I’m not always the smartest chap. This remains true today, in my old age, but it was especially true in my youth. I had a quick temper and a quicker tongue – not a healthy tandem. For the most part, I stayed out of “serious” trouble, but I occasionally found myself facing certain death (or permanent bodily harm) because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Spring break of my senior year of high school was one such situation.
Now, spring break of senior year is a wild time where many a teenager attempts to “come of age” by drinking alcohol, smoking multiple substances, and engaging in promiscuous behavior in some tropical region of the world. Not I! I went with my buddies Steve and Dave to Chicago, Illinois, the land of my birth. It was cheap and it was fun. True, we were rather “nerdish” in taking beach pictures in early April on the edge of Lake Michigan (in winter coats, no less) and recreating Mentos commercials in the streets of Chicago. But a good time was had by all… until we visited the infamous Chaddystu.
Now, Chaddystu is my oldest friend, and we have been getting into trouble since the late 1980’s. Its not that Chaddy is a troublemaker per se. Well… yes he is. But he’s a pansy troublemaker. He likes to get the trouble started, and then wimp out when the trouble comes to fruition. But that’s ok. He was a tender boy, and an even more tender man. I mean, if you were 6’3” and weighed only 140 pounds, you would probably wimp out too, you know?
Anyway, we went to visit Chaddystu in South Holland, IL. This is the town I grew up in, but it has taken on a somewhat different… flavor through the years. So as we dropped Chad off after a day of galavanting in downtown Chicago, we noticed a young pack of hoodlums roaming the street near his house.
“Check this out,” I said to Dave and Steve, as Chad looked on from the sidewalk.
I floored the mighty Ford Windstar and swerved towards the punks in the street. Now, I was nowhere near them – it was just a cocksure move by a teenager with more chest hair than sense. But they all jumped and shook their fists as we drove away, inadvertently cutting off another car in the process.
When we came back around the block, a red light stopped us… behind the car we had cut off. I really didn’t think anything of it at first, until I noticed a kid in the back seat, flipping us off. Who did this punk think he was? Then I noticed the driver shaking his head, and then he flipped us off! Granted, I had just cut them off a few minutes prior, but ain’t nobody gonna flip me off!
Of course, I should have been a bit more careful. The driver’s middle finger looked to be roughly the same size as my thigh. He was a BIG man. With a bushy beard. And a black and blue flannel shirt. Hagrid before there was a Hagrid, and a much meaner version too. Between he and his offspring, there was a lot of middle finger waving going on. I’m sure the wife was flipping us off too, but I was distracted by her yellow sneer. I hated this family already.
One thing I have learned through the years is that there is exactly one way to further enrage people with road rage issues – be happy with them. I’ve blown kisses and winked many a time. In this case, I gave a winning smile and waved politely. And then, I followed “Bob”, as he came to be known.
To be fair, that really was the way we were going. A smarter lad might have taken a different path to diffuse the situation. But I was 17 and tough and funny and smart – I knew what I was doing. Dave and Steve didn’t object… yet. So off we drove down 162nd Street, following Bob and family.
Here’s where I got a little stupid. At South Park Ave, Bob turned right on red (despite the sign clearly stating no turn on red – what a rebel!). Now, again, this was the way we were headed anyway. However, a smarter manchild would have gone straight to avoid conflict, or at least waited for the green light as to not appear to be following Bob n’ crew. What did I do? Right on red!
At this point Bob pulled down a side street, with his wee son flashing a double middle at me from the back window. I really don’t know what came over me. I think Dave and Steve might have peed themselves a little bit… but maybe not yet. I flew around the parking lot of the hardware store (where Chaddystu worked, no less) and came out on the street Bob had turned down.
Things tend to change quickly. At this point, my “will” in this contest of wills broke. Bob’s car wasn’t even stopped and he was out of it, running towards my car. He was every bit of 6’5” and 300 solid pounds, with a chest length beard flowing over his flannel, braided ponytail swaying from side to side as his clenched fists headed toward the Windstar. His son had joined him, and while he was not physically imposing, he hefted a lead pipe as he sprinted towards us. What had I done?
Dave and Steve yelled incoherently as I attempted to react to the oncoming massacre. My gut reaction? Drive past them and get the “h” out of there. I floored it, but they were taking up too much of the street. I was going to hit them if I continued. Dave and Steve yelled for me to stop, and I slammed on the brakes. If I hadn’t, who knows what would have happened. Luckily, it had momentarily slowed them, and I slammed into reverse to plot my escape. I quickly headed down a side street, looking for freedom.
Now, I mentioned I grew up in South Holland, but I moved away when I was 11. So I wasn’t familiar with every little side street in town. We were flying down our escape route when I noticed a sign as we passed.
Was this really happening? Were we about to be cornered and dismembered in some alleyway like in the movies? As I passed a few houses and reached the end of the road, I noticed that you could turn onto another road to the left to escape the dead end. I also noticed that a car had appeared in the rearview mirror. Bob.
My heart was pounding as we turned down the side street. We emerged onto another street – the parallel twin to the dead end we had just left. Nowhere left to go. As we looked to the left, a car appeared at the end of the street. Bob.
There was no where to go. We were being hunted by a beast man and his pipe-toting son. We were too young to die. Dave and Steve’s blood would be on my hands. I couldn’t let this happen! I had to outsmart my opponent, even if he had me trapped in a dead end.
I turned the minivan around and slowly drove back towards the original dead end street, as Bob mirrored my actions. When I was fully behind the house on the street, I slammed on the brakes, waited a split second, and threw the car into reverse. I fishtailed onto the other dead end street and floored it towards freedom. If Bob had turned around or had backed up at that moment, it would have been over. We braced ourselves and hurtled towards the intersection.
No one was there. I turned right at full speed (most likely taking the Windstar onto two wheels) and headed for our escape. In the mirror, I could see him… Bob. He was turning around – but there was no way he was going to catc… WHAT?!?!
I had taken us to the railyard. Ahead of us lay multiple train tracks, none of which had a crossing. We were trapped again. AGAIN!
Bob was coming. Each precious second brought us closer to being chained and tortured in his basement, or some far worse fate. I pulled around the last house on the street, hoping to hide behind the garage. I feared we would find the end. Instead, we found salvation.
Behind the garage was one of those narrow alleys that populate the neighborhoods built in the 40’s and 50’s. You know the type… the ones that are barely wide enough for a single car to drive down, and all the neighborhood garages face it. In this case, the alley was barely wide enough for the Windstar (or so it seemed) and clearly had a sign denoting a speed limit of 15 mph.
Without realizing it, we were halfway down the alleyway. Adrenaline and instinct had taken over. I looked at my speedometer at the halfway point. 80 mph.
We hit the end of the alley, careened right onto 162nd Street (it seemed like hours since we had left it) and headed off into the dusk, peering over our shoulders to make sure we had escaped Bob. No car appeared behind us. We had survived.
In retrospect, I learned a few things that day:
1. Never mess around in Chaddystu’s neighborhood.
2. Never, ever follow someone that is clearly already upset with your actions on the road.
3. Never be duped into turning down a side street when your opponent is more bear than man and his son wields home improvement weaponry.
4. Never go down a street that says “dead end” when the “dead” part might be quite literal.
5. Never go down an alley at 80 mph.
6. Never mess with anyone when you are driving a tan Ford Windstar
7. Never, ever, ever tell your parents it happened until you in your mid-thirties and write it in a blog, ‘cause yo mama might finish the job that Bob couldn’t get done…
8. Do not mess with a man named Bob…