Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Morning With The Terminator: Grayton Beach 1985

 The Terminator was a car. It was a black-green huge 4-door Plymouth Fury that had changed hands of ownership so many time it became simply the communal car for our group in Grayton. It think it was Bob's and he had given it to Brad and Brad had given it to Roger and then Roger took off with Matt and he gave it to Holly and Holly moved into Skip's while he was in Hawaii and she gave it to me to use but it was appropriated by Tommy and then appropriated for anyone who needed a car at any time, though it was usually parked at our sandy stilt house in "New" Grayton. The car was often hard to start and was deemed unsafe due to some axel or transmission problem, but once it got going it seemed solid enough, ran hard and strong and ugly. I don't know who named it The Terminator, but the name fit.
One day, not long before I (and Brock) left Garyton Beach (I came back in just a few months, Brock never did), Brock and I started drinking at 8am. We had some breakfast beers, then a breakfast toke, and decided a drive would be nice. So we went over to Tommy and Ron's trailer on the beach. We knew Tommy would come along because we had beer and smoke. Tommy loved him some beer and smoke. And so he did--Ron came along too, at least at first--and the four of us drove up to the bay, to Eden Gardens park, powering the big car on the skinny roads under the weeping woods, the limegreen pines, the giant oaks umbrellaed against a humid sky, Spanish moss thick in their branches like the skeletons of monkeys. We parked at the park--hardly anyone was around, hardly anyone was around in the late fall in south Walton County Florida in those days--and there were even bigger oaks, there was an old Plantation House and flowers and long lawns under those oaks. We got out, looked at the trees, the inlet and wide bay, the birds and gators in that bay (Choctawhatchee Bay), then we smoked and drank and tossed a frisbee around on the open lawns. Then Tommy wanted to go swimming. He wanted to go to a pool that belonged to one of the seaside condo buildings east of Grayton, east of Seaside and Seagrove.
So off we went again, more intoxicated in a dangerous car, down the southern two-lanes in the sun to the tall condo where we park in the lot--no one around--and head to their pool that overlooked the beach and we swam. Drank some more. The beach--that whole coast in that county--was ours. Then Ron wanted to go home. So we headed back to Grayton Beach in The Terminator, Brock and I ready to call it a morning. But Tommy had other ideas.
Tommy's first idea was to get more beer. Of course. So we got his cooler and, me driving, made a beer run to Blue Mountain Grocery, Red's place, and then came back with Tommy telling to drive up a ways from the blinking yellow light and onto this dirt path into the woods. Between the beach and the highway near the bay there were only woods--St. Joe paper company land filled with planted pines and red-sandy paths and undergrowth. So, we toddled on the bouncy dirt path until we came to a huge clearing, a sunny hollow in the man-made forest. The three of us were squinched in the front bench seat of The terminator, stoned drunk and drinking beer, and I drive off seni-fast on the rough and loose land, red clay soil dried oranger than orange peels, stubby plants and skinny saplings, dust finer then hair. I bounce jounce us along, the monster car ramming along, knocking down brushy bushes and then saplings whose branches almost come through the windshield. But The Terminator wont be stopped, Brock getting a kick out of it, Tommy getting a kick out of anything to do with cars and speed and beer and smoke. Then, finally, I get the car stuck in a soft orange pool of dirt. And I can't get it out.
The day is hot. The windows have been down and we are covered with the silky impossible-redorange dust. And Tommy says, "Let me try."
So, Brock and I push, drunk-stoned-happy, as Tommy guns the Plymouth and pops it out of the sand trap dirt, heaves forward and spind the car around and comes back to get us. We hop in, back in the front seat (no seatbelts, we never wore belts back then... Tommy and I one night took The terminator at 100 miler per down little Highway 30-A along the beach and when I look back at that now I think: stupid stupid stupid). And as we looked out the winshield at the bleak landscape, Tommy gunning the engine, I tell Brock: "You better hang on tight, because Tommy'll make this thing go." I could see the devil smile on Tommy's face--a Southern-Boy-Moonshine-Runner face--and with a white knuckle grip on the dash we zoomed off. He tore that landscape up, bopping and popping, all four wheels off the ground at time, fishtailing like an icthyologist, our heads bumping the ceiling, Brock smiling while yelling, "We're gonna be killed" while also trying to keep the beer in our mouths because we still drank beer as Tommy flashed us around, knocked things down, brushed against trunks of trees, crashing through trail-less land until finally slopping through a screen of vine and branches and hitting solid blacktop once again. Back on the road. Empty road. But then across and into the woods on the other side.
And so it went on, this daredevil devil driving, timing our beer drinking with the jolts of the car, until we hit another soft spot and The Terminator stalls up big time. Not just stuck, but dead in the dust.
"Damn it, Tommy. Where are we?" I asked. We were in the middle of nowhere with no one but us. Yet, we laughed. Yes, we could walk out and back home, but it was hot and we were intoxicated and Tommy would probably insist we take the cooler of dwindling beer with us. But Tommy worked his magic with gearshift and ignition and accelerator  and The Terminator was purring again and we're off agin bumping and grinding and getting stuck and unstuck and finally back to the highway for good and home to Grayton Beach where we park and walk to the good bluegreen Gulf of Mexico for a dip, washing off the dust of a wild morning.

I was a late bloomer. When I had that breakfast of beer, dope, driving and destruction, I was in my mid-twenties. But I'd spent my high school years, really until I was twenty, in a dour, stoic stasis-ish existence. So, I did a lot of dumb stuff later in life. But that's what I did that day, no-good knucklehead young man stuff. And I know, I know that others have been married and had kids by that age, others were becoming doctors or making their first million by then. Good god, men have ruled empires at that age. And yet, others are still pining away for something, still living their life small and maybe frightened. So, I'm satisfied with such nonsense. I was happy as a dozen clams back then.
Really, sometimes, what more can you ask for?

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