4-Wheelin’ with Todd

Dave, Todd’s dad, was quite a guy. Confident, driven, smart, witty, sarcastic, and remarkably athletic. He had been an acrobatic clown in the Ice Follies (where he met Todd’s mom in the chorus), founded Alpental Ski Resort, became a big-wig at IBM, and on it went. Warren Miller with less humble bumble.

When Dave went on a diet, he went on the “Three Martini Diet”: a poached egg for breakfast and one martini for lunch, dinner, and desert (with olives, if I remember, for protein). Definitely a 1960s-70s Type A kinda guy. So it was no wonder that he owned cars with panache, among which were a mint little yellow Triumph Spitfire with a hard top (for zipping around town) and a big white Chevy Blazer (for blazing up to the mountain).

Todd has a lot of his mother in him, but he was (and still is) his father’s son. A legendary lead foot, Todd went everywhere scary fast with an exuberant reckless abandon. We had a lot of adventures in his souped up VW Bug with a Porche engine dropped into it. That thing moooooved.

But on this particular occasion Dave was gone for a couple of days on a business trip and Todd had somehow gotten hold of the keys to the Blazer. He was keen to take me and Bob to do a little off-road. Not that we really knew what this meant, but we were all game. We climbed in and headed for the back side of the Harbor.

If you live in Gig Harbor now, you might find it hard to believe, but the west hill was a thickly wooded and rugged out-back back then. We started up the steep power line road just past the Grange. Todd put it into 4-wheel high we went careening up the rut-filled hill like a skier taking a mogul run in reverse. When the tires hit the ground gravel flew like sparks off a grinding wheel. At the top, we paused to holler and whoop for a bit. Todd was radiant.

We looked around and found an old road that ran along the ridge. Wheels spun, mud sprayed, and the suspension groaned — just like a good Chevy truck commercial — and we hung on for dear life. Bob, in the back seat, let out an appreciative shriek every now and then.

“Let’s head back down,” Todd said, and turned down what looked like an old logging road.

“Do you know where this goes?” I asked.

“Down,” Todd laughed.

“Hit it, Todd,” Bob the Back Seat Commander ordered. Todd threw it into gear and we roared down the trail.

Which is what it turned out to be. As it twisted and turned, the “road” became narrower and narrower. In the thick woods, there was no place to turn around, and no way in hell anyone was going to back all the way up.  The only thing to do was to go on.

“Shouldn’t we be near the road?” Bob wondered aloud.

“Gotta be,” Todd affirmed, not quite ready to be overtly worried yet.

Small Alder seedlings the size of your thumb lined the trail, and Todd had been running them over like a bulldozer. But as we neared the bottom they got bigger and thicker, until they were about the size of curtain rod. The road had narrowed to a footpath and was barely visible now.  Todd had slowed our progress to a crawl and branches flailed against the sides of the Blazer, and scraped ominously along the undercarriage like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Bob was no longer whooping, and Todd was repeating “He’s … gonna … kill … me, He’s … gonna … KILL … me” over and over, his voice rising with each repetition until he began to sound like a very distressed Chipmunk.

Then the trail came to an abrupt end. A thicket of small Alders laced with piles of blackberries blocked our way, but the glowing light of a clearning lay just beyond them.

“Shit,” Todd exclaimed, defeated, “What are we going to do now?”

“Back up?” I ventured.

“Oh, sure,” said Todd.

“What else you gonna do?” asked Bob. Todd put it into reverse.

But the Alders we had run over were now pointing forward like palisade of pungi stakes. When the front tires began to push the Bronco against them they held, and then began to lift the rear end in the air. We were stuck. There was only one way to go.

“You’re gonna hafta go for it,” Bob concluded, matter-of-factly.

“The blackberries are going to scratch the shit out of it,” Todd whined.

“Not if you don’t go so slow,” I theorized. “When you just creep through them things have a chance to spring back on the car.”

There was a long moment of silence. “You gotta go for it,” Bob repeated.

“Do it,” I said. “You’re dead meat anyway.”

Todd thought about it. He swallowed.

“Gentlemen,” he advised, “Hold on.” We grabbed for whatever we could get hold of, and he gunned it. The Bronco leaped forward, dove into the berries, and burst out into the sunlight with a roar.

Meanwhile, George Carmichael [not his name], was enjoying a nice afternoon with a beer and a ball game. It was a good day: the Broncos were loosing. A six pack or so into it, he decided to mow the back yard during halftime. The lawn wasn’t big, maybe fifteen or twenty passes of the mower. It was a bright green rectangle of lawnly manhood flanked by a border of fresh beauty bark, which was dotted with a few budget rhodys the wife had made him plant last year. He got out the new mower, put on his ear-protector headphones to listen to the Husky game, and began to mow with one hand as he sipped the first brewski from the second six-pack in the garage fridge with his other. Life was good.

About half way through, he paused. Something was not right. Even through the Husky Game, the mower was making a funny sound. Damn cheap piece of crap. Should have bought the Honda. Better check the oil.

But as he was bent down toward the mower, the sound didn’t seem to be coming from the mower. Strange. Then an odd movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention, as it will with men, and he stood up. The brush was quivering, as if …

… when an enormous white Blazer burst through the curtain of blackberries onto the lawn.

George dropped his beer.

The world ground to a slow motion crawl. The Coors can fell, gracefully turning like an Olympic diver falling from the high dive.

“Oh, Fuuuuuuuuck.” I think I said.

Todd and George were motionless, jaws to the ground and locked in a mirrored gaze of mutual horror, wonder, and stupefaction.

The beer hit the lawn with a splash.

“Get us out of here!” Bob ordered, and dove for the cover of the seat to get his mug out of the picture.

“Left! Go left! Go left!” I shouted, gesticulating toward the driveway and ducked myself.

The Bronco roared to life. George let go of the mower. His face was beginning to contort, like a parent’s does just after a kid scares the shit out of him and fear begins to turn to rage. But Todd already had us over the lawn, over the bark and a little red rhody, and down the driveway to main road before we could lip read what George had to say. He did run after us to gesture, however, and make his general point clear.


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