A Ride Not Taken
Another fantasy ride through the 'hood
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
"‘«™c'mon, Frankie! Get in! We got room for one more, and that's you, ese!".
Published on LatinoLA: September 28, 2008
The faces of the 4 young men in the car looked ghoulish, white skinned, and bloodied. They all laughed in unison as the back door of the 1958 Pontiac opened slowly, revealing more blood and a mass of tangled, bloody, bodyparts‘«™the 4 young men were his best friends who were killed many years ago, and they seemed to be beckoning him from beyond to join them as he stood frozen in his front lawn just staring at them in disbelief‘«™
‘«™sitting straight up from a dead sleep, Frank Montolla awoke in a cold sweat, waking his wife. It was the year 1992.
"You OK, babe?...another bad dream?", she said, as she comforted him by sitting up and hugging him, kissing his forehead.
"Yeah‘«™just another bad dream..I'm sorry. Go back to sleep, baby", he said, as they lay back down. He had this dream many times over the past year, and always, it was the same.
What did it mean, he thought? He always recounted it the next morning with the same results. Waking up just as the door of the car opened‘«™
It always starts the same way:
Summer, 1972 . It's about 4pm as the sun began to set on another beautiful southern California evening in Bassett, California. Frank is 17 years old again.
A soft breeze is blowing into Frank's room as he goes about his labor of putting a razor sharp crease on his khaki pants with an iron and spray starch.His hair is combed back perfectly, and is almost bullet proof from so much Aquanet hairspray.
Music plays softly on a small 8-track tape player sitting on his bedside table. The delicious smell of cooking food fills the house as his mother busies herself in the kitchen.
Frank is feeling pretty good about himself. Just one day before he leaves for the Marines, he feels a twinge of excitement knowing this is his last night of partying in the old neighborhood with his best friends before beginning a new life. They are coming to pick him up for his last night out on the town.
His four best friends, Rico, Johnny, Fats, and Rafas have grown up with Frankie in the neighborhood through elementary, Jr. High, and High School. They had played Little League baseball together, attended the same church & catechism, their families socialized together , and the 5 boys had all joined the same gang together.
A year before finishing high school, it seems all they do is get into trouble and spend time in jail & juvenile hall. A couple of them, Johnny and Rafas, have even fathered out of wedlock children.
They always talk about "getting out of the barrio" , but always seem tied to the ways of the streets, and it's perpetual result of getting high, and into fights and trouble. After a couple of close brushes with the law and death, Frank & his friends decide that they had to do something before the streets took them forever‘«™
Frank and Fats talk about joining the military, but the 3 others always talk them out of it.
"Man‘«™what's your country ever do for you but shit on you and our people?", Rico always says. "Yeah‘«™besides‘«™there's a war in Viet Nam going on, ese. I don't wanna get killed. Let's do something else.", Johnny would chime in. "Not for me", Rafas says, "I got a ruca and a kid".
Always the same argument, always the same result: nothing‘«™ they would then get drunk and end up doing something stupid. Frank always regrets that.
One day, Frank and Fats go down the recruiters and pick up enlistment papers for the Marines.
" Just fill them out, and have your parents sign them, boys, then bring them back to me", the white recruiter says, "Besides‘«™your draft number will probably be coming up soon , and you'll end up in Viet Nam anyways.."
After much debate, arguing, and tears, Frank gets his parents to sign the papers after about a week. Without noticing, Frank has not seen his friends during that time, and busies himself tying up loose ends, saying goodbye to other friends and family, kissing all the girls goodbye every chance he got.
After a week, as word got out that Frank is leaving, Fats telephones him.
"Hey , man. I'm sorry. I just couldn't do it. Johnny , Rico, and Rafas got my head all screwed up, and my mom was crying and all‘«™well, the bottom line is that I'm not going with you, Frankie. I'm sorry, homie‘«™you understand, right? Besides, me & the guys want to take you out and show you there's no hard feelings. You down for that?", Fats asked earnestly.
Smiling to himself, but feeling a little betrayed, Frank replies "Sure‘«™why not? Pick me up tonight when the sun goes down, homie." He tries to sound cheerful.
"Great! See about 4-ish", Fats says.
