had thrilled smiles plastered on their faces as Loretta’s gown’s train and veil came out of the windows and T-Top of the Z and flowed behind the speeding sports car.
It was a beautiful picture, like something out of a Hollywood movie. It reminds me of Claudette Colbert in her flowing wedding dress running across the a well manicured lawn in the Oscar winning classic “It Happened One Night,” or Julia Roberts on horseback in her trailing wedding gown in “Runaway Bride.” I smiled at the breathtaking image of Loretta and Debra Jean in that runaway Z. Then I stopped smiling and became alarmed when I realized, “Hey wait a minute, I’m going to Loretta’s wedding! She’s going the wrong way!”
When I arrived at the church everyone was in a tizzy, “Where’s the bride and the maid of honor?” people asked.
“They’re on I-95 heading south at about 100 miles per hour,” I answered.
Sometime later the Z-28 with the maid of honor and the bride at the wheel roars into the church parking lot and comes to a screeching halt. The organist begins playing “Here Comes The Bride” as Loretta and Debra Jean are hustled out of the Z-28 and into the church. When asked about her tardiness to her own wedding, Loretta responded with, “Did you see Ronnie’s brand new car? It’s awesome! He just got it today, Debra Jean and I had to be the first to drive it!”
My stepfather loved GM’s Cadillac brand and he had a succession of them. The first Cadillac I remember was a big yellow 1959 Caddy Coupe Deville. I thought it such a hideous monster. It reminded me of the cartoon where the sweet little Tweety Bird eats the Jekyll-Hyde formula and becomes a big yellow vicious 500 pound canary monster that scares the poor “puddy cat” Sylvester out of his wits.
When I was a very little boy the ’59 Caddy frightened me. With those over-the-top rear fins that resembled wings, the Cadillac looked like a big frightening yellow fire breathing dragon and I wanted no part of it.
My stepfather once told me that when I was a baby the ’59 Caddy actually cost him his job. He was a young carpenter just starting out, he drove up to the job site in the Caddy and his boss fired him. His boss told him that, “No employee of mine is going to be driving a Cadillac.” Years later I would read the boss’s comment and firing of my stepfather as, “I pay you pennies, how dare you be frugal and thrifty and save your pennies and buy yourself a nice car, nicer than my car, and I’m the boss, and better than you. I’m envious, you’re fired.”
But the loss of a job did not stop my stepfather from buying and driving his dream cars to work. Over the years other Cadillacs came and went and I didn’t like any of them except one, “The Gold Brick.” It was a golden brown 1971 Cadillac Coupe Deville that sailed like a luxury liner. In this cruise ship you didn’t feel a bump in the road. You didn’t notice when this rolling dirigible turned a corner. You didn’t even feel when the gears changed. This wide bodied aircraft was so quiet and tightly constructed that you didn’t hear its engine or any noise from the outside world. With its soft leather seats and opulence, riding in the Gold Brick was like being in another world, a sort of Shangri-La on wheels.
The Gold Brick had a killer stereo system that made you feel like you were in the studio with the singer. Once when the Honey Cone classic “Stick-Up” came on the Caddy’s radio and began with that attention grabbing opening “Help! I’m being robbed,” we kids in the backseat and my parents in the front all got quiet. We were captured by the song’s funky soulful rhythms and its engaging lyrics and it had the whole Harrison family singing, and shaking to it.
The final Cadillac was a white1974 Coupe Deville. On mornings when the temperature was below freezing this car’s power door locks would freeze and you couldn’t get into the thing.
Remember those old western movies in which the livery stable is on fire and the whole town forms a line and passes buckets of water down the line to put out the fire and keep it from spreading? Well, that was my family. We lined up from the kitchen in the house, out the front door, and to the Cadillac passing pans of boiling hot water not to put out a fire but to thaw out a Cadillac. We would pour the pans of hot water onto the driver side door handle/power lock mechanism until it thawed and we could get into the car.
It was then that I said to myself, “No Cadillac for me. The royalty of GM family and here was an entire family outside in the freezing cold pouring boiling hot water on the doors of GM’s flagship model in order to get the thing open, how sad is this?”
Some days my mom would let me have the Cadillac with the condition that I pick her up from work. When I got to her job to pick her up I could not turn the Caddy off because it might not start again…..it was temperamental like that. So there I sat the parking lot at my mom’s place of work waiting for her, letting this behemoth run and guzzle gas like there was no tomorrow. But while I waited, the Caddy’s great stereo system had me grooving to the B-52’s “Whammy,” Ultravox’s “Visions In Blue,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and the Evasions’ “Wikka Wrap.”
