Wild Horses!

“… so I yelled, ‘HANG ON!’ as we hit the cans and I yanked the wheel to the left.”

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It was a long, quiet ride with my mom and dad from Patterson to Franklin; the tension in the air was so thick you could have cut it with a hot dog. My Dad hadn’t spoken to me since the night of the incident. I believe he was afraid of losing his temper. And he had a temper that anyone who knew him, knew better than to provoke. I dreaded his reaction when he saw the car; his first new car in over 20 years. I had totaled it while he and my mom were on a trip out of town bringing a group of Girl Scouts to Atlanta in the church bus. It took everything I had to call them that night and convey the bad news, but I knew I was safer doing it over the phone myself than letting them find out from someone else…

As soon as I told him, he confirmed my fears, uttering some fearful oaths while immediately handing the phone to my mom. She must have deduced that something bad had happened and her first words were, “Are you okay?”

I told her everyone was OK, but the car was in pretty bad shape. She could tell that I was pretty upset, and tried to console me, and it helped a little; but I knew that I would have to face the wrath of Dad, and the car wreck might seem pretty tame compared to that.

When we walked around the corner into the service bay, the Mustang was the first thing that came into view.  After the longest 2 or 3 seconds in my life, Dad turned to me and growled through clenched teeth, “45 miles an hour MY ASS!” (My weak attempt at minimizing the damage. Well, we WERE going 45 at some point, right?)

The hair on the back of my neck wanted to stand up and run away–and I pondered the wisdom of running, myself, knowing that when he caught me he would do serious damage. But if I stayed, serious damage would be inflicted immediately! As his face turned a frightening shade of red and his fists clenched, my mom decided to save my life and jumped on him, wrapping her arms around his arms and her legs around his legs as she loudly implored, “Don’t hurt him Daddy!”

I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as my adrenaline level went to maximum.  Obviously he didn’t kill me, but I wouldn’t want to know what thoughts went through his head for the next couple of weeks. And I wouldn’t know, because he didn’t speak to me for at least that long. It was not a fun experience, and I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it. What brought us to this excruciating point? Well, it started innocently enough…

While they were out of town on the bus trip, I was staying with a family friend, Ronnie Sanders, who was a teacher at the Bayou Vista elementary school. Since it was summer, he had time to keep an eye on me, and he did a reasonable job for a young bachelor. I don’t believe he had any brothers, or he would never have let me out of his sight. But, going on his own experience, he gave me a lot more credit than I deserved, and he let me go out on a Saturday night.

To further complicate matters, I had talked my oldest sister into letting me use the Mustang.

She had been entrusted with its safe-keeping and she, also, extended more trust in my behavior than I deserved. Maybe she was clairvoyant and was just getting back at me for throwing the stick in her spokes years earlier? Payback is a…well, anyway, I was let loose on the world, and a loose cannon I was!

On a Saturday night in Patterson at that time, there were always several groups of teenagers driving around looking for something to do.  Although  the bar owners pretty much knew that we were too young to be in a bar, we could either buy beer at some local convenience store where we were unknown to the cashier, or we could get an older classmate to get some for us. Then we would congregate at a place kinda out of town and throw down a few cold ones, while hoping some girls would show up also.

On this night I had picked up Don Guidry, whom I had known since I was born (his mom brought him to the hospital when he was six months old to visit me and my mom when I was born!).  At some point we acquired Joey Adams, a couple of six-packs, and decided to go out to Landry’s Pond and drink some there. The pond was across a drainage canal in the woods past where the cane fields ended, and the road to get there was a one lane shell road with three-foot wide by three-foot deep ditches on both sides that ran through about a mile of cane fields. The only reason the road was even paved with shells was that after it crossed the canal it led to a well site about a quarter mile into the woods. We had hunted out there and camped out in the area when younger, so most of us were familiar with the area.

After we had exhausted our beer supply, we built a small pyramid of beer cans in the middle of the road just before the 45° turn toward the wooden bridge that crossed the 20-foot wide, 10-foot deep drainage canal. After that turn, the road ran straight for about 20 yards, then made another 45°turn to cross the bridge and go into the woods. The importance of these details will soon become apparent.

