Sunday, June 24, 2012

1966: Avoiding Death By Roommate

I had just been in a horrible accident during my freshman year in college but this didn't stop my roommate from trying to kill me.   Brian Beach made the varsity weightlifting team at UT his freshman year in the 165 pound class.  His normal weight was about 175 but the day of the meet he would chew gum and spit off 10 pounds before the weigh-in, just to make class.  He could clean and jerk 340 pounds, a massive amount over twice his body weight.  He never practiced or trained.  He was just a naturally strong person with a 28 inch waist, 42 inch chest and huge biceps.  At 5’ 7” he looked a little top heavy but he had a baby face and a radiant, almost innocent, but somewhat mischievous smile.  He had a Latin-like temper and could get upset by the smallest things.  No one wanted to mess with Brian.

Brian’s father was the manager of the huge new J.C. Penny’s store in the newest Dallas-area mall in Irving, Texas.  He also owned a Ford dealership, a Coca-Cola Bottling plant and was a partner in Fame Fashions, a women's clothing line.  You could say that Mr. Beach was rich but that would be understatement.  Consequently, Brian had more money than any 18-year old I ever knew.  He was always driving a new Ford Mustang convertible, took girls on the most lavish dates and never had to scrounge for beer money.  Brian was tough on his cars and he had to have them replaced about every four or five months. 

One spring day Brian was between cars and driving a rental car he had picked up from a used car dealer in Austin who would rent cars off his lot to the underage college students for special weekends.  The car was a two-year old Chevrolet Corvair in mint condition.  The Corvair was the car that consumer-advocate Ralph Nadar proclaimed was “unsafe at any speed”.  My father was one of the first Corvair owners in the country and I grew up learning to drive these sporty little rear engine vehicles.  The had independent suspension on all four wheels and a peppy, dual-carbureted six cylinder engine which made them really fun to drive on curvy country roads. 

Brian was napping one Sunday afternoon in our room, still slightly hung over from his Saturday night excitement, when I approached him.  “Hey man, can I borrow your Corvair for a little while?”  
Opening one bloodshot eye, Brian mumbled, “What for?”. 
“I just want to take a little drive in the country”, I replied, thinking he might want to stop by the local Blood Bank and have his eyes drained. 
“Keys on the desk”, he murmured, but then as I snatched them up and headed for the door, he barked, “Just don’t wreck it or I’ll kick your….” the door slammed on his description of my posterior part.

Gathering up two floor mates from the dorm as my traveling companions, I promised them a lessen in road handling they would never forget.  We headed out to south Austin in the little two-door, white coupe and drove until we were out in the country.  I found a little country road with lots of curves and corners winding through cattle ranches and cotton fields.  The car handled really well and I was pushing it to its limits, drifting through the turns with the tires squealing in protest.  After negotiating two very tight turns at excessive speed, I hit an S-curve.  The car careened through the first curve and I cut the second turn perfectly, pressing on the gas.  Then, as they were prone to do, the Corvair over-steered in the third turn kicking the rear of the car way out left.  Overcorrecting, I plunged the car into the final curve, realized I was going too fast and stabbed at the brakes.  The cars left tires hit the gravely shoulder and we drifted sideways into a ditch.  At that point, everything went into slow motion. 

The left wheels left the ground and the car rolled over on its side, still going about 30 MPH.  Then it completed the roll over onto the top.  The windshield started to crack as the roof crushed in, splitting from right to left in one loud, eerie crunch until it shattered, spewing glass into our faces and cutting our clothes.   When the car finally came to rest, upside down in the ditch, all you could hear were some cows mooing on the other side of the barbed wire fence we had managed not to hit.

“Are you guys O.K.?” I asked, half dazed.  Two stunned responses confirmed we had avoided disaster.  I quickly turned off the key, remembering that if gasoline were leaking an active ignition switch could cause an explosion.   The roof of the car was totally crushed to within 12” of the tops of the doors and dash.   I told the guys to crawl out of the side openings as fast as possible and we all made it out with nothing but bruised muscles and egos.  

A farmer who had been plowing his field and saw the accident came running over as we stood there looking at the total wreck of the Corvair.  “Are you boys alright?”, he blurted out, breathlessly.  We assured him we were all fine and said we just needed some help to roll the car back over.  “You ain’t goin’ no where in that thang”, he said.  I assured him it would still work and he helped us roll the car back onto its tires with a big thump.   The roof was caved in, the right side was all smashed up,  all the windows were broken and the doors were jammed shut.

I squeezed through the window and crawled back into the drivers seat.  Turning the key and pumping the gas, I cranked the engine until the battery started to fail but then, it suddenly fired.  Oil had drained down into the cylinders and plumes of blue smoke billowed from the tailpipes but the engine was running....roughly, but running.
With a hoot and holler my buddies crawled back into the car, we shouted thanks to the farmer and off down the road we went, me hunched down in my seat, peering out through the slit once occupied by a windshield, wind blowing in our hair.

We actually made it back to the dorm and I parked it outside and trudged up to our third floor room, ready to take Brian’s wrath.  He wasn’t there so we spent the next hour telling our dorm mates our tales of daring do.   All of a sudden my blood curdled when we heard the scream from the street, “SMITH!  SMITH!  I’M GONNA KILL YOU!”   I looked out the window and saw Brian standing by the wreck, veins popping out of his muscular neck, mixing my name with various expletives.  Then he saw me looking down at him and dashed into the dorm. 

Our heretofore rapt audience were diving for cover and I locked the door to our room and put a chair up under the doorknob.  Brian’s screams of promised death were getting louder as he bounded up the stairs, three at a time.  I decided the chair might not be enough so I slid the large double desk over against the door as well. 
Brian hit the door with a loud thud and finding it locked, let out a roar of frustration that vibrated the transom window. 

Brian repeatedly used his body as a battering ram trying to break down the door, which made me thankful our dorm had been built in 1933 by the WPA with doors of solid oak.   Brian got a broom stick and tried beating a hole in one of the panels.  All the while I am trying to calm him down, promising I would take care of the damage and pay for everything; although how I didn’t have a clue.   After two hours, Brian’s exhaustion and my powers of persuasion combined to bring about serious peace negotiations; which included not only my promise of full restitution but my agreeing to do his laundry for a month and providing a case of his favorite beer.

All-in-all, it was a fun, albeit expensive day, for me and I had successfully avoided death by roommate.

1966: Beer Garden Voyeurs

As early spring arrived on the University of Texas campus, I was spending more and more time in the beer garden behind the fraternity house on those long, mild nights instead of hitting the books as I should have been.  Brian Beach and a couple of the other hardy-partiers were always there, sucking down brews and using their binoculars in an attempt to look in the open windows of the girl's dormitory that was down the hill and just to the west of our property.  We actually did see some pretty amazing things through those windows when the girls had forgotten to close, or purposefully left open, their shades.  But Brian was the worst.

Brian was my roommate during our freshman year. We were second semester sophomores at the time.  He was a varsity weightlifter with a C- average and dated a different girl every week. However, because he dated Farrah Fawcett once and was considered by many somewhat of an expert, albeit mostly self-declared, in the field of women, we occasionally acknowledged his opinion.

Brian had an overall look that attracted women like flies to honey.  Of course, once they scratched the surface of this particular Adonis and discovered the 90 IQ-like thought processes with the one-track mind, most of the flies flew off to other treats.  Although, some didn't.

On this one especially warm spring evening, Brian, several other brothers and I had spent about two hours and a case of beer out in the beer garden, “dormitory watching”.  The fact that this obvious invasion of privacy made us all, technically, voyeurs was the last thing on our minds as one particularly accommodating co-ed entertained for an exceptionally long period of time.  I was depressed that particular evening because the news reported Sophia Loren had just married Carlo Ponti in Paris, thus taking her off the market.  When I fantasized about women, Sophia was always in the scene.  She was older than me by a dozen years but she was just flat gorgeous and erotic like no other woman of our time. 

