Stop Sign Runner

You may not be aware of this, but sometimes people do foolish things when they’re kids. One of my best friends from childhood has a birthday coming up tomorrow, and as I was thinking about him this morning, I couldn’t help replaying in my mind some of the crazier things I let him talk me into over the years.

The area where we grew up in Oklahoma was wide open rural country. There could easily be a quarter mile or more between your house and your closest neighbor. While this made it awkward (and often unpleasant) when you required some neighborly favor such as to borrow a cup of sugar—especially on one of the 348 days of the year in Oklahoma when it’s either windy, freezing, raining, or blazing hot—certainly it also had its advantages. One of the greatest of these was that there was never much traffic around, even on the bigger roads. I can recall hours and hours of time I spent as a boy just riding my bike on major streets, for miles and miles, and very rarely seeing a car.

Of course I’m a parent myself now, and there’s no way I’d ever tolerate such nonsense. Whether it’s true that things actually are worse now than they were when I was a kid, or just that because of 24-hour news cycles and the Internet we’re more hyper-aware of kidnappings, assaults, and the occasional pelting of an innocent pedestrian with a watermelon thrown from a car, I have each of my kids outfitted with an elaborate homemade knockoff of Lojack. Furthermore, I’ve equipped each of them with great skills at screaming loudly and ferociously biting, kicking, scratching, pulling hair, gouging eyes, stomping toes, breaking fingers, racking, vomiting, urinating, and setting you on fire. (It’s what Jesus would do.) When I was a kid, I never thought about that stuff.

When a youngster comes of tender driving age, having so little traffic is a terrific perk. Back in the day, if your parents were cool, you had multiple opportunities to practice driving without all the accompanying anxiety that you were going to smash into somebody. Most of the roads had pretty level sides too, with lots of grass in the bar ditches on either side, so even if you had trouble keeping it centered, you weren’t gonna do too much damage.

Random Aside: When I was a little kid, I remember one of my dad’s buddy’s favorite “jokes” was: “You know why they call them ‘bar ditches’? ‘Cause that’s where you jump to when you see a ‘bar’ a-comin’!” “Bar” of course being a clever hillbilly rendition of the word “bear,” and thus the joke. Never mind that if an actual, live bear were to see you jump down into the ditch in front of him, it would in no way dissuade him from proceeding to maul and also subsequently eat you. Bad jokes often yield bad advice. Nevertheless, my dad’s buddy would laugh heartily each of the million and eight times I heard him tell it. But I digress…

Because of these optimal learning conditions, we country kids—most of us, anyway—became exceptional drivers. (An unfortunate side effect was that we also learned to speed at an early age, because everyone did and what did it matter, anyway? You weren’t going to hurt anybody but yourself because nobody else was around.) Another phenomenon resulting from minimal traffic is the magical stop sign “float.” When 99.98% of the time you arrive at an intersection with a 4-way stop and no other cars are present, one tends rather than to stop, more to slow to an appropriate speed and then to press gently on through. And out of this was born my genius friend’s magnificent combination scientific/philosophical discovery…

Johnny (not Johnny Davis, but Johnny Ward) figured out that when you’re driving in the country at night, you can see other people’s headlights coming from a great distance. Therefore, as you approach an intersection—say, two or three hundred feet out—it’s very easy to look both left and right and see if another car is headed your way. And if no one’s coming, you can “safely” gun it and just blast through the intersection, stop sign or no, at top speed. After he did this for a while, it further occurred to him that if a police officer happened to be sitting there in the dark waiting for the odd speeder or stop-sign-runner, he of course didn’t want to get caught. So his brilliant innovation was to turn off his headlights before blasting through. It was a stroke of genius that occurred at a magical time, and papers should have been written about it and presented at international conferences.

When he taught it to me and suggested I try it as well, I asked him what might happen were I to approach the same intersection from a direction perpendicular to the one in which he was traveling, and we both tried to blast through that same space simultaneously with our lights off. He tried to convince me that statistically the odds were in our favor. If you know me, you know my position on math. It’s not that numbers don’t impress me; it’s more so that I fear and loathe them.

