Take A Car And Call Me In The Morning

I was not ALWAYS a trouble maker. 

It seemed like my shenanigans were catching up to me. My number was up and the piper was looking for a paycheck. I needed an escape plan. I had to do some kind of end run around the massive opposition gearing up to stop my fun. Said opposition even included plans of incarceration. Juvenile detention? Not me - I was gonna hatch an escape.

Stanley and I had been getting pretty stoned on the way to school in the morning. Darn near every morning. Walking a mile and half provided lots of time to smoke and/or gulp down the stuff we were using to make 9th grade more exciting. School was pretty okay when we smoked a joint or two of the ditch weed you could cop on the streets of 1972 era Tucson. Education got flat out weird when we substituted some of the other recreational drugs we were discovering.

Imagine my alarm when the equations the algebra teacher was putting up on the black board began to melt - the white chalk letters, symbols, and numbers dripped down the board toward the eraser tray. The teacher in my American History class tried his best to get me to join the class. My corporeal body was present and accounted for but my metaphysical body was busy trying to keep my desk from floating up to the ceiling. Moreover, it looked really, really cool when I would push my digits onto the flat surface of the desk and they would dissolve into a circular blob only to re-form into a usable finger when I lifted it from the desk. Blotter acid was pretty good at melting stuff.

My goose at Amphitheater High was officially cooked when I decided to take a make up test in Spanish 1 under the influence of my favorite combo punch of a quarter hit of blotter with a white cross chaser. In my addled mind, the amphetamine provided enough juice to keep things from getting too far out of hand. Or so I thought. One of my friends, I shan't reveal her name, was kind enough to loan me her grade A- copy of the exam. My idea of an effective way to make use of this gift was to sit in the back of the class where Mr. Roman put me and put her test side-by-side with my blank one. None of that stealthy crib sheet business for me. I was on the second or third page and moving along at a pretty good clip when I had that Spidey Sense I was being watched. My goodness, Mr. Roman looked really, really upset.

"Yankovich," he nearly shouted. "What the heck are you doing?"
My mom raised me right - I spoke the truth, "Cheating, sir."

Did Mr. Roman appreciate my honest answer? Did he give me bonus points for the fact that I did not waste his valuable time with a half-baked, cock and bull story about not knowing how her exam ended up right next to mine? Did he admire my massive display of derring-do and/or cajones? Nope. The vein in his neck appeared about to burst and the volume control on his voice shot to Maximum Outdoor when he commanded me to get the hell out of his classroom and go explain myself to the office.

After reaching this zenith of Stoned Stupidity, what could I do but raise the bar even further by plotting to drive west to California in my mom's car? Surely that would be the best possible solution. Made all the sense in the world to me. Just because I had never actually driven a car on a road was no deterrent. My mom and I had driven to Disneyland from Tucson and I was pretty sure we had gone through Phoenix to get there and, by golly, I knew how to get to I-10 West and head to Phoenix. I had a few bucks tucked away. In addition, I had some really valuable stuff I could sell........like a radio, a baseball glove, and my football cards. In addition, I had seen people panhandling all over the place and who would NOT want to give me some spare change once Taffy and I reached San Diego.....or Phoenix....or......

My wise plan was completed in less than 36 hours.

Taffy was going with me for the simple reason that Taffy went with me everywhere except school. She was a little long haired cocker-mix and the first dog in the family which I felt truly belonged to me. She went hiking in the desert with Richard and I. She tagged along when Ellen and I would ride horseback. There was no question Taffy had to join me on the Big Trip West.

The chosen night arrived. I took the spare ignition key from the drawer where my mom kept it. Those of you old enough to remember when all cars had two keys might want to grab onto to the importance of this foreshadowing use of the singular word “key". In my bedroom I had my Army Surplus back pack at the ready. I had a couple changes of clothes and my "valuables". Taffy and I pretended to turn in for the night. I laid there wide eyed with my heart pounding in anticipation of my coming adventure.