After my mom and stepfather divorced, mom got rid of that dreadful ’74 frozen fright Caddy, and bought a white 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. I called the Cutlass the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun Car,” because at the time the Cyndi Lauper hit “Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun” was all over the radio and mom and her girlfriends from work would go out and have fun once a week on girl’s night out.
The problem with my mom hanging out on girl’s night out is her vision. I don’t believe that she can see very well at night (this is my view, she would argue this). My mom lives in a rural area and the mailboxes are on post next to the road. I believe her questionable night vision played a part in the destruction of a mailbox or two that she was known to have taken out with that Cutlass on her way home after a late girl’s night out.
Again, I sat at that living room window worrying and waiting. This time I sat waiting for my mom to return home after girl’s night out. “It’s late, it’s dark,” I thought to myself. “Where is mom? Is she alright?” I wondered, “Which of our neighbors is gonna lose their mailbox tonight?”
When mom arrived home I was at the door waiting. “Mother where were you?” I asked. “It’s late, it’s dark; you should have been home hours ago. Why didn’t you call if you were going to be this late? What, you don’t know what a telephone is?”
“Excuse me,” she said, “I’m the mother. I can come and go as I please.”
I wanted to say “Go to your room! You’re grounded until you can learn to come home before dark!” But I had no winning argument, because as she said, “I’m the mother.” But I did ask her before I left, “You and that Cutlass didn’t take out any mailboxes tonight did you?”
My mom’s sister Celestine once owned a beautiful sky blue 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass 2-door coupe. One day Aunt Celestine asked me, my sisters and my brother to ride with her to the store in that gorgeous car. The Cutlass’ radio was blasting out Eric Burdon and War’s “Spill The Wine.” Aunt Celestine started singing and invited my siblings and I to join in the fun. As Aunt Celestine sang “Spill the wine, take that girl” my siblings and I would chime in with the chorus “Take that girl.” That Olds Cutlass was bouncing as we all rocked and rolled back and forth singing to the music.
Aunt Celeste loved music, the music business, the money and fame that could come with it, the whole kit and caboodle. Aunt Celeste always had a money making idea up her sleeve. She had one for me and her son, my cousin Harold. One day she took Harold and I over to our grandmother’s house where she presented us with these new sharp little shiny suits. Harold and I loved the suits which made us looked like two tiny Temptations, but we did not love what came with them.
Later, two men dressed in suits and hats arrived at grandma’s house. What Harold and I learned is that we had these nice new suits because we had to perform for these two gentlemen. I don’t know exactly who the men were, but they were either, talent scouts, club owners, or representatives of a record label.
Prior to the men’s arrival Aunt Celestine had taught Harold and I some dance moves. In our little new suits we had to sing for the two men the Four Top’s hit "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" while performing the hastily taught dance routine.
We did as we were told and let me tell you, we were horrible, and not on purpose because we didn’t want to do it, we were naturally terrible. I will never forget the cringing look of abject horror on the men’s faces. One man asked of me, “Why does his face look like, like he’s in pain, why is he grinding his teeth?” Grinding my teeth was the only way I could try keep in time with the music.
The other man said of Harold, “He’s as stiff as a board,” and then asked “Why won’t he move, and why won’t he sing out so I can hear him?” We were absolutely dreadful and the two men couldn’t get out of the house fast enough. Aunt Celestine was disappointed that her dreams of pop stardom for us had been dashed but Harold and I were not as we didn’t want to do it anyway. But we did like wearing the little new suits, and we happily ran outside to play in them.
My memory of Aunt Celestine bought a smile to my face but the smile disappeared when I looked in the rear view mirror and again saw the familiar flashing lights. Rocket had done it again, gotten me in yet another jam.
Rocket is a beautiful gun barrel blue 2001 Hyundai Accent 2-door hatchback with a 5-speed manual transmission. Inexpensive it was but Rocket with its 4-cylinder engine is fast, furious and the most fun I’ve ever had driving. I keep Rocket well maintained and it has never given me a minute’s trouble; but she does keep me in trouble with the law.