“She’s in love with me!”, Brian proclaimed, totally convinced that this girl in the window was putting on a show just for him.  The rest of us laughed at his hubris.  “I am going over there”, Brian declared.  As usual, no one paid much attention.  At this, he staggered out of the beer garden and made his way along the parking lot behind our house to the edge of the dormitory.  Downing the rest of my beer I went back to thinking about Sophia until I saw Brian on a thin ledge that was on the third story of the dormitory, inching his way toward the girl’s window, 36 feet above their parking lot. 

“Oh, my God!”, I exclaimed as we trained the binoculars on Brian.  The ledge was narrow, 6” at best, and a fall would have certainly meant serious injury or possibly even death.  These facts were most likely beyond both the practical and intellectual capacity of Brian to comprehend, especially in his current state of inebriation, coupled with unbridled lust. 

Hushed calls for Brian to get off the ledge and abandon his mission were met with waves of his arm and a slow, yet steady progress toward the window of his desire.  “Well, I have had enough of this”, I said, “Call me if he falls and kills himself…..or if he gets the girl”, I concluded, admitting to myself that once Brian set his mind to a conquest, it seldom went unrequited. 

I walked across our lower parking lot behind the house and went through the back entrance up to my room on the third floor.  As I entered, I saw my roommate, Gene McMullen, sitting on his bed, lights out, rocking back and forth as if he were in a rocking chair.  The reason I could tell he was rocking was the periodic glow from the end of a cigar he had in his mouth which weaved back and forth in the darkness.  “You're home early”, he spat with his usual dry humor, “run out of beer?” 

“No” I said, “Brian is out there trying to kill himself and I couldn’t watch anymore”.  I plopped myself down on my bed with my economics textbook and clicked on my reading light, leaving the rocking Gene mostly in the shadows, sucking the last bit of smoke out of his Corona.  Two pages into the exciting text with my eyes already starting to droop, our door flung open, crashing on the wall and bringing me bolt upright in my bed.
“If anyone asks, I have been in my room studying for the last two hours!”, Brian screamed at us and dashed down the hallway, leaving Gene and I with bewilderment on our faces.  About the time Gene was starting to ask me what the hell was going on, we heard this incredible sound of shattering glass.  My first thought was that Brian had broken the huge mirror in our bathroom.  I got up and raced down the hallway to the community restroom and showers.  The guys in there brushing their teeth had the same look of surprise and foreboding on their faces as they stood in front of the still intact mirror.

My mind racing through the alternatives, I returned to the hallway and made my way down to the spiral staircase and looked over the railing to the foyer that was surrounded by two-story high, floor to ceiling glass on two sides.  There I stared incredulously at the scene below.  Sitting in foyer at the foot of the staircase in a random scattering of large and small glass shards and a growing pool of blood was an Austin police officer.  His legs were sprawled out and he was bent over holding his face in his blood-soaked hands.   There was a huge hole in the two-story glass window behind him. Accompanying this ghastly vision was an eerie silence in the house. 

Before I could even move, another Austin officer stepped through the ragged, gapping hole in the window and started to lift the wounded officer to his feet.  At this point I dashed down the staircase three stairs at a time, my mind racing with what could have happened.  When I reached the foyer the two officers, one helping the other, were hurriedly rounding the front corner of the house and heading down the driveway to the lower parking lot.  By this time several of my brothers were on my heels as we followed them through our parking lot, down the grass embankment to the girl's dormitory parking lot below ours.

The scene at this time was chaotic.  Most of the girls from the dorm, in various states of dress, were out in their parking lot and residents of the various other fraternity and apartment complexes that surrounded our neighborhood were starting to filter into the asphalt paved area strewn with cars.  The officer, helping his wounded comrade, sat him down beside their patrol car, lights still flashing, illuminating the otherwise dimly-lit area, and leaned him against the rear wheel.  Someone offered a towel to the downed policeman and he used it to try to stem the flow of his own blood from a nasty gash across the bridge of his nose.

At this point, an ambulance reeled into the parking lot followed closely by another police cruiser, lights flashing and siren blaring, responding to the “officer down” call from the first car on the scene.  The ambulance driver wheeled his vehicle to the left between rows of parked cars and threw his transmission into reverse, planning to back up to the injured officer.  The second squad car pulled straight up directly behind the first police cruiser.  Then, as if from an episode of the Keystone Cops of silent movie fame, the ambulance backed up quickly, with people all around screaming a belated warning, and rammed the side of the second squad car with the officers still inside. 

Again, there was a deathly silence and a quick look around the crowd of people gave the impression that everyone’s jaw gapped open in a single instant.  Then the ambulance driver pulled forward and got out of his vehicle.  With not the slightest recognition of what he had done, he and an assistant proceeded to open the doors of their unit, extract a gurney and wheeled it hastily to the fallen officer.  The policeman in the damaged car just sat there shaking his head, adding to the surreal nature of the scene.  Then he tried to open his crushed door and discovered that his exit would have to be on the other side of the car.  His expletive could be heard for blocks.

All this time, Brian is nowhere to be seen and for good reason.  As the whole story unfolded, it seems Brian, making his way along the ledge to the aforementioned window of his desire, passed several windows where co-eds were not accustomed to seeing a man outside their third story dorm windows.  Several calls to the police forced the dispatch of the closest squad car and, as it turned into the dormitory parking lot, Brian made a hasty retreat back down the narrow ledge, scrambled up into the DU parking lot, sprinted around to the front of the house, came through the front door and bounded up the staircase with the officers huffing and puffing in hot pursuit behind him.  The officers began the chase as soon as they saw Brian leap off the ledge and head up the steep hill and through our parking lot.  However, as the officer leading the chase rounded the corner on our front porch, running flat out, he lost his footing and, going too fast to make the turn, crashed his entire body through the two-story window adjacent to our spiral staircase in the foyer.

A huge shard of glass above him came straight down and caught him, squarely, across the bridge of his nose, bringing him instantly to his knees and then to a collapsed position on the marble tiles, which is where I saw him for the first time.  The officer, though injured severely, was getting the proper care and was going to be all right. 

The police, who were somewhat embarrassed about how this call had proceeded, let alone the eventual outcome, told our fraternity president that if we produced the offending party, he would not be prosecuted and they would ask for a light sentence when they reported this incident to the University and the Fraternity Counsel.  The initial reaction of the bothers was noble.  We met and all agreed not to turn Brian in but, to his credit, he gave himself up for the promised lighter sentence for the fraternity.

The fraternity was suspended until the end of the semester (only 3 weeks) and we would still be able to rush in the fall.  All in all, it could have been a lot worse and Brian was back in the beer garden with his binoculars the day before final exams.

1966: Count Your Blessings

“Now that is a bitchin’ babe”.  The speaker was Brian Beach, my roommate during our freshman year at the University of Texas in Austin.  We were first semester sophomores at the time of this declaration and attending a fall football fraternity party.  He was referring to my date for the evening, Debbie Bickerstaff.  Normally, I never paid much attention to what Brian said.  He was a jock with a C- average and as far as creativity went....well, let's just say, for Brian, painting-by-numbers was a challenge.

I acknowledged his comment.  “Yeah, I guess”.

“That’s more like it, son!” he continued, “She looks like she could ride the donkey all night”.  Imploring him to keep his voice down I defended her, “Yeah, well, she is a nice girl”. 

“My ass”, Brian exploded, raising, rather than lowering, the decibel output of his normally boisterous approach to just about everything. 

Turning my attention back to my date standing across the room, talking to one of my fraternity brothers, I observed her perhaps in a different light. Debbie was a bleached blonde with streaky highlights at a time when that was not yet fashionable.  It made her look a little hard but she had a very pretty face to soften it.  She was somewhat petite at 5’ 2” but had a firm, fit body with a nice bosom.  There was a “trashy” edge to her and that is what attracted Brian, I was certain.  She did love to party.  When I was tired of studying I would call her up and in a Texas minute she would accept my invitation to go up on Mount Bunnell with a six-pack of Jax beer and look down at the Austin city lights, “grub” a little, lose track of time and rush back to her dorm just ahead, sometimes just behind, her curfew.  She was fun to be with.

