My Brother From Another Mother

Making new friends in a new town is already tough, even more-so for a 6th grader who realistically did not have any friends up to that point. But the world was a new adventure and that first year I made 2 acquaintances; a good step in the right direction. The following year, one of them, Richard Hawes, would introduce me to Kevin, who lived at the other end of the street that I lived on. I wondered “How did I miss meeting Kevin in the 6th grade?” and the answer was that his parents were (recently?) divorced and he split his school years at one parent’s house, then to the other parent’s house the following year. Kevin and I became friends instantly, and that friendship lasts even today.

Through the years, we’ve found our fair share of trouble, although I don’t think we set out intentionally looking for it. Here are some of those stories…

The first time I ever went fishing was with Kevin, his dad – Jack, and their friends – the Westmorelands (dad & 2 boys). I was excited (what 13 year old wouldn’t be?), so I had gone to the store to buy some gear. Let’s see… fishing pole with reel, check; hooks, check; hmmmm, Jack had mentioned something about ‘weights’, so let’s see….. 3 ounces doesn’t sound like much, I’ll grab a pack of those.  (What did I know, right?) When we got to the fishing area (Cedar Creek in West Virginia) we set up Jack’s tiny tent trailer and made a fire. We were told that fishing starts tomorrow exactly at noon, so get a good night’s sleep and be rested. At some point in the night, the wind had kicked up and blew one side of this camp trailer wide open. I woke up to looking at a star-filled sky and wondered “How did I get outside?” I woke up Jack and he was able to pull the tent side back down, securing it with a sock tied around the base.  The next morning we got up and made sure our gear was good to go. About 11:00, we started the walk from the camp site to the creek, along with about 10,000 other fishermen. Everyone was lined up on the creek banks, scoping out a little chunk of real estate and sizing up the guy on either side of you. It was oddly quiet until noon and then WHIZZZZZZ!!!!  everyone tossed in their lines. Even though the creek was stocked, it wasn’t a fair fight. If you got a fish in the first 10 seconds, great; otherwise, the fish figured out what was going on and they stopped biting at the bait. Between casting, I nibbled on the Velveeta cheese that we had brought, wondering what exactly how it appealed to fish. Soon I got bored and walked down the creek a bit, trying to find a spot that was not assholes-to-elbows deep in other fishermen. At one point I saw a short stretch of unoccupied creek side but there was one guy in the middle with waders on, trying his hand at the deeper waters. Either his luck was about as bad as the rest of us or he got spooked by me, so he took one last draw on his cigarette, then flicked the butt in the water.  SNAP! a  fish grabbed the filter! He saw this happen, took another cigarette from his pack, broke off the filter, put it on a hook, and sent it down stream. SNAP! He got a fish. The next day we skipped the Velveeta and tried fishing with mini-marshmellows. I caught at least one fish, so it was a good day.

Jack would be a good stand-in father figure a few more times in the future. (My dad was around, but not a “manly man”.) Jack took Kevin and I out once to practice shooting. It was my first time firing a gun, both a .22 rifle and (just once) a 30-06 rifle, which was (and probably still is) Kevin’s favorite rifle. To this day it is still the only “pump” 30-06 I have ever seen.

Kevin moved to his mom’s house for 8th grade, so we kept in touch through very infrequent phone calls. I looked forward to Kevin moving back for 9th grade, but his dad sold the house in Manassas Park and was in the middle of having a house built in Sterling, Virginia; so Kevin stayed another year at his mom’s, and the year went by with only a few phone calls. 10th grade rolled around, Kevin got a car, and I was glad to ride shotgun. Something we later realized is every time Kevin and I get together, something goes wrong. Guaranteed.

Kevin had a 1971 Malibu with a 307 2 barrel. It was a huge car, but it was cheap. At one point, I was at Kevin’s dad’s house in Sterling, waiting for Kevin to come down from his room. Valerie, Kevin’s step-mom, pulled me aside because she had a very serious question for me. She said Kevin’s grades were terrible and they were constantly fighting. She asked me straight up – “Is he on drugs?” I started laughing and she said “What’s so funny?“, which I replied “He’s not on drugs, he’s on FISH!” She was stumped, so I further explained that Kevin had a fishing pole in his trunk and he’d rather go fishing than go to school.

