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As I chronicled in last week’s story, I made a good friend when I was in second grade in a boy my age named Jimmy Bowden. He lived across the street from me in the temporary foster home I was in at the time.

It wasn’t really suburbia, as the elementary school we attended together was on the outskirts of town and somewhat rural. But nonetheless we lived on a dead-end paved street at the bottom of a hill that was the biggest hill I had ever seen in my young life.

Although this story involves both the long hill on our street and Jimmy, it’s really about my attempt at breaking the land speed record. It’s true.

My temporary foster family were wonderful people and very kind to me, but they had two little children of their own and they, much like me, knew I wasn’t going to be there very long until I was placed (again) into another home.

So, I wasn’t in their home for any holidays or birthday etc. or any gift giving occasions.

Jimmy was an only child, and his parents loved their son. They weren’t rich by any standard of the time, Mr. Bowden had gotten out of the army some months before and moved to this town for a job and Mrs. Bowden had a job in town as well. They had a modest home, drove a modest car, and lived a modest life.

I say that, because May of that year, and a couple of weeks after the “incident” I wrote about last week, Jimmy got what I (still) consider to be the greatest birthday gift anyone could get a young boy.

He got a car.

It wasn’t a “real” car as you I know a car as adults. It was a beautiful metal, as in real American metal, pedal car. The same color as a 50’s model Chevrolet.

It was glorious.

In the event you are unfamiliar with those wonderful machines.

Here is what they were.

The pedal car was an exact scaled down replica of a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. It was blue and white and as a “convertible”, it had one seat that the occupant of said vehicle would pedal with both feet and the large steering wheel would turn the large front solid rubber tires, just like a real car.

But like I said, this magnificent machine didn’t have any horsepower, just two feet power.

That car gleamed in the sun and Jimmy would let me drive (peddle) it around at the bottom of the hill.

When Mr. and Mrs. Bowden would come home from work, Jimmy and I would both be in a sweat from driving (pedaling) the car around in circles at the bottom of the dead-end street all afternoon after school.

I remember both of Jimmy’s parents just smiling and asking if we were having a good time.

The truth is, I was enjoying driving (pedaling) that magnificent 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air and truly appreciated Jimmy’s kindness in sharing it with me and letting me take the wheel.

But…

As I drove (pedaled) around the bottom of the hill on that paved street in circles, going faster with each little “lap” I made, my eyes would always go to the top of the hill.

The next day, I proposed the idea that I had to Jimmy.

The idea was this,

Together we would push or drag the magnificent Chevrolet to the top of the hill.

Once were at the very top of the hill, Jimmy would take his place in the driver’s seat and with a shove on the back of the vehicle Jimmy would fly down the hill, all the while keeping his feet steady on the pedals just in case he needed to use the “brakes” to slow down.

EDITORS NOTE: “Safety First” that’s my motto…

As the car reached top speed and got to the bottom of the hill, Jimmy could slow down with his feet on the pedals, steer into a neighbor’s driveway and then into the grass and come to a safe halt.

It was going to be awesome!

Except, Jimmy didn’t want to do it. He said something about it being “dangerous” or whatever.

So, instead he suggested I do it.

Which, in all fairness was my original plan but let’s face it, it wasn’t “my” car.

But I was ALL too happy to accept and I was ready to go.

Before we pushed the car up the hill, I asked “if” I could use his Daddy’s army helmet, because as I said earlier, I am all about “safety”.

So, with the oversized army helmet on my head, Jimmy and I pushed that beautiful, gleaming 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air (pedal) car up the hill huffing and puffing all the way until we reached the summit.

It’s probably important to mention here that as per usual I wasn’t wearing a shirt or any shoes.

But in all fairness I only had one pair of shoes to wear to school and they were “not” to play or roughhouse in and I had about the same number of t-shirts designed to play in as well.

But although I didn’t have a fire-resistant suit or shoes or gloves, I did have an oversized army helmet.

Like I said earlier, “Safety First”, that’s my motto.

We finally got to the summit of the hill. It seemed like you could see forever from the top of the hill.

Well, at least we could see all the way to the Midlands Valley Elementary School and Taxidermy Academy were we attended the second grade together.

It was a beautiful, cloudless day. There was no point in checking the wind, it was a perfect day.

The perfect day to set the land speed record.

With Jimmy holding that beautiful shiny Chevrolet Bel Air (pedal) car in place, and with the oversized army helmet on my head I climbed into the driver’s seat and placed both dirty bare feet on the pedals.

EDITORS NOTE: Before you ask, of course there were NO safety belts in the vehicle. But in all fairness cigarettes didn’t have a warning label on them then either, so there is that.

I grasped the steering wheel firmly with both hands at “10” and “2”, took a deep breath, and yelled,

“GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Jimmy shoved that Chevrolet with all his might and off I went….

Immediately there was a problem. I had miscalculated something very important to this equation.

The problem was simply this. The faster the car went down the hill, and it was flying I assure you, the faster the pedals on the car were turning. In fact, they started turning so damn fast the pedals kicked my bare feet off of them and the single attempt I made to get my feet back on the pedals resulted in my feet getting kicked off of them so violently that my knees hit me underneath my chin so hard it almost knocked my safety, I mean army helmet off my head.