One evening, from Rocket’s radio U2 was singing about a “Beautiful Day.” Rocket was doing something like 70 mph in a 35 mph zone. On this two-lane road Rocket roared up to two vehicles in front of her traveling at the posted speed limit. Rocket did a quick peek into the other lane to see if there was any oncoming traffic, there was not and Rocket blew pass the two cars. As beautiful as Rocket’s move was, there was a problem with it; Rocket passed the two vehicles on the double yellow line. As Rocket tossed the two pokey vehicles behind her I looked to the right and saw a police car sitting on the side of the road. I said to myself, “Rocket, you’ve done it again, we’re in trouble.”
Rocket flew up a hill shaking the trees and raking the leaves as she went. Knowing that the police would be coming after us I slowed Rocket down. When I reached the top of the hill I pulled Rocket off the road, came to a stop and waited for the police to catch up to us.
The night mist that clung to the hillside was softly illuminated by the pulsing red and blue lights of the oncoming police cruiser. As the cruiser approached I quickly scanned the area and saw a hospital straight ahead, and in my mind I got my story ready.
The policeman approached Rocket and after viewing my license and insurance asked, “Mr. Harrison, do you know how fast you were going?’
“No sir,” I said weakly.
“Do you know you passed on the double yellow line?”
“I, I passed….on the double yellow line? Oh officer….I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize,” I croaked out as if I could barely breathe.
The officer asked, “Mr. Harrison, where are you going?”
I was shopping and was trying to make it to a store before they closed. But I could not tell him that. So I told him the story I contrived that I hoped would keep me from getting a ticket. “I, I don’t feel so good. I don’t know what…what’s wrong. I…I’m on my way to, to the hospital….emergency room,” I said in halted breath.
Well, my story and act didn’t work. The police officer gave me a look that said “try again” and wrote me a ticket.
A little over a month later I’m in court for this ticket. As I sat waiting to go before the judge I noticed that everyone who has gone before the judge for speeding is being sent to one of those driving school courses. I began to feel encouraged, thinking that I may be sent to one as well.
But when I go before the judge he informs me that he is going to throw the book at me. I ask him why, he sent everyone else to driving school, why not me? The judge tells me, “You are not “everyone else.” Your traffic transgression was far more serious as it was more than just speeding it was reckless driving.” The Judge informed me that, “First of all you were going 35 miles over the posted speed limit which is reckless driving. Then you passed on the double yellow line; that too is reckless driving. So, you don’t get off the hook by being sent to a driving course.”
I actually pleaded with the judge. “But your honor, please reconsider. I know my traffic violation is serious but can’t I be sent to driving school…..please?”
The judge looks at me with a frown then turns to the police officer who issued me the ticket and asked him, “What do you think officer?”
The police officer says to the judge, “Your honor I think you should be lenient with Mr. Harrison. On the night I issued him the ticket, I did not have to give chase.” The officer looked at me and added with disbelief in his voice, “When I arrived at the top of the hill, he was sitting there…..waiting for me.” The officer continued, “When I approached the vehicle Mr. Harrison was very polite and pleasant and gave me no trouble. Also your honor Mr. Harrison was sick and on his way to the hospital.”
I turned to the police officer, “I was sick? Going to the hospital? Who told you that?” I asked indignantly
“You did,” said the officer dryly.
I had forgotten my lie. I blushed with embarrassment, turned to the judge, sheepishly looked up at him and said, “Oh that’s right, I was sick your honor”
The judge eyed me suspiciously and then said “Alright Mr. Harrison, It’s your lucky day, to driving school with you. And Mr. Harrison, slow down and drive carefully.”
I cannot remember that police officer’s name but I have always appreciated his going to bat for me, because he didn’t have to. I could have had to pay a hefty fine, had restrictions put on my license or maybe lost my license all together, but I did not because of the officer.
I had awakened before sun up and washed and waxed Rocket. As the sun rose, the gleaming Rocket and I hit the road. Rocket and I were heading to Winchester Virginia to visit the town that gave birth to legendary country music icon country Patsy Cline. Rocket was rolling down route 7 as I listened to Fresh Fox’s Italo disco nugget “The Queen Of The Night.”
As usual Rocket was throwing every vehicle on the road behind her. Ahead of Rocket was a “Little Red Corvette” that Rocket shot pass. The driver of the Corvette had been lazily cruising along, but when Rocket blew pass the Corvette its driver woke up. The Corvette’s driver obviously did not like being tossed aside by Rocket. I looked in the rear view mirror to see the Corvette rapidly gaining on me, blindingly maneuvering through the traffic and throwing every car between us behind it. Naturally Rocket engaged her warp drive and launched as she did not want to be caught up with.