Around 4, as Frank completes making his pants & shirt into creased works of art, he hears loud music and a horn honk outside. It's his friends. The guys who would be saying goodbye to him soon‘«™in a way Frank never thought of‘«™
As he walks out of house, he stops on his front lawn in disbelief. His 4 friends are already intoxicated, and have 4 girls in the car with them as they pass a bottle of wine and a marijuana cigarette among them. They are in Rico's 1958 Pontiac, a baby blue & white 2 tone lowrider, music blasting, and marijuana smoke coming out of all windows.
'C'mon, man! We got room for one more, and that's you, ese!", Rafas yells out. The back door opens to reveal the girls in short skirts and a couple of empty six packs of beer on the floor. They all laughed as Frank slowly walks up to the car. He feels a twinge of disgust, but chooses not to show it.
"So‘«™where we going?", he asks.
"Just cruising, just partying...you know", Johnny says as he pulls out a pistol from his jacket pocket, "‘«™maybe go over to the other side of town and take care of a little business, tu sabes".
Feeling betrayed again, Frank begins to scold his friends. "Man!...what's wrong with you vatos? I'm going to be leaving for I don't know how long, and you, my best friends, my home boys, gotta fuck it all up but getting all buzzed, picking up some cheap buzzed rucas, and thinking about blasting somebody away on the other side of town! I thought we were friends! This night was supposed to be for us! What the hell happened to you guys? It's not enough that you guys punked out and wouldn't join the Marines with me, letting me go by myself to Viet Nam, now you go and screw up our last night together? Shit, I ain't taking no ride with you vatos! Pinche losers!"
"Ay‘«™que drama queen! Man, let's go, and leave John Wayne here, ese!", one of the girls says as they break out into laughter.
"Room for one more, ese‘«™" Johnny tries to coax, as he takes a large swig from the wine bottle and tried to pass it to Frank.
"No thanks, homie", Frank says, as he turns to walk angrily back in his house.
"Suit yourself, Frankie! Shut the door, Fats, let's go, man!", Rico orders as he guns the engine. As they drive away down the street, Frankie's last glimpse was that of his friends waving to him and laughing‘«™a couple of hours later, Frank hears them honking outside, and he believes them to have changed their minds to come back for him, and he comes outside to greet them‘«™but is instead greeted by the macabre scene of his friends now as ghouls‘«™
‘«™and then he wakes up just as the back passenger side door opens for him.
In reality, without seeing his friends again, Frank really left for the Marines. Completing boot camp, he was sent to Viet Nam shortly thereafter, returning after 13 months. Upon returning, he found out that his friends had all been killed in a drunken car chase that resulted in them going off a freeway bridge when the driver lost control of the car. His four friends and 4 female passengers had all been killed about an hour after he said goodbye to them...he was glad he chose not to go with them, but always regretted not doing more to keep them from leaving.
Frank stayed in the Marines, finishing a 5 year stint before coming home. He married, had 2 children, a son and a daughter. He attended and finished college, and bought a house in his old neighborhood. He got in touch with the familes of his dead friends, visited their graves, and became friends with his buddy's 2 sons, watching them grow up.
As luck would have it, Frank's son and his late friend's 2 sons grew up like their fathers, hanging out and getting into trouble, even joining the same gang. Frank always tried talking to them, scolding and lecturing them sometimes, but spent time with them he knew his friends would have. He began to feel somehow responsible for them all.
‘«™around this time, the nightmares began. For about a year, they come once or twice a week, always the same way. Frank's wife believes they are nightmares from the Viet Nam war, and accepts them in an understanding way. Frank never bothers telling her what they are really about.
One day, he was awakened from an afternoon nap by the familiar honking of a car horn and the sound of loud music. He looked outside the window to see his friend's 2 sons, young men now, in car with a group of girls. He could smell the faint aroma of marijuana, and he shook his head in disbelief. "Just like their pinche fathers", he laughed to himself.
Just then, he saw his son Sammy walking out to join them, as he heard one of the boys yelling "C'mon, Sammy! We got room for one more, ese!".
Feeling a twinge of something he could not describe, Frank quickly walked outside to talk with the boys.
Something told him he had to‘«™he needed to‘«™he must‘«™
"Hey!" he called out, "where you guys going?" Frank asked as he approached the car.
He could see the boys & girls trying to hide their beer cans and they turned off the marijuana cigarette as Frank got closer. Their bloodshot red eyes and uncontrolled giggling were obvious indicators of intoxication.
"Oh‘«™we're just cruising‘«™just partying, Mr. Montolla...you know. Maybe go check out a party on the other side of town", one of the boys said.
