March 28, 2004

Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Volkswagen in a Pear Tree

I grew up in rural San Jose, California, back when it was still getting used to the idea that it had become a small city and was no longer the farm community it once was. In those pre-silicon valley days, San Jose was figuring itself out, not wanting to be like it's snooty neighbor San Fransisco, and secretly worried that it might turn out to be like thuggish Oakland.

Out where we lived, it was as rural as was left in that part of the bay area. We lived in a newish trailer park (did you know that mobile homes appreciate in value in California?), in a big brand-new double-wide. The park was as far on the outskirts as possible while still being part of San Jose. We were isolated, at the very end of First Street (at that time the longest 'main street' in the US).

The park was situated at the end of a half-mile long stretch of raised blacktop off of First Street. The most remarkable thing about the road was a humungous drainage dip about 3/4 of the way to the park. Take it at speed, and you would be airborn. Nowadays kids would think of it as a near perfect half-pipe, at least a beginners version. The rest of the road sat about six feet higher than the land on either side.

Bordering the park on the back side was Agnew State Mental Institution (West Wing), where the safe crazy's lived. They farmed for therapy and sold produce at a roadside stand. Loony as all git out, but harmless. The violent and scary ones lived about a mile away at the East Wing, where the fences were topped with razor wire and inmates getting a little fresh air were chained to the benches. Every six hours, a siren would wail at one wing, and the other would answer, letting folks know that all was safe in the land of the normal. I've got some loony stories, but those are for another time.

So we've got the mental hospital on one side, and an interstate on another, with a big field between us and the highway. In season the field would be full of migrants, picking lettuce or onions or whatever was growing.

On the third side was a cactus farm, with big glassy greenhouses and complete with scary-assed watchdogs. You didn't mess around there.

But on the fourth side, where the road connected to First Street, was pear orchard. Across First Street was pear orchard. Acres and acres of orchards. Beyond the cactus farm was another onion field, and then more orchards. All those orchards were our playground. In the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons, Calvin used to go into the woods to get away and play. We had the orchard.

Because of our relative isolation, as kids all we had were each other. Galapagos Finches. We had few outside friends, because we were bussed across town to school (we passed at least three high schools on the way to our school). It was an interesting environment to grow up in, and we did have our occasional Lord of the Flies moment, but we mostly got along.

One friday night I was walking around looking for something to do, when I came across Moby and Mac (names changed to protect the stupid). Moby was as tall and bumbling as could be, and the closest thing to a stoner that we had in our little circle. Mac was the middle brother of three, and somehow he'd managed to get drunk. Moby was leading him around the park, trying to sober him up before taking him home.

I started walking along with them, and at one point Moby randomly complained about his mom being out on a date, and being bored. His mom drove an old blue VW bug, and it seemed like a good idea to go for a spin. We headed over to his house, and Moby searched for her keys. No joy.

I said we could hotwire it, and showed them how. More by luck than skill we got it started. I climbed in the back seat, while Moby took the wheel and Mac rode shotgun. We buzzed around the park for a while, and mostly I held on to Mac's belt to keep him from falling out the window as he leaned out and drunkenly hollered at signs and trees.

We made two or three runs down the main road to First Street, but since none of us had a drivers license, we weren't brave enough to actually leave the park property. So we'd go like a bat out of hell granny's VW down the straightaway, then turn around at the end and head back.

On one of those runs, Mac yelled something about hitting an animal and grabbed the steering wheel. We made a sharp right turn, straight off the edge of the road and headed into the pear orchard.

Remember the scene in Blair Witch Project where they're running through the pitch dark woods in black and white? Exactly.

When I came to my senses, my head was hurting. I think I hit it on the roof as we bounced through the field. The car was at an odd angle, up against a tree. The lights were on, the engine was running, the radio was playing, both doors were open, and the front seats were empty.

I looked out the back window and saw Moby and Mac scrambling towards the road. All I could think of was that the car must've been on fire and I didn't want to be in it when it blew up.

I caught up to them on the road. Moby was crying, mostly because he knew his ass was grass. Mac was laughing like a maniac, mostly at Moby. Me, I was already setting up my alibi. Going through the timeline out loud, making sure I was covered and completely unconnected with it all. Getting everybody's story straight.

When I got home later, I calmly said goodnight to my folks and went to bed. The next morning, I mentioned that it had been a while since we'd been to Confession.

That afternoon, we were sitting in the family room, and I remember my aunt and uncle being there. The phone rang and my mom answered. She listened for a moment, not saying much at all, and then handed the phone to my dad. Mom got up, walked over to where I was sitting on the couch, and started to beat me. It went like this:

"How" {SMACK} "Dare" {SMACK} "You" {SMACK} "Steal" {SMACK} "A" {SMACK} "Car" {SMACK} "And" {SMACK}...

Well, you get the idea. I was curled up, arms over my head protecting myself while mom wailed away and my relatives looked on with stunned expressions.

My dad hung up the phone and walked up behind mom and stopped her from hitting me any more. She hadn't done any real damage, she was too mad to do more than flail away, but I'd have some bruises on my arms for sure. Mom actually said to my dad "You hit him, my arms are tired."

Dad gathered me up and we walked down to Moby's house. The beetle sat in their driveway, looking beat to hell. Windsheild smashed, fender torn off, dented and scraped up pretty good. My dad talked to Moby's mom, and they agreed that I would buy a new windsheild and get a fender and put it on. The rest would be up to the other boys.

I found out later that Moby called his mom when he got home and told her the car was stolen. When the cops found it - not hard at night with the lights still on - they supposedly dusted it for prints and found ours. I still think Moby just guilted himself into ratting us out.

The phone call. When my mom answered the phone, Moby's mom said "Mrs. Phipps? Last night your son and two other boys stole my car and wrecked it in the pear orchard." Not once did she ever tell my parents that her son was one of the "two other boys".

I got a sunset curfew for a year, and my folks enforced it. Dad and I made a trip to the junkyard. I dipped into my savings and bought a windsheild and fender, and my dad helped me attach the fender. He was pretty pissed off when he found out the other two got zero punishment for our stunt, and we never did finish the glass.

My brother wrecked our family car in the same orchard a few years later after I'd left home. Drag racing or something equally stupid. Almost a family tradition.

And that's the story of #5 on my list.

Posted by: Ted at 01:07 AM | category: Boring Stories
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