“You have been dating such skaggs”, Brian went on, “it’s about time you came up with a bitchin’ babe”.  He slapped me on the back and cruised off with his beer sloshing out of his cup, hailing some girl across the room with whom there was better than an even chance he would have carnal knowledge later in the evening, but who was ignoring him at the moment. 

“Yesterday”, the Beatles # 1 hit came on the stereo in the main living room and people began to dance slowly in the thick of the crowd.  Debbie was definitely better than the bevy of girls I had been dating my freshman year. There had been a short string of “skaggs” since Diane Jolley. Fact was, I had been engaged to Diane out of high school.  She went to Sam Houston State when we graduated and I headed off to the University of Texas at Austin.  Our engagement lasted exactly two months after our paths diverged.  In October of our freshman year she met a senior who was graduating top of his class in ROTC and had accepted a commission to fly in the front seat of F4C fighter jets.  Why a girl would dump me for some jar-head flyboy, who was most certainly going to Vietnam at a time when most college guys were going to great lengths to preserve their deferments, was beyond me, but she did.  When I got the “dear John” phone call, I trashed my dorm room, spend half the night walking around the track in Memorial Stadium, then woke up one of my friends from high school at the Scottish Rite dorm.  She snuck out, still in her nightgown, and we sat on the lawn talking until dawn. 

By noon the next day I was over it.  Diane was not the girl I would marry and I told myself I should count my blessings.  She sent back the ring I gave her. The diamond ended up in my UT senior class ring…a gift from the girl I would marry. Diane ended up marrying the aviator.  He survived Vietnam and the last time I heard from her she was raising show dogs in New Jersey.  I understand she spent most of her time at dog shows while her husband got really fat being an armchair quarterback and watching all sixteen games a week on the DirecTV NFL Premium Package.  I guess we get what we accept.

By October of 1965, some things going on in the world were getting pretty hard to accept.  The Democrats were in power in the United States and President Lyndon Johnson was beginning to listen to what some people thought was bad advice from his commanders-in-chief.  Back in March, President Johnson had ordered the first “official’ combat troops into Vietnam.  As we watched on TV and saw the first 3,500 servicemen land at Da Nang, many of my college buddies, including myself, started to get nervous about our draft status.  Apparently we were not alone.  Exactly two weeks after the landing, the first “sit-in” to protest the war was staged on the University of Michigan campus.  It was followed closely by another protest at Columbia University and then others, mostly on northern campuses.

By the middle of the summer, B-52 bombers were attacking Viet Cong strongholds and the first major land offensive, which included 3,000 US troops from the 173rd Airborne Division along with over 800 Aussies, spent a month tracking the enemy through the jungles of South Vietnam.  It should have been considered a bad omen that, despite this huge force of men, they failed to make contact with the Viet Cong.  The military’s solution was more troops.  Before the year was out, there would be nearly 185,000 American servicemen in Southeast Asia, but tonight, watching all these happy people celebrating the Longhorn’s victory earlier in the day, all of that seemed so unimportant and so far away.

Debbie was now talking, in animated fashion, with Jack Slayton.  Jack was a huge figure of a man, with dark, thick brown hair, which always looked a little disheveled.  He stood 6’ 4” and weighed well over 250 pounds.  Even though he was not that bad looking, he was our entry every year in the campus Ugly Man Contest. 

Debbie was fun and funny.  She was sexy, perky, even bubbly at times.  She looked like she could drink more than she could possibly consume in food.  She could drink many of my brothers under the table but could still kiss you goodnight without slobbering all over you.  She was intelligent and made good grades.  She looked good on my arm.  So, what’s to lose?  Count your blessings and move on with it.

I wanted to take the relationship to the next level but Debbie was hesitant and suddenly became cool.  She wanted to date other people before she committed to one man, she said.  We dated on and off into the winter, but on the night of our fraternity Christmas formal, she had to go back to Dallas for a “family gathering”.  The same thing happened at our Spring Formal.  I found out later it was to see her old high school boyfriend who was attending SMU.  Consequently, I attended our Spring Formal as a single.  It turned out to be a turning point in my life and another blessing to be counted.

1966: Everclear Encounter

Delta Upsilon had one of the most modern and elegant fraternity houses on campus.  It was designed, custom built and given to Delta Upsilon national by Anson Clark, one of our wealthiest alums.  Now students at the University of Texas are known, ironically, as “Tea Sips”; tea being the last beverage of choice. The problem was our benevolent benefactor, Anson Clark, was an honest-to-God real “Tea Sip”.  He distained alcohol in any form.  As a condition of his bequest and the lease, no alcohol was allowed in the building during the week.  

Beer was only allowed inside at scheduled parties or in the beer garden out behind the house at other times, but never during the week.  Hard spirits were only allowed in the house twice a year, at the spring and fall formals.  This rule was strictly enforced by the housemother and not even our most incorrigible brothers broke it for fear of losing our lease.  While other fraternities could lure the sororities with weekend liquor parties at the drop of a hat, DU at Texas was forced into an unnatural sobriety.

On the other hand, this made our Christmas and spring formal parties some wild, WILD events.  The only spirit that was ever served during these semi-annual affairs was a punch made with a one-to-one mixture of Everclear and pink lemonade.  Everclear, for those of you who have never imbibed, is a virtually odorless, tasteless, 200 proof (100 % alcohol) time-bomb.  Mixed with the lemonade, it diluted to 100 proof, or 50 % alcohol.  It went down like the smoothest, coldest lemonade on a hot Texas day and, after about two cups, it snuck up and kicked you in the butt like a Texas mule.  In between, much dancing, fun and frivolity ensued and many a virtue of both genders was known to be compromised in the aftermath.  Such was the scene at our Spring Formal in 1966.

Having just been dumped by Debbie Bickerstaff, the girl I had been dating for the past semester, I was on my third cup of punch and cruising the party by myself.  Lonely as I was I had to laugh at some of my brothers, dressed in their tuxedos, performing the “alligator”, a dance of sorts where the participants squirmed and flailed, face down on the floor, in front of their dates with the band playing a fine rendition of the Rolling Stone’s new hit, “Get Off of My Cloud”.  I wandered off wondering what the collective dry cleaning bill might amount to. 

Then I bumped lightly into a chair and casually looked down at the woman who was sitting at one of the tables in the dining room.  She was talking to her date, my fraternity brother, Ronnie Vaughn, who was seated in front of her and didn’t initially see my wandering gaze.  That gaze was focused on the ample cleavage that was exposed atop her dark green, brocade formal suit. 

I was mesmerized as I stared down this woman’s dress.  I could not take my eyes off of her until finally she sensed my closeness and looked up at me.  As her gorgeous hazel eyes met mine, she smiled, this glowing, radiant smile and said, “Hello”.  I nearly melted into my shoes. 

“Hi”, I said, with enthusiasm.

Then Ronnie said, “Uh, Vicki, this is Jud”. 

“Hi”, I said, again, all brilliant words and snappy repartee escaping me. 

“Nice to meet you”, she said, in the friendliest of voices.  Unknowingly, my eyes drifted once again to her beautiful and wonderfully exposed bosom.  This did not escape Ronnie’s notice and he cleared his throat loud enough for the housemother to hear back in her small apartment off the foyer. 

I broke away from my fixation and stammered, “Nice to meet you too”, retreating to the other room for my fourth Everclear punch, just to cool down.

Despite the self-imposed haze of Everclear, my mind was as clear as an Austin morning.  I had never seen a woman as beautiful and gracious as the woman in the green brocade dress.  Her hair was brown with a hint of auburn highlights.  Her smile was radiant with full lips and straight, brilliant white teeth.  And those eyes; big, wide spread, like all the classic beauties, and a deep hazel, with an inviting, playful sparkle.  And, as I have said, she had other assets to compete for the title of “most redeeming feature”.  I was thunderstruck.  Never had I been so moved by another person. 

I spent the next two hours, between trips to the punch bowl, trying to position myself so I could look at this girl from any vantage point that was available.  I could not keep my eyes off of her.  On several occasions, Ronnie would catch my glance and I could tell he was not pleased by the attention I was paying to his date.  Because of this I was surprised when, at the end of the evening, he approached me asking for a favor.

