Driving Around With Metal Heads Without Seatbelts

frank armstrong, photographer, panopticon gallery, skid marks, tires, highway, cars

Frank Armstrong, West Boylston, MA, 2000

Rolston yelled from the back, “Landry…Duck!”

Within a split second, the pack of firecrackers that he intended to fling out the window as we sat in bumper to bumper traffic bounced – off the window, against the roof of the car and then behind my back – the driver’s back – pop – pop – pop!

They went off in rapid repetition, pop – pop – pop, each time the burning pulse and ping against my back stung and burned straight through my new Metallica concert t-shirt. After two or three more loud bangs, my foot slipped from the brake pedal and I hit the gas ramming the car in front of us. Everyone jerked forward. There had to have been at least seven or eight sweaty people stuffed into my Pontiac LeMans station wagon that night coughing and yelling. My ears were already ringing from the three-hour outdoor metal concert. Add fireworks to the mix and I could barely hear anything. You would think that the concert would be enough stimuli for the night – oh no, you needed to put the tape into the tape deck and crank it, reliving the experience all over again.

At this point, the car was full of smoke like something out of a Cheech and Chong movie, but instead of weed it was the smell of sulfur infused with cotton and skin burning. I could hear the muffled cheers and what sounded like echoed whistles of hundreds of concertgoers who were walking the street beside the stopped cars. On this night, I was the encore.

“What-The-Hell-Are-You-Doing!” I turned down the radio and looked to my right where an officer who was directing traffic approached the car, bend down and peered inside the passenger window – no one spoke a word…until: “I think someone threw some firecrackers into our car,” said someone in the back. And that’s how we got away with it.

I still can’t imagine that I got off with just a warning – that time, and almost every time. Riding in Cars with Boys was a movie staring Drew Barrymore. My life as a teen in New Hampshire could’ve be titled, Driving Around With Metal Heads Without Seatbelts.

I had a pretty good driving record, for the record. It also helped that my girlfriend’s father was a police officer in the neighboring city. Sometimes I would park my truck in a spot in downtown Portsmouth and run into a shop for something and I would come out to a ticket on the windshield. After pulling it from under the windshield wiper, I’d flip it over and there would be a hand written note. The best one said, “$75 dollar fine for parking your big, blue piece of shit in a puddle.” Ok…I’ll give’em that.

Holiday’s weren’t any different for stirring up trouble on the roads. On another boring Easter Sunday afternoon, my neighbors and I piled into my station wagon and headed to the beach. The beach is fairly quiet in New Hampshire, especially in April. No one was at the beach except for us dipshits and a couple of surfers who thought that two foot swells were like Big Sur. I was cruising down the coastal route and pulled onto Cable Rd in Rye. This road is very close to where the first Trans-Atlantic cable ended. There was a Jeep in front of us that drove right up onto the beach and I said, “Shit, I can do that!” So off we went onto the beach. I did a big donut spinning the car around and then drove back out onto the pavement.
“That was awesome Landry…do it again”, yelled Ron in the back.

I spun the car back around Dukes of Hazard style and headed for the beach. This time we weren’t as lucky. I gave’er too much gas and the back tires spun and dug into the sand. We began to sink. I tried to get out of it by putting it into reverse and backing up closer towards the water where the sand wasn’t so loose, but we were stuck – stuck in a hole on the beach as the tide started to come in. My two buddies and me were digging like mad trying to get the wheels free but it just wasn’t working – the wet sand acted like a suction. The ass end of the car was lying on the sand up to its tailpipe. And then they arrived. “Oh shit! The cops!”

“Driver…exit the vehicle,” projected from the speaker on the police cruiser.
I walked up the beach toward the cruiser and was placed in the back seat. I was scared shitless – I had never been in a cop car before. My friends on the outside were just standing around with smirks on their faces.
“Is all the information on your license correct?”
“Yes sir.”
“What were you thinking?”
(I was thinking – haven’t I heard this before)
“Sir, I was following this other vehicle…”
“What vehicle?”
“A Jeep.”
“There are no cars allowed on this beach…and does your car look like a Jeep?”
“No sir.”
“Now how do you expect to get this car off the beach before the tide comes in? It’s Easter Sunday. Do you have any idea how much this may cost you?”
(From the outside of the car) Hawkins yells, “He’s got triple A!”
I look out the window then turn back to see the office staring me down through the rearview mirror.  I’m not sure if he had a smirk on his face…but I know I did.
“Dispatch…we need a tow down on Cable Road. Son…I’m gonna let you off with a warning. If I catch you again, it will be a ticket next time.”
“Yes sir. Thank you.”

We scrounged up thirty-two bucks and gave it to the Tow truck driver so that I could avoid pulling out the AAA card and having my parents find out. I told them eventually. I think the words they used were “You dipshit.”