So we jump in the car and tear off toward the highway, the sound of shells roaring against the inside of the fender wells is still vivid in my mind as we soon were going 90 miles an hour down this shell road! I misjudged the stopping distance, and when we got to the highway we slid across the road, stopping on the opposite shoulder! This should have been a wake-up call, but my brain was not answering the call, unfortunately… and while we were recovering on the side of the road, Roy Barr and Guy Cutrera came by. They had some beer with them, and we talked them into leaving some with us. We also gave them some money to go back into town to re-stock and to spread the word about the imminent party at the pond.

So, Joey, Don and I jumped back in the car and headed back toward the pond.

We were accelerating at a rapid pace, and I remember glancing down at the speedometer. It was on the north side of 100 mph! Just as I looked up, I saw the beer cans and knew we were in trouble. We had learned in Drivers Ed that you were over-driving your headlights at anything over 70, and as that thought flashed through my mind I got on the brakes as hard as I could without losing control… it didn’t seem that we were slowing down much, and as the cans got closer, my last thought as I looked down and saw 60 something on the speedometer was that drainage canal just beyond the curve… so I yelled, “HANG ON!” as we hit the cans and I yanked the wheel to the left.

The car jerked to the left and kept rotating that way, and went up on two wheels, came down, and did it again, then went up a third time and kept going all the way over;  now sliding on the roof, somehow still on the road, sliding backwards between the trees that lined the road! Then all the roaring stopped, and I was sitting on what had been the roof, but was now the floor, watching the dust drift down through the light from the radio; drifting down from what had been the floor, but was now the roof. And a sinking feeling grew in my soul as the reality sank in… and finally yelling “Everybody ok?” as the urgent need to get out came to the front of my mind.

Joey replied, “Yeah, I’m OK…” and then we heard Don from outside the car say, “Yeah!” too.

 “How the hell did you get out?” we yelled, probably in unison… and he replied that he had gotten out the back side-window! I don’t know if you remember how small those windows were in the 1970 Mustang hatchback, but we were evidently much smaller then, and had a hell-of-a-lot of incentive to get out. So out we went.

After a few minutes of trying to calm down, and taking stock of the situation, we realized that there was a lot of unopened beer still in the car; and we all agreed that someone would have to go back in and pass them out so we could try to clear out as much damning evidence as possible. I don’t remember who went back in the car, but we got them out, opened them, and then threw them as far into the woods as possible!  Then we tried to find as many as we could of the cans that had been in the road. A fruitless exercise, in retrospect, if the police had shown up, but hey, we had to do something as we waited.

Before long others began arriving, and everyone was just blown away by the scene; someone finally mentioned that we should probably turn off the headlights, as they were now pointing in a conspicuously curious direction– so that was done. Then someone went into town to call a wrecker so we could get it out of there before the cops happened by… and somehow that, too, was accomplished discreetly.  The wrecker had to hook onto the front of the car and drag it out about 30 yards or so to get it to a position where he could hook onto it by its side and roll it back over; I don’t know how I didn’t get sick watching all this, ya know?

After the car had been towed away, someone gave me a ride back to Ronnie’s apartment in Morgan City, and I began the long hard process of telling everyone who needed to know about what had happened. Needless to say, it took me a LONG time to get to sleep that night. After many years, I could finally look back with some small consolation; it was the last time I was the cause of an accident due to drinking alcohol… in a car, anyhow…

To be continued; same life, different story…

© Dewayne P. Blanco 2017

The Swinging Doors

“What ya gotta do ta get a beer ’round here?”

January 28, 2017:  Anyone who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in South Louisiana will remember the un-real culture of alcohol and bars that pervaded the area at the time. The previous generation had grown up knowing very hard times, and the new prosperity that came with being the only major participant in World War II that had not suffered significant damage to its infrastructure and manufacturing areas led to our being nearly the only source for many items of need or ease. Think: washers, TV’s, vehicles, steel, oil, et cetera. We were flush with money and good paying jobs.

In South Louisiana in particular, the oilfield boom provided many high paying jobs to people who had previously subsisted on farming, fishing, trapping… great jobs in some ways, but not nearly as lucrative as the oilfield jobs and the manufacturing jobs that were available due to oil exploration and production. Many people who had grown up having little or nothing were suddenly able to have a nice home with all the trappings that go with extra money.