Ronnie’s car had been broken down for weeks and he had been bumming rides from every brother in the house.  I had trucked him to class a half dozen times in the last week alone. He approached and asked if I wouldn’t mind driving him and his date out to her house in south Austin.  Normally this would have annoyed me, but the prospect of being close to Vicki for a while longer was more intoxicating than the Everclear punch.  “Sure”, I said, “No problem”.

The drive to south Austin took twenty minutes but it seemed like two, it went by so quickly.  Vicki sat between Ronnie and me in the front seat of my slightly dirty 1954 Chevy, which I had just re-built the past summer.  I wished I had cleaned it up a bit as I cleared the seat of empty Coke cans and some school papers. I wanted to impress this girl even though I knew she was my frat brother’s girlfriend.  The three of us chatted about nothing and I was trying my best to be witty and interesting but was failing miserably. I consoled myself by taking every opportunity to, as nonchalantly as possible, look down the front of her dress.  I love low-cut formal dresses.

She directed me to turn down a compacted gravel road off of south 1st Street and we pulled up to a small white house at the end of the lane.  “It was a real pleasure to meet you”, I said, as Ronnie assisted her from the car.  She said it was nice to meet me too and smiled broadly as she turned to take Ronnie’s arm as he walked her to the door.  Getting back in the car I watched as Vicki and Ronnie talked briefly then, through envious eyes, saw them kiss goodnight.  Ronnie was a handsome guy, tall with blond hair and blue eyes, but I always thought he was rather dull and acted like he had a stick up his butt most of the time.  On the other hand, I never wanted to be someone else more in my life than at that moment.

Ronnie didn’t talk much on the way home despite my efforts to engage him.  He seemed irritated about something.  It wasn’t until the next day when my big brother, Deke Johnson, came to my room and told me why.  It seems Ronnie had gone to the president of our fraternity and filed a formal complaint against me for conduct unbecoming.  Apparently the attention I was paying to his girlfriend wasn’t as cloaked in stealth as I had imagined.  I was a “pledge” who had not yet become a full member. Deke told me I was being put on probation.  Bottom line…if I so much as took a peak at Vicki’s chest again, Ronnie was going to blackball me and I would be out of Delta Upsilon for good.  I apologized to Ronnie and figured I would probably not even see Vicki again until the fall, the current semester being almost over.  But I never could put her out of my mind. 

1966: Workin’ for the Man

To support myself through the summer of 1966 as I stayed in Austin for summer school, I worked three jobs.  The thing I knew best was cars.  I had been working on them and fixing them up since I was 14-years old and so I answered an ad and applied for a job with M.E. “Gene” Johnson’s Gulf Service Station and Garage on Airport Highway, about 30 blocks north of campus.  Gene Johnson was a towering man in his early fifties who boasted that he could wrestle any of his younger employees to the cement island in front of his station with one hand tied behind his back.  I believed it, so I never tried. 

Gene had dropped out of school in the fifth grade but had managed, through hard work, thrift and an uncanny knowledge of cars to build an independent automotive “empire” which included a four pump Gulf gas station with a thriving mechanics garage attached and a profitable auto parts store in an adjacent building.  He advertised in the newspaper and on the radio, which was unheard of for a local gas station in those days, promoting “Come on in for the best price on gas, outstanding maintenance for your automobile and the friendliest service from every one of my tall, sun-tanned sons of Texas”.   At six foot I guess I filled the tall requisite, but I got the job even though I was from California and my legs just off-white.

My hours were 6:00 AM to 1:00 PM, which allowed me to attend my one 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM summer school class in Statistics, which I had failed in the spring thanks to too many evenings up on Mount Bunnell and/or in the beer garden.  At $ 1.60 per hour (a nickel under the federal minimum wage at the time…”I don’t believe in paying a man too much…keeps ‘em hungry”, Gene would say, ignoring the law), I couldn’t make ends meet.  I applied for another job which began at 4:30 PM as a proof-reader for the Texas State House Reporter, a daily newsletter that reported on the activities of the Texas Railroad Commission, whose job it was, among other things, to regulate the oil and gas industry in Texas. 

Mr. Childress (I never knew his first name) was a huge man of about 300 pounds who was 5’ 9” with a chubby face that was bright red most of the time.  He always wore a grey suit with a thin, non-descript tie.  He never took his coat off or loosened his tie even though the office he rented in the Texas State Capital building was not air-conditioned. The temperature was routinely above 100 degrees with the humidity at stifling levels on those hot central Texas summer afternoons. 

There were three of us proof-readers and we got there just as the editor/owner of this newsletter was about to finish his seven to fifteen pages of narrative on the Commission’s rulings for the day.  He started working at about 9:00 AM in the morning, attending the Commission hearings and recording all of the data until they adjourned at 3:00 PM.  He started drinking at about noon, which pretty much made him hammered by the time we showed up at 4:30 to start proofing his newsletter. 

On the fifteen page days, he would “take a break” about every 15 minutes and go down to his car in the parking lot, open the trunk and imbibe some “brown water” from a fifth of whiskey stored therein.  Actually, I really didn’t blame him.  On a fifteen page day, after reading “Palo Pinto County regular site No. 156, pump No. 2875 on Lot IV in Section No. 7 approved allowable for 182 barrels of light sweet crude for Tuesday, July 14, 1966”, or similar drivel for three hours, I longed for a stiff drink myself or, at least, a nap.  I remember nearly falling asleep while reading aloud on several occasions.

When we finished proofing his typed mimeograph sheets (God forbid we found an error) we would take them to a separate office in a different building and run off some 600 copies on a mimeograph machine.  We would then set the pages in a large set of shelves and collate, staple, fold, address, weigh and put postage on them.  We would prepare them for first class mailing and we would draw straws for which one of us would drop them off at the post office on our way home.  This often took until nine or ten o’clock at night.

At $ 1.65 per hour, I was just barely making my part of the rent payment, utilities, food and gas.  I had no money left over for entertainment and I wanted to get a “new” car before the end of the summer.  I was forced to develop a Spartan lifestyle.  Since I had discovered beer in my second semester as a freshman, I had gained 15 pounds by the end of my sophomore year.  I was determined to shed them and not having much money helped a lot.  My diet for the summer included eggs over easy mixed in with hamburger meat, cooked medium rare.  It was Atkins before he was a pup with the only difference being, I drank a quart of Tang a day.  It was probably the only reason I didn’t get scurvy over that summer but I did lose the 15 pounds in about 45 days. 

To get money for an occasional movie and to save for that “new” car, I got a third job.  Down the hall from our mimeograph room was a patent attorney.  Mr. Aristotle Whitby used to drop in on us while we were working for a “chat”.  He was about 65, widowed, white haired, usually unshaven and lonely.  I never saw him in anything other than a very rumpled seersucker suit, which I suspected he wore during the day and slept in at night, as well.  He lived on a couch in his office.  He was a kindly old coot and I felt sorry for him. 

His office looked like an explosion in a paper factory.  There were patents and patent drawings, going back to the 1920’s, strewn all over the place.  Stacks and stacks of paper and outdated law books filled every bookshelf and corner.  He had one file cabinet and all the drawers were open with documents overflowing in every direction.  There were empty cans of Wolf Brand chili adorning just about any level, unoccupied space and a crusty saucepan, which I never saw clean, sat on a two burner hot plate, which he frequently forgot to turn off.  “Call me Ari”, he would say brightly when we attempted to address him as Mr. Whitby. 

Despite his usual disheveled appearance, Mr. Whitby did attract an occasional client and he needed a person who could do patent drawings because, as he would say, “my hand is not quite as steady as it used to be”.  When he heard that I had taken drafting in junior high school he offered me $ 25.00 per drawing to assist him.  While I hardly thought my training would have been up to snuff for such an important job, the “princely” sum encouraged me to try.  I worked for him perhaps three nights per week as a draftsman, often working past midnight. 

Occasionally, Mr. Whitby would come into my work area in his outside office and look over my shoulder, offering advice on my perspective drawings.  He would talk of his dearly deceased wife and how life was hardly worth living without her. He talked about how he once had a prosperous eight-person firm but how it hardly seemed worth the effort anymore.  He also talked about honesty, honor, the benefits of hard work and other things I guess he thought I should know.  As a consequence of his tutelage, several of my drawings are actually on file with the US Patent Office.  Based on the amount of time it took me to do each drawing, I probably averaged about a buck an hour, but I enjoyed the work and my conversations with Mr. Whitby.

