The sun’s strong; I can feel the wind in my face when the windows go down, but it’s crisp and cool. Must be either early spring or late autumn, and I don’t remember now which. I remember the car, though. It was my mom’s 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, fully loaded, power everything, cushy crushed velour seats and Landau top. All white, a vision. Her six cylinder power plant was revving up as we rocketed on toward Kirker Pass, just at the edge of Concord, CA’s rolling Diablo Range hills.
We’re all of 15 and 16 years old. I’m driving; first with my license, so I suddenly became popular. Those are the kinds of friends I had – got something they need? You’re the best friend they’ve ever had. When they can get it somewhere else, they will, drop you like a bad habit, never look back. They’ll lie in your face and not blink, and when they’re caught lying, they shrug. “Oh well.” That’s their big expression for everything — “Oh well.” They don’t say it with a trace of sympathy. It’s a verbal slap.
They’ve been a clique since first grade, maybe before. They all went to the same grade school for all eight years of it. St. Peter Martyr Elementary School, in a shit-ass run-down area of town on the verge of being a slum and too dumb to admit it. Across the main road there’s a neighborhood now you’d call cracktown, if such a drug existed then. I met those “friends” when I was in sixth grade, and went to the school for the first time.
So we were supposed to be “friends”. But I guess I didn’t pay my tenure enough, because I wasn’t the one they wanted to spend time with unless there was no one else. They preferred each other’s company to mine. But when I got my license first … well, then I was the central person they wanted contact with.
The story’s simple. They’re like kids of any other time. They like to get booze, because they’re not supposed to have it, and they like to get weed or crank because they’re able to, and they like to spend their weekend nights cruising around with each other in somebody’s car, getting stoned or wired or drunk. Or all three. And there we are, my “friends” and me, hurtling up toward Kirker Pass on the gentler slope leading to it, with our book bags and our shit-don’t-stink attitudes and our immortality and invincibility locked into our heads.
I’m pressing on the gas and gaining speed, launching the Olds toward the ever-rising grade that would eventually rise almost 900 feet in less than five miles. We get a good enough head of steam going up this western slope, and we’ll make it to the top fine. If not … well, the Pass is a car killer.
We’re hurtling along and we’re screwing around the way teenage boys do, behaving badly, being jackasses basically, and we’re on the last flat before the vicious grade starts. We’re loud, the music’s louder, and we’re swigging our afternoon sugar fix of Cokes and Sprites in cans. We’re going maybe fifty, racing toward sixty, and I’m greasing the ball bearing in my ankle for the lead foot to start dropping. The gas pedal sinks and the RPM roars. I’m moving fast. What do we see ahead?
A man, walking off the side of the road, just strolling northeast, beyond the gravel shoulder.
I don’t know what possessed us.
To Be Continued
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