“Let’s go, Chris!”
“I’m coming!” I shouted in a whisper.
It was the summer of 1992. I was a teenager. My best friend, Johnny, had been stealing his step-dad’s shiny new Lincoln Continental every weekend and picking me up at the midnight hour. In our heads, we weren’t just the cool kids, we were the cool kids that cruised in a stolen car, skateboarded under street lamps and stole street signs as trophies to decorate our rooms. We were A Clockwork Orange without the killing of vagrants.
Separate, we were eclectic and unique. Together, we were a creative force. At school, we competed creatively and fearlessly. We compared the poetry we wrote to girls we courted, we wrote short stories almost daily, we performed impromptu sketches for our friends, we challenged each other as to who could get the funniest, most outrageous write up slip (reason for going to the principle’s office), then taped them to the inside of our lockers, like game-heads, for all the world to see.
Principles, teachers and even our own parents were mere stagehands in the show of our lives. We owned the world we had created for ourselves. We were those invincible teenagers you hear about and we did it all without alcohol or drugs, which made our teenage years all the more real and substantial. We could remember everything and had nothing and no one to blame but ourselves for our behavior. We were willing to take responsibility for our decisions because we reveled in them.
As school let out and the summer passed, Johnny had gotten really good at stealing the car and returning it before anyone noticed it had been missing. That gave us incentive to get our other two good friends in on it. That’s when it snowballed. One of them invited his girlfriend and she, in turn, invited two of her girlfriends; our two quickly turned to seven. These girls were on the high school dance team which meant they were in a completely different social circle. I’d only seen them in the hallways at school and had never actually spoken to them. I didn’t know if that would make it more fun or fully uncomfortable but I was excited at the thought of having cute strangers in the car. We planned the rendezvous and would put it into action a week later.
The night felt different. We picked our friends up first, then the girls. Johnny had been late picking us up and our friends decided to bring some booze along for the ride. While we waited for one of the girls in front of her house, our friends tried to steal things out of her neighbor’s garage, thwarted only by the growl of a St. Bernard. It all felt forced.
The seven of us were packed in the car. Johnny drove, I rode shotgun and the girls had to sit on each other in the backseat.
“What is this music we’re listening to?” one of the girls asked.
“It’s, They Might Be Giants. The Flood CD,” I answered.
“Cool. I like it,” she said.
About five miles into it, a car behind us flashed its lights and honked its horn. A hand came out of the driver’s side pointing for us to pull over.
“What the hell is that car behind us doing?” Johnny asked.
We all turned around.
“NO WAY!” one of the girls in the back said, “That’s my brother.”
“What should I do?” Johnny asked me.
“Pull over,” I said, “I’ll take care of this.”
“No, he’s cool. Don’t do anything.”
We pulled over and he came to the window.
“You have my sister in there, fellas. I know you guys want to have a good time but I don’t know y’all so I have to take her home. Sorry.”
“Whatever, lame. Hey, you’re dad’s here,” Johnny told her.
“I’m soooo sorry, y’all. How embarrassing,” she said and made her exit. We giggled as we heard them argue all the way to his car.
“Was he following us the whole time?” our friend asked.
“Look around everybody,” Johnny said. “Does anyone else see any cars they recognize before we go? No? Good. Now let’s do some things we’re not supposed to.”
We went on our way and put the music up. We headed toward the back roads where we’d be less likely to run into anyone.
“Holy sheeeet! What the hell was that?!” they yelled from the back.
A large white owl had struck the windshield. Marks of the bird were sprawled across the glass. Johnny and I were stunned.
“That was a giant bird,” I said.
Johnny sighed and pulled the car over. He got out, put his hands on his hips, then peeled some feathers off the glass. I gave him a look from my seat. He got back in the car and stared at me, “They’re going to notice that in the morning.”
I cringed, “Nah, man, it’s just feathers. That sort of thing buffs right out. Just throw some water on it.”
We made our way to the dark, calm, back roads of San Antonio. A two lane road going in opposite directions was all we needed to escape into a different world. While they drank in the back, Johnny drove and I enjoyed the front seat view of mile markers and stars. We were finally free. My mind was clear and I became a zen master. Everything slowed down and I felt surrounded by peace. I was invincible.
A car approached from behind and started to pass on our left.
“What the fuuuh…” Johnny said. He turned the music up and hit the gas. Minisitry, “Thieves” played while he refused passage of the other car.
“Don’t let him pass you, dude!” they shouted from the back.
Before I knew it, we were racing. Ninety miles an hour and limited sight distance made my heart beat out of my chest. They cheered from the backseat while Ministry pounded from the speakers.
“Let him pass, man,” I demanded.
“Don’t be scared!” he smiled as he gripped the steering wheel tighter.
All our eyes were glued to the movie happening in the windshield. So fast. So dark. Then, suddenly in view, was a full grown cow. It was crossing in our lane and the other car missed it by about a foot. The cow was giant and as black as the night sky.
“STOOOOOP!” We all yelled. But Johnny didn’t stop. No. He did just the opposite. He floored the pedal and the front of the car lifted with acceleration and tore into the enormous beast. A violent jolt rocked the car and the front half of the cow went over our heads and the other half seemed to disintegrate on impact.
“Holy shit! Is everyone alright?” I asked.
We were all in shock.
“Is the cow going to be okay?” one of the girls asked.
“Who cares about the f**king cow! What about us?!” our friend yelled.
The car rolled about a quarter mile until it came to a stop. “I’ll check it out,” I said.
I got out to find that my side of the car had been completely crushed.
“I should be dead,” I said to myself. I knew I shouldn’t be breathing but there I stood anyway, in the dead of night, on the side of a country road, taking in what had just occurred. I looked at Johnny and shook my head.
I got back in the car.
“Is the cow okay?” one of the girls asked.
“No. It’s not. Please don’t ask me that again,” I said in a somber voice knowing that I, too, shouldn’t be okay.
Johnny looked at me, “Well?”
“We can’t buff that out, man. We’re screwed,” I admitted.
We devised a plan: Take the girls home first, then strip the car and make it appear as if it had been stolen by anyone else. But the car didn’t start. Plan B: we strip the car and we all walk home and hopefully make it home before our parents noticed we were gone. Our friends in the back held the girls while they cried and Johnny and I started to tell everyone to get out so we could ditch the car but we knew there was no way out.
The next car that approached was a Bexar County Sheriff. We immediately threw the booze out. They took our names and numbers and called our parents. One by one our parents showed up. One of the girls was a minister’s daughter. He was not kind with his words toward us. All the parents had something to say. All of them except for my dad. He was smiling and laughing with the officers about the mess on the road.
“Come on, son. Get in the car,” he said.
I was scared.
“You’re very lucky, son. You messed up and you’re in big trouble but right now, I’m just glad you’re okay. We’ll figure out your punishment in the morning. You’ve probably seen a lot tonight.”
I had seen a lot. Too much, in fact. I’d never seen anything like it.
The next day, my dad informed me that I was grounded for the rest of the summer, which was six weeks. Johnny’s parents put him in a different high school altogether and I didn’t hear from him until years later. The other two guys and I remained friends for a while but I never spoke to the girls again. I’d see them at school hanging out but it was like we never shared that night together. One of them came to school one day wearing a black and white cow jacket and they all laughed about it. I didn’t understand my exclusion but I accepted it.
I imagine hitting the cow was for the best. I like to think that it had mad cow disease and we saved countless lives from pain and suffering by killing it; that the government wanted to award us medals but that would only encourage us to do it again. We’d be the punished unsung heroes, never to receive a proper thank you.
Well, I’ll say it now…
You’re welcome, America.