It was getting towards the end of the summer and it was another light, eight-page day at the Texas State House Reporter.  Unfortunately, that evening I absentmindedly mis-collated page 7 with page 8.  The next day Mr. Childress confronted me with my most grievous error.  He actually read his own newsletter everyday.  No wonder he drank.

I only had one more week of work so I took my tongue lashing and pressed on.  Soon I would turn in my resignation at the Texas State House Reporter, tell Mr. Whitby I was going back to school and might not be able to help him as much as I had this summer and, then, register for school.  When I gave notice to Mr. Childress he actually shook my hand and told me I was one of the best proofreaders he had ever had, despite my “penchant for errors”.  What penchant for errors?!?  ONE MISTAKE.  No wonder he drank.

Each night that week I went down the hall to Mr. Whitby’s office but it was always locked.  On Friday, my last day, I knocked again and still no answer.  The door to the office next to him was, uncharacteristically, opened.  I walked in and found a man working late.  “Excuse me”, I said, “have you seen Mr. Whitby lately”. 

The man looked up at me and said, “Are you a relative?”. 

“No”, I answered “I work for him as a draftsman”. 

“So you haven’t heard?”, he said, matter-of-factly, “Mr. Whitby was found dead on his couch a week ago.  He apparently died in his sleep.  Had incurable cancer, you know.”

I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t even say I didn’t know or I was sorry.  “Are you alright?”, the man asked.  I didn’t answer.  I just turned and walked out so he would not see the tears that were now welling up in my eyes.  The heals of my shoes as they hit the vinyl tile echoed sharply; a hollow, empty sound as I slowly made my way down the long, deserted hallway.  I missed him already.

1966: The Race for Love

That summer was hard.  I was working three jobs, an average of fifteen hours a day, taking one two-hour class, studying and getting very little sleep.  But by the end of the summer I had saved enough money to get the “new” car I wanted and needed so badly.  So I took a Wednesday off and went looking for the car of my dreams.  It was a two-year old, 1965 Chevelle Malibu Super Sport (SS).  The car, a two-door hardtop in Crocus Yellow with black vinyl bucket seats, was in great shape.  It had a 300 hp, 327 cubic inch V-8 with a four-on-the-floor and it ran like a scalded dog.  I was in heaven.  I paid $ 1,200.00 cash for it and proudly drove home convinced every pretty girl I passed on the street was yearning to be beside me, patting my padded dash and fondling my stick shift.
When I got to the apartment, my roommate, John Houser, was there.  He came down and, with oohs and aahs, appropriately paid homage to my new ride.  John was a big hunk of a guy, about 6’ 3” and boyishly handsome. He was also tremendously na├»ve, occasionally clueless and was somewhat overweight; consequently, because of his overall appearance and personality, the brothers had nicknamed him, “Baby Huey”.  I took great pleasure in chastising John for his shortcomings but, more often than not, found myself taking him under my wing, helping him deal with the realities of the world.  Most of the time, he just made me laugh.

 “Hey, man, we gotta go cruisin’ for chicks!”, John sang out, his normal boyish enthusiasm overcoming the better judgment of studying for his final exam, which was the next day.  Reminding him of this fact only tempered him slightly.  “Well, OK, but we can at least go to the Holiday House, have a burger and see if any chicks are there”, he pleaded.

We headed for the Holiday House, a drive-in hamburger joint in south Austin.  Now the most popular place near campus had the dubious name of The Pig Stand.  Depending on who you believed, The Pig Stand was either named for its pulled pork sandwiches or the type of girls who hung out there.  So the more upscale Holiday House it was.  As we pulled in, the only empty spot available just happened to be next to a brand new 1966 Pontiac Tempest.  Inside that car were two girls.  The passenger was blonde and the driver appeared to be a brunette.  I couldn't see the driver too well but the blonde was gorgeous and she turned and smiled at us as I killed my hot engine with throaty pipes and their promise of power.

“I get the blonde!” Baby Huey gushed, I was certain loud enough for anyone within a two block radius to hear. 

“Sure, John”, I whispered, “but would you mind keeping that between us”.  I could swear I heard the girls in the Tempest giggling and I blushed red.  We kept looking over into their car but still all I could see was the passenger, who was expertly ignoring our glances. 

Finally, I said, “How are you girls tonight?”

The blonde turned and said, “We are doing fine”.  She turned back, looking forward, but she was smiling and so I kept on. 

“What are you doing tonight?” I asked, trying to act casual. 

The blonde turned back again and said, “Oh, we are out cruising in Vicki’s dad’s new car”.
“So what’s your name?” I asked. 

“Vicki”, she said. 

“Oh, so it is your dad’s new car?” I said, somewhat confused. 

“No, its Vicki’s”, she said. 

This was starting to sound like an Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” routine, when the driver leaned forward, flashed a brilliant smile and said, “We are both named Vicki”.  The next sound anyone heard was the thud of my jaw hitting the steering wheel as I finally recognized the driver as the girl friend of my fraternity brothers, Ronnie Vaughn….the girl in the green brocade suit!

“Hi!”, I said, again, brilliantly eloquent.  Somehow, the appearance of this woman always reduced my IQ by 30 points.  “Vicki Matthews, right?” I said, feeling fortunate I could remember her last name. 

“That’s right”, she smiled.  I started to explain who I was when she interrupted me, “And you are Jud, right?”  I nodded; absolutely stunned that she remembered me. 

“You know these chicks?” John whispered loudly in my ear, “Oh, man, we've got it made.”  I shushed him and turned my attention back to the ladies.  We made small talk for awhile and I could tell that we weren't doing too badly.  At least we were not like little puppies, pooping on the carpet.  

We got out of our cars and inspected them.  I showed ample appreciation for Vicki’s new car and she returned the favor for my ride.  Then the girls joined us in my car and we ordered hamburgers and shakes.  John, as usual, was in Baby Huey mode.  He was already asking Vicki (last name Broadus) for a date and she was politely fending him off.  Vicki B. was a charming girl, about 5’7” with naturally almost white blond hair.  She had a really cute figure.  This is what attracted John; however, she was also very sweet.  John saw opportunity knocking here and he was all over it.

Meanwhile, in the front seat, Vicki M. and I were munching on the best flame-broiled cheeseburger ever cooked.  This was the kind of hamburger where the juices squeezed out the corner of your mouth or made an inappropriate mess on your shirt while the lightly charred, medium-rare meat tantalized your tongue.  I was also finding out that she and Ronnie Vaughn were no longer dating.  Now I saw opportunity knocking.  My approach would most likely not mirror Baby Huey’s, but I had no less incentive to make a good impression.

Somehow the conversation turned back to our cars and Vicki volunteered that she thought her new car could run like the wind or words to that effect.  I politely informed her, with an air of superiority, a V-8 was always going to outrun a “Slant Six” in a race.  At that moment the gauntlet was grounded. 

We finished our dinner and the girls got in their vehicle, both sexes trash talking prior to the “race”.  Not knowing south Austin that well, Vicki said to follow her.  We drove out to a deserted section of Manchaca Road.  It was a strip of road with few houses and was dark, long and straight.  When we got there we got out of our cars and agreed to the quarter mile course we would be driving.  “Are you sure you want to do this?”, I asked Vicki. 

“You chickening out?” she responded contemptuously.

“I honk my horn three times…on the third we go”, I said, firmly. 

We mounted our vehicles and fired them up.  Vicki stabbed at her pedal, revving her engine as she sat at the starting line, which told me she probably had not done much drag racing.  I put my tachometer steadily on 3500 RPM and sounded my horn three times.

In my eagerness to back up my boast, I smoked the tires in first gear and Vicki pulled ahead by a fender length off the starting line.  I saw Vicki B. celebrating, her long, straight blonde hair flying out the passenger window, as I power-shifted into second gear.  I hit second gear rubber and the difference between the torque and horsepower of my engine and Vicki’s started to take control.  Third gear had me with a half-car length lead. My shift into fourth gear and the end of the quarter had me across our make-shift finish line with a good three car-lengths on the Pontiac, driven by the fine and, certainly, game Vicki. 

