“Common sense is not so common. – Voltaire
What is there about graying hair that causes the days of our youth to beckon, makes us say things like, “Reminds me of that time when … ?”
An ad offering an early 70s Datsun 240Z for sale last week reminded me of one that I owned just like it. It also reminded me of that time when late one night some years ago in the vast expanse of West Texas, “back before I had good sense,” that I thought I was driving the fastest thing on the road.
College was already in my rear view mirror, but not my love for fast cars. I wasn’t looking for a “Z-Car,” as they were called. But, the two-seater sports car that looked as good as it ran caught my eye sitting on a used car lot in Longview, Texas. My ’70 Volkswagen convertible was neither fast nor especially sporty looking, although it was more fun to drive than the law should allow. The Datsun appealed to me, was in my price range, and had air conditioning—something neither my VW, nor my motorcycle could boast. An hour after the test drive, it was mine.
My first road trip was out west to Abilene, Texas. As editor of a newspaper in central Louisiana, I made sure Friday’s paper was on the press by 10:00 p.m. on a Thursday night, then headed west out of the Pelican State. Crossing Toledo Bend Reservoir at Pendleton Bridge, I turned north traveling up through Center, Texas, and then westward, arriving in Fort Worth at about 1:00 a.m. After refueling both the 240-Z and my coffee cup, I pointed the long sleek nose of the Japanese sports car due west into a region of the Lone Star State one can only appreciate after having driven it. There is very little between Fort Worth and Abilene unless you pull off the interstate in places like Weatherford, Mineral Wells or Thurber. About the only change in elevation is Ranger Hill, a considerable grade challenging truck drivers in the middle of nowhere, other than being located close to Ranger, Texas. I sometimes believe that if it were not for Ranger Hill, on a clear night leaving Fort Worth you could almost see the lights of Abilene 149.7 miles due west.
The night air was euphoric, the sky was clear, and the Z-Car’s overhead cam multi-carburetor six-cylinder motor was orchestrating sweet music through its split manifold dual exhaust system. With very little traffic cluttering the desolate span of 1-20, I let the car stretch her legs up into the 85-90 region in hopes of an earlier arrival in Taylor County, Texas.
Had my mind not been sidetracked by the late hour and listening to the radio, I might have noticed the headlights behind me sooner. Sensing they were getting closer the second time I looked quickly got my attention. Headlights growing brighter behind you when you’re rolling at 90 or better will do that.
Fearing the worst, I eased off and watched the speedometer needle start a gradual descent, just in case the driver behind the headlights was uniformed. A lack of flashing lights eased my fears, but increasing size and brightness kept my attention glued to the rear view mirror. Then I saw it. Rubbing my eyes in disbelief, I looked again. Above the increasingly larger headlights, I saw no red and blue, but what I did see was a row of bright amber. Running lights, they were. I was being overtaken by a large truck.
Game on, I smiled, and mashed the accelerator smoothly until it stopped against the floor. The healthy Datsun motor responded in a heartbeat catapulting the speedometer needle back up and through the century mark. The looming luminance continued to narrow the distance between it and the Z’s tail lights through 110, then 120 and knocking on 130. We were still gaining speed when the headlights pulled over into the left lane to pass.
The car’s speedometer teased me with its 160 at the end of the arch, but a rare modicum of youthful common sense kicked in about then, and I lifted my foot off the accelerator. The apparition effortlessly passing me in the night as I split the wind at 130 miles per hour was in the form of a black conventional-cab Peterbilt diesel truck with chrome everything. It was pulling a flatbed trailer, empty except for a stack of neatly folded and securely tied tarps. Brilliant flames of orange and yellow, contrasting brightly against an ebony night sky, trailed off the tips of chrome stacks scant inches before bending sharply back into the wind and extending for what looked to be 10 feet or more over the trailer. As the rig sailed around me, the running lights blinked a couple of times, as if to say, “See ya’ round,” before flames and tail lights started to fade into the darkness ahead.
I would have told you back then that the popular old saying about “running flames” was just a truck driver’s coffee shop tale—that is until that night. But, I will tell you now with certainty that good sense, common or not, is something we don’t appreciate—that is until after we’ve gained it in exchange for the blessing of gray hair.
— Leon Aldridge