I worked at a fast food restaurant in the late 1970’s as the night shift manager. At the end of our incarceration at 3:00AM one crisp Fall evening, one of our workers -- I’ll call him Jack -- wanted to know if I and the other two workers -- I’ll call them Nick and Karen -- wanted to ride with him in his cargo van, spinning doughnuts in a field about two miles down the road.
“Sure,” I said.
The other two readily agreed.
Jack’s van was, to put it mildly, bare bones. The floor and sides of the back area consisted of nothing but metal, the only other rear passenger being a loaded toolbox looking to weigh forty pounds or so.
“Are you sure this thing is capable of doughnuts?” Nick asked. “Seems a little top heavy to me.”
“Just sit back there and relax,” Jack said, pushing the air down with his right hand before making sure that Karen was properly secure in the only passenger seat. “I know what I’m doing. Don’t be a wuss.”
“And you’re done this before?” I asked.
“Well … not in this,” Jack admitted, “but it’s going to be far out cool.”
To show us the van’s raw power, Jack peeled out of the parking lot and gunned the thing until we had passed 80 miles per hour … in a 30 MPH zone. At the time, I feared being pulled over and hauled into jail for reckless driving.
No such luck.
Jack turned into the empty field and stopped about fifty yards in, as though waiting at the starting line, his face locked into an attitude of determination. With the van in neutral, he revved the engine until it hummed those notes that send auto aficionados into the heavens.
I took deep breath after deep breath trying to slow my heart and steady my nerves. I didn’t like being sitting on cold, hard metal, my back against cold, hard metal, looking up and seeing nothing but cold, hard metal.
Had Karen not been there I would have told Jack that I wished them well, but I was exiting from the back, and would promise to wave and play “Aloha Oi” on the steel guitar.
I didn’t want to seem less than manly in front of Karen.
Jack back off, then put it in “Drive.”
With his left foot hard on the brake and his right hard on the accelerator, he bounced up and down in his seat like a stallion about to rear up. The back tires spun madly and spewed clouds of dust and dirt behind us.
“Hold onto your butts!” Jack yelled, then removed his left foot from the petal, tossing us into the bosom of the Goddess Fortuna.
The sounds of flying gravel and dirt gave way to those of Karen’s squeals, and … had Nick squealed, too? One of those horrifying and hilarious man-screams?
I couldn’t tell because the force of our takeoff threw me to the back of the van.
I’d just righted myself when Jack yelled out. “I’m cutting the wheel at 70.”
Ten seconds later, he turned hard to the left.
The idea had been to create circles of dust as the back end spun around and around, tires churning the grass and dirt, putting us in the middle of a dust cloud
Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…
Not even Robert Burns could have foreseen my face rapidly approaching the opposite panel, crashing into it before I started rolling and flying around like a towel in a dryer, the hard pounding sounds of metal pounding into metal nearly deafening.
I couldn’t count the number of times the van rolled, but thinking back I would say at least two and a quarter complete turns (maybe three and a quarter) as we came to rest on the vehicle’s right side, the passenger side.
I took a moment to shake off the cobwebs and return to the world of real things. A drop of something fell into my eye, and a swipe of my hand, an inhale of a bitter coppery aroma, and a peek in the light of the harvest moon confirmed it to be my blood.
I moved my hands, arms, legs, and feet, and miraculously felt little pain, most of that residing in my face and left shoulder.
I looked over to Nick, who had been looking at me, both of us glancing down at the forty-pound toolbox that had miraculously missed us both, then back to each other. Nick’s face expressed what I felt … that damn box could have killed one or both of us.
Thank you, Goddess Fortuna!
I looked to the front seat. Jack just shook his head, then smoothed back his greasy, macho-dripping hair.
Karen fiddled with her seat belt.
I breathed a sigh of relief, and started to say something.
Karen beat me to it. “Thank God I pee’d before we left.”