I was out in the backyard with my trusty BB gun. I was in the process of
thinning out the massive lizard herd that roamed our neighborhood. I sat at
the base of a tree and waited for a big "bull" lizard to saunter
out on a branch hoping to catch some rays. A few minutes passed and sure
enough, a nice trophy skittered out on the limb. I swung the rifle to my
shoulder and took aim.
Just as I was about to squeeze the trigger, I was distracted by a
clattering out on the sidewalk in front of my house. I took a breath and
placed the sights back on the little reptile. I could see he was staring
back at me. He was nervous. Little beads of sweat formed on his tiny green
forehead. Glancing at my gun, he figured he had sucked back his last fly. I
put the gun down and squinted my eyes like Clint Eastwood. I jerked my head
toward the west and said, "Ride on."
The lizard then did that cool thing only lizards can do. You know the
deal where it looks like someone stuck an umbrella down their throat and
opened and closed it real fast. I wasn't sure if that was lizard for thanks,
or his version of giving me the finger.
I decided to go investigate the racket I heard out on the sidewalk. As I
came up the side of my house, I spotted Tommy Joe and Sammy the Slide Rule
up on my front porch. They were perched on short pieces of plywood that they
had bolted roller skate wheels to. This was about two years before anyone
ever heard of skateboarding. I noticed they had already pan handled a couple
sodas from my mom.
I thought I might get a few laughs if I plinked TJ's hat off his head.
Unfortunately, I would be doing most of my chuckling alone up in my room.
Just as I squeezed the trigger Tommy stepped down off his steel wheeled
The BB flew over TJ's head and shattered the globe on the porch light.
The shards of glass rained down on Sammy and in his panic, he dropped his
Nehi grape soda. The bottle hit the deck and that deadly purple liquid
spread across the fresh white paint like a dark flood. Nehi grape soda has
the staining power of India ink. Mom's porch looked just like it had a big
violet picture of Australia tattooed in the center. I mustered up a little
courage and walked up to face my mom's wrath. As she flung open the door
with one hand, she threw a roll of paper towels and some Comet cleanser at
me with her other hand.
Tommy Joe stepped in between us in case he might have to restrain her
from choking me to death. After she cooled down Tommy Joe began negotiating
for me. "Mom," he began, he called all our moms mom. "I know
what Gonzo did was dangerous, reckless, stupid and uncalled for. " I
could feel the noose tightening around my throat. "But if you could
just withhold sentencing him until next week, He could participate in a
program that would help teach him a little responsibility."
Tommy explained to my mom that the Boy Scouts were going to have a big
invitational camp out up at Ol' Man Snyder's rock pit. Even though we
weren't scouts, we could camp out with them on this trip to see if we would
like to join up. My mom thought it over and said yes I could go. Sammy
picked the last few slivers of glass out of his arm and explained the camp
out to me. The scoutmaster was a good friend of TJ's dad Mr. Cauldwell. He
told Mr. C. scouting would give us character, and a little discipline.
What they really wanted was for us to bring the notorious soapbox racers
out of hiding and thrill the kids before the Saturday night campfire. To you
unfamiliar with Tommy Joe, our soap box cars were looked on like Don
Garlits' Dart or Sammy Miller's Rocket Car, since no one on earth could beat
us they would just ban our cars from racing. We told them we would make few
passes out at the rock pit Saturday afternoon. Our gang had a kind of
squatter's right to the road portion of the rock pit. It was down this bumpy
gravel road I had flown, slid, rolled, and rocked in many of our Cauldwell
Friday night Mr. C. dropped us off at the rock pit command post. We had
two racers, our backpacks, a canteen of water, two matches, and a tent about
the size of a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge. No need to put up five or six
little tents when you could all sleep in one bigger than Barnum and Bailey
owned. We had backpacks, race cars, dogs, friends, bicycles, and two BB guns
all hidden inside the tent away from prying eyes. The Army had a display at
the Camporee and had jeeps, howitzers, and a tank on the grounds for the
scouts to enjoy. They wouldn't be bringing them back for a long, long
Saturday morning the bugler blew reveille at six a.m. We knew this
because most of the scouts told us so when we fell in around eleven. The
camp was buzzing as we rolled the twin terrors out of the big top. Down by
the road the giant rubber rope was still wrapped around the trunks of the
two Oak trees just like we left it last summer. We had tied a giant rubber
line we found at the abandoned airport between two big trees. This was the
energy source that hurled us down the road like a ball bearing blasted from
the world's biggest sling shot.
