A Laugh Threatening Situation
Chapter 6 – Twisting in a Tree Tunnel
New here? Start at the beginning.
But I have owned two Toyota Corollas. Turns out my wise professor stepdad was right. Cheap, reliable, easy-to-fix cars are a great idea.
Especially when you’re paying your own way through college.
My weekly budget freshman year consisted of $5 for gas, four-for-a-dollar hot dogs, six-for-a-dollar instant mac n’ cheese, and whatever was left was for beer.
The basic staples.
I did most of my shopping at Circle K.2A chain of gas station convenience stores. Their .99¢ fake cheese nachos were also not horrible.
Nobody really needs a car in New York, so I’d sold the hotted-up Corolla back in Brooklyn, but now I was in North Carolina and I needed wheels to get to campus. And more importantly, get to the beach.
Having experienced the reliability of boring cars, I saved up and bought myself another. Same exact model, same exact price ($700) but five years newer.
This time I didn’t do anything to make it cool except install a good stereo and a sunroof.
I ended up in North Carolina because my best friend from high school, Rob, ended up going to college at Duke.
I was still figuring out what I wanted to do and he was just figuring out that he hated Duke, so he invited me down to crash in his dorm room and hang out.
On my first night there we ate mushrooms and discovered you can use cardboard boxes as sleds on steep grassy hills. Until they break and you end up spilling down to the bottom where the stars in the sky soak up your soul.
People saw us having fun and started searching for things they could slide on too. The next morning the hill was littered with broken boxes, orange cafeteria trays (fast), and garbage cans (more of a roll than a slide).
And I was deemed cool enough to earn an invite on Rob’s fraternity pledge trip, even though I wasn’t pledging, let alone even a student.
Rob’s future frat boy brothers had rented a bunch of apartments down in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and immediately upon arrival two full kegs of beer were tapped and mayhem ensued.
We formed teams; freshmen and sophomores vs. juniors and seniors. Whoever killed their keg first “won.” I joined the freshmen and we set to work. It wasn’t until after we’d proudly pulled out the tap, waving it like a trophy, that we realized the other team wasn’t even trying.
I wasn’t technically in college, but already I was learning a lot.
One thing I knew nothing about was LSD. I have never dropped acid, but some of the guys on the trip were self-proclaimed experts. And not knowing then what I know now I thought it would be hilarious to fuck with them.
One of the seniors who had been goading us on during the keg competition went outside to sit on the seawall and have a smoke. And me, being the practical joker that I am, happened to have some exploding cigarette loads with me.
So I sat down next to him hoping to exact some mild form of revenge. I could tell he was tripping by the way he was staring at, and talking to the sea.
I surreptitiously slipped a load into one of his smokes and teased it out of the box so that when he went for another, it would be the obvious one to pull from the pack.
And then I waited. And waited. And waited.
And then, finally, he goes to spark one up. I watch out of my peripheral vision, anticipation at an all-time high.
He moves slower than a sloth.
Reaches for the pack. Pause and a big breath.
Opens the pack. Pause and a big breath.
Pulls out a smoke (the right one!) Pause and a big breath.
It’s like every movement of his body exhausts him.
He grabs his lighter. Pause and a big breath.
Holds the lighter up to his face. Pause and a big breath.
This is ridiculous. Does he know? Is he fucking with me?
Then, a flick of the Bic and his face lights up in a golden glow. Pause and a big breath.
Finally, he moves the flame to the tip of his smoke and…
It’s perfect. The end of his cigarette blows up. Bits of brown tobacco fly everywhere. The white paper at the tip curls up like in a cartoon.
He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t make a noise. Doesn’t say a word. Just slowly puts the cigarette back down and stares out at the sea.
I don’t know how he interpreted this experience. Maybe I cured him of a horrible habit. Maybe he’s in a psych ward.
Maybe he’s reading this, and if so, all I can say is, that was real, it really happened, and I’m sorry.
