The sun had dropped below the horizon. Its last rays furnished the backdrop for three silhouettes running along the top of the box car.
I jumped from one car to the next exclaiming, “Yee Haw! Jesse James ain’t got nothin’ on me!”
I took to the air again, aloft over the space between cars. ID and GH were ahead running toward the lights of the fairgrounds.
“Shut up Croucher!” one of them yelled.
“Why? I ‘ve always wanted to do this but it would be so much more fun if this train were moving.” I ran faster and jumped farther hitting the roof with a thud. GH was slipping down the ladder attached to the side. I stopped above their descent.
“Why are you stopping?” I asked looking down at the two of them dropping to the ground.
“You idiot. Didn’t you see the lights come on in the caboose?” I looked two cars down to see there was a light in the window of the caboose.
I dropped to the car’s roof and grabbed the railing. Slipping over the side I caught the rung with my penny loafer and slipped down to the ground. The train had been stationary in the train yard behind the fair grounds.
“Hey guys!” I whispered. “Let’s slip into one of the cars and go to sleep. Wherever we wake up we’ll find a job.” I said this while grabbing the latch to the side door. There was a metal tag attached that assured the door would stay closed not allowing drunks like me in.
“Ah, hell. There’s a damn lock on this thing. GH got your knife?”
“Get the hell away from that thing.”
The door to the caboose was easing open. A ray of light was widening along the ground just beyond the three of us.
“Run for it!” ID yelled. We sprinted for the gate of the Fairground hopping tracks, zipping between rail cars and finally through the gate.
“Man, wouldn’t it have been wild to have been running along top of that thing with the air mingled with smoke and sparks rushing past? Wow! To be a train robber in the 1800’s, what a thrill that would have been.”
GH looked at me in the lights of the rides and carnie attractions. “You know you wouldn’t even think about that sober don’t you?” His tall lanky frame loped along the path dodging kids with cotton candy and couples carrying stuffed animals won at the penny toss. A lock of jet black hair bounced over his blue eyes with each step.
“Well, maybe. Which reminds me, it’s time for another beer. Who’s buying?” I looked at the two of them hopefully.
ID who wore his blonde hair in a flattop looked over at me with that smile the girls at JHIS swooned over saying, “You, since you brought it up.”
“OK, if you put it that way let’s find a booth.” I searched my pockets for the money.
ID pointed out the beer stall.
“Three beers!” GH yelled into the window. His presence always assured our purchases of beer. Though he was seventeen he looked older. The guy behind the glass partition didn’t give a damn as long as the money was real and the correct amount, but I didn’t know that.
We took our paper cups with foam streaming down the side. I sipped that foam.
“Don’t want to waste any of that stuff’” I said and slipped into a rhyme, saying,
“I think that I shall never hear
A poem lovely as beer.
The stuff they brew at Joe’s on tap
With golden base and snowy cap
The stuff I drink all day
Till my memory melts away.”
GH and ID joined in at the end and three voices crooned.
“Poems are made by fools I fear
But only Budweiser can make a beer.”
The final punch was a gale of laughter which opened up the crowd somewhat for us as we plowed our way along the fairway.
“You and your poetry,” said GH.
“Well we need the finer stuff of life as well as just meat and potatoes,” I replied.
“What next?” It was ID looking around and asking. “The mighty mouse? The Srambler? The roller coaster? The Ferris wheel?”
“Hell no! Not the Ferris wheel!” I shouted. I had had a very bad experience one year long ago with the, then, love of my life. A terribly, terribly embarrassing moment I could never forget. I know she didn’t and chuckles about it to this day.
“Ferris wheel it is then,” they said together.
“You guys go.” I chugged my beer down. “I need another beer. I’ll meet you over at the beer wagon.”
They laughed at me. Called me chickenshit and walked off to the wheel. I wandered over to the beer wagon wondering if he would sell me one without GH with me.
I got to the site and stood in line. It slowly moved forward. The man in front of me grabbed his drink and moved off to the right. I stepped up to the window and the guy behind the glass looked down at me.
“Remember me?” He looked at me with indifferent eyes
“Yeah, what’ll it be? Three beers, right?” He smiled and poured three cups full.
“Uh, yeah. Three beers.” I pulled three bills from my wallet and passed them through. He shoved three full cups at me. As I was trying to decide how to drink and carry three beers the guy behind me was shoving me aside.
“Hey, hang on. I gotta get my drinks.”
“Well gettum and get the hell out of the way,” he said as he handed his money through the window and ordered.
“Gimme a second.” I stood on tiptoe to reach the cups and managed to grasp all three. I eased them off the counter and lowered myself off my toes.
In his haste to leave the guy shoved me hard enough to slosh most of the contents of all three cups onto my shirt and jeans.
“Whatchit!” I yelled.
“Whassat buddy? Wanna make sump’m outtuv it?”
“Wait a minute. I gotta drink these beers first. Then maybe.”
