Pep And Petrol

Small town America loves their school activities. That was certainly the case in my very small hometown high school during the 60’s and 70’s. Friday night football and Tues/Friday basketball would bring every loyal citizen who could still breathe and walk out to watch “their kids” play.

And for students, even if you weren’t part of the team, you were still part of the team. Some were in marching band. Some were cheerleaders. Some took turns working the concession stands. Some dressed up as the Lion Mascot. And the rest of us? Well we were part of the team too. Thanks to Pep Club.

In my day, the 70’s, Pep Club members had official uniforms that we wore to school on game days. Hand-made blue vest and some sort of skirt/shorts item of clothing with flaps that covered the front and back. Also blue. There’s probably a name for this article of clothing but it escapes me now. Pretty sure no one wears anything like it today. And we wore red long sleeved blouses. And of course saddle shoes….is that what they were called? White and black. We all sat in the Pep Club section during the games and cheered along with the cheerleaders. We knew all the cheers. It was our one and only responsibility in being part of the team.

The pep club bus was used to take us to “away” games. Which generally meant a very late arrival back to the school where we’d hop in our cars and head…. home? Hardly. We naturally had to drag main street and then on to the bowling alley where we would turn around then circle back to the high school and make the same trip over and over and over again. Good times, small town style.

I loved to drive my dad’s treasured 1959 Chevy El Camino. Well, when he would give me the keys. It was a standard transmission, three speed on the column and so much fun to drive. Here’s a picture of one I found online.

I mean, really, who wouldn’t love driving this weird old vehicle?

Often my friend Valerie would stay over at my house since she lived in the country. One night in particular was quite eventful.

Valerie and I cruised through town in this marvelous vehicle after the pep club bus made it back to town. Looking for cute guys to honk at, blaring KSAL on the old AM-only radio loudly. It was particularly lively when our team had come home victorious. Lots of cars cruising the streets.

On this eventful night, we were driving back to the high school parking lot when the El Camino died. It ran out of gas. All the other kids had returned to their homes, there was no one to help us in our time of need. The time was 2 a.m. and it was freezing cold outside with a bit of snow/ice on the ground. The high school was only three blocks from home so we made the treacherous walk on foot and grabbed a gas can out of the garage. There were two or three to choose from so I selected the one that appeared to have the most in it. Of course it was dark. Of course I had no flashlight. And OF COURSE I didn’t want to wake my folks up sneaking into the garage.

Back at the El Camino we poured the contents of the can into the gas tank. But the engine struggled to turn over. Eventually it did, but with a pretty loud “bang”. The engine stayed running so I proceeded to drive away. With banging and lurching and a great deal of anxiety on my part, we finally made it to my driveway. What on earth was going on? I did not know but I did know that my dad would need to be told because he always got up early and drove that vehicle.

I stood by my folks’ bed and tried to ease Daddy awake gently. “Something’s wrong with the El Camino.” I gave him a brief summary of the empty tank and how I’d used the gas can. (Without including any details of looking for cute guys and wasting gas as we cruised the town repeatedly.) “Which can did you use, Bunny?” As it turned out I learned from him that the contents of that can was actually Turpentine. Used as paint thinner. Yes. Uh oh. His response was uncharacteristic and likely due to being sound asleep. “Don’t worry, Bunny, I’ll deal with it in the morning.” Well, later in the morning. By that time it was around 3am.

Later that day I was so very relieved to learn from Dad that the old El Camino had not sustained life ending injury by my unfortunate use of paint thinner in the gas tank.

But Dad did mention that perhaps paint thinner in the gas tank could have resulted in disaster to the internal combustion engine. Like up in flames. Life ending injury to me and my friend. But teenagers don’t always comprehend stuff like that, do they?

So what did this experience teach me? In Driver’s Ed, Mr Campbell taught us about the internal combustion engine. Intake. Compression. Power. Exhaust. For whatever reason I never forgot that. To this day I can see him in front of class explaining how our car’s engine worked. But I digress, back to the question. What did I learn from the paint thinner experience? Something that has been reinforced over and over in my long years of life: I’m not nearly as smart as I thought. Knowing words and concepts doesn’t always translate into wise actions.

And a purty red can of liquid might not be what you think it is.

3 thoughts on “Pep And Petrol

  1. Oh, Benita! I remember that night very clearly. What were we thinking?! And I remember all those times I stayed over at your house. Your family was so gracious to me.


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