Despite the high rate of speed and my inability to slow the car down due to the pedals spinning underneath me like a woodchipper, I wasn’t panicking. My feel were tucked underneath me on the seat and my knees were under my chin and the oversized army helmet was wobbling, still on my head.

I was halfway down the hill and I was gaining even more speed.

I had a firm grip on the steering wheel because I had too, the damn thing was vibrating back and forth terribly and despite my seven-year-old strength the vibration only got worse.

I guess it never occurred to me that these amazing, gleaming pedal cars didn’t have shock absorbers and were not intended to reach speeds of over forty miles an hour.

As I have said before I don’t know if my birth mother drank Jack Daniels and smoked Camels during her pregnancy with me. Because I don’t know anything about all that.
But come to think about it.

None of the other kids like me grew up to be fighter pilots or astronauts.

But I digress. I guess that’s what happens when you have had “one too many” concussions.

What happened next still lives in legendary folklore at the Midlands Valley Elementary School and Taxidermy Academy to this very day.

I can’t say I can recall what exactly happened next.

But everything at first seemed to be in slow motion.

The vibration of the front wheel and subsequently the steering wheel became uncontrollable.

In a moment, the beautiful 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air (pedal) car, with its gleaming blue and white paint, wretched hard to the right, presumably, looking back on it, due to its lack of stabilizers and shock absorbers.

Or maybe it was the forty mile an hour speed, who knows.

But as the car pitched to the right it threw my little ass out and my safety, army helmet went flying too.

As my bare torso and legs went skidding down the pavement a strange thing happened.
The metal 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air (pedal) car was tumbling through the air and bouncing as it went.

The car looked like it had crashed at turn three at Daytona as it tumbled and crashed and turned again.

Then, it landed on me.

Jimmy said later that when the car landed on me, it seemed to slow it down from rolling over and over.

It must have been all that air getting knocked out of me that slowed it down.

I heard Jimmy running up to me and felt him help get me to my feet.

I was a bloody mess, but Jimmy’s once beautiful birthday present was in worse shape.

Nothing Dale Earnhardt drove to the finish line looked worse than this Chevrolet.

Not to say I “made it” it to the finish line per say.

Both the car and I kind of skidded together the rest of the way to the bottom of the hill.

My injuries were momentarily forgotten when Jimmy looked at his car with tears in his eyes.

He simply said, with resignation in his voice, “My Daddy is going to kill me.”

The beautiful pedal car was indeed a wreck.

The gleaming blue and white paint was mostly scraped off and there were crushing dents to both sides, the nose was crushed in too, and the wheels and the axel were broken. It was a goner.

I told Jimmy that is was all my fault, which it was, and that I would tell his Daddy what happened.

I assured Jimmy he would be in the clear, but first I needed to get all this blood off of me.

So, I ran to my foster families house and got into the medicine cabinet before they all got home.

I drenched my wounds in enough hydrogen peroxide to cause my whole body to bubble up.

By the way, whoever said that damn stuff doesn’t hurt is a damn liar.

Then it was time to grit my teeth and do the unthinkable.

I took the iodine out of the cabinet and doused my wounds from both feet to the top of my head.

I am sure somewhere my screams can still be heard in some far away galaxy.

One last look in the mirror and…

I looked like a bloody Comanche Indian that had just raided a local village.

While running, no that’s not correct I was limping, back over to Jimmy’s house.

Jimmy was still standing in shock in his driveway looking at his once beautiful car.

Mr. Bowden pulled into the driveway with his wife from work. I took one look at Jimmy and I know what prisoners on death row look like awaiting the guards to take them to the electric chair.

Mr. Bowden and Mrs. Bowden looked as shocked as Jimmy, but Mr. Bowden said rather excitedly,

“What in the heck happened here!”

Jimmy was trying to mumble something through his tears, but I interrupted him.

“It was my fault Mr. Bowden; it was all my fault. See, we took the car to the top of the hill and…”

Looking back on it, I guess that was the first time Mr. and Mrs. Bowden really looked at me.

EDITORS NOTE: I am sure with all the red stained iodine on my numerous wounds I looked like one of the stand-in’s for “Attack of the Killer Zombies.”

They both ran over to me and were asking me in unison “IF” I was alright.

EDITORS NOTE: I wasn’t expecting this…

Jimmy was still mumbling something about the car, I was saying it was my fault and after less than a minute or so, Mr. Bowden said this, “I know somebody that can fix and repaint the car, don’t worry about that, but you can’t replace a person or a child.”

Before I was ushered into their house so Mrs. Bowden could check my injuries, and insure my right ear was still attached to my head. I apologized to Mr. Bowden for dinging up and well, scratching the hell out of his army helmet too.

He just laughed at that and told me that he didn’t care about that helmet.

But once we were in their house, he looked out his living room window and he asked me,

“How far did you get down the hill?” and I told him.

Mr. Bowden just whistled and said, “You must be the fastest boy in second grade.”

Yes sir, your damn right I was.

Well, for a second or two anyway

RTR
MEB