Friday, December 19, 2014

Crazy Larry and the MG B

There’s one in every fraternity. You know … a kidder, a jokester, a trickster. In our frat it was Larry. We even called him “Crazy Larry” because of the escapades he would perpetuate. Larry had a nice MG sports car, and he and I were out on a ride one day. We were on a back road near Bozeman, Montana, and it was fairly straight.

Suddenly, Larry lifted the steering wheel off the post and handed it to me. I was flabbergasted. Sure the car was going in a straight line, but you know how cars can drift on the road. And I was holding the steering wheel.

I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to scream and too nervous to really make any sudden movements. I tried to hand the wheel back to Larry so he could put it back on the steering column and keep us on the road. He just laughed and refused. The car was still going down the road straight and we weren’t going too fast, only about 45 mph, but I just knew, at any point, the car would head for the ditch and there wouldn’t be enough time for Larry to reattach the wheel.

I started to beg with Larry to take the wheel back, but he just laughed. You know how those kind of people can laugh. And the more nervous and frustrated I got, the more Larry laughed. Finally, as a curve approached ahead, he agreed to take the wheel back. He fit it back on the column and steered around the curve, all the time laughing so hard he had tears. After that I am afraid I blacked out and didn’t come back to my senses until we returned to the fraternity house.

That night, as we gathered with several other foolish college boys and discussed the day, Larry performed a great imitation of my expressions as I pleaded with him to restore the steering before we crashed and burned. I was the object of much laughter and derision, but I still didn't understand. Then Larry explained things. Apparently everyone else was already familiar with Larry’s car and his little stunt.

He explained that his car pulled a bit to the right if no steering correction was provided. Most cars have this tendency to creep either right or left when unattended due to some unbalance in the suspension.

Further, the brakes, when applied, pulled a bit to the left. So, with the natural tendency to shift to the right and the brakes applying a bit of force in the other direction, Larry could keep the car on a straight line for hours by just applying a little brakes. He had pulled this trick on half the guys in the fraternity and everyone had a great laugh at my expense.

That was Crazy Larry. Always laughing at someone else’s expense. That also explained why he had removed the nut securing the steering wheel to the column. This was one of his favorite jokes played often on unsuspecting fraternity brothers and anyone else foolish enough to get in his car.

A few weeks later I scored a date with a local prom queen. She was a senior at the high school in Bozeman, and I met her and, through considerable effort, I convinced her to go out with me.

It was a beautiful night in Bozeman, and I borrowed Larry’s car. I had the top down, and we were driving down a country road when the idea struck me to play the trick on her that Larry had pulled on me. Not to be cruel, but just to convince her I had a great sense of humor.

Soon we were on a straight stretch, so I pulled off the steering wheel and handed it to her. She had the same reaction I had had a few weeks earlier. She tried to hand the steering wheel back to me, but I pretended I was going to get another radio station on the dial.

Just as Larry had predicted, the car started to drift to the right. I touched the brakes slightly to compensate, but it had no effect. The car continued to drift to the right. I pressed the brakes harder before I realized they were not correcting the drift toward the ditch on the side of the road.

Realizing my trick wasn't working, frantically I tried to get the steering wheel back from my date and reattached to the column before disaster, but she had it in a death grip, no doubt expecting that to be her fate in just a few moments. The car left the road. Fortunately there wasn’t much of a ditch and we quickly smashed through the fence and started plowing across a farmer's corn field. Corn was flying through the air and landing in our open compartment before I could apply enough brakes to get us to a stop.

Without saying a word, she handed me back the wheel. As I repaired the steering and drove back onto the road, she said just three words, “Take me home.” It was then that I noticed the corn cob in her lap and the corn tassels in her hair. Not a word was spoken as I drove her back home, all hopes of a successful evening smashed by Crazy Larry’s car trick.

I stopped in front of her house. She got out without a word, slammed the car door, walked up the steps, slammed her front door, and I never saw or heard from her again.

I got back to the frat house where the usual bunch was hanging out watching TV, drinking beer, and — of course — laughing at some story Larry was in the middle of telling. One look at me with the remnants of a corn field all over my head and clothes, and they quickly turned to me for an explanation.

I told the whole tale in agonizing detail, including the silent trip back to the girl’s house, and the very real likelihood that I’d never get a date with her again … or a date with any of her friends as soon as she filled them in on my rather unorthodox behavior.

Larry turned to me and said, “How did that happen?” I said I didn’t know. The car drifted a bit to the right, just as he had described. But, when I stepped on the brake, it failed to correct. I said that he had told me the brakes would pull the car to the left. He replied, “Yes, they used to, but that was before I got them fixed. Now they don't pull at all!”

The laughter didn’t fade as I headed upstairs to bed. Damn you Crazy Larry. Damn you and your MG B.

Now you may wonder if this is a true story. No. It is not. It isn’t even my story. I never went to college in Bozeman, and the only fraternity I ever belonged to was an honor society. I just got a plaque … no Crazy Larry, no MG B, no frat house, and no date with a prom queen. I don’t even know anyone named Larry.

But I didn’t make this up. I actually heard it on the Car Guys. “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.” Channel 141 on Sirius Satellite plays Tom and Ray reruns every day around noon. They’re up to 1992 at this point. I heard this story on one of my trips.

This is just too good of a story to leave it only on the radio waves. So I’ve written it down for posterity. I only recall the basic plot. I turned that into a story that certainly could of happened to me. Maybe it did … in an alternate universe. Love those alternate universes. They can explain so much.

It isn’t even Tom or Ray’s story. They read it in a letter. I liked it. I hope you did too.

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