Feeling the hairs of his neck rising, Frank felt a sudden urge of anger. "The hell you are!"
He quickly opened the back door to be greeted by at least a six pack of empty beer cans as they noisily fell out into the street. The 3 boys and 4 girls became quiet in their embarrassment. "No‘«™you're not going anywhere in this car right now", Frank said calmly. "Give me the keys. Everybody out".
"NO!" shot back the driver in disbelief. "What's the matter with you, Mr. Montolla?", the other boy asked. "Dad! What's with you?" Frank's son Sammy asked in amazement.
Composing himself, Frank slowly begins: "About 20 years ago, I should have stopped 4 of my friends from leaving my house in the same manner you young guys want to leave. They were my best friends. They never lived to see their 18th birthdays because they got caught up in some shit, were out drunk or high, and went off a freeway bridge‘«™and they all died" Frank could feel tears welling up in his eyes, "This time, I'm going to do something to prevent that from happening again to you guys. Call your parents, call the cops, I don't care. My son‘«™ I'm asking you to please stay home and not go on the road with these guys if they leave tonight", Frank pleaded with Sammy.
Quietly, the young people began to get out of the car. One of the girls apologetically approached Frank. She seemed familiar, but Frank could not place her.
"Thank you, Mr. Montolla. I was just following the crowd‘«™but I was kind of feeling the same way as you, afraid. My uncle was killed about 20 years ago by a drunk driver who drove him and his friends into an accident. They all died. I never got a chance to meet him, but my mother, his sister, still talks about him and misses him everyday.".
"OK, Mr. Montolla‘«™we won't leave. OK if we just kick it here?", one of the boys asked.
"Sure‘«™but no more drinking for the night", Frank smiled. "OK", they all answered in unison. Frank went into the house feeling confident the kids would keep their word.
Later on that night, the dream began again‘«™this time, Frank was standing on his front yard , in his present day age. The car cruised up slowly, but this time, the occupants were not ghoulish or bloody. No music was playing, and Frank noticed that for the first time since the dreams started, the car was headed in the opposite direction. He could easily recognize all his friends and the girls as if it were yesterday‘«™and they were all quietly smiling.
The car slowed to a stop. Frank could see every detail of the polished and chromed classic vehicle, as it's motor hummed powerfully. Frank found he could not move to approach the car. His feet were stuck and his legs wouldn't move.
"What's up, homie?", Fats called out to him from an open window. Frank noticed that this time the door stayed shut.
"Doing OK. What's up with you? Aren't you going to invite me this time?" Frank asked.
All the occupants looked at each other without saying a word‘«™then they all turned to Frank and smiled.
"Nah‘«™not this time, Frankie. We just wanted to come by and say thanks. We won't be back anymore,ese. Just wanted to say thanks", Fats said as the car started to move away slowly. "Hey, Frankie‘«™remember that girl that said her uncle died?"
"Yeah‘«™what about her?", Frank asked in amazement.
"She's my niece", Fats said as he car drove away, "She's going to marry your son one day!", the car drove out of ear shot as Frank called out to them.
"Wait! Thanks for what? Tell me some more!", Frank called out, as the car drove away. It seemed to drive into a fog bank at the end of the street just as his feet became unglued from the ground‘«™and it disappeared from sight.
At that moment, Frank awoke. He had fallen asleep in his favorite chair in the living room. The house seemed eerily quiet, with just a grandfather clock chiming as his son walked in from outside after saying goodbye to his friends.
"You OK, Pops?", Sammy asked, "What's this?" he said as he removed a picture frame out of his father's hands. It was an old picture of 5 young men standing in front of a 1958 Pontiac some 20 years ago.
"Oh‘«™just me and some friends from the old neighborhood", Frank said as he put it back on top of a small shelf.
"Oh‘«™well, goodnight, Pops! Oh, by the way, thanks for stopping us from going to the other side of town tonight", Sammy said as he walked away,"We were going to go to a party at this club‘«™and, listen to this, the club caught fire, and a lot of people got hurt. About 7 or 8 people even died . Man, we were sure lucky you stopped us‘«™well, goodnight, Pops".
"Goodnight, son", Frank said he looked at the picture and smiled to himself. ‘«™he knew he would be sleeping well tonight‘«™and he now knew what his friends were thankful for.
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Another story from Frankie Firme's upcoming book "When Vatos Locos Ruled the world".
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