This story was originally in Chapter 20 of the book-History Teachin' and Laissez-Faire Parenting. Ty Cobb let me drive his new 280-Z to the Ackerman Junior High Band Banquet when I was only 13 years old! Moon's philosophy of parenting was laissez-faire!
Ty, single, a couple of years of work at the superintendent’s office under his belt, bought a new five-speed, fuel-injected Datsun 280Z.
“Shane, I hear you got a date Saturday night.”
“Yeah, kinda, I’m taking Drenette Aurrell to the junior high band banquet.”
Although, I liked the band all right, the real motivation for band membership? It enabled you to attend the Jr. High band banquet before you were old enough to date. Most underage kids were dropped off and picked up by their parents.
“How would you like to take my 280Z?”
“Did he really just ask that!?”
I thought about it one millisecond, “Sure, thanks that’s so nice of you to ask!”
My hasty answer was based on, at the ripe age of thirteen, I was already driving Moon’s Nash Rambler around Ackerman like there was no tomorrow.
I peered inside, “Oh, it’s a stick shift.”
“Yeah, have you ever driven a stick shift?”
I should have said right then, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Two voices in my head competed for ascendency, fear and pride.
“What if I wreck Ty’s new car?” “How impressed will my date and all my friends be when I pull up in a cool new 280Z!?”
“Yeah, I’ve driven a stick shift a couple of times.”
“Well, you should do alright then.”
I should have listened to the voice of fear because things went poorly from the outset. Saturday afternoon arrived. I showed up at Moon’s house in my suit and tie, corsage in hand. Ty had the 280Z parked in the front yard. I had butterflies.
Ty opened the driver’s side door, “Shane, get in.”
New car smell filled the air, the shiny black leather upholstery glistening in the sun. I sat down in the driver's seat and laid the corsage on the passenger’s seat.
A full day to ponder his offer, I think Ty was worried wondering what he had gotten himself into. He announced, “Shane, let’s practice a little bit.”
When Moon joined Ty in the front yard, I was about to be exposed. Built for power and speed the 280Z delivered hair trigger responses to the slightest movements of clutch and gas pedal. We practiced, I couldn’t ever get it quite right, either letting out on the clutch too slowly or too quickly. The car responded by either stalling or jerking my head back and forth like I was riding a mustang at the rodeo.
“Shane, you’re doing better.”
I knew they were lying because Ty’s expressions changed from worry to dread, a premonition of the appearance of his new car next morning.
“Let’s try again, push in on the clutch and put it in reverse.”
They were at least considering the fact I might need to back up a couple of times that evening. I tried, same result; jerk, spin, stall, turf flying skyward.
Out of practice time, they lied again, “You’ll do alright. Have fun!”
As they watched, off I went, barely able to see over the steering wheel, down the driveway, right on Louisville Street, the car’s engine winding to near explosion, the tachometer’s chartreus needle hitting the orange danger zone.
“Oh yeah, push in on the clutch.”
The tires screeched on the pavement; the car lurched forward. I felt like I’d just been shot out of rocket launcher. I was on my way to the Ackerman Junior High band banquet, hopefully!
I first had to pick up a friend whom I’d proselytized to double date with vivid descriptions of Ty’s cool 280Z. But the well-laid plans that seemed so wonderful the day before now seemed like a nightmare, sheer idiocy, my entire reputation on the line.
That’s when I wondered, “What in the world was I thinking when I conceived the idea of a double date!?”
“Well, I can’t back out now, I guess I’ll have to do the best I can.”
I barely made it to my friend's house, rolling and jerking through a few stop signs along the way. I parked on the street, not daring risk the real chance of crashing into their home. I wondered why I was sweating so much when I rang the doorbell.
My friend’s mother handed him a corsage and said, “Now don’t forget to give this to your sweet date, you both look sooo... handsome.”
I hoped she hadn’t noticed the sweat dripping of my chin.
My friend asked his mom, “Do I really have to pen it on her?”
“Yes, but ask someone at the banquet, they will help you.” “Bye, now.”
My friend asked, “Why’d you park way down here?”
I shrugged my shoulders which felt like they had just done battle with an angry steer, “I don’t know, just did.”
He opened the passenger door, “Who’s is this?”, he lifted Drenette’s corsage from the floor mat that had been jarred from the passenger seat by all the jerking. I watched as he carefully and quickly slid his date’s corsage under the seat.
“Do we have to pick up your date?”
“No, her parents are dropping her off at the banquet.”
I sighed and wiped my brow.
Off we went jerking back and forth in the 280Z through downtown Ackerman staying straight on Louisville Street. I dared a glance up the hill when we passed Moon’s house. I was relieved to discover he and Ty had gone inside. We turned left on Cherry Street, sweat pouring down my face as I calculated whether I needed to risk changing gears again.
I thought to myself, “I think I can make it all the way to the Aurrell’s house in third.”
The tachometer spiked again. “Why are you driving so slow?”
The high-pitched whine of the engine exposed my lie, “I just like going slow on these neighborhood streets.”
We turned right and jerked up the Aurrell’s driveway. The thought occurred to me that Mr. Aurrell might be watching from the living room window. I sure hoped not because I knew it might all end right there.
What sane father allows his daughter to head off in a 280Z with a thirteen-year-old? Furthermore, what sane father allows his thirteen-year-old head off in his best friend’s brand new 280Z? When I switched off the key, my stomach felt like it had been in a washing machine on spin cycle.
My friend asked, “Why you sweatin’ so much?”
“I don’t know. It’s hot out and I don’t like having to wear a blasted tie.”
Mr. and Mrs. Aurrell came out the front door and onto the lawn beside the driveway.
“That’s sure a fancy car you have there, Shane.”
“Drenett should be ready in a couple more minutes.”
Drenett’s older brother, Hal walked out, “Man, Shane, how did you get Ty to let you borrow his car!?”
“I’m not really sure.”
I secretly wondered how I’d gotten myself into such a mess and how I was going to turn the car around in the driveway without killing a few bystanders.
Hal said, “Let me take it for a quick spin.”
“No, I can’t do that, but I’ll let you turn it around here in the drive if you want to.”
A few minutes later we coasted down the drive and halfway to the band banquet. I felt like I had already been to three banquets, back-to-back.
It was the typical junior high banquet and I found myself wondering, “Why is she standing way over there and I’m standing way over here? I just risked my life, my reputation, and Ty’s car, for this?”
I do remember feeling sorry for my friend's date. She was the only girl at the banquet without a corsage, but I wasn’t about to mention hers was out in the 280Z under the seat.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the evening, except the sense of relief I felt when I finally pulled into Moon’s driveway and put Ty’s 280Z into park. I was glad there were no scrapes or dents on the car, but I did worry there might be serious engine damage.
Next morning, Ty came by to get his car. As he walked around the car several times, he seemed more lighthearted than usual and I knew the reason. He was elated to have his car back in one piece!
“Hey, Shane somebody left a corsage under the seat. It’s still in the box.”
“Oh, do whatever you want to with it.”
Moon never asked a single question about the previous evening. It was the way he parented.