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The Concord Avenue Car Crash Diaries

A short memoir

By Steve B HowardPublished 3 years ago 9 min read
The Concord Avenue Car Crash Diaries
Photo by Gareth Harrison on Unsplash

The screaming big block V8 rattled the windows on my Trans Am. The candy apple blue Chevelle sat in the right lane next to me waiting for the traffic light to turn green. I knew what this meant. He’d revved his engine as a challenge. If I look over at him and he has his pink slip dangling there it means, we were racing for ownership of our cars. If I look, nod, and floor it at the green light one of us would possibly be signing our cars over in a parking lot somewhere. Refusing to do so often meant a bad beating and bottles, rocks, sometimes baseball bats smashing your car to pieces. But if I ignored him, chickened out, I would be laughed at least for the rest of the night and probably a lot longer banishment. I wouldn’t be able to show my face out here again. And every teenage boy from San Francisco to Stockton knew that the hot girls that liked hot cars were out on Concord Ave on Saturday nights.

Part of me was angry with myself for coming out here in a muscle car in the first place. I knew the signal that sent out to the other racers out here and I knew I should have been damn sure I was willing to put my car on the line before coming out here to begin with. There is a healthy compromise. You find a parking lot along the strip, usually the grocery store on the north end if there are spots open and you park there. You don’t even have to drive up and down the strip all night. Let the girls come to you. If you’ve got a cool looking car and can make enough of an ass of yourself yelling at them as they pass by eventually a car load of them will probably stop and talk to you.

But me and my friends got there late and all the choice parking spots were already gone. The folly of having a friend that works the evening shift at the local gas station. He couldn’t get off work until nine. So we had been driving up and down the strip hunting for a spot to open when someone left. So rather than a parking spot with the potential for girls, instead I was facing the potential loss of my car or pride, and probably both. I was watching the green lot trying desperately what to do. In a flash plan C popped into my head. I looked to my right, saw the pink slip, nodded and revved my engine once, but I held the escalator down a little longer than needed. My junky old four barrel carb flooded and my car stalled out a few seconds before the light turned green. The laughter from the Chevelle was nearly as loud as the screaming tires as he laid down a long smoky line of rubber to show his disdain for my pitiful car, but at least it was still my car.

I flipped on the hazard lights and got out to a chorus of curses from the cars behind me, but it also kicked into gear that superhero mechanic instinct that runs deep among hard core gear heads and we quickly had a Conga line of guys helping to push my car off the strip into a nearby parking lot. Even before my car coasted into a parking spot the mechanic rescue party was already diagnosing the problem. They had the hood of my car up and their set of tools out before they even knew my name. They had pulled into the parking lot behind me in a tricked out Sunset Orange ’73 Chevy Vega GT. Normally this type of car and their cousins, Opels, Pintos, Javelins, ect are frowned upon by true gear heads, but this one had been chopped and tubbed for the massive Mickey Thompsons that filled the rear wheel wells, sported a roll cage, and a giant blower sticking out of the hood. It basically said, “I go very fast in short straight distances between traffic signals. Don’t fuck with me.” Two greasy rocker mechanic looking types got out of it and stood next to my car looking under the hood while one of my friends and another guy that helped push worked on my carb.

This was technically a “no parking” spot. A lot of the small businesses along the strip like the nail salon we were currently in would call the police and your car would be ticketed and possibly towed in most situations. But with my hood up and hazard lights on I had a temporary “get out of jail free” card essentially. The cops would generally give you a reasonable amount of time to get your car running before the ticket book came out.

And this was an ideal spot. We were almost at the end of the main drag where the long straight three lanes ended and narrowed into one land on a downhill curb into a wooded residential area. The cut off point for the drag racers was the traffic signals right in front of the parking lot we were in. That was roughly the quarter mile point from signal to signal. Everyone would go either left or right at this signal to turn around and head back up Concord Ave rather than dropping down the hill into the maze of suburb streets and angry cop calling residents that lived down there. This was also the last point possible to spot the car loads of girls that you had come out here in the first place for.

Me and another guy stood behind my car facing Concord Ave and watched a few short drag races go down and a few carloads of pretty girls pass by. Then there was a commotion near the front of my car. I heard something like a wrench being dropped on the ground and bouncing underneath my car and a loud. “Hey, what the hell are you doing?” I came around the driver’s side of my car and saw my friend laying on his back near my car. The guy that had been helping him had moved off to the side. One of the greasy rockers was now standing near the Vega holding my chrome air cleaner under one of his heavily tattooed arms.

“Fuck you!” he yelled at me. “You fucking want this back I’ll fight you for it.”

