When I think of Point Clear in the depths of winter, I recall the sounds. Many nights I lay in my bed, listening. The north wind rattled the windows when a cold front blew through. The gas heaters in the house ticked and popped against it. The next morning found the thrumming of diesel engines in the ship channel, the croaking of blue herons, and the occasional yawing of a chainsaw. And late at night, always after a cold front for some reason, came the street racers.
We lived along the middle of a long straightaway on Scenic Highway 98. My bedroom was closest to the road. In the late night hours, this remote stretch of blacktop was often used for clandestine street racing. I listened to them coming from a half mile away, roaring past at what was surely more than 100 miles per hour.
I always wondered what these cars looked like, where they came from, and who drove them. I had my suspicions. There was Creech’s up state Highway 32. There was always some kind of mechanical project going on there. And my school bus passed several other yards where skinny, hungry-looking, coyote-faced people worked on homemade race cars under shade trees. To this day, those night races remain a mystery to me.
Our own cars over the years were impressive, but in a different way.
The green station wagon is the first I remember well. Dad bought it used from the Red Cross auction, but we considered it new. The car really had two distinct eras – before the pine tree and after the pine tree.
Before the pine tree, the green station wagon took us on two family trips per year. Disney World in spring and West Texas in summer. There were no seatbelt laws back then, so it was like a portable corral for all of us kids. Mom bought a sack full of cheap toys at TG&Y, dumped them in the back like chicken feed, and Dad hit the interstate.
The air-conditioning didn’t work well, so we rode with the windows down much of the time. Of course, if it rained, we rolled them up. But the biggest threat from rain was not spray coming in the window. It was “the hole.”
It didn’t take long for us to wear through the carpet. On the second row — behind the driver’s bench seat, passenger side — a metal plate about the size of a hockey puck was revealed. I still don’t know why it was there, almost like a drain for the car if it were to flood. For a while, the plate was sealed to the floor with something like tar. It didn’t take us long to pick the black glue away and pry it off. The hole literally opened a world of opportunity.
We soon found that hitting a puddle at anything over 20 miles per hour created a muddy geyser that pounded the ceiling like it was going to buckle metal. Dad was typically on-edge while driving us about town and this never failed to push him over the precipice.
“Somebody put their foot back over the darn hole!”
But that was just on rainy days. On any other day, the hole was as useful as if it had been planned.
Service station attendants never ceased to be amazed at the little mound of trash that suddenly appeared from beneath our car when it pulled away from the gas pumps. And when we were underway, all operations at the hole were hidden from our parents’ view. Don’t want the rest of what you’re eating? No problem. Can’t finish your drink? No problem. Need to pee and Dad won’t pull over? No problem.
Outside of the geysers, the hole never caused any problems until I decided to drop a Grand Hotel golf ball out of it on the way to church. The ball bounced between the highway and the gas tank with such violence that it sounded like a machine gun was going off in the car. Mom swerved across the road a few times, trying to dodge and shake it, and finally veered into the ditch. Once the station wagon was stopped, she turned in her seat with a “what-the-hell happened?!” look.
“That was cool, ” one of my younger brothers said.
Hurricane Frederic marked the beginning of the “after the pine tree” years. The green station wagon was crushed long-ways beneath an enormous pine tree. Even though Dad intended to salvage it, he decided Mom needed a new vehicle. They’d seen something called a Chevrolet Suburban on the last trip to Texas, and it seemed just the thing for our ever-growing family.
Mom got the Suburban, and Dad used a car jack to bend the ceiling back up in the green station wagon. After he replaced the glass, we had our new hunting vehicle.
It wasn’t perfect. The left passenger-side door wouldn’t latch, so he had a rope that tied it closed. The luggage rack banged against the roof if you went more than 50 miles per hour and the windshield wipers flew off on the highest setting. But we still had the hole. And to me, as long as we had the hole, the green station wagon was still as good as new.
text by Watt Key