I almost ran off the road while driving from Conyers to Athens last week. In the lane right beside me was one of the largest vehicles I had seen since the oil embargo of 1973. It was a battleship. It was a land yacht. It was a dark green 1968 Buick Electra 225 -- deuce and a quarter. It was big as a room. It was one of the most beautiful machines I have ever seen and it took me right back to my high school days.
My daddy always drove Buicks -- used Buicks. Usually they were very used Buicks -- the kind that you couldn't drive to Florida without replacing a radiator hose or water pump or fan belt, or all three. But when I was a senior in high school somebody made my daddy an offer on a 2-year-old Buick Electra that he couldn't refuse. It seems a gentleman had died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the car -- yes, it was in a closed garage -- and his widow just couldn't bring herself to keep it. She wanted rid of it quickly and just needed somebody to "take up payments." It was the closest thing my family ever had to a new car.
Let me tell you about that car. It had a 429 cubic inch engine which produced 360 horsepower and speeds of up to 130 miles per hour. Don't ask me how I know and please don't tell my daughter. She already answers to the nickname "Danger." By the way, it got about 8 miles to the gallon, which didn't matter so much because gasoline was a quarter a gallon.
The car was roomy, understand -- inside and out. It had leather seats, which is a luxury I still haven't had on a personal vehicle. The seats were also electric and with a push of a button I could make them recline, which is a very nice thing for a 17-year-old on a date. Of course it was a nightmare for mothers of teenage girls across three counties.
That Electra had cruise control and a little needle on the speedometer that you could set so a buzzer would go off to warn you when you were going too fast. The buzzer was really annoying and every time I borrowed Daddy's car I would immediately set it over to the 130 mark so I wouldn't be bothered. And every time -- every stinking time --I would forget to set it back. If my memory had been better I could have used the car a lot more often.
This was the late '60s, remember, so naturally such a fine car was equipped with the latest in music technology. That meant four speakers -- two in front and two in the rear --an AM-FM radio and -- drum roll, please -- an eight-track tape player. I can still close my eyes and hear the solid gold sounds of the Righteous Brothers, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel coming out of those speakers.
The best thing about the car, other than the roomy interior and reclining leather seats, of course, was the horn. That '68 Buick had the dangdest horn you have ever heard in your life. It sounded just like a train. I ain't making this up, y'all. It did. Ask anybody who went to Newton County High School in 1970.
I should be ashamed to admit this, but my buddies and I spent a lot of Friday and Saturday nights riding around in that car, lurking near railroad crossings and waiting for unsuspecting victims. You may recall that in those days Georgia law required that all motorists stop at all railroad crossings. We would pull up behind someone at a crossing. After they stopped and were ready to go again, I would sit down on the "train horn." The driver of the car in front of us would invariably slam on brakes and peer down the tracks in both directions. As soon as they were ready to go again I would hit the horn again.
It was really mystifying. That horn sounded just like a train, understand. I have seen lots and lots of people actually get out of their car to look down the railroad tracks before crossing and I have seen others do a three point turn and go back the way they came, rather than cross the tracks in front of my daddy's Buick.
There was one particular crossing that was on top of a steep hill. If you got behind a girl just learning to drive a straight shift you could cause her to choke down three or four times. More on a good night.
I know, I know. I was a terrible teenager, but I outgrew most of it. I'll tell you one thing, though. I'd purely love to take my lovely wife Lisa for a ride in that '68, and find a secluded spot to show her how well the electric seats worked.
Anybody know where I can get a Neil Diamond eight-track?
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.