Once mom had been in her room for a good two and half hours, we slipped out the door. I put Taffy and all of my stuff in the back seat. Then I executed the only smart part of the plan by turning the key far enough to allow me to put the car in neutral and then push it out of the driveway without starting it. With that accomplished, I started the Dodge and we moved ever so slowly down the street and took a left on Mountain Avenue heading north to Roger Road. I had mapped out a long, back road method to make it over to I-10. I needed some quiet streets to get my driving chops down before I took to the highway. Everyone knows you need at least 5-6 miles of driving solo on back streets before you hit the highway, right?

Traffic was light, but I was so nervous that the first couple of times a car approached from the opposite direction I slowed to a crawl and pulled way over to the right. Ha - this driving stuff is a gas! By the time we meandered to an entrance to the freeway, I was confident enough to get up to 50 mph. Mercifully, on the freeway we were all going in the same direction, even though the first few times cars blasted by me in the Monfort Lane (look it up!) I tensed up a bit. After driving for about 20 minutes or so what do I see but some guy with his thumb out. Having done my share of hitching, I slowed down and eased over to pick him up.

He just about lost it when he opened the door and saw my baby faced self behind the wheel. I was the kind of kid who did not need to shave daily until I was darn near 20, so at 14 there was no mistaking me for anything BUT an underage driver. I explained to the hitchhiker that I was on my way to California in my mom’s car. Hard as it is to believe, he got in, but he did insist that he do the driving. I was fine with that as my nerves were shot and a break from driving sounded great. I am pretty sure his name was Rick.

Rick and I got into a discussion centered around how rough it was to be a teenager. He had to listen to me whine about my tough life. BOOM! What the hell? A tire blew out - no kidding. It was the left rear. How utterly providential Rick was driving. He pulled over on the right hand shoulder. When he discovered I had neglected to take the key to the trunk, he wisely decided it was time to skedaddle. He wished me the best and took off at a brisk pace with one look back and a wave.

Taffy and I got out of the car to pee. Then we settled in for the remainder of the night. She nodded right off while my mind raced. The see-saw nature of my big plan shot upwards when a pick-up truck appeared in the field next to the highway in the early morning light. I borrowed a couple of tools from the man in the truck and proceeded to remove the back seat which afforded me a nice size entry to the trunk. I crawled in and released the trunk from the inside with a screw driver.

At that point, I returned the tools and proceeded to change the tire. The plan was on. California here I come. The teeter totter slammed to the ground a few minutes later when a cruiser pulled in behind me. Since I was tightening the lugs on the newly mounted spare, if the cop had just been about 3 minutes later Taffy and I would have been in the breeze.  I did my best to hide my baby face and coax some depth out of my 14 year old still-changing-octaves-in-the-middle-of-a -sentence voice.

“You need any help, son?” the Trooper queried.
“No, thank you,” I responded.
“You got anyone else here with you?”
“No, sir.”
“You driving this car?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Can I see your drivers license?”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t have one.”

Officer Trooper Guy cut me the same amount of slack for my being truthful as Mr. Moran did. (I am convinced to this day that he was laughing like crazy inside.) At that point I was invited to accompany the officer to his car while he got on the radio. In short order a cop from Casa Grande showed up along with a tow truck for the car. They put Taffy in the truck and me in the pokey.

The cops put me in a cell by myself. I was safe, but became as scared and creeped out as I could possibly be in my exhausted condition. Prior occupants had scribbled all kinds of weird stuff on the surfaces in the cell. The toilet was right out in the open! Mom took her sweet time coming to get me and I was served lunch. A plate with beans, two slices of white bread and a cup of hot black coffee. Sure, I might skip school, get high and steal my mom’s car, but no way was I going to eat that stuff or drink coffee. I had standards.

One of the smartest things my mom ever did was let me spend a good part of the day in jail. Not enough time to learn the harmonica or acquire any jailhouse ink, but just enough for me to decide that a life of crime was not for me. No way I was going to eat that kind of slop or try to poop right out in front of God and Country.

Don’t know if I ever properly thanked her for that. Thanks mom.

The last known photo of Cliff before he began stealing cars.

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