We stopped at an intersection and got out of our cars.  John was hooting and hollering in grand Baby Huey style, which didn't much impress the blonde object of his affection.  I played the gracious victor.  “That’s a really fast car you have there”, I said. 

“Are you kidding, you blew my doors off”, Vicki said.  I took this as an opportunity to extend the relationship. 

“Not really”, I offered, “but maybe we can go to the drag races some day and watch the real pros do it”. 

To my surprise she smiled and said, “You know, I think I would love that”.  LOVE THAT…..not “like that”…not “O.K., maybe”.  The thrill of victory was just multiplied 10X. 

I told Vicki my apartment manager was throwing a party for the end of summer school and start of fall semester that next Saturday and I was hoping she would come with me. 

“What time” she said instantly. 

I fumbled with, “I’ll pick you up at seven”. 

“O.K.” she said, "I will look forward to it."

 As we got back in our respective cars, John said, “I should have gone for the brunette”. 
"Too late”, I said.

We followed the girls back to Vicki’s house and I walked her to the door as Vicki B. continued to fend off the advances of Baby Huey and headed toward her own car.  Vicki and I stood on the porch, both espousing how much we enjoyed the race, the sounds of the Katydids chirping in the background and the heavy scent of honeysuckle swirling about our heads.  She was standing close to me and my immediate impulse was to kiss her.  God knows every fiber of my being supported the impulse.  Instead, I stretched out my hand.  “Goodnight”, I said, “see you on Saturday”.  I could tell I caught her off-guard and she shook my hand with a questioning look on her face.  I bounded down the porch steps and fired up my new chariot.  Despite John’s constant chatter, I drove home in silence, my mind wrapped around the feelings of this warm personal encounter mixed with the sights, sounds and smells of this incredibly warm Texas summer evening.  The adventure was just beginning.

1966: A Hot Day On Campus

Parking wasn't as bad on the University of Texas campus in those days like it is today, but you still had to know the ropes to get a parking spot on campus at mid-day.  I had the plan.  I had a secret back way to get on campus with my car, just off San Jacinto Blvd., without having to go through the security gates.  Although I didn't know it until later, I would not have otherwise been able to get on campus that day.

From the parking lot I used, it was a relatively short walk up the service road, past Gregory Gym to my auditorium class room in Burnet Hall, just on the other side of the South Mall at the base of the Texas Tower.

It was hot that day, over 95 degrees, humid, and there was no wind so I was perspiring heavily as I came up the hill to the South Mall.  The heat reminded me of the race riots that had sprung up across the north throughout the summer: Blacks and whites clashed in Detroit, Omaha, Chicago and Cleveland, which the experts blamed on the unusual and excessive heat.  I wondered if there wasn't something more basic involved. 

Despite being preoccupied with these thoughts, I did take notice that there didn't seem to be the normal flow of students near the heart of campus.  In fact, there was no one with me on the sidewalk as I passed between classroom buildings on my left and the high wall that blocked my view of the Texas Tower on the right until I was almost to the steps leading up to the South Mall.   The mall was a large expanse of terrazzo and lawn areas, separated by waist high hedges, in front of the 28-story tower, the most prominent structure on campus with its four huge clocks, their green glass faces and shinning gold hands facing north, south, east and west: a symbol of Texas pride.

As I neared the top of the hill, the wall to my right was getting lower and lower and I began to hear what sounded like firecrackers going off up on the mall.  ‘Just some students letting off a little summer final exam steam’, I thought.  Pop, pop….pop.  Then, I thought I heard a woman crying and then more voices, people shouting.  My mind was confused by what was quickly becoming a cacophony of sounds of people in distress. 

About ten feet from the end of the wall I caught my first glimpse of the top of the Tower.  Then I saw a strange thing.  A puff of white smoke suddenly appeared from over the railing of the observation deck and a couple of seconds later, the “pop” of a firecracker reached my ears.  Another puff, another pop….and then a woman’s scream.  Then I noticed that the clock face was curiously cracked and broken with huge shards of glass missing. The hands on the clock read 1:20 PM.

As I rounded the end of the wall and stood at the foot of the steps the scene in front of me was horrifying.  There were bodies lying here and there across the mall, most of them face down on the searing pavement, in pools of their own blood.  The realization that these people had been shot came crashing down on me. Some of the people were moving slightly but it was obvious that some were already dead.  Hundreds of students and faculty were crouched down, hiding behind trees and hedges and walls and around the corners of buildings.  Both women and men were screaming and sobbing.  It was surreal.  It was terrifying.  Despite the heat of the day, my sweat turned cold.

Suddenly I noticed one of my fraternity brothers, Jim, about one hundred feet from me, nearly in the middle of the mall.  He was moving slightly and at first I thought that he might be wounded.  Then I thought he might be just lying on his stomach trying to not draw attention.  Finally it became apparent he was lying on top of a woman, who was almost entirely covered up by his bulky 6’2” frame.  She was crying and blood had puddled around her, staining the terrazzo.  “JIM!” I yelled. 

He swung his head around at my call and screamed at me, “TAKE COVER!” 

As I dove behind the wall at the foot of the steps I heard several more pops, gunshots, still thinking they sounded like firecrackers in the distance.  Although I didn't know it at the time, those final “pops” were the sounds of Officer Ramiro Martinez’s shotgun and service revolver as he took down Charles J. Whitman, the “Texas Tower Sniper”.  For 96 minutes, Whitman used his 6mm Remington rifle with scope, a 25mm Remington rifle and a 30 caliber M-1 Carbine to shoot and kill sixteen people, including an unborn child, while wounding 30 others. 

Whitman shot with uncanny and deadly accuracy.  He knocked a paperboy off his bicycle while he was riding on the sidewalk in front of the University Co-op on Guadalupe Street, wounding him critically: “The Drag”, as it is called, is on the far western edge of the UT campus, making that a four hundred yard shot at a moving target.  He killed a police officer who was hiding behind some columns in an attempt to get to the base of the Tower: the bullet found its target through a six inch opening some three hundred and fifty yards away.  Some city workers, hiding behind parked cars with reporters and other observers, were over five hundred yards to the South of the campus.  They thought they were out of range until a city electrician stood up and Whitman put a fatal bullet in his abdomen.  The last gunshot from Officer Martinez was fired at point blank range at 1:24 PM.  Whitman was dead.

It took nearly fifteen minutes for the news to be conveyed from the observation deck and fed over the police scanners to the news media.  The radio broadcast that Whitman had been shot and the siege over was on the airwaves as soon as the local stations could pick it up.  This news was then passed quickly though the crowds that were huddled all across campus.  Men and some women started running out onto the mall and I joined them looking after our fellow students who were scattered all around.  The scene was as grisly as a wartime battlefield.  I reached Jim at about the time the sound of ambulance and police sirens were heard coming from all directions. 

“Jim, it’s over”, I shouted as I ran up to where he was still laying on top of the girl.  I still thought he might have been hit himself.  He slowly got up, his shirt soaked though with sweat and splotches of the girls blood.  He was shaking.  I suspected he was in shock. “Are you alright”, I asked. 

“Yes, I’m fine” he said, although he didn't look fine to me.  I turned my attention to the girl.  She was still face down with her textbooks and papers some fifteen feet away and strewn all about.  I could see the exit wound just above her right shoulder blade area and there was substantial bleeding.  “She must have been one of the first ones hit”, Jim said, standing over us.  “She was already down on the ground when I came up from the BEB library and was hiding behind those trees over there”, he continued, pointing to the huge oaks on the left side of the mall. I asked him how long he had been out here and he said it must have been over an hour. “She was trying to crawl toward the hedge for cover and she was crying out for help”, he said, “when all of a sudden a bullet ricocheted off the pavement about six inches from her head.  That maniac was trying to shoot her again!” he said between clinched teeth.  “She screamed and I had to do something so I ran out here and covered her up”, he said, and then he broke down, sobbing out his weariness, his fear, his sorrow. 

