Sunday, June 24, 2012

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 naïve, 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.

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