Many of my old pal Mingo’s misadventures involved problems with women, but one incident that nearly killed him was the result of being a nice guy.
It all started with a simple idea.
Mingo and I were perched on bar stools down at the local doing our best to ward off dehydration when Ozzie came in.
As often happened, he wanted to tell us about a new plan.
One of his girlfriends had a couple of other young women from Wisconsin staying with her, and Ozzie was sure that if we agreed to go along, he could convince them to go on a picnic up at a lake where we could build a fire, drink some beer, and do our part to improve inter-state relations.
Mingo and I looked at each other, then out the window. It was a dark and dreary day, and a cold drizzle had been blanketing the landscape off and on for the past week. The last thing we wanted to do was leave our comfortable bar stools to embark on some half-baked expedition into the wet woods.
Ozzie had a way of being persuasive, though, and the thought of an adventure with sociable young ladies was not to be taken lightly, so eventually we agreed.
We piled into Ozzie’s old Plymouth Road Runner and set out to pick up the girls.
Ozzie’s friend took the shotgun seat, and the two Wisconsin girls got in back with Mingo and me, making for a cozy ride.
After a quick stop at the liquor store, we headed out of town.
Eventually, Ozzie pulled into a layby, and we disembarked. Grabbing the beer out of the trunk, we walked a short way through the wet brush to a clearing on the shore of a small lake.
The girls had been chatty on the journey, but the dreary setting seemed to dampen even their spirits.
Mingo handed around some beers, and Ozzie set about making a fire.
He hadn’t thought that through very well. There was a rustic fire pit, but everything in sight was wet. Several attempts to ignite a fire were unsuccessful.
Then Ozzie had another bright idea. He disconnected the gas line on his car and transferred some gas into an empty beer bottle. He tried, unsuccessfully, to use the gas to nurse a flame to light.
Eventually, he gave up, and we stood around in the cool evening air drinking beer. The life fizzled out of the party as quickly as it had the fire, and we soon decided to head for home.
As we traveled along the deserted highway in the darkness, one of the girls noticed flames beginning to emerge around the hood of the car.
Ozzie pulled over and opened the hood, and a jolly fire lit up the night.
Ozzie grabbed Mingo’s jacket (not his own, of course) and began beating the flames with it.
The fire was out of control by that time, and we were forced to abandon the vehicle and start walking down the dark highway to summon help.
We managed to catch a ride with a guy in a pickup, who dropped us off at a bar where there was a phone.
Ozzie called his friend Scuz, and convinced him to come and pick us up. We sat dejectedly on the step in front of the bar waiting to be rescued.
In the morning, Ozzie badgered Mingo into going with him to collect what was left of his car.
Ozzie, saying he couldn’t afford a tow, borrowed Scuz’s car and threw a rope in the trunk.
A depressing sight greeted them when they arrived at the scene of the fire.
The remains of the car were a charred mess. The local volunteer fire department had extinguished the blaze, and the tires were miraculously intact, but all the windows were gone. The once cheery paint was black, and the interior was gutted, leaving only a metal skeleton.
Ozzie threw an old tarp over the springs that were once the front seat for Mingo to sit on, and told him it would be his Mingo’s job to drive the remains of the vehicle.
Then he tied one end of the rope to Scuz’s car, and the other to the wreck, and they set out on their sad journey.
The Road Runner was much lighter with all the upholstery and plastic parts burned up. Mingo was glad he had remembered to bring gloves, because there was nothing left of the steering wheel but a dirty metal ring.
Things went well enough at first. Ozzie drove slowly, and Mingo managed to keep the wreck in the lane most of the time.
It was on the long descent into the city that things began to look bad for Mingo.
Up to that point, the road had been flat, and Ozzie had been able to control their speed.
A sense of terror began to grip Mingo as he realized too late that the burned-out car had no brakes.
The abrupt descent caused the Road Runner to gently bang into the back of Scuz’s car periodically, and tightening and slackening of the rope introduced jerkiness to the process.
Suddenly, the rope snapped, and Mingo was on his own.
Things may have been OK if Ozzie had used Scuz’s car to stop Mingo’s forward progress, but instead, he abruptly swerved onto the shoulder, taking himself out of harm’s way.
Mingo, meanwhile, was gripping the steering wheel and wildly stomping on what was left of the brake pedal, desperately trying to check his speed.
The Road Runner, sensing freedom, began to travel even faster as the downgrade became steeper, spewing a cloud of dirty black ash in its wake.
The charred car began to jerk and jump like a skittish pony, since its tires were not as round as they had been. This made for a rough ride for Mingo.
He was hurtling downhill at a lively clip by that point, and it was then he remembered the “T.”
The road on which he was traveling descended into a residential neighborhood, where it met another street in a “T” intersection.
Directly in line with Mingo’s course was a substantial-looking house.
Mingo, not normally a religious man, uttered a quick prayer pleading for no cross-traffic, and aimed the wreck for the driveway entrance to the right of the house.
The scorched vehicle hit the apron at top speed, and was launched into the air.
Mingo’s cry of terror could be heard blocks away.
Miraculously, the wreck came down to earth upright, and after a hard bounce continued its forward progress.
Mingo, wild-eyed, desperately steered for the gap between the garage and the neighbor’s house.
He hurtled past the garage with inches to spare, and soon afterwards came to rest mired in the neighbor’s soggy vegetable garden.
Mingo could have killed Ozzie, and any jury would have called it justifiable homicide, but he didn’t.
After peeling his fingers off the steering wheel, Mingo paused to give thanks to his Maker, then climbed stiffly out of the car and walked slowly away without looking back.
It was a long time before Ozzie asked Mingo for another favor.