At this point medical personnel from both on and off campus were flooding onto the mall, attending the wounded and putting them and the bodies of those who were already gone on gurneys and carrying them to shelter or ambulances.  I told a medic what had happened to the girl, whose name I never knew.  “And take care of my brother.”

The rest of the day was hazy for me.  I wandered aimlessly around campus for a couple of hours and then I couldn't take anymore.  Classes had been cancelled so I went back to the apartment.  My roommates were both gone.  I remember standing in the shower for a long time that night, the streaming water masking the tears streaming down my face.

We have seen many heroes and heroines emerge in recent years in response to tragic events that challenge our character, our courage and our resolve.  But when I think back to August 1, 1966, I will never forget Jim’s selfless heroism. 

1966: The Dating Game

My radio clicked on at 6:00 AM the next morning with the Lovin’ Spoonful song, “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind” playing.  It made my mind race over the differences between the two girls I was dating at the time, Debbie Bickerstaff and Vicki Matthews. 

Debbie Bickerstaff had come back to campus early from summer break and had called me immediately.  She had reneged on promises of inviting me up for a weekend in Dallas during the summer as she renewed relations with her old high school boyfriend who attended SMU.  But, apparently, they decided to call it quits at the end of July and Debbie was doing her best to reestablish herself with "Old Reliable"....namely me.  Little did she know, during her time of dalliance in Dallas, my heart had been arrested in Austin.

There was no competition. For the next several days I could barely think of anything else than my next meeting with the beautiful Vicki.  I had invited her to an apartment party being thrown by our hip apartment manager to celebrate the end of summer school classes.

On Saturday, I was supposed to work a double shift at the garage but I asked my boss, Mr. Johnson, to get off early at five o’clock.  He quizzed me as to why and I confessed I had a very important date.  He spread that news throughout the shop and I was the butt of the “Don’t do anathang I wouldn’t do” hoots as I walked to my car, an unspoken, single digit response trailing over my head.

I went home and showered, spending an extra ten minutes scrubbing under my fingernails with my toothbrush trying to get the grease to go away.  I splashed on English Leather cologne to hide the smell of gasoline that still clung to my skin and put on one of the few starched Creighton shirts I had left in the closet.  I drove out to south First Street and spent twenty minutes parked at the end of Clifford Drive, so I wouldn’t seem too anxious, as I counted down the minutes until seven o’clock.

I started toward her house but Vicki bounded out her door, down the steps from the porch and was smiling that radiant smile before I was half-way up the walk.  “Hi”, she called out.  I opened her door and she slid into the passenger seat.  My feet barely touched the ground as I rounded the car, jumped in and fired up my powerful steed. 

By the time we got to the party, it was well under way.  There were a couple of kegs of beer already tapped with another on reserve.  One keg was almost floating and a couple of people were already in the pool, fully clothed.  A not-so-bad band was playing a good rendition of “You Were On My Mind” originally recorded by the We Five.  I got Vicki and I a beer and we sat, talked, danced a little and watched the crazies kill the next keg. Vicki was not a big drinker but she was a great dancer.  We tripped the light. 

By 9:00 PM the manager was trying to get several fully clothed couples out of the pool before they drowned and the noise of the other partiers was getting really raucous.  My roommates were gone for the evening. “Why don’t we go up to my apartment and get away from some of this noise”, I ventured. 

To my surprise, Vicki said, “Sure” and locked her arm around mine.  

My apartment was on the second floor toward the front of the building away from the pool area.  We walked there hand-in-hand and once inside, I turned to her.  She was closer than I thought she would be, but Vicki didn’t back away.  Her eyes were glistening and alive and I lost myself in those sparkling hazel pools.  I reached down and cupped her face in my hands and, bending slowly, kissed her lightly on the mouth.  As I pulled away, she reached up, wrapping her arm around my neck and, pulling my head back down, she kissed me back.  My head was swimming and, believe it or not, I felt somewhat faint.  It wasn’t the beer.  I could hardly believe that I was in the arms of the girl who nearly got me blackballed from my fraternity.

Vicki is a great kisser and my qualifications to judge that were established that night. At about 11:00 PM she asked me what time it was and told me she needed to be home at midnight.  We made it with about 30 seconds to spare.  This time there was no handshake, our goodnight kiss offered no quarter and none was taken.

The next Saturday it was off to the drag races for our second official date.  I was up by sunrise fussing over my car.  I wanted it to shine like the sun and be clean for my date with the incomparable Vicki.  I picked her up around ten o’clock and we arrived in time for the first time trials for the AA Fuel dragsters.  “Those are strange looking cars”, Vicki said.  I explained to her that they really were not cars but vehicles made specifically for drag racing.  They were long and low with what looked almost like bicycle wheels on the front and huge 20” wide, “slick” tires on the rear.  Their engines, at that time, were still mounted in front of the driver and created over 1,500 horsepower.  From a standing start the fastest machines at the time could run the quarter mile in less than seven seconds at over 200 miles per hour.

When the engines fired up their un-muffled exhaust was really loud but nothing compared to when they came off the line.  As big as those tires were they broke loose as the dragsters smoked off the line, the engines screaming at 6,000 RPM.  The roar was deafening and your chest vibrated as they passed our position in the stands.  As the two “slingshots” crossed the finish line and shut down Vicki exclaimed, “Oh my!  That is unbelievable!”  I was so pleased she liked it.  

We talked between races and I got to know a little more about her.  She was the oldest of four children and had one sister seven years her junior and another who was only 8.  Her only brother, David, was 13 and the terror of the household.  She told me her father was a plasterer and her mother worked at a daycare center she had formed in their local church with her older sister.  Vicki was bright and fun and laughed at my corny jokes.

After the races, as we walked back to the car, I wanted to give her something to memorialize our day.  I couldn’t think of anything and I didn’t have any money so I gave her a burned intake valve I had in my glove box.  It was from the rebuild of my old 1954 Chevy and I kept it as a memento.  She thanked me just as if I had given her a diamond ring.  Thinking back, it was pretty lame, but for some strange reason, right from the start, I wanted to make this girl happy.  As I drove her home we made plans to go swimming the next weekend.

I could hardly wait for Saturday to come again.  I thought about Vicki all week and called her several times.  We would talk for an hour or more each time.  I picked her up around noon and we drove out of south Austin to a natural waterfall area called Hamilton’s Pool.  It was a wonderful, hot day with the Texas sky a dark blue.  Big, billowy white clouds drifted slowly overhead.  The air was heavy with humidity and you wore it like an extra set of clothes all over your body. That clear, cool water was going to feel good. 

Vicki wore a cover-up over her bathing suit but when we spread out our things on the bank and we got ready to go in for a dip she took it off.  I was quite literally speechless as I drank in this vision, this goddess in her yellow, two-piece bathing suit.  Vicki had an hour-glass figure that was stunning.  I was on a date with an angel and this had to be heaven.

We swam and splashed; frolicking in the water until we were both exhausted.  Then we lay down on our blanket and talked until the sun was behind the rock cliff and it became a little cooler.  Vicki started to put her cover-up back on but I stopped her.  “Not just yet”, I pleaded as I took her in my arms and we kissed for a long time under the spreading live oak and weeping willow trees, listening to the music of the water cascading over its thirty foot drop into the “pool”. 

On the way home Vicki told me she had to work the next Saturday night and my heart sunk.  But then she asked me if I would like to come over the next weekend for Sunday dinner.  I told her I would really love that.  As we kissed good-bye on her porch, she said, “See you around noon, then?”  I did a little happy dance on my way back to my car and thought, “Alright! This is good.”

1966: Demolition Derby

There was a loud, THUMP, a rattling of metal, the sound of branches and twigs being broken, a THUD, then silence.  Everyone in the beer garden, stood there staring at the car that had just careened past us, down the embankment and nosed itself into a flat area, its rear end pointing up at a 45 degree angle.  The silence was broken by an expletive from the driver, our fraternity brother Jack Rodman, and we all burst out laughing.

