Al Batt: It was a downhill car drive to everywhere

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.

My car was headed downhill.

It was a 1957 Ford Fairlane. Nothing in it worked with any regularity other than the AM radio. I listened to WDGY, 1130 on the dial. It was known fondly as WeeGee by sharp cats like me. It played Top 40 music, 50,000 watts of pulsating rock and roll emanating at high decibels from the Twin Cities.

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It had disc jockeys like Jim Dandy, Johnny Canton, Johnny Dollar and Scott Burton. Gene Leader was another DJ on WDGY. I read that he became famous as Mean Gene Okerlund, a pro wrestling announcer. He was the best man at the Iron Sheik’s wedding. That’s the kind of people I listened to with my youthful ears.

My car, with more rust than miles, was headed downhill. Why? Because I’d spent much of the night putting truck coil springs in the rear end of the car. Coil springs are used in car suspension systems to cushion and absorb the shocks and bumps of the road. The truck springs, which I traded my spare tire for, lifted the back end of the car. They were bigger and stronger than the ones that had been on the car.

I wanted the car to think that it was going downhill. It had little success going uphill, but it was a whiz going downhill. Plus, I thought chicks would dig a car that looked that way.

I had chores to do on the farm, so by the time I slapped those springs into my car, I was running out of time. It was a school night. I had a narrow area of expertise and installing coil springs wasn’t a part of it. I didn’t have time to install the springs properly, so I wired them in. I figured that would allow me to drive to school and back the next day and then do a proper job of fastening them after chores.

The next morning, I milked the cows, got slicked up, ate breakfast and jumped into my chariot. I drove downhill all the way to school, both hands on the wheel (at 10 and 2) and my shoulders rared back.

Things went well until I drove over some rough railroad tracks. The back of my car bounced like it had never bounced before. The coil springs jumped for safety and the body of the car came down hard upon the rear tires that hadn’t seen tread for years. The result was a broken car and a flat tire. I could have changed the tire quickly and been on my way had I not traded my spare tire for the coil springs.

I maneuvered the disabled vehicle out of harm’s way, but was late for school. Because of my tardiness, I was sent to see Mr. Kraupa, our school’s principal. I remember how to spell “principal” because it has “pal” in it, but Mr. Kraupa wasn’t a pal to the tardy. He allowed me to go to class, but I needed to bring a signed and notarized excuse slip tomorrow. He threw the “notarized” part in as comic relief.

I asked my mother to sign it and she was about to when my father walked by. He forbade my mother to affix her signature and said that he wouldn’t sign anything declaring that his son was an idiot, even if it were true.

I begged. Dad relented, saying that if Mr. Kraupa sent him a note saying that my father should sign the excuse slip, he would.

That wasn’t going to happen. Mr. Kraupa knew I was an idiot. He had access to my permanent records.

Mr. Kraupa sentenced me to help the lunch ladies prepare delectable meals for unappreciative pupils participating in the school’s lunch program.

It’s a difficult job preparing food for the mopey masses. The lunch ladies worked hard at their jobs. Other than peas porridge in the pot nine days old, I loved tater tot hotdish, beanie weenies (baked beans and sliced hot dogs) and hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes. It was a good day whenever one of those plopped onto my tray.

Spinach was on the menu on one of those days that I slaved in the kitchen. The spinach was a color of green seen nowhere in nature and it came in a can large enough to have fed a school 10 times our size. That’s because only one of our students ate the stuff. That was a kid who had lost his taste buds in a tornado.

Today, I eat spinach, but I won’t touch coil springs.