Monday, October 26, 2009

Ghost Stories Grandpa Never Told, Part III

There is a dimension that lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. Or maybe it's the other way around. Whichever. There's the signpost up ahead: The McHenry County Zone.

In 1966 kids were mad for cars.  At least the ones with a Y chromosome were. (The XXers were fixated that year on Davy Jones.)  Anyway, while most of the kids around Huntley were trying to catch rubber in third in their 327 Chevy II's and Tri Power GTO's, Lloyd Denim pootled around town in a 1959 Renault Dauphine.

That's the little car you see in the old Pink Panther movies that looks like a '53 Plymouth Cambridge through the wrong end of a telescope. It was the affirmative Gallic answer to the question "Aren't Volkswagens too flashy and overpowered?"

That turned out to be the key to Denim's fondness for his Dauphine.  He'd bought it from a retired chemistry teacher in Des Plaines because it was cheap but found on the way back that he could drive it wide open flat out all the time and just manage to keep from being mowed down by ordinary traffic. He thought that was immense fun and called the little car "The Secret Racer."  With some masking tape and a spray can of red Rustoleum he even added a racing stripe to advertise the secret.

A childhood bicycle accident had left Denim with a right leg that worked fine but looked as if it had been hacked off and sewn on backward so he was safe from the draft. He was, in fact, just marking time counting stove bolts at the Toastmaster factory in Algonquin while he waited for a sign to tell him what to do for the rest of his life.

The morning drive to work took him through the curve where Huntley and Boyer roads meet and it was his joy to push the Dauphine through it as fast as it would go, not that that was very. Indeed, one day a pheasant standing by the side of the road eyed his approach, decided he wasn't a threat and trotted over to the other side in obvious contempt of the onrushing (so to speak) vehicle.  The same thing happened the next morning.  And the next.  It got to be a habit.

One late October morning there'd been a heavy frost and the curve had a coating of rime.  The pheasant's beady eyes glowed in Denim's headlights as the bird watched his approach and began his customary insulting amble.  On the second step, however, it lost its footing, fell on its behind and slid across the rest of the road on its tailfeathers, an expression of surprise and indignation clear upon its beak.

Denim began to laugh so hard he couldn't see straight, missed the curve and took out 75 feet of field corn before the Dauphine came to rest. He was late to work that morning, got yelled at by the foreman, quit and decided he might as well go to college and kill time there. Eventually he became an automotive engineer.  He wasn't a bad engineer but neither was a very good one. He finally worked his way up to Intermediate Vehicle Chief of Ashtrays at Oldsmobile but took early retirement when everyone quit smoking and GM closed the division.

He lives on a pension now in Boca Raton, FL, spending his time throwing peanuts to seagulls. More precisely, he throws peanuts at seagulls which he calls "rats with wings." Occasionally he'll hit one just right producing an expression of surprise and indignation upon its beak. Then he  laughs an old man's laugh and wanders off to play bingo with some old ladies who think he's a hottie because he still has hair.

Boyer Curve on Huntley Road is gone now but it's said that sometimes on a frosty morning just before the sun rises you can still see a pair of ghostly headlights traveling where it used to be.  Slowly, of course.

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