One of the results of all this extra money was a plethora of bars, lounges, nightclubs, dance halls, and just like any gold rush area, there were many people mining the miners. The Cajun culture fit right in to this new Black Gold Rush; “work hard, play hard, die young and leave a good looking corpse…” I don’t remember where I first heard that, but I took it up as my mantra at a young age. I was definitely not alone. The dance halls on Saturday night would be packed, and cars would be lined up by the hundreds on the shoulder of the road in both directions… and there were NO closing laws, so they would be rocking till the sun came up, and sometimes beyond! Of course, there was a dark side to all this drinking. Many lost their lives in cars and boats, while swimming or hunting—or were innocent victims to others who had been drinking to excess. David Groves, Donna Melvin, David Felterman, Robby Sellars …one of the older Seniors drowned at the Shell Pile one night… and, Ronnie Wiltz.

They were all good people, in the wrong place at the wrong time perhaps; only God knows… I was nearly killed by a couple of drunks myself one night in 1982. But Ronnie Wiltz’s death hurt me the most. At some point in the early seventies, the Kool King put some foosball tables in the old meeting room on the opposite side of the dining area. This rapidly became a hot spot for many of us. I was not good at foosball in the beginning, and I would get a couple of dollars in quarters and try to get someone that was good to partner with me. Most of the good players did not want to partner with a beginner, but Ronnie was always ready to mentor me in the intricacies of the game, and he stoically endured my learning curve. Eventually, I became a decent player and we began to win more and more than not… He never had to pay for a game if I was around afterwards!

This brings me to the Swinging Doors; a small bar just outside the northern city limits of Patterson in a small brick building that had previously been Thibodeaux’s Grocery Store. It had opened up while I was in the Air Force, and I’m not clear on the exact time, but by the time I got back from overseas it had become a hot spot for the local crazies. I had heard about it, but hadn’t been there prior to coming home on leave in late 1976. It was right around Christmas, and my parents lived about a quarter mile away, so I walked there one Saturday evening. I was expecting a good time, and boy, I was not disappointed!

As soon as I closed the door at my parents’ house I could hear the music. As I got closer I could hear the loud hum of voices, and every now and then laughter rose above the hum. It was obvious there was a large crowd, many of them outside in small groups, smoking a doobie and telling stories, having large fun. As I got close enough to survey the bar I could see that it was packed; the lot next door that served as a parking lot was big enough for maybe ten or fifteen cars, but now held 20 or 25. And motorcycles and cars were jammed in all around the bar and down the road on the side opposite the lot! This building was maybe 40 feet wide and 75 feet deep; did I say it was packed?

There were several people in the groups outside that I hadn’t seen in months or years, so it took me a while to get inside; but I had to get myself a beer, and I knew they would be there later, so I finally made it inside to find a very loud, very lubricated, very smoky, very very packed bar.

If you didn’t know better, you would have thought the place was on fire, but nobody was running toward the door! Good thing, too; there was no way you could have run or even walked quickly anywhere in there. It probably took me 20 minutes to make my way to the bar that was only, maybe, 10 feet from the door. Once there, I was dismayed to find that there was no one behind the bar; perhaps they had to take a bathroom break?

So I yell out, loud as I can to maybe be heard above the din, “WHAT YA GOTTA DO TO GET A BEER AROUND HERE???” And to my great surprise, I hear a muffled voice reply from behind the bar, “WHAT YA DRINKIN???”. So I yell back, “BUD!”, and then lean over the bar to try and see where the voice is coming from. Just as I lean over, the beer cooler top slides open and a hand appears holding a Budweiser long-neck! As I grab it (first things first, eh?) and lean over further, I almost fall over the bar in surprise and laughter… Ronnie Wiltz was laying in the cooler on top the beer, with a shit-eatin’ grin on his face!!! Before I could recover, he flashes me a peace sign as he slams the top shut again… it took me a while to stop choking enough to start drinking my beer. That’s the last time I remember seeing Ronnie, and boy, do I cherish that memory.

To be continued; same life, different story…