Weekend nights (read me) as high schooler’s while Growing up on Prytania were likely a lot like they are today. We’d typically have a hang out spot that we’d hit to share a few laughs and make some memories. Maybe it would be Frisch’s or the roller rink or perhaps we’d just cruise around. This story entry is all about the ride home on one of those nights. It doesn’t qualify as one of those things that could have killed us, (as in this story), but it’s a fun memory of days gone by with my best friend during high school – Joe Copas.
It was winter, 1975. On this evening we were driving in Joe’s car and Joe was driving. On occasion a few of us would spend the night at Joe’s house. There were four of us that night. I’m not 100% positive of the other two cohorts besides Joe and myself, but I believe it was Rick Law and Rich Mathews (Rich was Diane’s (read me) little brother). We had just made a Frisch’s run for a Big Boy and hot fudge cake and were on our way back to Joe’s place.
Joe’s house was cool to hang out in as a teenager as there was only one parent to worry about spying or checking up on you. Joe’s dad was raising him and well you know how we guys are, as long as we think you’re not being as bad as we were when we were kids, we’ll let you have your space. So Joe’s dad, (“Paps”), let us have our space. In the basement of Joe’s house was a cool ‘bar room’ that had been installed by Paps. Another cool aspect of that room was a clean coal chute which doubled as a James Bond (or Austin Powers) escape hatch which we would use to sneak out in the middle of the night – to do what? Well that part was always much less defined. Typically it would just be a romp around the West Side to see if any of our girlfriends’ room lights were still on, (needless to say, they never were). On those nights, Joe would have his car parked out front of the house (right by the coal chute door). He lived on a steep hill so he’d let the car coast down the hill a bit before starting it up so as not to accidentally wake up his dad (notice how considerate we were).
Joe’s car was an early 60’s compact, (I’m thinking it was a ’62 Nova II), a Chevy Nova, “modified” by Paps. Paps was definitely what someone might call a ‘character’. I think that if he were my dad I’d be writing quite a number of blog stories about him. I don’t know if he liked me or the other boys that Joe hung around with, but I liked him. I thought he was a stand-up guy and had a quirky sense of humor if you listened for it. He introduced me to bear meat, (it tasted like a chuck roast), and dandelion greens (just like spinach). Paps had some celebrity in the family too as he was cousin to Cowboy Copas who had his moment in country music back when country was really country.
Pretty cute lyrics in this video – check it out
The ‘modifications’ Paps had made on the Nova were I guess what most would consider Rube Goldberg creations. I don’t remember them all but I do recall a few unusual dashboard lights and the fact that the car didn’t require a key to start up. I seem to recall a do-it-yourself paint job too. But it ran well – it was a good little car.
So there we were, driving through town heading home, making our way through a small section of Hamilton, Ohio called Hyde Park. The streets were clear of snow that night, but there was plenty on the ground, perhaps a few inches. There was a tiny park there wedged in between the streets. The park was sort of the shape of an oblong oval – my sister Lori lived right across the street from it. On a wild hair, Joe decided to take a joy ride in the snow through the park. You know how we boys are – put a few of us together and eventually one of us will try to impress the others by doing something that perhaps we shouldn’t have….note I say perhaps because most of our moves were pure genius (read me and you will be convinced). It sounded fun enough. Joe entered the park directly in front of my sister’s house and then began driving in a serpentine manner to the far end corner.
Whee, whee…we were having a great time. Joe was zigzagging all over and we were all laughing, whooping and hollering. Yes, this was a great idea Joe! Until….THUMP!
Uh-oh……Thump is not a good sound for a car. We had almost made it out. Joe had gotten within 10 yards of exiting the park, but we were stalled. Even worse, we were elevated. Our front end was perhaps a foot above the rear end. We were stuck, and we were going nowhere, that is until we all got out of the car and lifted it off of whatever we had hit. After we had lifted the car successfully, we could see that Joe had hit a stump; a pretty good sized stump that had been hidden by the snow. It was no normal stump either. This stump was shaped just like a pointy wedge. This meant nothing to us at the time but would definitely mean something tomorrow.
We continued on our way and made it back to Joe’s. Joe parked the car in the back yard and that was that. We had an exciting night. We headed into the house to hit our sleeping bags, which we all had in the living room on the first floor.
The next day we walked up the hill towards my house. We didn’t always drive and my house and Rich’s were just a few blocks away from Joe’s house. I don’t remember what we did or how long we were gone, but when we returned later in the afternoon, we had walked down the alleyway. It was just Joe and I. As we entered the rear of Joe’s yard, we heard Paps before we saw him. He was underneath the car, cursing up a storm. I had never seen Paps angry before, but he was fuming.
“What the hell did you do last night Joe?”
Joe – I don’t know dad, I think I drove over something on the road.
Paps – the road? It looks like you ran over a damn log! You punched a hole right through the oil pan. I can see wood and all the oil is gone.
Joe – (a little general mumbling backtracking) – I don’t know dad….
And after that, Joe and I just sort of slinked away. It was always better to get out of sight when your parents were mad. Joe did later confess the truth, but he made sure enough time had gone by to allow Paps to cool off a bit. Likely Paps already knew the truth (we parents usually do). I think on some level, Joe knew that Paps knew everything, so why lie?
(watch the short vid – I think you’ll like it).
This night wasn’t a life altering evening. No one was hurt, no one performed a brilliant act and no one but us likely would even care about this story. But I am the writer of the story aren’t I, so I get to dictate the tale. This is my memory – it means something to me. For a couple of years, Joe and I were best friends, the kind of friends that, well, if I picked up the phone today to talk, I think we could easily fall into a decent conversation without ever mentioning any sporting event. We spent a lot of time together. We didn’t smoke pot, (well, I had – a separate tale to be told later), we didn’t go to any falling-over-drunk parties, (well ok, maybe a few), and when either of us needed someone to talk with about a serious subject, we were there for each other. When you think about it, isn’t this what real friendship is all about – sharing truths, being there for the other and making memories that last a lifetime?