Then he suggested that perhaps we work out an agreement where we only use the lights-out trick when we’re traveling on North-South roads, and not East-West. Again, those of you who know me know I can barely tell time on a clock with hands, let alone tell you what direction I’m going. So I practiced what I believe remains the best advice for teenagers to this very day: I abstained. Who (besides Johnny) knows what I was missing?

What were the craziest (like, most dangerous) things you did when you were a kid? Was there anything wild you wanted to try but didn’t and, looking back now, you regret? Why do you think that TV show “Real People” was canceled? It was great. (Plus, I had a super-crush on Sarah Purcell.)

15 Responses to “Stop Sign Runner”

  1. Mark Morris November 10, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    While I cannot ever remember committing this particular offense while in the driver’s seat, I do recall having the crap scared out of me when Johhny pulled the self same stunt as I was riding in the passenger seat of his white Toyota pickup on more than one occasion. It probably happened when I was riding in the back as well at least once I am sure. Good times! If my kids are reading this I will beat you senseless should you ever attempt it.

    • Brannon November 12, 2010 at 5:31 am #

      Certainly I hope your kids are too cool to read some old guy’s blog.

  2. mary November 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    Oh, I could tell a story about Jill Collins, wrestling homecoming our freshman or sophomore year, her mom’s jaguar, a ditch, rain and not knowing how to use the windshield wipers!!!

    • Brannon November 12, 2010 at 5:32 am #

      I think you just did. (Note to self: Never get caught doing anything embarrassing around Mary because she’ll tattle.)

  3. Johnny November 11, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    Good times! Mark, you were the only person in Sunday dinner history to flip Grandmother’s gocart (remember the “lime limo”?). Brannon, the North/South rule would have worked.

    • Brannon November 12, 2010 at 5:35 am #

      I remember that day! (Granddad was P-issssssed.) In all fairness, I myself once T-boned the swingset with it (with Brannon as a passenger) and threw out the suspension. John: 25 years have passed—and I remain unconvinced.

  4. Steve November 11, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    I remember Johnny doing this with me riding in the Galaxie 500 going about 90. I’m pretty sure no one was going the other way, though I doubt we would have noticed as the Galaxie would have just squashed them like a bug.

    • Brannon November 12, 2010 at 5:36 am #

      Oh, another story about the Galaxie is coming… Brian Maynard will make an appearance. (That’s all I can say for now without giving it away.)

  5. Kat Soup November 11, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    I’ve done this. Taught to me by the best/worst driver I know, my older brother. He taught me many things in those tender developing years and this was one of them.

    • Brannon November 12, 2010 at 5:36 am #

      Certainly you realize now: Your brother was trying to kill you.

  6. Kendra Golden November 11, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    “Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor.” Andre 3000

    • Brannon November 12, 2010 at 5:37 am #

      Ah, good one. (I believe you mean André 3000.)

  7. Cooper Strange November 17, 2010 at 9:35 am #

    Having grown up small-town/rural myself, I too am not under the lights-on law. For stop signs, I live as if under the law for the benefit of my weaker brothers. However, I do use it on the open highways to keep from hitting deer. You know, “deer in the headlights”? Well, if you turn the headlights off, they can actually think and make wise decisions befitting a wild animal with that primal instinct.

    Another perk: you can see the stars so wonderfully out there in the middle of nowhere.

    • Brannon November 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

      But it’s so much more of a hassle to try and shoot the deer without the headlights. I mean, it’s like so-called “fishing” without the dynamite: Why would you even bother?

  8. Brannon November 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    Apropos of nothing: Every time I see this post title, it reminds me of the Stevie Wonder song, “Part-Time Lover,” and I sing the title to myself to that tune. That’s not weird, is it?

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image

 (Website address)

XHTML: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>