Another car that Kevin had was a green ’71 Super Beetle that he got from Jack, with a bad engine, for $100. Eventually it was outfitted like a Baja Bug by cutting the back end off with a hacksaw, but most of it’s life it just looked like a stock Bug. At one point it had 4 KC Highlites on a single loop top bar that were wired to a single switch on the dash, which we labeled “NOON” with one of those cheap plastic Dymo labels. We thought it was the coolest thing, to be able to flip one switch and a dark trail instantly looked like the middle of the day. Just don’t run it too long, or the tiny, stock generator will start complaining.

We loved going off-roading in the Bug. It was small enough to go down almost any path, having a rear engine vehicle puts the weight directly over the drive wheels which gives great traction, and quite frankly – we didn’t know any better. 🙂  One night we were romping through the woods near Oakton, Virginia. At one point, we see lights on in a house off in the distance, so we looped around, trying to find a way out. We ended up driving down this guy’s long driveway heading towards the street, but then our headlights illuminated the worst thing possible – The homeowner. He was a very large man holding a lantern in one hand and a piece of firewood in the other and he was taking aim at our windshield. Kevin says to me “Follow my lead” and he rolls down his window just as we come to a stop next to this guy. Quickly Kevin says “Excuse me, can you tell me where Richard Hawes lives?“. The man is stunned and lowers the firewood, saying “Richard… Hawes…?” I pipe up with “Yeah, we’re looking for our friend’s house“, knowing full well that the last place anyone had seen Richard was a few years ago when he got sent to juvenile hall in Manassas. The guy asked “What does he drive?” and I replied “A big orange Blazer, you can’t miss it” The guy is still stunned and off guard so he says “What’s the number of the house?” and Kevin replied with some random number, like “12905“. The guy said “This is the even side of the street, you need the other side“. We thanked him and drove down his driveway, making a quick get away into the night.  We learned a pro-tip: If you’re ever stuck, ask for directions. 😉

One afternoon, we went out baja-ing in Sterling Virginia. Back in the ’80s, this area was just starting to be developed and there was lots of open land and trails to run down. We drove down this one long road that bordered a hill that lead to an open field and just as we slowed down to turn off the road, a Dodge Diplomat passed us going the other way. We slowly turned and I looked back to see the car do a U-turn, then quickly come back towards us. I told Kevin “We’ve got company” and the chase was on. I never would have thought a police edition M-body would have been a good choice for off-roading, but for a short time, he was almost keeping up with us. The back side of this area ended with a narrow trail down to a creek and 2 huge boulders on either side of the trail. We narrowly squeezed through at a quick speed, then proceeded up the hill on the other side. I looked back just in time to see the cop car get pinned between the 2 boulders, wedged to an abrupt stop. We went up the side of the hill, through someone’s backyard, down their driveway and onto a street. Quickly got back to Jack’s house and we immediately washed the mud off the Bug so it was green again. (Mud was the perfect camouflage)

To get to Jack’s house, you went right by a local golf course. One morning as I was passing by, there was a group getting ready to tee off. Just as the first guy swung back, I yelled out the window “FORE!!”, to warn the others, of course. He furiously beat his golf club against the ground.  😉

One night we were cruising around Manassas and went flying into the parking lot of the local MacDonalds. Kevin had spun the rear tires on the bounce into the parking lot and just kept them going, even as we passed a rent-a-cop that was standing on the sidewalk near the front door. He started chasing us and Kevin flipped the car around, spinning it backwards into the parking space at the rear of the lot. The rent-a-cop was running and yelling at us, so Kevin jumped out and said “The throttle got stuck!“. I jumped out the passenger side and we both quickly started to remove the air cleaner, acting like there was something wrong underneath. The rent-a-cop was stunned and was watching us as we pretended to tinker with the throttle cable. Kevin got up and started the engine, and of course it idled perfectly. “I think she’s fixed now” he said and the rent-a-cop replied “I hope so, you boys could have been killed!“. We thanked him for his concerns and he walked back up to his unofficial post, guarding the other patrons. Kevin grinned at me and he spun the tires out of that parking space, up the exit side of the parking lot, into the street and back into the Wendy’s parking lot next door; where we slammed on the brakes to avoid running head-first into a car that was exiting on the wrong side. We slowly passed by and a quiet “Sorry” came from the other car’s driver side window. Kevin and I both looked at each other and he remarked “She sounded pretty“, but by then there was another car behind us and the mystery driver had exited into the night.

