Recalling a few ghosts, from Mustangs past

Friday, April 5, 2013

My daughter becomes giddy whenever she sees a Mustang on the roadway. Her love for the automobile is obviously shared by many, even by myself when I was about her age.

My freshman year in high school we lived in Missoula, Montana, in a neighborhood that was known then as "Snob Knob." It was a fairly new neighborhood and quite hilly as it was on the side of one of several, beautiful, mountainsides that make up much of the Missoula area. Among other vehicles, my parents owned a maroon colored hatchback Ford Mustang. It wasn't as flashy looking as the older, or even recent model Mustangs, but wow could it accelerate.

Being a novice driver at the time, with only a learner's permit, I was not allowed to drive the Mustang. The closest I came was backing the vehicle out of our garage and starting it in the mornings before school. Always in that order.

The car had a manual transmission which at the time I knew just enough about to put the vehicle into neutral, so I could put my foot out the driver's side door and push the vehicle out of the garage. Our house was a split level home and the two car garage was actually underneath our kitchen and living room, adding to the need to get the vehicle and exhaust well out of the garage before starting the engine.

One particular morning my mother had parked the vehicle as far-forward into the garage as she could get it. I couldn't get the car moving with my normal method so I decided to get out and give it a proper push from the front, while leveraging my foot on the garage wall.

The lightweight car quickly began to roll out of the garage and I scrambled to get back in, but found the driver's side door I had just exited was locked.

As the vehicle began to pick up momentum, rolling down our steep driveway, I jiggled the door latch in disbelief as I jogged along side the car.

The scenario was something akin to one you would see in a movie, where the solution is obvious to the audience and they would likely be muttering to themselves in frustration, "Why would he keep jiggling that door handle? Why doesn't he run around to the passenger door?"

At the time, my brain was stuck, I simply couldn't comprehend how the door could have become locked and continued to attempt to open it.

As the car reached the halfway point of our driveway the vehicle's path of travel occurred to me. I looked down our driveway and my gaze followed the concrete until it intersected with the street and then led directly to the driveway of the house across the street. The neighbor's driveway sloped downhill, toward their house, and led directly to their closed garage door.

It was then that I realized this wasn't going to end well. The Mustang continued to pick up speed and I released my stubborn grip on the locked door handle, racing around to the rear of the car to stop it.

Given the light weight of a hatchback Ford Mustang that plan probably would work for me today, however, at the time I was a freshman in high school and wrestled at a weight of 104 pounds.

The Mustang continued to pick up speed even with my scrawny frame, grunting and groaning away, applying all the resistance I could. The second problem with my plan was that in addition to being one of the smallest boys in my freshman class, I was only wearing socks.

By the time the vehicle reached the halfway point of the street, one of my socks had come off and the pavement was scraping the heck out of both of my feet. An injury I was later thankful for, as it served as proof I had really given all of my effort to stopping the vehicle.

Unfortunately for my past-self, the neighbor's driveway sloped at an even greater grade towards their house and the vehicle continued to pick up speed. I maintained my post at the rear of the vehicle until the very last second, jumping to the left and raising my right arm as the driver's side taillight passed within inches of my armpit and the car collided with the neighbor's garage door.

I remember the concussion washing over my shoulders and the booming sound of the garage door fragments exploding around me as I ran from the scene, bellowing the one word I believe most any other high school boy would yell in that situation, "Mom!!!"

Mom, of course, handled the scenario with a much more level head than I, although she was a bit freaked out when I ran into the house with bloody feet, wearing one sock, and spouting out a thousand words a second between gasps for air.

When she finally calmed me down enough to explain what had happened, we walked outside to study the scene. My parent's Mustang rested halfway out of the neighbor's garage, with the fragmented pointy-edged remains of a garage door arching above it. The car's momentum had been stopped by a vehicle parked inside the garage, which was slammed into the back wall of the garage.

A school bus passed by as we were standing there and the grade-schoolers inside flocked to one side of the vehicle. I remember seeing dozens of little stacked faces firmly pressed up against the bus windows, staring wide-eyed at the wreckage.

My mother and I actually had to knock on the door of the house to wake our neighbor.

"Well...I was awoke by a loud boom," she said sleepy-eyed, after greeting us at the door garbed in her robe and slippers, "and I thought to myself, huh, one of the neighbor's houses just blew up. And then I fell back asleep."

She was much more understanding than my step-father, who luckily was out of town on business at the time and calmed down prior to returning, and getting within arms reach of me.

The police officer that arrived on the scene wasn't moved by my sobbing and repeated apologies for the incident, threatening several times to write me a citation for driving without a license before eventually admitting he couldn't issue me one because I hadn't started the ignition. That ended up being the first of several experiences I had with my parent's Mustang.

My daughter, realizing I had not responded to her comments pertaining to a passing Mustang recently, smacked me on the shoulder.

"Don't you think they're awesome?" she questioned.

I filed the vision of the Mustang parked halfway out of my neighbor's garage door back into my memory bank and replied, "Yeah they're a nice looking car, but they get terrible gas mileage."

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