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Joyride, With Bullhorn

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Illustration by Jack Unruh  

This is what I did the summer I was 17. Sure, I can look back and realize it might have been a preemptive strike, since nobody was going to invite me to the senior prom—nobody but my best friend seemed to be my friend at all. But I also have to admit: It was fate.

My friend had access to a “family car,” though her brothers already had cars or, in the case of the oldest brother, preferred stealing cars. The family car was known, because of problems with inexplicably slowing down as it was driven, as “the damn Peugeot.” I loved it, though: It was tiny, a toy car, black, barely noticeable. My friend—who smoked Marlboros with flair—loved it so much she’d drive from D.C. over the Bay Bridge to the eastern shore just for the fun of it, just for the wind in her face as she smoked. Me, smoking made me cough. No chance, ever, of being cool.

Here’s what happened, routinely: Her brother stole cop cars. (Yes, eventually he went to jail.) He would somehow keep an eye on cop cars, and when the cops went into some 7-Eleven, he’d steal their car. Really, he did this many times. One time, he drove the cop car for a while before abandoning it and got away with the bullhorn. He stashed it in the garage, where my friend showed it to me. I picked it up. I might have been the great-­musician-to-be, picking up her first saxophone. But I had no talent, and I was a quiet, shy, well-­mannered girl. So why I thought the bullhorn was my route to transformation, I couldn’t tell you. But it was.

Nights, we’d go out on Military Road, and when the damn Peugeot got up to a good speed, my friend would kill the headlights and the little black car would streak darkly along. Then I’d raise the bullhorn, aim it out the window, and scream as loud as I could, just as she hit the accelerator.

One night I screamed, “Pull over!”—recoiling, myself, the sound was so loud. And the car I’d aimed the horn at—it just went crazily out of control and smashed into a tree. It all happened in nanoseconds.

My heart quickens thinking of it. I remember slipping down in my seat, window lowered, my friend wordlessly attuned to everything, extinguishing the headlights, the bullhorn raised, protruding into the other driver’s ear, just knowing we’d get away with it. Which we did. The many times we pulled this trick in the summer of ’64.


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