We usually used a wrecker to pull the line tight by driving back up the
hill while pulling the rope from its middle. Since we didn't have Zeke's
wrecker handy to tighten the rope, we had to think quick or face humiliation
at the hands of five hundred Tenderfeet. We talked the Sergeant into hauling
the rubber line taught with the army tank. The scene was freaking the scouts
out! T. J. was wedged into the tiny cockpit and being pulled backwards up
the road by the huge tank. Sammy and I noticed the tank had about a five
thousand or so horsepower more than the old wrecker.
The tank pulled the line tighter and tighter; it had rambled about an
eighth of a mile further up the road than we had ever launched the little
cars from before. Sammy seemed a bit concerned at the added boost TJ would
reap from the extra distance the rubber was stretched. It was generally
accepted that Tommy Joe was the bravest race car driver that ever lived,
although not the smartest. I've asked Sammy about his recollection of what
he remembers about that day. He still insists the Boy Scouts of America have
promised to put a hit out on him if he so much as mentions it.
Here was the scene the best I remember it. Five or six hundred scouts and
parents are lined up along the narrow gravel road. TJ Cauldwell is hunkered
down in the Cauldwell Special, his eyes growing wider as he rolls backwards
up the road. He had that same look on his face the lizard was wearing out in
my backyard. About twenty-five feet on either side of the road little tent
cities had sprung up overnight. The better financed patrols had the new
nylon two man dome tents, while the poor boys still camped in the big six
man canvas ovens.
The tank clanked to a stop. I could barely see Tommy up at the far end of
the road. I had seen TJ rip down this road dozens of times doing minimal
damage to the race car or his body and miraculously, not killing any of us.
I usually stood on the very edge of the road as TJ shot by. This was until
the day he drifted over and sliced my sneakers open with the red hot rims of
his car. Something told me to let the scouts have a little closer look at
this run; I stepped back, way back. It got real quiet.
Try and imagine that sound you hear in the cartoons -- that whoosh the
rocket on Wiley E. Coyote's back makes when it finally ignites. Tommy Joe
hustled down the road at us like a Tomahawk missile. The car seemed taller
than usual. Then I realized it was around three feet off the ground and
bearing down on us. If we were at Bonneville TJ might have gotten his
picture in the sports section of the local paper, instead of the police
blotter. The car shot over the heads of the horrified Bobcat Patrol. TJ
ducked his head into the cockpit like a spooked turtle, and headed for tent
The big canvas tents didn't even slow him down; he went in through a side
window and ripped out the opposite wall at full tilt. Backpacks were impaled
on the nose of the little rocket, and they were spilling their contents like
broken piņatas. As Tommy maxed out, he snagged a couple of the new dome
tents on his front wheels. The nylon tents blew back in Tommy's face hiding
the bizarre smile he had frozen on his mouth. After a little ripping and
tangling the tents were flapping along behind the car and slowing it
For a second I thought we wouldn't visit the Emergency Room this time.
Thwack! The Eagle has landed! Tommy was bleeding just enough to require us
to beat a hasty exit out the back gate of Ol' Man Snyder's property. We
sped off in the ambulance. Tommy rolled his head over and looked at me and
Sammy. "Ya know if we could tape one of them little tents on the rear
end and tie the lines to the rear axle pods... no, never mind, it will never
work" he said.
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