When I was in high school (1958-1962), some of the rustic lads in Hiram, Ohio, at a loss for what to do in their ample spare time, took up drag racing. The Beach Boys' racing songs "Little Deuce Coupe" and "Shut Down" came along a year after I graduated, so I like to think that that Wild Boys of Hiram were the inspiration for those hit songs. Seems logical.
In those days, Hiram was a quiet town and township, so far as I knew. We had a single cop who had to patrol its 23.2 square miles. And in the days before cellphones we somehow knew where he was most of the time. (Smoke signals? Flashing mirrors? Intuition?) Freeing us for frolic.
Out west of town on Ohio Route 82 a little ways lay the rural home of Spuddy Munn, an old guy (probably younger than I am now). I don't know what his actual name was (surely not Spuddy?), and I saw him rarely, only when he came out to the mailbox at the end of his drive to pick up ... what? It gives one pause. Spuddy had a sign at the end of his drive where it touched Rte. 82: "Aiggs." I swear. He sold hen's aiggs there, though I don't know anyone who ever bought or ate them.
Some geometrically inspired lad calculated that the distance from the end of Spuddy Munn's driveway to Abbott Road was exactly a quarter of a mile. And fairly flat. Perfect!
Between 1958-1962, a total of seven cars were seen at night on Rte. 82 west of Hiram. I exaggerate. But traffic was very light in the days before multiple-car families. Worrisome headlights rarely appeared, east or west, to vitiate our plans.
|Ours looked a bit like this one.|
I did ride along one night in a race with my friend Paul, who lost to someone whom he later had to beat up as a consequence. You know ... can't beat you one way, I'll beat you another. The two cars lined up, side by side, at Spuddy's, engines racing. Someone, hand raised, stood in front on the north berm. Dropped his hand ... and off we roared into the West! In that race, alongside Paul, I was positive my father's headlights would appear in the rear-view mirror, and the entire ride, which was over in seconds, felt to me in Super Slo-Mo.
As far as I know, no one was ever hurt during those races on Rte. 82--not until afterwards, sometimes, when fists flew, shifting the balance between Winner and Loser. Or not.
Spuddy Munn's house is gone now. Weeds reign. The end of the drive is barely visible. But when I cruise by with Joyce (legal speed, of course) on the way to Hiram, I often point out that sacred, historic site, the site where we underwent one of our adolescent male rites of passage. (I can't believe there's not a historical marker there!)
And even now--more than fifty years later--when I hear the Beach Boys' "Shut Down" on an oldies station, I feel again the tension and the fear of those long-ago nights. And wish for all the world I could see my father's headlights, slicing the darkness.