I was a real hell-raiser as a kid. A really exciting Friday night for me was going over to my friend Pete’s house, then we’d get in his Mustang and drive from our shitty little town to a shitty medium-size town that had a Blockbuster Video. We’d pick out a few movies on VHS, load up on candy and soda, maybe get a pizza, then drive back to Pete’s house. Then we’d eat junk food and watch bad movies on Pete’s tiny TV, the TV and the VCR sitting on the floor in Pete’s room and us sitting on the floor in front of it. Good times. No, really. Those were some good times.
Sometimes I get nostalgic about Blockbuster and I regret their demise. But then I remember the time when they sent me to collections over a twelve dollar late fee, and I realize that the jerks probably had it coming.
But anyway, back to the part where I almost died. We’d just left Pete’s house, him driving his Mustang, (just to correct your mental picture here, this was The Worst Mustang Ever Created, an anemic mid-80s shoebox-on-wheels, white with red vinyl upholstery) pulling onto the freeway. He was trying to get his car up to speed, but the car (probably a minivan; Pete hated and still hates minivans) in front of us put on its brakes. “What the crap!” said Pete, and swerved into the fast lane to pass the offending vehicle.
But then the minivan swerved into the fast lane, nearly clipping Pete. “Asshole!” he yelled, and swerved back into the slow lane.
And there, in the middle of the lane, was a shiny red gas can. Obviously, in retrospect, what the minivan was swerving to avoid.
The helpful co-driver that I am, I pointed and screamed, “Gas can!”
It was too late to do anything. Wham! Crunch! The metal gas can disappeared under Pete’s car. It caught on the undercarriage, and we could hear it scraping against the pavement. Font of wisdom that I am, I screamed, “Stop stop stop!”
Pete merged over to the center median and stopped the car. I got out and went to take a look. The metal gas can was hopelessly mangled, folded up under the car and wedged there. Friction from being dragged over asphalt at freeway speed had ground the corner off, and I saw a trail of gasoline following us down the median and across the freeway to where the collision had occurred.
And then came one of those moments that if I’d seen it in a movie, I would have called it too unrealistic. I don’t know if it was the exhaust from the car, a spark from a passing semi, or simply the puckish sense of humor of a bored god, but at that moment the trail of gasoline ignited. I watched in horror while this tongue of flame crept towards Pete’s Mustang and the gas can wedged underneath it.
“Go go go!” I screamed, always full of good advice.
Pete floored it. Which didn’t do much in his Mustang, but still. The car surged forward, the gas can still grinding on the pavement, the advancing trail of flaming gasoline just feet from his back bumper. Meanwhile, I danced around frantically, trying to stomp out the flames, or to rub away enough fuel to interrupt the makeshift fuse following Pete’s car down the shoulder of the highway. It didn’t work, and I kept running ahead a few more feet to get in front of the flames.
I wish I had a better ending for the story. Something involving heroics. An immense fireball. A fistfight. Paratroopers. A moment of truth where our protagonists rise above their problems and save the day. But no. The gas can ran out of gas, and the trail of gasoline ran dry. At that same moment, some good Samaritan pulled his car over and jumped out with a fire extinguisher. We, and the Mustang, were safe.
We pried the gas can out from under the car. It looked like a smashed beer can. We took a moment to compose ourselves, then we went to Blockbuster and rented Hell Comes to Frogtown and Big Trouble in Little China. We stopped at the Safeway and picked up a half pound of sour gummy worms and some potato chips. Then we went home and watched some movies.