Renegade




It was not hard to be renegade in the sleepy Los Angeles suburb of West Covina during the 1960s.

Emerging from the conservative ‘50s, all you had to be was a disagreeable teenager, especially in this Anglo-Saxonite community where most of the local power brokers attended Rotary Club pancake breakfasts with an alarming regularity. Come to think of it, regularity was also a big deal during this era.

My home town was very much like the place portrayed in the movie, “American Graffiti.” It was a teenage car culture, and after I turned 16, I had a driver’s license. Not long after, I had a car. My parents were upper middle class, so I did not have to actually earn the money to buy a car. And my mother was eager to be free of having to take me places, and then, pick me up and bring me home. Her life was busy enough, what with Women's Club luncheons to plan, bridge parties, country club appearances and the ongoing burden of supervising housekeepers and gardeners — all this along with a husband who actually expected her to make dinner on a regular basis. Yes, regularity was a pretty big deal during this era.

Nowadays there are lots of restrictions on young drivers, but when I got my license, I was free, turned loose on the streets without any restrictions or guidelines. Just a few hours of driver’s ed. But I was a pretty good driver. I’d had experience, what with all those times I took my parents’ cars out on the road when they were away for a weekend trip. Yes, I remember learning how every intersection was not necessarily a four-way stop as I propelled my mother’s lumbering, razor-finned Cadillac straight toward a passing car who, much to my surprise, had no stop sign. I hit the brake pedal just in time.

Then there was that lesson about road rage, what we used to call, “mad” or “angry.” I thought driving was a competition, and that the object was to beat the other drivers. After all, I wasn’t actually going anywhere. So I jammed down the gas pedal and managed to pull the great white whale in front of this other guy in an old, compact car who had tried his best not to let me into his lane. While I was waiting behind another car at a stop sign, he got out and walked up to my car, signaled for me to roll down my window, which I did, then punched me in the face.

By the time I had my own car, a dark green 1965 Ford Mustang — the fastback model — I was seasoned. I’d make my car too fast to catch, and I certainly would never roll down my window again for anybody.

In those days it seemed like most of my friends and rivals were working on their cars, customizing old Chevys, putting in big carburetors, high performance shifters, custom exhaust systems, giant racing slicks – even whole new engines. This was long before the state-mandated smog check. Nobody checked the condition of our cars when we renewed their registrations, so all modifications went undetected. I was not one of the more talented kid mechanics around, although I could gap a spark plug. I was a musician, a guitar player, and I did not like getting my fingers stained with grease. So I took the money I saved from teaching guitar lessons and working in a local pizza parlor and went to a speed shop in a neighboring city to let the experts juice up my horsepower. The first thing they did was rip out all the smog prevention equipment.

“You don’t need all this stuff,” I remember the mechanic saying. Years later, when I tried to trade the car in on a new model, the local Ford dealer would disagree. “You’ve got no smog equipment! We’re going to have to replace it all just to put the car on the lot.”

Oops!

Except for a little cash for dating and guitar strings, I’d put all my money into my car — a nice racket for the speed shop — and after a while I began racing my car on Saturdays at the nearby Irwindale Speedway along with all the other high school amateurs. But as a renegade teenager, the real thrill was street racing. It was like being a gunslinger in the Old West, just prowling around town, looking to challenge somebody to a shootout.

Yes, I had my share of speeding tickets, but I was never caught racing. Most of us weren’t. There were not that many police officers cruising around town in those days.

There was always the occasional race during the day, when I’d just happen to pull up next to another kid in a hot car after school. Who was faster? We just had to find out! But weekend nights were the real prime racing time. It was like jousting, trying to prove our nascent manhood to our girlfriends, or to somebody else’s girlfriend.

Sometimes the races were organized.

Some guy with greasy hair had a new Camaro 280z and swore he could take me. Bets were made and the next Saturday night my friends blocked off both ends of a sleepy suburban street about a half-mile long while we lined up our cars. About twenty high school kids gathered at the finish line. Camaro boy couldn’t catch me, even though his car may have been faster. I was always incredibly quick off the starting line.

That’s what won me the race set up by the speed shop at Irwindale Raceway. There was another kid, a rich kid whose father owned stores, who was already out of high school, who came to the speed shop with a Mustang pretty much like mine. The speed shop mechanics figured this guy would be good competition for me. After they’d done their best to expand his horsepower, we set a date.

The early part of the afternoons at Irwindale were spent doing practice runs, called “qualifying.” You had to turn a good enough time in your particular class to compete in the early evening, before the actual professionals did their stuff for the audience who sat in bleachers on either side of the quarter-mile track.