The other greasy rocker stood there with a heavy wrench in his hand smiling a challenge at me. My friend was standing up now beside me. He didn’t seem like he was hurt. But he was smaller than me and both of us were smaller than the guy holding my air cleaner. And I wasn’t going to fight a dude holding a wrench for a thirty-dollar air cleaner. The other mechanic maintained his position far away from car signaling that he wanted no part in the fight if it started. My other friend had disappeared, I assumed to find a payphone and call the cops.

I looked hard at the greasy rockers, calculated the severity of the beating I’d likely receive if I challenged them, and said, “Fuck it. Keep it.” They didn’t wait. The Vega was out of the parking lot faster than the asshole had lifted my air cleaner and roaring away into the night.

The Good Samaritan came back to the car. “That sucks dudes. I know those fucking guys. They do shit like that all the time. Always stealing other people’s parts.”

“Sucks shit,” I said angrily. “And I live in Antioch. I can’t drive thirty miles on the freeway with no fucking air cleaner. Fucking sucks ass,” I yelled this time.

Everyone in the parking lot was uncomfortably quiet while I stomped and stormed and kicked my way around my car venting my anger to the injustice gods. My friend came back from wherever he had gone to report that he couldn’t find his other friends to help us. “No cavalry, huh,” I said sarcastically.

“Uh, I have a spare air cleaner you can have. I live close by. It’s for a ’77 Camaro, but it should fit your Trans Am,” the Good Samaritan mechanic offered.

I was still almost too pissed to accept any help. But his quiet generosity cooled me down enough to mumble a soft, “Thanks man. Thanks for doing that.” “No problem,” he said and him and my friends organized a rescue mission. I told them I’d wait by the car while they walked the ten minutes to get the air cleaner.

While they were gone I sat in my car and cried. Then I punched my windshield and cracked it. A bloody smear where the skin had ripped off the knuckle was the red center of a star with thin spidery radials shooting out from it. The pain running through my hand the realization of the stupidity of my actions smothered the tears. I got of my car and was already concocting a story for my dad about how my windshield got cracked. Something about a rock thrown from behind a truck on highway four was all I could think of through the blurry anger that still dominated my mind. At the signal I watched a black ’69 Boss 302 Mustang pull up to the signal. The Chevelle that had challenged me early was there too. I couldn’t see if any pink slips were out or not, but I heard the Mustang rev his engine and the Chevelle returned the throaty salute. At the light change all the noise and raw muscle car power transferred from engine to gearbox, to tires, and the road and the two beautiful machines screamed up Concord Ave. The Mustang led by half a car length when they hit the next signal. I felt a weird satisfaction that the fucking driver of the Chevelle who was indirectly responsible for the mess I was in tonight might be losing his car if he honored the bet. I knew it was childishly vindictive thinking, but it did calm me down. That cold moody anger at everything human had dropped down on me now and I sat on the trunk of my car stewing in this blackness. A blue and white Concord police car rolled past real slow and swung into the parking lot through the exit flashing his lights. I got off my car and waited calmly. I kept my hands at my sides out in the open and did make any fast movements. I was a little surprised when a female cop got out of the car a minute after what I assumed was the time it took her to run my plates. She had a flash light out and was aiming it at me first and then into my car. Satisfied that there wasn’t anyone else hiding in the car she asked me what I was doing in the parking lot.

I told her most of the story changing the part punking out of the race with the Chevelle to a lame excuse about engine trouble. But I was upfront about the rest describing the guys in the Vega as best I could remember. She was sympathetic telling me, “Yeah we know about those shit birds. We’ve got warrants out on both of them. Don’t worry. They’ll be spending a lot of time in jail when we catch them. When your friend gets back with the air filter I think you should head home for the night.” I caught the mothering tone as well as the warning and told her I would. She was pulling out of the parking lot just as my friends came back. I thanked the guy again as they screwed the stock black air filter in place. I took his phone number down not knowing if I would ever bother to contact him again, but it felt like the right thing to do regardless.

On the highway heading home my friends were angrily discussing how we should take revenge on the guys in the Vega. I half listened to the stupid plans and instead thought about how much I could sell my Trans Am for. I remember the long arguments and lectures from my dad about the price of gas, high maintenance costs and the tickets I would get driving a car like that before he finally gave in and bought it for me. And for the first time in two years I began to admit he was right. When I dropped my friends off they were still talking about the Vega, but I knew I wouldn’t be out on Concord Ave on a Saturday night ever again.

A month after I sold my Trans Am I read a story in the newspaper about a ’69 Mustang that hit a telephone pole in Concord Ave the previous Saturday night killing the driver and all three passengers instantly. The article said the estimated speed was 130 mph with no sign of breaking before impact.

fact or fiction

About the Creator

Steve B Howard

Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.

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