Jack drove an old 1949 Plymouth two-door coupe.  It was a broken down heap, which was held together by chewing gum and baling wire.  The tires were bald, the brakes were shot, there were holes in the upholstery, the floorboard was rusted through and the engine backfired every time he turned off the key.  Jack, whose blood alcohol level would have made him over the legal limit in any state by modern standards, had tried to brake his car at the back of the parking lot.  Brakes failing, it careened over the curb, ran down the steep embankment and was now stuck on the hillside below the beer garden.

Jack extricated himself and hurled expletives at his ride as he kicked the right front fender into submission.  “That’s it!”, Jack said as he laboriously climbed the hill into the beer garden.  He popped the top on a Pearl beer out of the ice tub, clearly not his first of the night.  “Anyone who wants that  car can have it.”, he slurred, “The pink slip is in the glovebox”.   Actually, I was game for that.

I had a few day’s break before semester started so I inspected Jack’s car and determined the only thing wrong was it needed to be towed out of the precarious position it was in, a new battery and a tune up.   I got a used battery from the garage for $ 2.00 and a set of spark plugs from the parts house at my cost…$ .85 each.  I also splurged and got a new set of points and a condenser.  One hour later, with the help of a borrowed pick-up and chain, courtesy of my boss, I had the old Plymouth towed up to our parking lot and fired up like new. 

I confirmed with the still hung over Jack that we had a deal on the car.  He told me, from his face-down prone and hung-over position, I could stick that car where the sun doesn’t shine for all he cared, or words to that effect.  I then went to find some brothers who wanted to go joy riding.  I told them we were going to drive up into the country and tear this car up, a little end of summer blowout.  My roommate Gene signed on as did one of my other fraternity brothers, Randy Shoup. 

Randy was a hayseed.  He came to UT off a dairy farm outside of Waco, TX.  He was 6’1” with the broadest shoulders I had ever seen and a triangle physique, meaning his chest measured about 55” with a 24” waist.  He was a naturally strong brut from his years of slinging 80 pound canisters on the milk trucks and 75 pound hay bales on the feed wagons all day long, 24/7, from the time he was 8 years old.  Randy had one of the most even dispositions of anyone you could imagine.  He was quiet, and calm most of the time.  He was polite and respectful, befitting his country upbringing.  He was blonde with chiseled features and a peaceful countenance, which belied his strength of nature.  Randy wouldn’t say “poop” if he had a mouthful.

The brother’s all witnessed an example of Randy’s strength when our fraternity got into an argument with the Kappa Alpha’s, who were across the street from our fraternity house.  The KA’s had the Dixie flag on a pole and a cannon in there front yard and every time Texas won a football game, they would run up the flag and fire the cannon at midnight to celebrate.  Most of the time they shot cotton wading, but this one time, they loaded the cannon with beer cans and shot them at our house.  This led to a confrontation of mostly drunk brothers from both sides in the middle of the street in the middle of the night.

Brian Beach was leading the charge for DU, jumping up into the face of several KA’s and challenging them to disrespect us again.  The Kappa’s had one member who must have been a descendent of Goliath. He was at least 6’8” and big as a house.  He decided he was going to get into Randy’s face.  Big mistake.

He pushed Randy but Randy stood his ground, not even moving from the force of the much larger man’s thrust.  “Ah’m tellin’ ya, don’t do that” Randy said, calmly.  This brought hoots and hollers from all the Kappa’s who heard.  The giant tried to push him again.  It was like pushing on the rock of Gibraltar.  “Ah asked you not to do that”, Randy said, quietly, looking up into the face of his much bigger tormentor. 

Now, everyone forgot their own challengers and gathered around this brewing two-man confrontation.  Then the giant implied Randy’s parent were never married as he again tried to shove him off his feet.  “This is your last warnin’”, Randy said, again barely moving from the man’s powerful chuck.  To his detriment, the huge man reared back determined to put Randy down.  With a move so quick that most spectators later confessed they never saw it, Randy brought his clenched fist up from his waist in a upper cut that caught the big man squarely on his jaw.  POW!

The crowd gasped as one, thinking that Randy was now surely going to be a dead man.  Instead, the big man leaned slightly forward. His eyes, glazed at first, rolled back up into his head and his whole rigid body, like the felling of a 200 year old redwood, toppled stiffly backward crashing onto the road…..knocked dead cold out.  Randy took a step forward over his foe and said in his soft drawl, “An’ if ya git up, ah’ll have ta put ya in the hospital”.  Goliath never heard a word of it.

So gentle Randy was up for a little car bashing that day.  Randy, Gene and I headed out for the hills west of Austin.  We drove up past the low water bridges and started looking for off-the- road trails.  I was driving faster than I should have been on all this loose gravel and was running the car into bushes and small cedars mowing them down, my passengers whooping it up and encouraging me to do more damage. 

Then I saw a mesquite tree that was about eight inches around at the base.  I headed for it and hit it squarely with the front fender on the passenger side.  With a horrific crunch the tree pealed the fender right off the car.  We stopped about thirty feet up the road and went back to look at the damage, hollering and doing the high five.  The fender was lying next to the mangled tree.  “Should we put it in the trunk” Gene asked. 

“Shoot no, leave it” I said as we raced back to the car.

We jumped back in and continued our one car versus nature demolition derby.  We lost the front bumper next to a cedar tree and then crunched the driver side fender on a small mesquite.  I directed the car back to the main road and all of a sudden it died.  The second hand battery I had put in it was on its last legs, indicating that the generator was probably not working.

We got out of the car and picked up big stones on the side of the road and began throwing them at the car, denting body panels and breaking windows.  Suddenly, a pick-up truck came up behind us and pulled to a stop.  The driver got out and said, “What are y’all doin”?”  We explained that our car had died.  He looked at the nearly destroyed vehicle and scratched his head but offered some jumper cables. We took advantage of his hospitality and soon our partially destroyed wreck was back on the demolition trail. 

At an open field just above the low water bridges on Balcones Road there was a huge live oak tree.  It was the loan tree in a clear area about the size of a football field.  “Hey,” I said, “let’s see if we can knock that tree down”.  There was unanimous consent.  Now, this tree had a trunk that was about one foot thick but we were undeterred.  We argued about who was going to drive to take it out and who was going to watch.  We drew straws and Randy won the driver role. 

I told them just like demolition derby we needed to protect the radiator so we needed to drive in reverse and mow the tree down with the rear of the car.  They enthusiastically agreed.  So we drove the car out into the field and positioned it about 50 yards from the tree.  Randy got behind the wheel and Gene and I got off a ways to watch.  Randy had one hand on the wheel and one over the seat looking to the rear so he could guide the car into the tree. 

Gene and I both shouted “Go” at the same time and Randy floored the accelerator.  The field was full of ruts so Randy was bumping the car along, tires spinning and got it up to what I guessed was about 35 MPH.   He aimed it perfectly and struck the tree dead center of the rear bumper with the pedal to the metal.  The crashing sounds of crunching metal echoed through the canyon but the leaves on the tree barely moved and the tree just quivered a little. 

Gene and I stood there in disbelief.  It seemed like forever that we just gazed at the scene of mangled steel until the sound of some doves cooing off their roost brought us back to reality.  We raced toward the car.  The rear of the car was literally wrapped around the tree.  The tree was now imbedded well into the trunk of the car, the rear bumper bent in a perfect U-shape.  Gas was leaking onto the ground and all we could hear was Randy groaning inside the car.

We looked in the window and Randy was lying on the seat moaning a muffled, drawn-out “shee-at".  Suffering from what turned out to be a decent case of whip-lash, Randy, obviously, had finally had more than a mouthful of poop.

The battery had been knocked loose from its hold-down strap, flown backward, crushing the distributor cap and resided upside-down, draining its battery acid onto the spark plug wires.  Game over.  We pushed the car out to the road and let it coast on its own down a fairly steep hill where it ran into the creek.  We left it there and hitch-hiked home.

Two days later a wrecking yard called Jack and told him they had towed his car into their place of business at the request of the sheriff's office.  They told him he could claim it for $ 52.00 in towing charges.  He told them no thanks, they could keep it and hung up the phone.  Demolition Derby days were over.