One day we decided to go find a new fishing spot. Kevin had heard about a pond at the top of this one hill, so we headed out with rough directions to find it. (We later found out this was the local Boy Scouts camp.) We headed out Route 7 towards West Virginia, then turned onto a gravel road that headed up a long hill. At the top, we found a beautifully manicured area with several buildings, so we looped around the outside perimeter, eventually locating the pond. We didn’t catch any fish that day, though Kevin did snag a turtle; so frustrated, we headed back down the hill. We had a good roll going, sliding around the gravel corners, at one point having to dive into the ditch to avoid a station wagon that was heading up the hill, and at another point sliding across a narrow bridge with maybe 3 tires making contact. But we made it to the bottom, unscathed, and decided to pull over and enjoy a soda before heading back. As we’re sitting there, a fly danced across the windshield and Kevin smacked it with his palm…. shattering the glass completely. All we could do was sit there and laugh at the absurdity of it.

Jack worked at Dulles Airport and sometimes Kevin and I would go baja-ing on the airport property, looking for fishing holes. At the time, the perimeter consisted of a tall fence with 12 gates, though only 3 gates were used (technically “Gate 1” is the freeway heading into the airport). We decided that we wanted to drive around the gravel access road and count all the gates. At one point, we made a left turn and popped out of the woods onto a wide, nicely paved road. I turned to Keven and asked “Why are their numbers painted on this road?” and he replied “OH SHIT! WE’RE ON A RUNWAY!!“. Needless to say, we made a quick U-turn and headed back into the safety of the woods. I wonder if someone in the control tower was freaking out because of a blip on their screen that disappeared quickly…. 🙂

One day in Manassas, we were goofing off in traffic and got caught on the wrong side of a divided street and as luck would have it, there was a cop car sitting in the gas station on that corner. He chased us down and gave Kevin a ticket to appear in traffic court. We both went to court, since we both were in the car. Waiting for our turn before the judge, we got to listen to the other cases and the judge seemed to be giving no favors that day. There was one guy who was nicely dressed and had an attorney (in traffic court?!?); he had been charged with “Exhibition of speed”. His attorney told the judge “Your honor, we’ve discussed this with the prosecuting attorney and we’ve agreed $400 would be a suitable fine“. The judge looked slightly confused and said “$400? Don’t you think that’s a little excessive for doing a burn-out?” The attorney leaned into the microphone and said “It’s a dollar per foot, your honor.” The guy was giggling and had the biggest shit-eating-grin I have ever seen. Kevin and I had our turn before the judge, the cop was cool about the situation, and Kevin got a $50 fine.

One Friday night we were heading to the 1/8th mile racetrack in Manassas. Back then, Route 28 was one lane each way and when the evening traffic was going, it was going 55 MPH. But when it stopped, it stopped NOW! We were making good time, looking at the scenery when I looked up and saw traffic dead stopped directly in front of us. Yes, I screamed like a little girl – “AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!” Kevin jerked the wheel to the right, we careened into the ditch, passed a few cars, then popped back up into the next open space as traffic had started to move again. I looked at him and stammered “DON’T.. YOU.. EVER.. DO.. THAT.. AGAIN!” and sure enough, the traffic had stopped, again. Another dive into the ditch, another group of cars passed, and back into the flow of traffic we go. We did slow down a bit after that one.

There were a few small junkyards back then, but the largest one was Banks Auto Parts in Woodbridge, Virginia. Several of our friends from school needed parts, so we put together one list and headed out to see if they had what we needed. Banks was not a “self-service” type of yard, so we hid some hand tools in our clothing and talked our way through the office and into the yard. We actually found a few things on the list, so we moved them over to the back fence, which I went over, then Kevin handed me the parts. He went back to the office and got in the Bug while I shuttled the parts from the fence, through the woods and to the power lines that crossed behind the junkyard. Honestly I was scared, so when I heard an engine, I did not think it would be Kevin (even though I was specifically waiting for him). After I saw Kevin drive by on the trail, I ran after him, but he was speeding ahead. As I came over one small hill, I startled another kid who apparently was also shuttling parts from the fence. I asked him “Did you see a green Bug go by?“. He motioned down the trail and said “Yeah” and continued to stow his parts into a backpack. I replied “Shit!, that’s my ride!” and I ran over the next hill. By then Kevin had turned around and was coming back towards me, so I jumped in and we headed back, once again startling the kid with the back pack. We grabbed our parts and got the hell out of there.

