“Frederick” and me, a couple of idiots behind the wheel

Frederick Lawrence Appelbaum (bogus name, although the initials are real) and I attended Hexter Elementary School, Hill Junior High School, Bryan Adams High School and the University of Texas together. The present story pertains to events at the third of those educational institutions, fondly known as “BA,” where we matriculated in September 1968 and from which we got our diplomas in May 1971.

Having gone through Driver’s Ed at Hill, we both were licensed to operate a motor vehicle. Like many others in our cohort, however, we were not always wise with our newly issued credentials. Frederick’s father owned a Ford Galaxie with a 390-cubic-inch (255 horsepower) engine. We abused it on more than one occasion. Seizing all that adolescent freedom with both hands, we drove to a poor neighborhood near Fair Park and worked a deal with an elderly black man to go into a store, buy some beer and then share it with us. So here we were, high school boys, drinking and driving. Asking for trouble, we were. Luckily, we caused no accidents and were never apprehended by Dallas’ men in blue.

The Gemini drive-in theater was located on North Central Expressway. We drove Frederick’s dad’s Ford there one night and settled in for some drinking and watching a long-forgotten film. This was during our senior year, so maybe it was Dirty Harry, The Last Picture Show, A Clockwork Orange or Carnal Knowledge. Both of us ingested way too much beer—me, especially. I am ashamed and embarrassed to recount this, but at one point I tumbled out of the car and vomited. Somehow we got safely back to Frederick’s house. And then a much bigger adventure began wherein I drove my own car (a Buick Skylark convertible) home. How in the world did I make it there? I was so drunk I could barely see, much less operate a four-on-the-floor transmission PLUS the steering wheel. I am not trying to be jocular here. Doing that was dangerous (to me and others) and crazy.

A long, rolling stretch of Mockingbird Lane approached and adjoined the northeast part of White Rock Lake. No traffic lights. I shudder to think how many times, coming back at night from SMU or my job in the Baylor Hospital pharmacy, I got my car up to 70 miles per hour. This, my friends, was just plain dumb. It did not happen, but I deserved to get pulled over, written up and forced to pay a hefty fine (and see my car insurance rates skyrocket).

If Mr. Appelbaum knew what we were doing with his car, he would have taken off his belt and given Frederick 10 hard licks—just like my dad often did to me and my brothers. But he did not know; Frederick and I were lucky. One night, we got the Ford out on LBJ Freeway. Thinking ourselves indestructible, we wanted to see if it would go more than 100 miles per hour. On this particular occasion, we had not been drinking. Frederick, who put the pedal to the metal, nonetheless managed to keep control of the car. When we got into triple digits, he gradually slowed down. Now was that not an insane thing to do? Furthermore, I am not sure we were wearing seat belts!

Finally, there was the time we were on a narrow street separating Peavy Road (close to Hexter) and Lake Highlands Shopping Village. It is probably dotted with speed bumps now, but not back then. It was a straight line of maybe 3/4 of a mile. Frederick was at the wheel, and I was egging him on. In what seemed like a one-car drag race, we roared up that street gathering speed all the way. Only when we approached Northcliff Drive did Frederick finally hit the brakes. The tires screeched, and the car ended up halfway turned around in the intersection, resting against the curb. That was so stupid and pointless, I can hardly believe it happened. What a couple of young fools we were, especially in light of the fact that some other BA students had been seriously injured in car accidents. They may have been—and I assume they were—innocent victims. Frederick and I, by contrast, had done things that seemed to welcome disaster. I look back at these episodes ruefully.

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