Not many people can say they had a friend in high school who drove an El Camino, but I can.
One Friday night after a movie and a trip through Taco Bell my friend Kris and I decided we’d drive downtown. At that time, there was still quite a bit of activity downtown during the day.
But we wanted to see what went on down there after dark.
One street had all these bars on it. Sleazy pitch black bars, except for the neon beer signs and the clouds of cigarette smoke oozing out whenever somebody opened the door.
Bars that wailed Freddy Fender and Charlie Rich asking if we’d seen the most beautiful girl in the world.
It was pretty late by the time we got down there. Late enough that people coming out of those bars were either yelling at each other, looking for a room, or couldn’t walk a straight line.
With our windows rolled down we could hear all of it.
And we could smell it.
On any other Friday night glimpsing this seedy underworld would’ve simply been enlightening, but tonight was different. On this night, my ten-year old cousin, Joe, was in the front seat of the El Camino with us. He was visiting for the week during his summer break.
And at 15, I knew it was my job to protect him.
So it finally occurred to me that this might not be the best place to be at this time of night. Especially with a ten-year old boy who was my responsibility.
About that time we pulled up to the stoplight, right across from one of the most raucous clubs on the street.
Kris was even uncomfortable. He started giggling, like he always did when he was scared, and we were starting to roll the windows up when it happened.
Out of the blue this guy stumbled into the cross walk and stopped right in front of our car.
We couldn’t move.
We knew from the eruptive expression on his face what was about to happen, and yet, it seemed to be happening in slow motion. All we could do was sit there and wait.
Wait for the splatter.
All across the hood of the car, up onto the windshield, with fumes and bits of debris flying through the car windows.
Kris was laughing hysterically, rolling his window up as fast as he could. I was trying to keep Joe from seeing this drunk guy puking all over the El Camino, so I grabbed his head and pushed him down in the seat.
Of course, being a boy, he kept trying to raise up to see the chunks slide down the windshield.
We didn’t ever talk about that night again. I didn’t ask Joe not to tell, but it was kinda sweet that he didn’t.
Like we had that moment all to ourselves.