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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Young Mike Goes for a Drive

When Mike was about 13, his sister Judy joined her Army husband in Germany and parked her used 1953 Chevy in front of her parents’ house for safe-keeping. That model could key-lock the ignition so that no one could start it. Without that being locked, however, one could simply turn the metal guard where the key slips in – and the car would start.

Mike’s parents didn’t know this. Mike did.

With a pal who was a couple of years older, Mike started taking out Judy’s car after school while his parents were both at work for spins around the neighborhood. That’s how Mike learned to drive. He was careful. He marked precisely where the tires were before he started the car, and he re-parked the Chevy in exactly the same spot.

Also about that time, Mike’s parents were enjoying Friday night bridge games with an aunt and uncle. The four were great friends and the senior Plunks were usually out until midnight.

Mike had been boosting Judy’s car for close to a year when he decided one Friday night that he could expand his driving territory. His parents were out. He carefully marked the position of the car, turned the switch, and headed out of the neighborhood up to the Poplar Plaza bowling alley where he knew it was likely that some of his friends were hanging out. After chatting with them for a bit, he let it be known that he had a car. And out they all went – six in the back seat and two in front with young Michael in the driver’s seat.

They drove out east on Poplar until Mike thought they’d gone far enough. He turned around and started back, but, for some reason, took a right on a residential street that was unfamiliar to him.

What he didn’t know was that the street was a “circle.” It was horseshoe-shaped with both ends accessing Poplar. So Mike turned onto the circle. Certainly there was a lot of chatter in the car, laughter and probably the radio. They were having a great time. Until Mike suddenly saw the sharp curve in the street and knew he couldn’t make it. Instead, the car plowed onto someone’s front lawn and over a low, stone wall.

This is where Mike says that he was lucky he’d taken so many kids with him. Unhurt, but completely terrified, everybody jumped out of the car and pushed it back onto the street. They started away, praying that no one would run out of the house.

Mike quickly realized that one of the tires had gone flat when it collided with the little wall, but, in another piece of luck, as they turned back onto Poplar they immediately spotted a gas station. It was closed, but they still had a plan. The boys hopped out, opened the trunk and grabbed the spare tire. The night could still be salvaged. Except that the spare was also flat.

They were down to Plan C or D by that time. All gas stations had telephone booths back then (no cell phones yet, kiddies), so – being city kids – they called a cab.

As the taxi delivered the other boys and girls to their destinations, Mike was formulating his story. He knew he could still make it out of this situation. First, he would still arrive home before his parents. Next, their large den was at the back of the house as was the kitchen. It was far from the street where the Chevy was usually parked. If Mike had stayed home watching tv (like he was supposed to) and going no further than the kitchen for snacks, he would not have heard anyone start Judy’s car and take it for a joy ride. His parents would report a stolen car; it would be found at the gas station the next day with a flat; and everything would be over. Yep, that would work.

But when the taxi pulled up at his house, Mike’s stomach sank. His parents’ car was in the driveway. They had come home early. The story wouldn’t work, and there was no time to come up with another one. Running away to join the circus didn’t seem to be a feasible option.

He walked in the back door and faced his angry, worried parents. With nothing left in his arsenal, 14-year-old Mike resorted to levity: “I refuse to talk without first consulting my attorney.”

His parents failed to laugh. Mike found himself coughing up the cash for a new tire. And sis Judy only found out last year about Mike’s escapade. Maybe his now-legendary humor worked after all.

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