The first car I learned to drive was a bottom-of-the-line four-cylinder 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon that lacked seatbelts and a radio and instead of carpet was equipped with some sort of plasticine flooring reminiscent of linoleum. Of course, given my parents’ frugality, it had a standard transmission, three gears and reverse on the steering column, the antithesis of sporty.
In fact, I was responsible for this car’s demise. One afternoon, my friend Gordon Wilson, desperate to see his West Ashley girlfriend, cajoled me to ask my parents for the car on a school night, and, alas, they consented, Gordon was in a king-hell hurry, so I, not wanting to get a speeding ticket, handed him the keys. In a ridiculous short period of time, we made it to his girlfriend’s house, where I made myself scarce, and it was dark by the time we headed home on Highway 61, the so-called River Road that ran from my hometown Summerville, South Carolina, to Charleston past Middleton and Magnolia plantations and Drayton Hall.
Gordon also drove on the way back, and as we sped around a turn on 61, Gordon suddenly cursed, slammed on breaks, and I looked up to see something dark looming in the middle of the road. We skidded, an awful whoomph ensued, followed by the nauseating sound of crunching metal and shattering glass.
When I came to – I don’t know how long I was out – I saw radiator steam rising from the crumpled hood and realized that the roof had caved in on Gordon’s side. He was bleeding but essentially okay. When we got out of the car, we discovered a mule lying on its side, still breathing but with labored, wheezy respiration. Weeping, Gordon stood over the doomed animal saying over and over, “You poor thing. You poor thing. You poor thing.”
I, on the other hand, was lamenting, not so much the plight of the mule, but the death of my car. I dreaded relaying the news to my parents, who would chastise me for letting Gordon drive, a fear that came to be a reality.
As it turned out, however, the mule had escaped from the stables of Middleton Plantation and was not, as I had feared, the property of some impoverished farmer. Of course, Middleton was at fault – the mule wasn’t equipped with reflectors – but my parents, not being litigious, merely received insurance money equal to the Falcon’s worth, which wasn’t much.
Nevertheless, in a rash act perhaps prompted by a midlife crisis, my father replaced our family car with a brand-new chocolate brown 1971 Triumph Spitfire with four-on-the-floor and a radio, not exactly the most practical vehicle for a family of six.
This was a great boon for me, whose previous car, the now deceased Falcon, had been the butt of unkind ridicule from friends whose more prosperous parents tooled around in Buicks and Oldsmobiles.
Fastforward a couple of months to May. Gordon and I and two friends I’ll call Tom and Ron were participating in school sponsored parties celebrating the Class of ‘71’s graduation from Summerville High. The four of us were on the way to Givhans State Park for a party, the top of my Spitfire was down, and Tom and Ron were sitting up in the back compartment a la beauty queens or mayors in a parade.
We passed a school bus, and either Tom or Ron said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we mooned that bus.” I was so naïve I didn’t know what mooning meant, and before I realized what was happening, they had lowered their pants were displaying their skinny white butts to the bus behind us.
We thought better of going to Givhans, ending up at the poolroom the way we almost always did. I went home, took a nap, awoke, and started listening to records in my bedroom.
Around five or so, my brother David came in – maybe with my neighbor Paul Yost – besides themselves.
“Did you hear what happened?”
“Ron Roe and Tom Doe got arrested for indecent exposure!”
I thought to myself, “Wow, it must be addictive, twice in the same day,” not realizing that the arrest was the consequence of the earlier incident in which I had played a part. Although innocent – I hadn’t spurred them to expose themselves or even condoned it – I was terrified that I too would be arrested.
As it turned out, neither Gordon nor I were, though virtually everyone but my parents eventually learned we had been involved.
Rumors ran rampant – one woman asked me if I was the boy driving the car that had run the school bus off the road. Now that I think of it, I’m really amazed my mother never found out because she eventually heard of the incident and asked me if Tom and Ron were, as she put it, “homosexuals.”
I can’t recall how their legal liability played out, but both went on to enjoy prosperous careers, so the misadventure did not do them any lasting harm – though I can’t speak to what mental damage the children on the bus may have suffered.
 Going to church, my mother might drive with my brother David and I next to one another in the passenger seat and with my younger brother Fleming and sister Sue Ellen crammed in the back compartment. Believe it or not, we drove all the way to Holden Beach, North Carolina in this configuration, including luggage and a surfboard.
2] In fact, Glenn Farrar and I, armed with peashooters, drove Julie Simmons, a candidate for Homecoming Queen, in the Homecoming parade. Whenever miscreants pelting us with peas from their shooters, which was a parade tradition, Glenn and I returned fire, much to Julie’s chagrin.