When it snows as little as 1/2 inch, Northern Virginia shuts down. All of the government agencies send their employees home and the streets become eerily empty. And that’s the perfect time to have some fun. We went out exploring a new neighborhood that had older ranch style homes on large open lots – the perfect place to practice some Jim Rockford style power slides. As we came around one turn, the Bug slid a little too far and we went backwards into someone’s front yard with the nose pointing upwards. Kevin grabbed first gear, but the tires just spun on the slick grass. Tried again, but no luck. We saw lights come on in the house and I asked “What’s plan B?“. Looking behind us, there were no fences separating the yards, so Kevin grabbed reverse and we went downhill, backwards through the first yard, through the yard behind us, and we popped out on the next street.

One Saturday, Kevin stopped by with one of his friend’s, Mark; and the 3 of us headed off to a record store (I had ordered a new copy of the Smokey and the Bandit soundtrack, on cassette, because I wore out my old one). The roads were slushy from a typical Virginia snow storm the day before (a couple inches of snow that slowly melts over the next few days). As we were heading up the road (a wide 2 lane divided street), we quickly passed a guy in a Chevelle and then darted across the lane in front of him. Apparently he took offense to this, because he moved over, lapped us on the right, and cut back in front of us. Again Kevin switched lanes, lapped the Chevelle on the right, then moved back over; this time making a quick left turn into the mini-mall parking lot. We went into the store but what we didn’t realize was that the guy had also pulled into the parking lot and he was waiting for us. Finished with our shopping, we left the store, jumped back in the Bug and exited the parking lot; stopping in the left turn lane at a red light. The guy in the Chevelle exited the parking lot, crossed the lanes to park on the right shoulder, got out and started walking towards us. Mark was in the passenger seat but all 3 of us looked up just as this guy reared back and swung a mighty punch at the passenger door window. Unfortunately for him, the Germans make excellent glass and it did not give way. He grimaced in pain and I yelled “RUN THE RED!“. Kevin punched the gas pedal and we crossed the main street, narrowly missing 2 other cars in the cross traffic. I looked back and saw the guy running after us, then he slipped and fell face first into the slush.

Another adventure with Kevin and Mark, we ended up at Balls Bluff National Cemetery. Local legend was that the place was haunted by the ghosts of civil war soldiers, but in reality, it was just a local spot for underage drinking and swapping lies. It was quite late when we headed out and Kevin & Mark wanted to try and scare me because I had never been there before. They were hyping it up and Alan Parsons Project “I Robot” was playing on the cassette deck (guaranteed spooky sounding). When we got there, the park was empty and extremely dark (no lights), so we didn’t stay long. The road leading into the park had some seriously deep potholes, but we had forgotten about those, and in our hurry to leave, we slammed across them, bouncing the car hard enough to make the battery bounce up and touch the bottom of the rear seat. This killed all power and the engine stalled. Kevin reached for the ignition key, but before he could turn it, the starter engaged by itself. Weirded out, Kevin turned the ignition completely off, looked at us, then turned the ignition back on and started the engine. The engine started OK, but the headlights did not work; apparently both of the lights had broken their filaments on the potholes. We ended up limping home using only a hand-held spot light for illumination.

One time we went fishing up on the Shenandoah River at Route 7. On the way back, the muffler fell off his Bug, so we tossed it in the trunk and kept on driving. Kevin called his dad (who was still back at the river) on the CB radio and told him what had happened. Jack said he could hear us all the way down the hill and we should look out because a cop just headed up in our direction. We quickly sped up the hill, watching the cop car’s lights approaching from the rear. Just as we crested the hill, Kevin put the transmission in neutral and shut off the engine; we were now coasting down the other side of the hill at 55 MPH. The cop pulled up next to us, looked over, lowered his passenger side window down, looked at us again, then sped off. At the bottom of the hill, Kevin switched the key back on, popped the clutch in 4th and off we went, louder than ever.

