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Saturday storytime

I have a rule about Ratlands.  I don’t give out the name of the site to my co-workers.  It isn’t that there’s anything here that embarrasses me; I’m well aware that nothing on the internet is private and nothing on the internet ever goes away and I operate accordingly.  Although I have an ego as big as all outdoors, I am aware that I am neither brilliant enough, sage enough, nor funny enough to justify flogging the site to any and all of the folks I work with.

However, like Frank Martin (Jason Statham’s character in the Transporter movies) I sometimes make exceptions to the rule. I only make these exceptions when I find individuals I respect and who I think might find at least some of the content here interesting.  As I’ve found a couple of such individuals and made said exceptions, I now feel a certain amount of pressure to generate some actual content.  Unfortunately, as I’ve been up all night dealing with various aching body parts I do not (in the words of Arlo Guthrie) “look and feel my very best.”  So, in lieu of brilliant political analysis or insightful ruminations on the human condition, you get storytime.

Contrary to the impression I might have previously created, I was not, as a young man, dependent on drugs and alcohol to generate large quantities of Stupid.  This is the story of how I and 3 of my friends came perilously close to killing and/or being killed by a cow.

So, it’s a typical Friday night in a relatively small town in Kansas in the late ’70s.  Because Wichita was less than 30 minutes away, typical dating procedure for guys was to take your date to a movie in Wichita and maybe dinner.  Then, if things were going really well or you had a regular steady girlfriend, you took her home by way of any number of dark, secluded country roads within a couple of miles of town, affording you an opportunity to make out.

This “standard procedure” was, of course, something I was aware of by way of second-hand account, having never actually had a date that met the requisite criteria to qualify for the “parking in the country” process.  At the time this story took place I was a senior in high school and could still count the number of dates I had had on one hand.  Without using my thumb.  The guys I hung out with, the ones involved in this incident, were pretty much in the same boat.  One of them had even less dating experience than me.  However, in what was either an expression of unbridled hope or evidence of pathetic, desperate lack of touch with reality, we spent a lot of time driving around in the country looking for the perfect spot, just in case.

So, like I said, it is a typical Friday night and the four of us all have social calendars that are, shall we say, uncomplicated by appointments involving members of the opposite sex.  We are, therefore, driving around in the country in my ’72 Ford Galaxie 500 with the windows down and the radio on, debating the merits of the various roads we were on for our nefarious purposes should any of us ever actually have a date.

Anyway, we’re driving down one of our favorite, little-used roads east of town when we pass one of our favorite spots (a short, abandoned drive that led to nothing, the farmhouse that was its original destination having been torn down) and notice a green Mustang which we recognize as belonging to a guy named Frank who was a year older than we were.  Frank had graduated the previous year, but was dating a cute girl that we all liked who was a year younger than we were.  (This was, of course, back in the “Olden Days” when a 19 year old dating a 17 year old wasn’t considered a sex crime.)

For some reason, we decided we needed to have a little fun at Frank’s expense, so I drove about a quarter mile down the road, turned around, killed the headlights and the radio and inched back toward Frank’s car in the moonlight.  When we were behind the car, one of my friends (let’s call him Tom) crawled out the window so as to keep the dome light from coming on and snuck up to Frank’s car, where he proceeded to knock on the driver’s side door and loudly ask if Frank was interested in buying a set of encyclopedias.  While Tom is making his “sales pitch” the rest of us are in the car laughing our asses off because we think this is incredibly clever and funny as hell.

We continued  laughing our asses off and congratulating ourselves on this incredibly clever prank we’ve pulled off right up to the point where the door of Frank’s car comes open, Tom yells “SHOTGUN”, and breaks for my car in a full-out sprint.  (Apparently, Frank did not share our refined sense of humor.)  Tom comes flying into the front seat of the car through the open window, having done his best Superman impersonation as I’m flooring the gas pedal, slinging loose gravel, swerving violently, and adding to the general confusion.

Right about then, the rear wheels hit a patch of road that was clear of loose gravel and the car lurched forward, propelling us out of the line of fire from Frank’s position.  As the wave of relief swept over us at the realization that neither the car nor any of us had made any unwanted contact with 00 buckshot, I reached down and turned on the headlights.

At this point, I (and to a lesser extent, my passengers) became aware of several interesting pieces of information:

  1. The 390 V-8 in my Galaxie 500 was capable of significant, sustained acceleration.
  2. As my foot, and therefore the gas pedal, was still firmly planted on the floorboard, said vehicle was still engaged in said significant, sustained acceleration.
  3. Said vehicle engaged in said acceleration was being observed by a black angus steer from the middle of the road directly in front of us.

Slamming on the brakes and locking up the wheels probably wasn’t the best move I could have made, but as we were back in a patch of loose gravel, it probably didn’t matter.  We went into a full, out-of-control slide.  Thankfully, due to the adrenaline involved, my estimate of our velocity was apparently significantly in error on the high side, and we slid to a stop about 2 feet from the damn cow, who never moved.

The cow, in fact, refused to move at all, and I had to turn around and drive back past Frank’s car as fast as possible, but with the lights on, to get away from the area.  A couple of miles down the road I pulled over while my compatriots, who were already back in “laughing our asses off” mode, basically laughed their asses off while I hyperventilated for a few minutes.

And what did we learn from this little adventure?  At the time, not a damn thing, other than that none of us have ever spoken to Frank since that night.  For the first couple of years after the incident, it just seemed prudent.

In retrospect, I have, however, come to the conclusion that our sense of humor and general tendency toward “stupid with a capital S,” may have, in some slight way, somehow been related to our lack of social entanglements with members of the opposite sex.

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