“You guys wanna do time trials?”
It was a brilliant idea. We had been drinking all day at a place we call The Government Lands. During WWII, the Army Corps took some land along the Elk River in MD and built a lake to train pilots in sea-planes. It became a trusted hangout where we could camp and drink and fish without the local authorities having any jurisdiction over us. It would take nothing short of The Feds to crash our party. There were a few times they probably should have.
When they built the lake, there were a series of concentric ovals (more like rounded triangles) around it that formed a three-tiered levee system––each tier had a gravel road for access. There were connecting ramps all over the place that would take you from one level to the next and all of it was thick with bullrush, ten feet high.
It didn’t matter it was night, I knew the circuit like the back of my hand. Where each turn was, each connector to the next level up or down; where the rain had washed gauges in the road. At 19 years old, I was already a professional at driving drunk. And my ‘78 LeBaron was born to run––sideways.
“What are time trials?”
“Well, Danny Boy, that’s when you pick a course and compete for the best time around the loop.”
He wasn’t convinced it was a good idea, so Scotty hopped in the turd-brown LeBaron for the first few laps. I started out slow to gain Scotty’s confidence, then, on the second lap, I showed him the trick I had learned.
“Ready? This is called the Scandanavian Flick.”
Maintaining speed, I flicked the steering wheel right, then left, so that the car drifted sideways before we made the turn ahead. The LeBaron was now facing the stand of reeds beside the gravel road, and just as the car started to inch toward the edge, Scotty started with the what the fuck-what the fuck-what the fuck’s and the turn materialized. I straightened out the wheel a little and we never lost any speed as we entered the straightaway.
“Jesus Christ, Robbie. I thought you were gonna kill us!”
“What’s the worst that could happen, Scotty? It’s all bullrushes.”
“Fucking hell, man… do another lap!”
So we did. Then I picked up another passenger and did the same. One by one, they took turns getting in the Baron and going for a terrifying lap. Danny Boy was the one holdout. He was last, but he hopped in.
I could tell he was reluctant, so I went extra hard on the poor bastard. Flicking early enough that he didn’t see the turn before the headlights were aimed at the side of the road––so close to the edge the reeds were slapping across the hood. We made the turn, and the next. Danny didn’t say a word and I was loving it.
I hit one of the crossovers to go up a level, but I hit it too fast and the Baron came back to camp sounding like a pack of Harleys. The Muffler broke where it connects to the exhaust manifold. It was 318 cubic inches of fucking loud.
We woke the next morning and packed up our gear. I had three in the front seat, Danny Boy in the back, and all of our gear that didn’t fit in my thrift store of a trunk was piled on top of and around Danny.
“Who wrote this?”
“Wrote what?” I asked Scotty.
The dust from the gravel road covered the entire car, inside and out, and somebody––probably Danny Boy–– wrote HELP ME! on the dash.
I drove home with the muffler hanging off until the bridge at Bohemia Yacht Basin thought better of it. We caught a lip where the concrete of the bridge was about an inch higher than the asphalt and the muffler, broken end hanging forward, peeled all the way back under the car where it got lodged under and pierced the gas tank. I dragged the steel muffler across that bridge before I pulled over, smelled gas and ran from the car before it burst into flames. We all got out except Danny. He was firmly wedged between an igloo cooler and a pile of sleeping bags.
I don’t know how, but it didn’t catch fire. And Danny didn’t budge.
I borrowed a hacksaw from the Marina and crawled under the car. Danny Boy sat there with the words HELP ME! still scrawled on the dash.
Rob Kaniuk has been described as a junkie, a dropout, and a common scoundrel. He is the CNF editor at The Schuylkill Valley Journal. His work can be found in the skyline of Philly, where he is a union carpenter, and a handful of journals. Follow him on Twitter @kaniuk22.