"Privilege of youth, Dan. Privilege of youth," I grinned.
"And now you're the one helping kids," Dan said with a smile.
"Duty, honor, and country," I joked. "Truth, justice, and the American way!"
Strolling around the car, the smile I had known within Dan's eyes for years still shined through. The man who had engineered and rebuilt so many cars by hand, rubbed the sides of the Lotus as if it were a piece of art. As Dan slid into the tiny driver's seat and turned over the engine, he seemed like a teenager. While he tapped the accelerator, I sensed how much Dan wanted to take the car out for a quick spin. Fantasizing, I imagined Dan behind the steering wheel with me beside him, tearing down the road at hypersonic speed without a care in the world.
Dan gave me another nod. "Take it...." I mouthed to him. "Go ahead, take it for a spin." For a second, Dan's left hand gripped the steering wheel and the other on the stick shift. An eternity passed within a few beats of time. But I knew I was making Dan late for his doctor's appointment. With Beth standing beside Dan as he crawled out, I knew it was time to leave.
We stood next to each other, slightly nodding our heads before embracing. I always hated saying good-bye to him. "I know I say this all the time, but I love you. I love you, Dad ... Dan..." I slipped.
"You're a good son, David." Dan hugged back.
Sliding into the car, and while adjusting my sunglasses, I proclaimed, "Next time, we take her out for a spin."
Dan nodded in approval. Then, playing the never ending role as the concerned father, he inquired, "Ever get any tickets?"
Taking in the scene, I let out a laugh. I was seventeen again, wide-eyed, and spilling over with adventure. Raising my eyebrows, I confessed, "Not me, Sir. I'm a good boy!"
Minutes later at the end of the block, I eased the black, needle-nose Lotus beside Dan and Beth's car before we both drove off in opposite directions. I had thought of making a grand departure of racing through the gears, but reminded myself I was a grown adult, in my mid-thirties, and therefore too old, and far too mature, for such a childlike spurt of recklessness. So, I waved good-bye and casually headed northbound on Bay Road. When their car disappeared behind my rearview mirror, a sudden impulse took over. I slammed the car to a stop and, as I had years before on the same street, my mind ran through a simple but thorough checklist: (1) Check for police, (2) Ensure there are no children or any other pedestrians in the street, (3) Make certain there is adequate clearance in front of the driver at all times, and (4) Reverify checklist and think about what you're about to get yourself into. Two-point-four seconds later, I took a deep breath, leaned back into the seat, floored the accelerator, popped the clutch, and sped through the gears.
With a streak of burnt rubber and grayish-black smoke in my wake, I quietly announced, "Adios, Dan. See ya next time."
* * *
And now, in the middle of the night, thousands of miles away, in the midst of a freezing room, I sat on the edge of the bed. I didn't cry. And for a moment my trembling hand seemed to subside. With my fingers on my forehead and with my eyes closed, all I could do was listen to the howling wind and realize how much Dan Brazell and that small neighborhood changed the course of my life.
Reprinted from The Privilege of Youth by Dave Pelzer by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Dave Pelzer, 2004. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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