art by Joseph D. Greenwood
In the main square, the traffic is light as it usually is on Saturday. It will pick up though, as the evening approaches, cause it's Saturday night and the night belongs to the young.
I guess it's kinda that way everywhere but here, in our rustic community, it's a way of life.
Yep, in a coupla more hours, the old folks will get off the streets completely. Some will go in for supper, listen to the radio or maybe watch a little television. A few, like myself, will sit on the porch and watch the young people at their rites.
We've all done it. Well, maybe not all, but quite a few anyway. Our chance came and went and we failed.
Now we just watch. I guess that is what sets the young and old apart in this town. It has nothing to do with age. It's a matter of failure. If you don't take your chance, if you convince yourself that nothing you do will make a difference, then you are old. And if you do take that chance and fail, then you are old. That's the way it is here in Dunkirk.
Those of us who watch, do so for different reasons. I know a few around town who get a kick out of the wails of frustration and despair and the tears, when a kid tries, fails and slips into old age. Misery loves company, I guess.
Me, well, I watch because deep down, I want one of those kids to make it. Just once, I want to see one of them blast through town, streamers flying, through all three lights, across the bridge and past the city limits sign. And, keep right on going and never look back.
My chance came and went nearly 20 years ago. I was 16 then, young, strong and cocksure. And I had me a girl, her name was Becky. We were in love like no two have ever been before or since. When I decided to make my run, it was only natural that she would go with me.
I spent six months getting my wheels ready. Man, what I care that was! It was a '57 Chevy, as sweet and cherry as could be. I had a 327 under the hood, a candy-apple red exterior, red leather inside. Damn, whatta car. Getting her ready for the run was easy. Everyone knew what I was planning, and those things I needed to fine tune and dress her out were given to me without comment. When at last she was ready, that car was outright awesome. Nothing in town could touch it.
It took me a couple of days to get psyched up enough, then I drove over to Becky's house and I says to her,
"Becky, honey, I'm going. I really would like you to come with me."
Well, her folks weren't happy about it, but they didn't try to talk us out of it. That is just not done. It's our rite. We sat around chatting about things, while Becky got her things together. When she came downstairs there were some tears as she said good-bye to her folks, then we were in the Chevy. I fired her up, and we roared away.
We made a couple of circuits of the square, then drove over to the Dairy Queen for a shake. While I as paying for the drinks, Becky tied the red streamers on the radio antenna, and when we pulled out of the parking lot, I laid a patch of rubber for show. I was aware of many heads turning, eyes taking in the streamers. The word began to spread, as it always does.
Back to the square we went, and began the usual and required nine circuits. Each time we stopped at a light, boys would saunter over and give me a slug or two of beer, shake my hand and wish me luck. Their ladies greeted Becky, talking of things that only women truly understand. After the last circle, we tooled up Detroit Street to where it joins Main. I turned left onto Main and pulled to a stop, shifting into park, leaving the engine running. A police car pulled up behind us, and the officer got out, talking into his radio. When he finished, he replaced the mike, then began to divert traffic onto Detroit. I knew that by now the route was free of traffic.
We sat there, gazing down the hill. Becky began a prayer in a soft whisper.
In front of us, Main Street sloped down through the middle of town. All three traffic lights were clearly visible. At the bottom of the hill were the New York Central railroad tracks, then the bridge over the Scioto River. That was the Mile Bridge. It was called that because it was exactly one mile from the starting point, at the top of Main Street. Five-tenths of a mile past the bridge, Main made a gentle right bend, then it was a straight mile and a half shot to the city limits sign.
That is all it was.
Three miles. I could close my eyes and see every inch of that run. Now, I was ready. My car was ready and it was time.
I looked over at Becky. She was wearing white shorts and a checkered halter top. I watched a tear slowly roll down her cheek and drop on the swell of her breast. Feeling my gaze she raised her head and looked at me with eyes bright with her tears.
"Let's do it, Johnny. she said. Then she leaned over and kissed me, "For luck" she whispered.
I threw the trannie into gear and when the three lights turned green, I floored the sucker. The '57 screamed like a banshee and we rocketed down the hill, trailing a cloud of burnt rubber and exhaust. We blasted through the first light, then the second, then the third. The Chevy seemed to crouch down when she hit the tracks and when we came off the bridge, we almost went into orbit. For one crazy moment, I actually thought that we were going to just fly away. Then we hit, tires screaming again, or maybe it was Becky, or maybe it was me.
The school went by in a blur on the left, then the bearing factory on the right as we shot out of the bend. I had the pedal all the way to the floor, the engine was red lining, the speedometer was rocking on 120. We passed the city limits sign like a runaway train.
For a heart-stopping moment, we actually made headway. Then, we failed.
The car began to slow, then its forward motion stopped. I tried to push the pedal through the floor but it was no use. With smoking tires, engine still racing, slowly, inexorably, we slid back until the front bumper was inside the city limits again. Then the car died.
I turned to look at Becky. She learned over and kissed me again. "I'm sorry Johnny. It would have been so nice."
And before I could do or say anything, she faded away like mist in the morning sun.
So, here I sit. An old guy.
The word is going around that Tom Mason and his girl Sarah are going to tie on the streamer tonight. I want to be here for that. As I have for all the others since my time.
I am gonna sit right here and watch, hoping and praying. And if they make it I will be the first to cheer.
Wait, here they come now. . .
Go, kid!! Get on it!!
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