During my younger days in Staten Island, New York City during the 1960s, my friends and I used to take turns borrowing our fathers' cars on a rotating basis (without their knowledge). We would all get together and one guy would sneak his dad's keys. Then the guys would push it out of the driveway very quietly then down the street where it was "anything goes" from there on -- as long as the car was home before dad woke up.
One July night in 1969, after a night of driving around the island we would go home and coast the car into the driveway and no one was the wiser. We always had a good time until one night we decided to visit a cemetery at the end of a dead end road.
There were four of us this night. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was my turn to take my dad's station wagon. It was a fairly new Oldsmobile vista cruiser. It had no roof rack. (This is relevant to the story.) We pushed it out of the driveway and down the street. We all jumped in and I started driving around. Little did we know that this night wasn't going to be just another ordinary joy riding experience.
It began just like any other night. Nothing special and it was even getting boring just driving around. One of my friends suggested that we go to a graveyard. He just said a lot of cool things could happen in a cemetery. We figured it had to be better than what was going on, so we headed toward the river.
On the way, one of the guys said he knew of this cemetery at the end of this old road. He gave the directions as we went. Sure enough, all by itself at the end of this lonely old road was a very old cemetery. I remember there was just one street light at the entrance, but the cemetery was dark. I drove up into the cemetery until the road ended. I am not sure why now, but everyone got out of the car except me. Maybe I was nervous, or maybe concerned for my dad's car.
They were all acting goofy. You know how young guys act. A couple of the guys started acting like the Night Of The Living Dead. Climbing on my car, etc., until one of them broke my dad's side mirror off the car. That took the fun out of it for me, so I yelled for everyone to come back so we could leave and go to Wetson's for a burger at the other end of the island. (Staten Islander's: Remember Wetson's? Is it still there?)
The guys came back to the car and one was carrying a wooden cross. It was one of those temporary markers used for graves before the headstone is put on the grave. It was faded, dirty, and some of the paint was missing. The guy wanted to bring it with us, but everyone objected saying it was bad luck. He held it by the end of the longest part below the cross and tossed it with a full swing into the darkness. Then he jumped in and I backed the car out of the cemetery onto the road.
Now under the street light, the guys told me to burn rubber. (Something we said in the '60s meaning to spin the tires.) I tried and tried, but could not break the tires loose from the pavement. So everyone but me got out to lighten the load. I tried and tried, but still couldn't. (It was a family station wagon!) I then drove up the street and backed up as fast as I could and threw it into drive, but the car would just stall.
Now here is a very significant part. One of the guys saw an old tire and tried to put it on the roof to see if the car even had enough power to knock it off. I told him no, it would scratch the paint and he dropped it. Well, the guys all got a big laugh about that. They all got back into the car and we drove down by the river road.
It was a windy road that went up sort of the west side of the island. As we drove along one of the guys suggested we stop by this closed bar he knew of. He said they threw away their empty kegs behind the bar and we could get a few. So we went and I backed in and two guys go out and started loading the kegs. Little to my knowledge that they were lying, the bar was open and a few kegs they took were full.
Well, the bartender had seen or heard us. We took off and now we had the bartender after us in his van. Racing down that winding road, me screaming at them for lying to me and taking the kegs. Them rolling the kegs out of the back of the station wagon in front of the guy's van until the guy broke off the chase.
By now we were all excited and I was very nervous and agitated. Just then someone yelled, "Take a right"! So I slammed on the brakes and made a right up a road with no houses. My friend said that he had been down the road a few days earlier and they had put down fresh tar to make repairs. He suggested that I make one last try to spin the tires in the new tar. I drove for a little bit and he yelled there is the tar, STOP! I did. Being in the excited state that I was, I slammed on the brakes and the car came to a full stop.
Then, after the car came to a full stop, we all heard a scraping noise on the roof of the car and a bang on the hood. There on the hood of my father's car was the wooden cross that everyone saw my friend throw away more than an hour before! We had driven miles, made sharp turns, sudden stops, and drove quite erratically to evade the angry bartender. Yet the cross held on?
Or did it? I don't see how with a smooth roof and no roof rack. Also, the one kid had tried to put the tire on the roof and no one saw it. Did it just get there somehow? One of my friends was beside himself, very upset and yelling at us to get rid of it. The friend who originally found it swore he threw it away. We did all see him do it.
He said it was an omen and we should keep it. I got out of the car, took it off my hood and gave it to him. We took it and talked about it the rest of the night. My one friend never was comfortable with keeping it. We finally drove to the other side of the island that night to Wetson's.
On our way back home, we got stuck driving behind another car. All of a sudden, in what seemed like slow motion, the entire area lit up as bright as day, but with a strange orange glow. Then there was an explosion louder than anything I have heard to this day. The car in front of us and mine were pushed into the oncoming lane by the shock and we both screeched to a halt.
By now my one friend was really upset, saying that we should have never taken the cross. Well, it wasn't the cross's fault. I don't think. It was a huge oil tank from a refinery in New Jersey that exploded. Talk about scary. Well, we all went and watched the fire from across the river before going home. That ended our night of adventure. Our parents never knew.
I got hold of and talked to the friend who took the cross just before I wrote this. I asked him one last time if he had put the cross on the car somehow? Nearly 40 years later, he swears he did not, even explaining that if he did, how would it have stayed on the car so long and no one saw it when they were out of the car a couple times? I had to agree that I had no explanation either.
Oh, and one last thing. Remember my friend that was so upset about the cross? It turned out that when the cross was cleaned and examined, the name on the cross was his grandmother's name. We talked about this for many years.