Scene One – August 1960
“Why would your dad give you his Studebaker?” My high school pal Dave says. We share a common interest in automobiles so I’m not surprised by his question. “Is the car okay?”
“The Studebaker is okay – sort of,” I respond. “Last week Dad parked the Green Hornet, as he calls her, on the street in front of our house. A guy pulls around the corner too fast and bam, like the sound of a freight train, sideswipes her with his Buick. He gets out of his Roadmaster, shrugs his shoulders, and waves to Dad who watches through closed living room windows. Either Dad didn’t hear the crash and assumed there was no damage or he didn’t want a confrontation. Me, however, I’m mowing the lawn, hear the crash, and see Dad wave to the man in the street. The guy jumps into his Buick and speeds away. I’m curious why Dad let the guy go. I go in the house to ask, and, Dad gives me his car.”
“What are you going to do with her since the driver’s door is caved in?” Dave says. “You can’t open the door and the window won’t roll down.”
“I don’t know. I like her the way she was. Maybe I’ll junk her and use the coins to buy some beers at Marty Zivkos for you and me.”
“Why don’t we make the Green Hornet into a convertible?” Dave chimes. “My uncle has a Skill saw. If we cut off the roof you could jump in and out without the door just like those cool surfers do with their T-buckets.”
“Are you crazy?” I blurt out. “We live in Milwaukee, not Malibu. And, convertibles don’t have four doors. After we saw off the roof how’ll we finish the jagged metal? Besides, we can’t pick up girls with the driver’s door caved in. No girls will want to ride with us.”
“Easy,” Dave croons. “We’ll cover the rough metal with black electrical tape. And when we cruise the avenue girls are on the sidewalk, right? They’ll never see the left side of the car. I’ll let them into the back seat from the right side. Girls want to ride in a convertible on a hot summer night. They won’t notice the tape in the dark, only two cool high school guys in a convertible. When was the last time you bombed the avenue in the rain or winter? Never. Think about how great the Green Hornet will be and how many dates we’ll get.”
I shrug my shoulders. “Ah, I don’t know.”
Scene Two – September 2018
“Play it again, Dave,” I say. We sit in my living room in Madison. Dave made the hour drive from Milwaukee.
He leans back in his chair, “I can’t Richard. The melody I played is gone.”
Life had been harder on Dave than me. After high school he enlisted to avoid the draft and went to ‘Nam anyway. Me, I received a student deferment for college and planned to enlist or be drafted after graduation. I eventually drew a low number in the draft lottery so I didn’t have to decide.
My gut wrenches, “What do you mean gone? You just played a perfect melody. Play it like you just did. This time I’ll record your solo on my iPhone. Your music is an important part of my song. I like what I just heard. I don’t want any changes.”
Dave’s fingers, stained yellow from years of cigarettes, and scarred from work at the brass mill, play with the keys of his soprano sax. He reaches into his shirt pocket for a Camel. Dave became a two-pack-a-day guy in the Army. I gave up cigs in college. While Dave slogged through waist high water in the Mekong Delta, I marched in anti-war campus protests – sort of.
One protest rally in 1969 started on a warm September afternoon much like today. I stood with a group of anti-war protesters outside the student union. Across the street, a pro-war counter protest group of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets gathered. As we marched toward downtown we chanted, “Hell no! We won’t go!”
Cadets walked to our right and shouted, “USA! USA!”
When we turned the first corner in the street both groups inadvertently merged and I found myself marching with ROTC. My blood ran cold in the warm afternoon sun. I stuffed my hands in my pockets. Like the prairie grass that bends with the wind I lowered my head and shouted, “USA! USA!”
A few steps later as the street widened, the two groups separated. As I drifted back to the anti-war group the wind at my back subsided. I raised my head, hands, and fists. I yelled, “Hell no! We won’t go!”
Dave and I never talked about those times. He looks up at me now. “Does it, Richard? Why does my solo have to be perfect? Can’t whatever I play be good enough? I improvise. What I played is gone. It’s all gone. I’ll create another. What you’ll hear will be different. If you’re willing to accept what I offer, I think you’ll be pleased.
Dave lights the Camel he holds. Dense, acrid smoke blocks my vision like the years between us. We sit silently before the smoke lifts and his eyes meet mine. “Remember when I wanted to cut the roof off the Green Hornet?”
I rise from my chair, “Of course I do. I thought your idea wouldn’t work.”
The living room air tightens around me. My heart races as I pace the room. I open a window. The air clears and I feel a fresh breeze. I turn to Dave, “You know? You’re right. I’m ready to take a chance. I’ll get my phone. Go ahead. Play it again, Dave.”
If this essay is meaningful, please like or tweet below or leave a comment. Thank you for your interest and possible action you may take.
Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a creativity coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.