A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, February 13, 2012


The 1967 Ford Custom 500 that would eventually
become my car, pictured a few years before it tried
to do away with me.
It was a weird mixture of embarrassment and fear, that moment as I hurtled down Highway 71, behind the wheel of a car that seemed to have taken on a life of it's own, completely impervious to my commands.  My main concern was to keep from killing anyone who had the misfortune of being ahead of me that day.  I was going to have to figure out some way to bring this little drama to a close, but for the life of me I couldn't think of how.  All I could think of, oddly, were the words of that great cartoon character George Jetson, "Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!"  But I'll get back to that.

It happened at the conclusion of one of the happiest and most joyful periods of my life.  I had just graduated from Arkansas Tech University, and was moving back home to begin my post-college life.  Later that summer, I would be hired by the school district I had grown up in, Waldron, to teach fifth grade.  I would also buy a new car, a new 1978 Mercury Monarch, to replace the vile little machine that had tried to kill me. 

The little ghetto apartment I rented while I did my practice
teaching with Fort Smith schools.
I had spent the past 10 weeks doing my practice teaching, which is now called internship, at Morrison Elementary School in Fort Smith.  Those ten weeks confirmed that I had chosen a profession that I loved, a profession in which I would in fact spend the next 29 years looking forward to going to work each day.  Morrison was a small school in the northern part of Fort Smith, near the Arkansas River.  It was built as an "open classroom" school, meaning there were no walls separating the individual classrooms.  It was a little difficult for me at first, because I felt like I was on display to everyone in the building, but I soon adjusted to the concept.  There was only one class for each grade, and my class was Doris Collins' fifth grade.  Mrs. Collins was an older teacher, a gifted artist in fact, who could whip up a bulletin board for any topic just by painting it.  She was great, and gave me so much encouragement, once even telling me that I was a naturally born teacher.  I learned a lot from her, and she made my practice teaching experience a really wonderful time.  The kids were great too.  Many of them were from the local housing project located near the school, and I really bonded with them.  When I left after ten weeks, they put on a little skit, and one of the boys had a fake moustache and played the part of me.  I was so touched by it that I almost teared up.  I kept several little mementos from that time, including a note from a little girl who was participating in a contest from World Book.  The representative had visited our class, and the students were to prepare a little notebook full of coloring sheets to be turned in when he came back.  He made it clear that neatness was one of the main criterion for judging the book.  A little girl named Teri was going to be gone when he came back, but she entrusted me to turn in her notebook for her.  To make sure I didn't forget to turn it in, she left me this straightforward and to-the-point note:

I had arranged to rent a room from an old lady who had a beauty shop over by Sparks Hospital.  I moved in on a snowy February day, and my humble surroundings were like a palace to me.  I was so glad to leave behind forever my dorm, Paine Hall, at Arkansas Tech.  This little apartment had a little kitchen, a bigger room that was the living room and bedroom combined, and a tiny little bathroom.  But that little place was dear to me.  Usually, when I went home from college on weekends, I was in no hurry to get back.  But now, when I went home, I found myself eager to get back to my little ghetto apartment.  I was sad to leave it behind.  But on that weekend, I had traveled back to Russellville to go through graduation, then headed back one last time to my apartment to load up, and having done so, headed down Highway 71 to Waldron.  Along the way, my little Ford Custom 500 had one last surprise in store for me. 

I was south of Mansfield, in one of the rare straight stretches on that portion of the highway, when I saw the opportunity to pass a slow-moving car in front of me.  I eased around the car, stepping on the gas to speed up to complete the maneuver.  Once around the car, I pulled back into my lane and took my foot off the accelerator.  To my surprise, the gas pedal stayed where it was, and my car continued on at the same speed it was traveling when I passed that car! 

Now let me say, in the calmness after the fact, it occurred to me that the thing to do would have been to put the car in neutral and coast to a stop.  This solution, in all it's elegant simplicity, was nowhere present in the moments of the actual crisis.  Realizing that my car was going way too fast for the narrow curves that mark that part of Highway 71, all I could think of to do alternately stomp the brake pedal and the gas.  I briefly considered turning the key off, but I realized that to do that would disable my power steering and brake, and I knew that would be disastrous.

The immediate problem, as I careened crazily down Highway 71, was the traffic in front of me.  Since I appeared to be unable to shut down my demonic car, I though I should at least try to warn all the unfortunate people who were about to be slammed into.  So, as I came upon a little family driving leisurely down the highway, I tried to make my presence known. 

Imagine, for instance, a man driving his wife and kids somewhere, who, upon hearing a distant horn honking, happens to glance into his rear view mirror.  He sees a blue car moving alarmingly fast toward him, with a crazed driver who is alternately honking his horn and waving frantically for him to move over.  He wisely does so, and watches as the crazed lunatic zips past him and hurtles on down the road.  This little scenario is repeated several times.

Finally, I realized that if I didn't find a way to stop, this might not end well.  So, I decided that I was going to apply the brake, and even if it burned up both the engine and the brake pads, I was stopping this sucker. 

And I did.  I put on my brakes, and with the engine racing, eased over to the shoulder of the road and shut down the engine.  And I just sat there.  My heart was racing at the same level my engine had been, and all I wanted to do was not move for a minute.  And then, all those cars that I had passed came along.  Without exception, each driver and passenger stared at me like I was from the moon.  Nobody stopped to help, they just slowly passed by, evidently thankful that I was no longer on the road.

After a few minutes, I started the engine.  Everything seemed normal.  Just to be safe, however, I traveled the remaining few miles of my journey at a maximum speed of 30 m.p.h. 

When I got home, I got a can of spray carburetor cleaner and sprayed the linkage, which appeared to have a little bit of sticky gunk on it.  That did the trick, and my little Ford never had a sticky accelerator again. 

My mom drove that car for a long time after that.  But I was happy when I got my new Mercury later that summer.  It turned out to be a piece of junk, but at least it never tried to kill me.


  1. haha! This is too funny!!! :)

  2. I've never had that misfortune, and it must have been scary as hell for you!

    I did once have my brakes fail while driving down a hilly side street towards a very busy main road. After stomping them to the floor with little result, I bit the bullet and engaged the emergency brake as slowly as possible (to avoid a sudden complete stop and a wreck of other parts of the car.) That slowed me enough to make maneuvering into a pole possible, which I did at about 5 mph. Turns out a hose had decided to just give up the ghost, so it was an easy and relatively inexpensive repair, but I saw my life flashing before my eyes for a few seconds.