Friday, August 29, 2008

Ritchie Rock - Part Two

[continued from yesterday]

Rick's question passed right over David; he was too lost in thought. Finally, temptation got the better of him. “Let’s go,” he announced.

“You gotta be crazy, holmes!” Rick shot back. "What about those brakes?"

“My brakes are okay,” David replied. “They just needed a rest. I’ll go easy on them.”

“And here we go for round two against the wild Mustang,” I told the tape recorder.

David maneuvered back onto Mulholland and headed west in what Rick and I knew was a fruitless pursuit of his now long-gone competitor, if you could even call it that. The brakes did seem like they had been rejuvenated.

Without the Mustang visible either ahead or behind us, David took a slower pace that gave the Battlewagon, and us a breather. From Cahuenga to Laurel Canyon Boulevard, there was no Mustang sighting. A disappointed David turned the car around to head back.

“Just as well,” Rick said. “What would you do if you ran into him again? This car’s in no shape for speed.”

David let out an exasperated grunt and kept driving. Back we went, past the same houses and trees and views we had seen just a short while ago. The smell of burning brake fluid seeped into the interior.

“Oh crap, the brakes are going out again.” David slowed down, but the numerous twists and turns in the road as well as the overall decline in elevation as we proceeded east made it impossible to go easy on the brakes. “Damn! Damn it! Ah, don’t worry, they're not too bad yet. I can get us back. It’ll be a piece of cake once we’re down from here and back on flat land and straight roads.”

“And that’s the big if,” I told the tape recorder, doing my best Howard Cosell imitation. “The boys have failed in their quest to find the fabled Mustang and now head home in defeat.”

Rick kicked the back of the seat and laughed, telling me to shut up, while David concentrated on the road. Unfortunately the smell of the burned brake fluid became stronger and stronger. David had resorted to shifting the automatic transmission into lower gears in attempt to slow the car down but now we were starting to experience some swerving action around the corners. Pretty soon he'd have to shift it into reverse if we were going to stop.

I interviewed Rick in the meantime. “Are we going to make it out of here? Tell me, Muhammad Ali, what do you think?”

“Well let me tell you Howard, if this was my car, I’d be making it float like a butterfly down this hill. I’d have already taken out that Mustang and put him away by doing my Battlewagon shuffle and then…”

And then a four-letter expletive roared from David startled us back to the ride. We looked out front and saw the car swerving toward an embankment and heard the squeal of the tires being asked for more traction than what they were capable of handling. Still, I thought this was going to be just another of our increasingly closer calls and we’d slide out of this one, too.

No dice. The Battlewagon slid off the pavement, onto the dirt and up against the embankment where it became lodged too far in to back out, and too far in for us to be able to push it out. We were stuck.

The tape recorder had flown out of my hands onto the floor beneath the dashboard, shutting itself off upon the impact. Playing back the tape, the last audible sound was the expletive that flown from David’s mouth. The tape had failed to catch the string of them that followed after we came to our involuntary stop, however. Those are still echoing out in space somewhere.

“Well look on the bright side, at least there was this hill to stop us from going off the edge,” observed Rick as we finally got out of the car to survey the damage. What he said was true; there were plenty of less opportune places along this road where the brakes could have finally given out that would have left us rolling over the edge of a cliff.

“What the hell am I going to do now? My dad is going to kill me,” David said as he tried to comprehend the whole mess. “I’ll be grounded until college.”

It was so late at night hardly any traffic passed by, and none offered to stop. One of them was even a Highway Patrol cruiser who must have thought we had some girls in the car and he was doing us a favor by not hassling us. There were also no nearby houses. All there was were the three of us and an inoperable blue station wagon. The mighty Battlewagon had met its match twice that night.

Finally David decided to walk down the hill to find a pay phone. Rick and I stayed at the car just in case we could flag down a police car that might happen by. We waited a long time, speculating on exactly what punishment would be meted out by Mr. Ritchie, as well as expressing our gratitude that it wasn’t either of us who had been driving.

A long while later, what seemed about an hour or more, a car pulled up. It was Mr. Ritchie, accompanied by David in the passenger seat. A tow truck pulled up a moment later. Mr. Ritchie got out of his car, said hello to us and inspected the damage while David explained what happened. He seemed calm enough, but then what else could he do – the accident had already happened.

Mr. Ritchie told David to accompany the tow truck driver as they took the car to a garage, and then he drove us home. I wanted to sit in the back but Rick beat me to it, keeping the same seating arrangement we had in the Battlewagon. In my hand was the tape recorder containing the now infamous cassette documenting our journey that night.

It was a quiet ride back. Not silent, because David’s dad made an effort to converse with us, but there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about. He showed no anger, just an acceptance of what had happened. Had this been a Little Rascals episode, one of us would have asked, "can you take us over to Bob's Big Boy instead?"

Naturally David got in big trouble, although not as big as he expected, so he said. He was grounded but things relaxed soon enough so that this incident and its aftermath wound up being just a blip on our cruising timeline.

A month or two later Rob and I drove to the scene of the crime. With us we had some paint and a brush. On one of the large rocks lining the embankment we immortalized that most inauspicious occasion by painting in big letters, “Ritchie Rock.”

Five years later it was still visible. Is it still there today or have the elements chiseled it away? I have no idea. If ever I go up there again, I’ll know exactly where to look, though.

And here's a double-feature for you:

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