It was the summer of ’57, between my junior and senior year at good ol’ Will Rogers High in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For the most part, it was a typical summer for a sixteen year old kid with too much time on his hands; sleeping late, hanging out with your best buds, and cruising the streets at night to pick up chicks although I can’t remember actually finding any chicks that agreed to be picked up. The best we ever did was to get a few smiles (you silly boys) and an encouraging wave now and then.
I had a car, a very cool ’49 Ford, baby blue with whitewall tires and matching fender skirts. The Ford had a healthy V-8 (I have no idea the horsepower) but it would burn rubber and make a little smoke and that was the important thing. Gas mileage was not a problem—the average price at the time being around thirty cents a gallon. It was the transmission that frequently kept me afoot. It was not uncommon for lower priced cars of that era to have manual transmissions (automatic was for the rich) and I had this problem of keeping first gear intact. I became quite skilled at easing away from stop signs in second. Fortunately, my father was a mechanic and had been most of his life. He worked nights at a Gulf station on east Eleventh Street. I stopped by the station often, either for gas or seeking a free repair on my latest transmission casualty. My dad, bless his heart, would simply shake is head and say “Put ‘er on the rack.”
During the times when my ride was in the Gulf hospital, I rode shotgun with my friend Huey. His given name was Hughes but I think the only that person that ever called him that was his mama. Huey had part-time access to his daddy’s car, a Buick, a big Buick with portholes on the sides, fins in the back, and get this…an automatic transmission.
Huey was, and still is, the only guy I’ve ever known to get a traffic violation for speeding…in reverse. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin”. I was with him, saw it, and can testify to it. One of Huey’s other high points during his high school days was the incident forever known as “playing airplane”. Seems Huey and some other boys were out one night on a backwoods gravel road, when they came across a sharp, short, and very steep incline. Huey immediately saw the possibilities. He backed up to get a run at it and hit the rise somewhere around 65 miles an hour (or so I’m told. I missed out on that one, damn it). The big Buick went airborne, sailed for an impressive distance, but the landing…well. I don’t know the actual number of car parts that were dislodged or permanently damaged from the undercarriage of the big Buick on that particular evening, but Huey’s daddy did.
Now, both being without wheels, Huey and I had a lot of time to hang out, talk, and while away the days of summer. It was during one of those talks that the subject of our poverty came up. In truth, Huey’s folks had a little money, his dad being a professor at Tulsa University, but apparently there was no trickle down to Huey’s pockets. We were broke.
“I got this idea I’ve been thinking about,” Huey said. “We’ll get rich, have power, and live like kings.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“We’ll overthrow a country. I have one in mind, Paraguay.”
“Sounds good. But why Paraguay?”
“I’ve been doing some research at the library. (Remember this was before the Internet) For starters, the government has always been unstable, one coup after another. One more won’t be a big deal. The way I see it, all we have to do is find some rebels, make a lot of promises, take over the radio stations—there’s only five—and gain control of one major river that goes down the middle of the place.”
“Uh, Huey, don’t they speak Spanish in Paraguay? We don’t speak Spanish.”
“That’s where you come in. Take a Spanish class next year. Simple.”
“Okay, but won’t we need a little money to overthrow a government? What about that?”
“I think I’ve got that covered. As you know, I am now the president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship in Tulsa.” (It was true. Huey was into the church thing.) “It’s a national organization you know. All I have to do get elected as top dog.”
“The MYF has funds dummy, lot of funds. I’m talking embezzlement here.”
It didn’t of course, the fantasy and dreams of wealth and power died along with the autumn leaves of Fall. Huey went on to become a loved and respected preacher, presiding over several churches in his lifetime. We lost Huey way too soon, a victim of heart problems. But before he passed, we exchanged a series of e-mails, one in which Huey extolled upon the virtues of the then President of the United States, George W. Bush.
I replied: My Dear Friend Huey. I think George W. Bush may possibly be one of the worst presidents this country has ever seen.
The preacher responded immediately.
You are full of shit.
Your friend Huey.
I miss my friend Huey