“Yeeehaaa,” I screamed, feigning exuberance, trying hard not to vomit as we slammed down onto the much-abused roof of the five-year-old station wagon, holding on to the luggage rack with the grips of supermen. We acted like we thought supermen should, but inside I was freaking out, able to do little but hold on to the cross bar of the luggage rack and hope the ride ended sooner than our lives.
My buddy Mike and I were surfing, Indiana style. It was 1968 and we had just graduated from high school. We were convinced we were indestructible and willing to tempt fate to prove it.
It began one early summer Saturday afternoon when five of us were riding around the farm-strewn countryside looking for something to do. There didn’t seem to be much on a Saturday afternoon in east central Indiana in those days. Actually, there was plenty to do – just nothing we wanted to do. The local movie theater was playing Prudence and the Pill, which none of us would admit to wanting to see. Now, if it had been The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen, well, we all would have been up for that. Steve McQueen was the coolest of the cool after all. So no movie that afternoon. There wasn’t much left to choose from for entertainment, so we opted for the old standby. We would ride around the Indiana countryside, exploring the flat cropland of Jay County, listening to music, sometimes shooting rifles while riding on the front fenders, sometimes drinking beer. No guns or beer that day, though, just driving around shooting the bull and listening to our favorite radio station. Eventually we came to a remote bridge where we often stopped, while Summertime Blues, by Blue Cheer was playing on the radio. This bridge was over a small creek with barely any running water, but it was on a little-used road so we could park right on it and throw stuff, rocks mostly, into the creek while we expounded on how we were going to change the world…or land a date with that former cheerleader we just couldn’t forget.
“I’m gonna git a date with Renéee,” I declared, fast-balling a rock into the creek. Renée was our age and had been a cheerleader for three years. She was smart and gorgeous and didn’t have a boyfriend at the time.
“Oh bullshit, Rick, you’ll never git a date with Renée,” said Mike. “And you know why? You don’t have the balls to ask her!”
That hurt. Mostly because it was true. Mike was kinda wild, yeah, but he was also smart and insightful. I couldn’t let it go, though, so I responded over the music blasting out of tinny-sounding speakers.
“I have a plan and when I’m done she’ll go out with me. I know she will.”
“Oh yeah, so what’s this plan of yours?”
“It’s a secret.”
“A secret plan,” said Mike, skepticism thick and obvious.
“Yep, and I’m not tellin’ you guys what it is because you’ll either use it yourselves, or figure out how to blow it up for me.”
“Back to my original statement: bullshit.”
“Hey, you guys,” yelled Alan, who was driving his father’s station wagon that day, “there’s a muskrat swimmin’ down there! See it by that log? Bet I can hit it with a rock.”
The first and only rock throw landed pretty close to the muskrat. Predictably it dove under water, never to be seen again. We were all pretty bored by then, ready to find something exciting to do. After all, we were seventeen- and eighteen- year-old boys, full of energy and brimming with unjustified self-confidence.
“I have a great idea,” said Steve, struck with inspiration. “How about a couple of us git on top of the car and ride around for a while? It’ll be fun. We kin take turns. It beats the hell outta standin’ around here doing nothin’.” Steve had a knack for getting people to do that which they would normally avoid.
“Whatcha mean?” asked Alan, protective of his dad’s car.
“I mean a couple of us’ll get on the roof of the car while you drive around the countryside. We kin hold on to the luggage rack. It’s perfectly safe.”
Oddly enough, that made sense to us all, which is proof that critical thinking skills are not well-developed by age eighteen.