Holding all three in two hands I tilted them to drink. It worked for the one in front but as I swallowed the golden brew from that cup the other two poured their contents onto my shirt. The smell of beer reeked from my clothes.
The guy was standing there waiting but when he saw the display and smelled the aroma from my soaking clothes he began to slap his knee while hee-hawing like the jackass he was. I salvaged what I could of the remaining beer tossing the cups on the ground. Seeing his response was total collapse in mirth I walked, or rather sloshed since my shoes were filled with beer, toward the Ferris wheel.
“Rickey! Hey Rickey!”
I heard the shouts and looked around. Through the crowd I saw a college buddy weaving a path toward me.
“TI! Whatcha doing here?”
“I was gonna get a beer. Want one?” He asked as he approached.
“I had three already,” I said pointing to my clothes.
“I was thinkin’ drinkin’ not wearin’,” he chuckled.
TI was my height and tightly wound. He always liked a beer or three to unwind a bit. His coil seemed to be somewhat loose.
“Looks like you already had a few.”
“One or five. I’m not sure. Going for two or six. You?”
“Sure.” I followed him over to the beer wagon. We’d gone to most of the pledge parties and drunk a lot of free beer on the fraternities’ dime. A drinking buddy is a helluva buddy we had decided after the fourth of fifth party during rush week. And yet we never got drunk enough to join.
“Two!” The guy behind the window looked at me and shook his head. He poured them and shoved the cups to the edge of the shelf. TI slipped the money in and grabbed the beer cups.
I took mine. I drank mine. He was astonished at the gusto with which I did.
“Another?” he asked.
He motioned. It was poured. It was drunk as TI sipped on his.
“One more and you’ll be caught up,” he said.
“Ookie dookie.” I took it and poured it down me gullet.
“Is there a can around?” I asked, a sudden pressure made the question an urgent one.
He pointed. I ran.
I saw GH and ID as I made my way back to the wagon.
“Hey guys, I want you to meet my buddy, TI. We met at C of C.”
They exchanged names, handshakes and greetings as I walked to the window again. I walked back with two beers pointing at the two still on the counter. GH and ID went to fetch them.
The night became a bit mellow after that beer and a bit sketchy.
Bits and pieces come and go.
“Know any girls we can get together with TI?” maybe it was GH who said it.
“Mt Pleasant…” maybe TI said. “Green….”
“…ride over…my car…in…”
The fairgrounds were gone. The backseat of a 65 chevy station wagon surrounded me. I looked to the right and telephone posts whip whip whip whipped past.
“This is a hell of a big car ID,” came out of my mouth.
“Hell yeah…the old man’s station wagon….flies too,” he shouted above the roar of wind blasting through the window.
“I think I could lie down door to door without touching either side,” I shouted back.
“Yeah…wide…” came back in broken syllables.
“Where we goin’?” I shouted.
“Girl…over…Pleasant…” I caught buffeted by the wind.
I was forced back into the seat as the land yacht went nearly vertical.
“What the….” I tried to shout.
“Cooper…bridge…to…’s…house…,” the wind again whipping away half the conversation. I pulled myself forward. It was like an astronaut’s attempt to reach the throttle as lift off commences. I strained to grab the seat in front of me. Inching along until I finally hooked my fingers onto the top of ID’s seat. Pulling with all my strength I slid forward ever so slowly to see out the windshield. We were headed straight up into the girders of the Cooper River Bridge. The first leg of the first hump of that old rattle trap narrow two lane bit of highway held above the gray waters of the Cooper River Bridge on a cold October night, or early morning.
“What the hell ID? What the Hell? Where we goin’?” I shouted into the wind pouring through his open window. The blasting cold iced my veins. I pulled closer to the front and looked at the speedometer. It read 80 and climbing. “You’re doing eighty freakin’ miles an hour on this freakin’ bridge?! Are you crazy?!”
Laughter broken by tornado like gusts of wind met my ears. Cars whizzed past in the blink of an eye in the lane to the left on their way to Charleston. In a minute of time we hit the crest of the first hump to be followed by a stomach stealing drop of the steep incline that slammed me into the back of the front seat.
I caught snatches of ID’s sentence in the terror of that second seeing the cars flying toward us and feeling gravity’s pull accelerated by 350 horses pressed to the max. And then things went dark.
My eyes opened. I was in the back seat alone. We were parked in someone’s driveway. I leaned back into the seat. Things went dark once again.
When next my eyes opened I looked out the car window to see my house.
“Hey, Croucher, wake up. You’re home. Time to get out.”
“What time is it?”
“Soon be time for the sun to come up.”
“Oh, hell. I gotta get inside.”
“See ya! Wouldn’t wanna be ya,” they yelled. ID woke the neighborhood laying a three yard strip of rubber from his daddy’s tires. I was greeted with dogs barking as the paper boy turned into the drive and tossed the paper. Right on target as my head received a whack. And the hangover began.