Steve – my well-financed opponent – and I both qualified at the top of our class and were set to compete. I had the advantage of nearly a year of experience, while this was Steve’s first time at a professional raceway. He was a little nervous, especially since we had an audience of friends, girlfriends and the speed shop mechanics. It had just turned dark as we pulled up to the starting line, facing the “Christmas Tree,” a series of lights mounted on each side of a central bracket that indicate when the cars are in the right starting position. Then, once the cars are positioned, the yellow lights count down to green. If a driver started too early, a red light would signal disqualification.

We both edged our cars into starting position, our engines almost window-shatteringly loud because we’d opened up our “headers” (high performance exhaust systems) to bypass the mufflers. From experience, I knew the slight lag time of my car – from the time I hit the gas pedal to the car’s forward surge – allowed me to start a half second before the green light flashed.

We waited, then the first yellow light flashed on, moving down toward the green light. The moment Steve’s brain told him the light was green, I’d already jumped out from the starting line. He was momentarily stunned, and even though he turned a faster time, he never caught me. It wasn’t really about how fast you went, it was about who got there first. Mind over horsepower. I made it to the finish line first, won the trophy and renewed admiration from my girlfriend.

Yes, it was a moment.

Of course now as a responsible adult I am appalled at my behavior, risking accident and injury on the streets of my sleepy suburban town. Perhaps that’s why it made so much sense for all of us to go just outside of town to the Chicken Ranch.

There was a long, straight road inside the Chicken Ranch property, made for trucks to pick up eggs and chickens, I suppose. Nobody stayed with the chickens at night, especially not on Saturday nights. This particular night had not been the first time high school hot rods had raced there, but it was my first time.

There were dozens of competitors from area high schools and junior colleges, and dozens more who just came to watch. It is a solemn testament to the short-range saturation of the teenage brain that none of us had entertained a single thought about potential consequences. Rubber burned and smoked and engines spit and roared as pair after pair of racers hurtled down the improvised racetrack. After I made my run, the growing chaos of beer-swilling youth amazingly enough triggered some fledgling sense of adult apprehension in me, and so I left. As I exited the entrance to the Chicken Ranch, I was passed by a long line of police cars.

That was the last race ever held at the Chicken Ranch. It was my senior year, and before long, I’d own a more practical car, have a more practical girlfriend, and grow a little less renegade as the wild anarchy of my teenage years passed. After all, I had to prepare for the wild anarchy of my twenties.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved





Flying














I  can’t remember the first time I dreamed of flying.
But oh how natural it seemed, like becoming my true self once again, unrestricted by gravity. No more up and down, just here and there. Each altitude a sovereign space.


I was flying,
Swift and sure
With the lift of a hand,
A miracle on demand.

But more than the addictive bliss
Of flight,
Or the intoxication
Of height,
I was most proud
Of my position above the crowd,
Most proud
And most alone.
I was the only one.

Out of loneliness I descended,
And flew closely by,
Urging all to try.

But not one would leave the ground,
So sadly I ascended
And flew once more above them,
Unnoticed,
Without sound.


I flew over yellow gold meadows, lifetimes of oceans and mountains, lakes and forests, sometimes above the clouds and sometimes skimming the surface of the water.

Then I started flying closer to the ground in some of my dreams, more like hovering. I’d be walking down a city sidewalk and then lift slightly off the ground and slide along like a sailboat in a strong wind gliding over the water, angling my body in order to change speed and turn, like a freefall, only sideways.

In some dreams I felt possessed by the need to demonstrate this remarkable ability to others. I would be in a crowded room and lift myself up off the ground about three feet or so. It felt like something akin to proving that God is real and manifest in our everyday lives, proving that miracles are within our power. "Behold!" I would declare.

But in these dreams no one thinks my flying is remarkable. They are always busily engrossed in day-to-day activities and seem not to notice -- not to care.

When I awaken it takes me a while to realize I can’t fly. When I was younger I’d actually try to reach that certain mechanism in the back of my brain that could lift me off the ground, but alas, it never worked. I could not defeat gravity. Perhaps there are other ways.








~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Scene #19 by Cristian René
© All Rights Reserved





Collections


The first things I collected were stuffed animals, but only two of them slept with me at night. Of all my friends and playmates, I dearly loved the little gray cat and floppy brown and tan spotted dog who slept under the covers and kept me from feeling lonely at bedtime.

I’ve never lived anywhere very long without cats. I sleep with a little calico cat named Sally now.

I collected small metal cars and loved to drive them around cities I made from colored blocks.

When I was 17 years old I raced my mustang at Irwindale Raceway and won a few trophies.