One night, Kevin and I met up with 2 other guys he knew from his school and we went to the local movie theater. We sat on the right side of the aisle, about 1/2 way down, with no one else around. About a minute later, 4 black guys sat down in the row ahead of us and the guy in front of me turned around and said “And I don’t wanna see no popcorn flying ’round from you!” I turned to Kevin with a stunned face because we didn’t even have any popcorn. Kevin motioned to his friends and the 4 of us got up, walked to the left side of the aisle, and took seats a few rows back. Just before the movie started, I saw that guy was still eye-balling me from across the theater. Wanting to avoid an unnecessary ass-kicking, we waiting until all of the credits had finished before we exited, being the last 4 people to leave. When we got outside, that black guy was already in a fight with some other white guy, who happened to be about the same size and looks as me. Just then the white guy lifted the black guy up over his head and was going to toss him through the store front plate window, when the black guy wiggled free and hit the ground with a mighty THUD. The fight had ended and we all dispersed.

For a long time, the only car my family had was a 1972 VW Van that my parents had bought brand new for $3600. In 1978 the engine blew up, which cost $1500 to repair (but that’s another story). After we moved to Fairfax, my dad bought a yellow 1973 Super Beetle for cheap. It was great having a second car in the family (even after I later bought my high school car, because that one was always broke down, but that’s yet another story). One day my dad was merging onto the freeway when unbeknownst to him, the Bug ran out of oil, and the engine threw a rod. Since they were still paying off the Bus engine and we could not afford another large repair bill, I asked my dad if I could take a stab at overhauling the Bug engine. He said I could, so I pulled it out in the apartment parking lot and drug it inside, into my bedroom. (I tried to contain the mess, but my bedroom floor was never the same after this.) The rod had taken out the block and just about everything in it’s path. Kevin was working at an import auto parts store at the time, so I called him up to get some prices. He said he had a good used block he’d give me and the rest of the parts would be about $300. I thanked him but unfortunately we did not have the money. Some time went by and Kevin called me back, saying “We still have all those parts you need” and I replied “Yeah, but we still can’t afford it“. Then he dropped a bomb: “We’re having a sale today….. I’m quitting at 5, so if you can get here before then, I’ll make you a deal“. I told my dad I needed some money and the keys to the van. All he had was $100, so off I went. At the store, Kevin got me everything I needed, nearly filling the middle of the van, and my receipt showed $77. I went back home, unloaded the parts into my room and gave my dad the change. He said “Oh no, you stole all these parts, I don’t want to know!” and I said “Nope, I got a receipt!“. Off I went to assemble the engine and put it back in our Bug. When I started the engine, it had a slight ticking sound that caught my attention; not fatal sounding, but just loud enough to make me concerned. When I revved the engine, the ticking sounded worse. I thought maybe the valve clearance was not adjusted correctly, so I popped off the valve covers and rechecked – the adjustment was perfect at 0.006”. I pulled the engine out again and stripped it apart. What I found was that the rod journals on the crankshaft had been ground to 0.020″ undersize, but the rod bearings I had were 0.010; so I had an extra 0.010 clearance on all 4 of the rod journals. I wiped off the bearings, put them back in the box, then looked at the receipt – CRAP! no bearings listed. I headed back to the store and when I walked in, the owner was there and it was obvious that he was lost – there was paperwork piled up on the counter and parts strewn around. I greeted him and said “I was in here last week and the guy that works here” (he interjects loudly) “USED to work here” “Uh, OK, the guy that used to work here gave me 10-under bearings and I need 20-under“. “Oh great, what else did he mess up… you need 20’s?” He got a box of bearings off the shelf, handed them to me, shook my hand and said “Thank you for shopping here“. I quickly exited and drove home. I showed the bearings to my dad and he said “Oh no, you stole them, I don’t want to know, don’t implicate me!” I said “But dad, he GAVE them to me, and even shook my hand!“. The engine assembly went without incident and the new engine ran great.

Kevin got another Bug but it had a bad body, so we pulled the body off and made a poor man’s roll bar. We took it out and almost immediately got it stuck, but we had fun!

Winter 1982-83, Kevin was following his girlfriend’s car as they drove up an icy road. She crossed a one-lane bridge and came to a stop. Kevin crossed the bridge and ran into the back of her car. Oops. Fast forward a couple months, the weather is nice now and we decided to try and pull out the damaged front end of his car. We tried banging the dent out, but it was too much for just a hammer; so we decided it would be a good idea to anchor the car to something heavy and use a come-along to pull the dent out. My car was parked on the other side of the street, so I walked over and tried to start it. It was not cooperating, so after cranking on the starter for a minute, I gave up and walked back over to the Bug. While we were working on the Bug, the next door neighbor was outside, doing some yard work, and he had been giving us the “evil eye” the whole time. After a minute, he piped up “Hey, is that your car?” and I replied “Yeah, what about it?” and he said “It’s on fire!“. Kevin and I both looked up and saw the hood of my car smoking hard. I ran across the street, reached through the open window and popped the hood. Then I ran to the front, quickly opened the hood and in the same movement, pulled my “426 Hemi” T-shirt off, then started to beat out the flames that were coming from my carburetor. Meanwhile, Kevin had grabbed the garden hose from the front yard and stretched it out as far as it would reach, to the edge of the lawn. He was spraying water, but it barely made it across the street, clipping my fender. The neighbor is laughing at us and I look up the street to see another neighbor running towards me with one of those old-fashioned fire extinguishers that had the yellow powder inside. I knew I did not want that stuff down inside my engine, so for a moment I considered pulling my pants off to smother the fire, but I ended up holding the shirt against the flames, burning my hands in the process. My foam air cleaner was toast as was the center of my hood. The next morning, my car started fine and ran as good as it ever had (which was never good). A week later I graduated from high school with a giant burn spot on my hood.

In high school, Kevin had worked at the MacDonalds in Leesburg, Virginia and after high school, he bought a brand new Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup truck. One day we had gone fishing with his truck and on the way back, we stopped by that MacDonalds for a bite to eat. We placed our order at the speaker and when he pulled away, Kevin chirped the tires a little bit. At the window, the (female) manager apparently did not recognize Kevin (he had let his beard grow out) and she was loudly berating us: “You damn kids, always spinning your tires!“. She went on and on and we sat there quietly, until she finished. Then Kevin said “I’m sorry you’re having problems with the local boys, but as you can see from our gear in the back, we’ve been out fishing all day, and just happened to stop by for some lunch.” She became apologetic and said she was sorry for yelling at us. The local boys had really been trouble lately and she was frazzled. She handed us our food and gave us some apple pies as a bonus. We thanked her, then Kevin gave me a look that let me know exactly what he was going to do. He stomped the throttle then side-stepped the clutch, spinning the tires in the drive-through underpass. It took a few seconds for us to move out, and needless to say, the manager was yelling at us the entire time.  😉

Kevin & another friend, Pat Soisson, wanted to go to the swap meet in Carlisle, Pa; so we piled into Kevin’s Mighty Max pickup …. and we instantly realized that the truck was too small for all of us up front. I volunteered to ride in the bed, and gave directions through the rear window. At one point, I heard the engine go quiet and a tapping noise on the window. Kevin was waving the key at me and said “Look ! Saving gas!‘ and I replied “NOOOOO!! STEERING INTERLOCK!!!” He got the key reinstalled and all was right with the world.

When I was 21, I moved to SoCal; Kevin was in the Army and got transferred to Fort Ord in Central California. One weekend I rode my motorcycle up to visit him. He had another buggy, so we took it to Pismo Beach, rented some paddle tires form a local shop, and had a blast flying over the dunes.

The next day we went rappelling off a bridge, something I had never done before (nor again since).

Another time Kevin came down to visit me in Long Beach. He had found a great deal on a ’57 oval window Baja Bug that had some engine problems. I easily got it running that afternoon.

After the Army, Kevin moved to Oregon, then on to Montana; meanwhile I moved cross-country, then back again. Through the years, we’ve stayed in touch and I’ve made a few trips up to see him. We don’t seem to get in as much trouble as we used to, but it’s always fun.

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