“Borrowed” car was a short trip
We couldn’t been more than 15 years old when we found that old rusty car in a barn.
And we probably should have left it at that. But those were unusual times for a bunch of kids stuck in the boring town of Natchez.
It was the summer of 1997, and it was scorching hot that year. My friends and I should have found shelter inside the house with the bought air hitting our young faces.
But we had bigger plans. At 15 years old, we all thought there was something exciting in the world outside the doors and walls of our homes.
Living in the same neighborhood, we would walk or ride our bikes to visit each other. As the sun and sweat raced down our faces, we would look on with envy when we saw our older friends cruising down the road in their cars.
There was just something about having your own car that fascinated all of us. Those kids with cars had it all. They had options, plans and most importantly, freedom.
We were restricted to our Morgantown neighborhood. Our legs and pedals could only get us so far. We had a large pond that belonged to a friend of the family that we could walk to during the summer. We would venture there for a quick swim or to hang out under the large oaks surrounding it.
But on the walk home we would always be reminded of what we were missing when that loud obnoxious older neighbor would honk his horn for us to move out of the way as he sped toward town.
But on this day, we were sneaking around a old barn near the pond when we saw her. I refer the to the rusty car as “her” because , to us, she was beautiful.
It was an old 1970s model car with white paint splattered with rust. The old leather seats were now torn and faded. Half the knobs and buttons on the dash were missing.
But most importantly, we saw a key. It was begging for us to take it for a spin. Surely our old friend wouldn’t mind.
With this old heap, we may not win any beauty contests. But she could get us from point A to point B. We could ride through town with the windows down.
We could blare the radio as we approached some unlucky kids on their bikes. We could see what was going on in this town and see what we had been missing.
My buddy climbed in the front seat and turned the key. It made some noises, and he kept pumping the gas pedal. And to our surprise, she cranked. It didn’t sound too great, but she was running.
Within seconds, we were out of that field and heading toward town. We rolled the windows down. The radio didn’t work but our screams of excitement were all you could hear.
We began shouting out destinations. First we could go to the Malt Shop and get a cool drink. Then we could ride through downtown and wave at our friends who were probably skateboarding. Then we could head to so-and-so’s house and grab a snack. Then there was the mall, the levee and all those other places the older kids went to that was sure to be exciting.
But then we all got quiet. Smoke began to emerge from under the hood. The car was already overheating.
My buddy claimed he was an auto mechanic last summer, and he explained the car was overheating because there was probably a hole in the radiator.
Then he said he was told that pepper would clog up a radiator hole.
To this day, I am not sure if that is true or not. But at 15 years old, I took it as the gospel. With no pepper on hand, we stopped at Burger King and went inside to take as many of those individual packs of pepper that we could fit into our pockets. We even bought a thing of fries so no one could suspect us of anything.
There we were...a bunch of sweaty kids huddled around a lemon of a car. And yes, we were pouring pepper into a radiator.
Surprisingly, she cranked back up again. But we only got a few blocks when the smoked began to really roll from under her. We were stranded.
Collecting change, we made our way to the pay phone to call the family friend whose car we just technically stolen. He told us he would be there to pull the car back to the barn where it belonged and for us to wait there.
As we sat next to our smoking car, a few of our friends passed us on their bikes. And for a brief moment, the wind stirred up from their passing offered us some relief on that hot, dreadful day.
And then we laughed.