The next day we decided to cure our hangovers by having lunch at a place called Gabby’s Ribs. Gabby’s was a total tourist joint that served up all-you-can-eat chicken, chops, steak, and, of course, ribs.
Freshman and sophomores vs. juniors and seniors again. Who can eat the most? But this time everyone was playing to win.
Nobody had time for garlic bread, baked potatoes, or salad. This was a carnivorous competition and the plates were stacking up.
As gross as it was, it got grosser the longer we played the game. The first plate of food at Gabby’s was fresh off the grill, juicy, tender, and delicious. But every time we asked our waitress for more, what she brought back was increasingly dry, tough, and gristly.
If it’s even possible to eat yourself to death, we came close.
We spent the next 12 hours curled up on the carpet, moaning and groaning, many of us seriously contemplating permanent veganism.
When I could finally move, I jumped in the Corolla and headed back to North Carolina to a place called Wrightsville Beach which I’d heard had decent surf.
By now my parents were starting to freak out that I wasn’t in college. As much fun as I’d had with Rob at Duke, I knew it wasn’t for me. So I enrolled myself at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, highly renowned as a party school with a terrible graduation rate.
This did not make my parents feel much better. But I loved it.
Surfing, partying, making new friends. We even formed our own fake fraternity called Phi Fucka You3Despite our best intentions, after I left UNCW, ΦFƱ eventually went “legit” and became the Mu-Zeta chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. which became famous for throwing the best parties.
And it was on my way home from one of these parties, cruising in my Corolla, where I came close to croaking.
I shouldn’t have been driving. Let’s start with that. I knew better. But it was too far to borrow a bike, and it was raining.
A friend of a friend heard I was heading back to the beach and asked if he could bum a ride.
We took back roads to avoid the cops which meant there were no streetlights. The words “dark and stormy night” could not be more apt.
This road, this night, this situation demanded full concentration. Hands at three and ten. Eyes ahead. Music off.
My drunken car companion on the other hand was not amused by my intentional focus and desire to get home alive and un-arrested.
Ten minutes into our trip, as we headed towards a section of road where trees on both sides extended symmetrically to create a leafy tunnel, he broke the silence with a simple question.
“Do you know what an e-brake is?”
I didn’t, and in case you don’t either, I’ll elaborate.
An e-brake or handbrake turn (also known as a bootlegger’s turn) is a driving technique used to deliberately slide a car sideways so it can skid through a tight turn.
Rally car drivers are pretty much the only people who should ever be doing these, but my navigator didn’t get the memo.
So as we headed into the tunnel of trees he yanked up my emergency brake, hard.
And time. Slowed. Down.
If you’ve ever been in a car accident before, you may have experienced this feeling.
We skidded in slow motion as the Corolla spun like a carnival teacup ride.
But instead of going in circles, we spun forward in a straight line through the tree tunnel.
And then, impossibly, maybe even magically, the car straightened out.
We didn’t flip. We didn’t crash into a tree. We didn’t even come close to another car.
We just kept going as if nothing happened.
Both of us knew we’d come right up to the edge of our mortality.
If you’ve ever seen a small child play with a toy car, you know the impossible, physics-defying twists and turns a Matchbox can make when guided by their hand.
That night we discovered what it felt like to be in a car like that. Not guided not by a child, but maybe guided by God.
Definitely driven by an idiot.
So we continued our journey, slowly, safely, in silent contemplation.
Life Pro Tips
- Don’t drink and drive and make sure drunk passengers sit in the back.
- Don’t go to Duke (I eventually transferred to, and graduated from, UNC-Chapel Hill).
- Don’t eat your body weight in meat in one sitting.
- 1See Chapter 4
- 2A chain of gas station convenience stores. Their .99¢ fake cheese nachos were also not horrible.
- 3Despite our best intentions, after I left UNCW, ΦFƱ eventually went “legit” and became the Mu-Zeta chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.