I collected 45 rpm records, songs I heard on the radio. I listened to them over and over again. Each week when I went to the music store for my trumpet lesson, I bought a new “single” to add to my collection. I pretended I was a disc jockey and would announce each record I played.

One summer I won a contest on radio station KFWB by being the first caller. I talked to disc jockey Gary Owens and he sent me a Gary Owens coloring book and KFWB bumper sticker.

When I was 42 years old and working as a reporter for a daily newspaper in Newport Beach, California, I did daily newscasts for a local FM radio station. Someone once told me they heard me in a supermarket where the station was playing.

I collected coins and stamps, ordering them from catalogues and putting them into albums. I looked through everyone’s pennies, trying to find a 1909-S VDB, the rarest of Lincoln pennies. It never turned up. I learned that the reason certain coins and stamps were worth so much money was the same reason I’d never find them.

I began investing seriously in my late 40s, having more luck in recognizing an undervalued stock than knowing when to sell it. I learned that for many investments, value and worth are temporary.

As I grew up, my collections shifted from things to experiences. I collected friends, lovers and accomplishments. I collected books I’d read. I collected knowledge and learning. I collected songs and poems I wrote. I collected performances I played as a musician. I collected the talented musicians I played with. After I became a newspaper reporter, I collected my best published stories. I collected every famous and interesting person I met.

I collected family photographs, all the way back to great grandparents, arranging them in albums. I collected my family, my parents and grandparents, the years of my marriage, the companionship of my sons. I'm waiting to collect a grandchild or two.

I collect memories and as I grow old they reveal meanings to me I’d never fully understood. I collect the acts of kindness I’ve received and try to pass them on to others. I collect wisdom and continue to learn and relearn the lessons I’ve been taught from those still living and those who have passed on, their words still speaking to me.

I collect knowledge of the joy and sadness in this world, the tragedies and victories of the spirit, the damnations and the revelations. Sometimes it’s all too much and so I pack some of my collections away in boxes and label them, knowing I can always go back and unpack, knowing I’ll never look inside some of these boxes again, knowing all things change and life should move forward, mindfully forward.

My house is full of things useful and decorous, impractical and silly, remnants of a long life. I look at these things and they remind me of who I have been, who I still am. I suppose I will never completely discard my past, as long as it has something to teach me. I suppose all that I’ve collected has been an attempt to preserve happiness, wisdom and love.

Someday I will leave all these collections behind, passing these objects and their meanings on to others, but keeping the joy of having lived on this Earth in my eternal heart.





~ Text and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




The Music Of Sound





S ome people are more visual, some more audial. For me, it was always sound that penetrated my senses deeper than anything else.


I love sound, all kinds of sounds. Like young people everywhere, I found emotional refuge in music while I was growing up. Music was a drug that restored the chemical imbalances in my brain. I loved sound so much I even became a musician for a few years.

So many of the sounds in everyday life sound like music to me, even voices, and that caused problems in elementary school. I was never very good at math, but I had the added challenge of a math teacher with a Swedish accent, Mr. Westman. Every word he spoke sounded like a note. His sentences collected into melodies. His classroom lectures were sonatas some days, jazz improvisations other days.

Then, every once in a while my name poked through the melodic line: “Russell! What is the answer?” I didn’t even know the question. And even when he repeated the question, all I could hear was the music of his voice. I shook my head to signal my complete confusion, accompanied by the laughter of my far more attentive classmates.

After I was adopted and living in my new home, my earliest memory is of the record player at my grandparent’s house next door. It was so tall I had to stand on a chair to turn it on. It was an old 78 rpm record player on the top of a mahogany cabinet that also contained a small black and white television and a radio. I was too young to actually place records on the record player, but somehow, I managed to turn it on and put the needle on the record. The booming sound of the music was magic.

One afternoon I was listening to some old scratchy record of my grandfather’s that could have very well been “New San Antonio Rose,” by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. My grandfather was from Texas and I loved this recording. Suddenly the sound slowed down and the singing slowed down and I thought some kind of monster was emerging from the music. It sounded like the voice of some awful demon accompanied by a train wreck. It was incredibly frightening. That was the day I learned what electricity was, and what could happen if its magic flow was briefly interrupted, for the demon and the train wreck quickly disappeared, and like a movie run backwards, the music reassembled itself and rose again from the darkness of some terrible underworld.

Moon in all your splendor knows only my heart,
Call back my Rose, Rose of San Antone,
Lips so sweet and tender like petals fallin' apart,
Speak once again of my love, my own.

Yes, that was the day my grandfather taught me something about electricity. I also learned something very important that day about fear.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved