Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Red Corvair

What's the point? I figured out that the only revolution I had to fight was my own. I decided that sex, drugs and rock n roll were the way for ME to go. I realized I wasn't going to change the world, I could only change myself. And I did. I got the hell out of Dodge and moved to Florida where the sun shone every day and people were nice to me and we were all broke so I didn't stand out in the crowd. We all shared our drugs and our bodies and our food. Nobody went hungry even if all we had to eat was spaghetti. We did have some University of Miami kids in our apartment complex and they were the rich kids, but they used their money to buy ribs, burgers and anything we could make on the grill on weekends. They fed all of us.

And then when we were all stoned one little moment changed everything. Hank was on his way home from waiting tables at 2 AM and decided to take the shortcut through the ghetto. The bars had just closed so all the drunks were out in the streets. He was tired. It was late. He was going slowly but wanted to get home. A woman stepped out in front of the car and he hit her--the crowd started running to his car and he freaked and stepped on the gas and came home.

When he got to our building he saw my light was still on so he came to my door and we visited for awhile. We talked for about an hour about work and school. Then he said he was really tired so he went to his apartment and I went to bed.

My bedroom was on the corner of the building next to an alley where people sometimes parked their cars. I awoke to the sound of sirens and walkie-talkies and when I looked outside I saw the cops surrounding his red Corvair. I watched them cuff him and put him in the black and white and drive away. I started banging on doors and waking people up. Nobody knew anything. One of the rich college kids was the son of a lawyer. He called his dad. His dad called the court and found out what had happened. He wired money down to get Hank out of jail while the accident was investigated.

The woman was dead. She was black. It was 1969. It was the south.

It was a long drawn out process and Allen's father paid for everything--an attorney, fines, whatever. When it was all over, Hank got a ticket for careless driving.

It changed all of our lives. We were mostly northerners and killing a person (black or white) was a horrible thing, even if it was an accident. Down south there were no charges because she was black. Hank changed. I changed. We recognized that there was no justice. He was so sorry. I thought he was going to kill himself. He was just barely managing to pay for school with that job and he could never go back to the restaurant. He dropped out of school, bought an old pickup truck and hit the road. I was devastated. He was a good kid. His life was ruined. He would rather have gone to jail. He killed a woman and they just gave him a ticket.

We took more drugs. But, one thing we learned was that if one of us was in a bind, the rich kids would come through for us. That was always kind of amazing. Allen and Hank weren't roommates. They weren't best friends. We just all lived in this 40 unit apartment building with a pool in the middle. It looked like a converted motel. It was very communal and we all did the dishes and listened to the Who. Everybody helped everybody else. It was a whole new life. I was so used to being shunned, flat-chested, not pretty enough, and having my mother telling me that I ruined her life, and my family hated me because I was a hippie.

I guess I was on Hank’s side. It was an accident but that woman’s life was worth more than the cost of a traffic ticket. I wonder what happened to him after he left town. A little piece of me left with him in that pickup truck.


Jai Joshi said...

Oh my God, how devastating for you and him. The injustices in the world astound me everyday.


Susan Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Wiswell said...

You could write an interesting story of the particular moment or day when there were no charges for the death of a black man. I didn't know that was ever the case, even in Southern litigation.

Susan Cross said...

It was happening up north too. Have you read Bonfire of the Vanities or seen the movie?

J. M. Strother said...

Wow. Just wow. This as I'm diving into The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. People really don't understand what it was like, not just in the South, back then. This is quite moving, Susan. Wow.

mazzz in leeds said...

Lest we forget.
It's certainly not a perfect world, but at least we have moved forward a little!

Susan Cross said...

John W., I'm not sure what you mean by your comment. Cases like this rarely make it to a courtroom and even if they did, can you imagine being judged by a jury of your peers? Condider the fact that jury lists are pulled from voter registration rolls and the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. Now imagine the south in the 1960s. What do you think the ratio of blacks to whites in those 2 categories was during that time? Now envision what a jury of your peers would look like.

KjM said...

A stunning story, told in such clear prose. It was possible to see the whole string of events, even though I didn't live in this country then.

And the ache, the lasting ache, felt all round. Indeed, no justice done.

An excellent read.

John Wiswell said...

No need to be so defensive, Susan. The intent of my comment is pretty obvious - I literally did not know this fact about history.

Susan Cross said...

@John, I'm sorry if that sounded defensive. I sincerely didn't know what you meant about capturing a moment in time when this could take place. There was a racially charged tension in Miami at this time. This was just one little sampling of what might have happened. Although this one takes place in the south, similar instances happened all over the country.

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe was another fictional example which took place in NY. The movie was pretty good, too.

I always welcome your comments, John. They give insight to my writing. I should have taken yours more literally. I think our age difference may have contributed to my belief that everyone knew how common these injustices were back then. That was foolish of me.

Again, didn't mean to sound defensive. I may expand on this story. Flash is always 'bare bones' and perhaps this one would be worth expanding upon to give more of a setting.

Don't ever hesitate to comment on my posts, nor to respond to my comments on your comments. I probably should have DMd you on Twitter.