By the time the Corvette reached Rocket we had approached a traffic light that was burning red. At the stop light out of the corner of my eye I could see the Corvette’s driver looking at me. I did not look back because I did not want to race and I did not want to encourage him.
The light turned green and from a standing start both Rocket and the Corvette bolted though the air. It was so cool as there was no squealing of tire just the roaring of engines. Now I’m driving a 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual transmission, 92 horse power Hyundai Accent and this guy is driving a Chevrolet Corvette with a 405 horse power engine, a 6-speed manual transmission, and can do 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. So I’m not going to tell you that Rocket out ran a Corvette. I am going to tell you that before the Corvette could put Rocket behind it the Corvette had to work, because for 3.9 seconds Rocket hung with the Corvette, neck and neck. I hit 1st through 5th gear in one fluid motion, in milliseconds. I looked over at the Corvette and saw the driver’s right arm working that gear box…..like I said Rocket made him work before that Corvette blew Rocket away at 4.0 seconds.
Realizing that Rocket was not going to be easy to keep behind it the Corvette kept getting in front of Rocket attempting to block her in to keep her from passing. But Rocket is not one to be stifled and in a speed blitz Rocket maneuvered through traffic to take the lead again. Then the Corvette charged through the traffic and re-took the lead, and the game was on. With dizzying speed Rocket and the Corvette masterfully maneuvered through the traffic, taking advantage of every opening and space between the other cars on the highway, we continuously traded off the lead. With this giving and taking of the pole position I realized that Rocket had found a playmate in the red Corvette.
As a light drizzle began to fall, Rocket and the Corvette flung every car on the road behind them as they roared down route 7, the curvy ribbon of roadway that traveled up, down, and through the mountainous landscape.
Rocket and the Corvette’s gleaming bodies were reflected in the wet black asphalt of the roadway. With dim lights burning, Rocket and the Corvette silently punched holes in the fog that clung to the mountainside highway. They parted the thick cloud with a vacuum like suction sound when they emerged in what seemed like slow motion from the other side of the cloud. Then they exploded at breakneck speed down the wet and winding mountain road.
I had a lock on the inside lane and the Corvette owned the outside lane as we stormed down the highway. I opened my window and could hear the screaming hiss that car tires made on a wet road.
I looked to my left and saw the golden arches of McDonald’s. My stomach told me that I needed to refuel, so playtime had to come to an end. I bolted pass the Corvette, then slowed Rocket down and turned left into the center meridian across from Mickey D’s. When the Corvette whizzed pass Rocket the driver put his right hand up to his temple and gave a wave goodbye. I watched the howling red Corvette blow down the highway. Its wide tires threw up a fine mist from the road moisture, to leave a vapor trail behind it as the Corvette disappeared into a misty red blur.
I had my McDonald’s breakfast and returned to Rocket. I noticed that the drizzle had formed water droplets on her shocking blue surface, the droplets look like liquid diamonds as they glistened on the car’s waxed body. I got in and cranked up Rocket and the music. As Erasure’s brilliant “I Could Fall In Love With You” played, I threw Rocket into 1st gear. The tires gave a quick short screech and Rocket bolted, the centrifugal force ripped the liquid water diamonds from the car’s surface. Rocket bolted from Mickey D’s parking lot so fast that her front end had reached the highway before those diamond water droplets could hit the ground.
As Rocket roared away from McDonald’s, “The Challenge,” a thumping eurodance powerhouse, and one of the last recordings Laura Branigan made before she died, was pumping out of Rocket’s stereo. I listened to the song and remembered Aunt Celestine, Harold, myself and the little new suits as Rocket raced down route 7 at around 80 mph. My memory of Aunt Celestine bought a smile to my face but the smile disappeared when I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the familiar flashing red and blue lights behind me. I said to myself, “Rocket, you’ve done it again, we’re in trouble.”
The Smiths sang, “I was looking for a job, and then I found a job, and heaven knows I'm miserable now.” It’s a misery that we can all relate to because at some point we all must, “Get A Job.” Next month, we’ll discuss job hunting right here on, The Electrogarden Network. See you in November.
Oh, did you think Inferno, The Car That Wouldn’t Die, and Hurt Me were terrors? They are nothing compared to The Cars Of Tomorrow, and they’re coming your way…..I’d advise you to get off the streets.
© 2009 Rix Roundtree-Harrison