American Perspective

By Scott Longman

For a while I was big into throwing myself out of airplanes. In the course of that action, I met a German exchange student who wanted to try it. This was a kid who vocalized—to everyone’s ringing irritation—that Germany was superior in all respects to the U.S. Nonetheless we picked a day to jump and I agreed to pick him up. 

When I arrived Hans took one look at my ‘74 Franken-Dodge and started yammering. It had multi-colored fenders and quarters, and all of them had rust. I started it, and the dual set of glasspacks rattled his teeth.

“It is not safe. You cannot have such a car as this in Germany.” 

I sighed. “This is America. Ever read Rommel on that?  Americans make cars like this, save you from yourself and then fund the Marshall Plan.” I’m afraid the point was lost on him.

Hans:  “It is not possible that this can be driven.”

I’d had quite enough of Hans. 

My two choices:  Kick his arrogant ass out, or terrify him silly.  I figured if I went with the latter, he might gain some perspective. And with that, I wound it up and sidestepped the clutch.

Between the V8, the manual, the gears, and the time-hardened tires, you could throw the back end out on dry pavement fit to impress Bandit Darville. He wanted out. Nothin’ doin’ Hans. We were already manifested at the drop zone, so I’d have to pay for it if we no-showed. Plus, if you are going to jump out of an aircraft, a car getting a little loose on the way to said aircraft hardly counts as an excuse to get all frightful. 

And then we hit the interstate. I pushed in a driving cassette mixtape with Thorogood, Skynyrd, Springsteen, Journey, BTO, ELO, Boston and a host of others, further amping up my driving, which was already pretty well amped.  

We blazed north, with a sweet sideways nod to Paul Michael Glaser as the rear slid out and Hans went myocardial. The tape advanced on to Springsteen’s “She’s The One.”

And then I realized:  I had available to me the ultimate fuck-with-Hanz-moment.  

See, I’d been skydiving out here for a number of years so I knew the route.  Maybe three quarters of a mile west, there had been a culvert cut through the pavement to connect some drainage ditches.  But the county went totally half-assed on it: Instead of digging a deep enough ditch, the top of the corrugated steel culvert stuck up not just to the roadway level, but above it. They remedied their incompetent ditchliness by apparently backing up a dump truck full of asphalt and simply creating what amounted to the Speedbump From Hell. Or, in my Hazzard County mind, a ramp… .

“She’s The One” going hard, I hoped I could match the timing of the jump to the song’s crescendo.  

Of course Hans saw it coming, and the rising, roaring RPM of that sweet V8 motor fully telegraphing my intent.  BANG, upshift.  He went full-on sent-to-the-Eastern-Front apoplectic.

We hit.

Bam! went the compression shock.

We achieved full daylight under all four wheels, time stretching out compliments of the bizarre way the brain under stress slows things down, followed by …

Ka-Pow! And Hard. It was a hammer-in that made the Yucatan Meteor look like it really didn’t have its heart set on full-contact. 

If you were raised on a steady diet of Them Duke Boys, this seems like a perfectly normal way to behave. Same thing for Elwood Blues’ Monaco.  Both, by the way, were Dodges.

Well, as it turns out, you can’t actually do things like that. 

The front wheels shot straight up under the fenders on impact, the A-arms failed and the subframes bent irredeemably. Total, catastrophic damage.

We came to rest. I let the shock and the pain set in for a bit.  A bad seven-one-thousand, particularly my left collarbone where the shoulder belt had done its duty.  After a brief inspection, I did not drive Hans, but I scrubbed his traumatized ass to the dropzone. Maybe a mile and the car barely made it, done forever. But he got his jump.  

As for me, karma spoke, and I lost the car.

But Hans I believe—and presumably those to whom he would tell the story—emerged with a greater American perspective.