My plan to outrun him backfired.



Eons ago, I was driving down  a street  that  passed  near  a  gasoline  refinery  and  soon  noticed  in my  rear-view  mirror  that  a  large  tanker  truck  that  hauled  the  gasoline  to  service  stations  was  hot  on  my back  bumper.

The tanker truck was following  me  so  closely  that  I  am  sure  it   appeared  it  was  pushing  my  car,  which,  in  a way,   it  was.  It was pushing me  by  trying  to  intimidate  me  to  move  on  down  the  street,  although  I  was  driving  right  at the speed limit.  Didn’t want  to go faster  because  that  area  of  the  street  happened   to  be  a  place  where  the  police  liked  to lie  in  wait  for speeders.  You know,  make  their  quota.

Roger Summers
Roger Summers

I was  driving  my first car,  a silver  1937 Ford.  It  had  four-in-the-floor,  although  they  did  not  call  it that  then.  Stick-shift  was  the  terminology.  In today’s parlance,  I  suppose my  car  would  be called  pre-owned.  Or,  more  accurately  in  the  case  of my car,   pre-pre-pre-pre-owned.    It had been  around  the block  a few times.  Probably a few blocks.  And then  some.

Anyway,   the  car  was  paid  for,  bought  with  money  I had saved  over  more  months  than  I  care  to remember  by  working  all  sorts  of  odd  jobs  after  school  and  on  the weekends  and  during  summer  breaks.

That  day,  some  of  the  car’s  long  use was  catching  up  with it.  It  began  to  spit  and  sputter,  cough   and  choke.  It was  as if  something  would  momentarily  block  the  flow  of  gasoline  though  its  fuel  system,  cause  the  engine  to  conk  out,  then  suddenly  clear   and  start  running  again  for   a  brief  time,  then  conk  out again.

I was having  a major  problem  keeping  it  running.  It  would  slow  a  bit  and  the  engine  would  die.  Then  it  would  roll  a  bit  further  down  the  street   and  the  engine  would  fire up  again.  I  was frantically  doing  everything   I  could  to nurse  it  to  the mechanic’s  garage  not  far away.

And all   of  this  at  the  time  that that  big  gasoline  truck  was  hotly  breathing  down  my  back  bumper.

Washboard RoadI  tried  to  wave  the truck driver around.

But  he  would  not  pass.

He  seemed  to  be  taking  great   glee  in  tailgating  me.

I tried  again  and  again  to  persuade  him  to  pass  my  troubled  car.

No luck.

All  I  could  see  in  my  rear-view  mirror  was  this  massive  gasoline  truck  hurdling  down  the  street  as  if  welded  to  my vehicle.

Then  it  happened.

My ’37 Ford suddenly  jerked  wildly,   coughed,   choked,   —  protested,  really —  then  shot  out  a  massive,  black, sinister cloud  from  the  tailpipe.   It  engulfed  the front of the  tailgating  gasoline  truck.

Then  I  saw  sparks.  Lots  ‘n’  lots  of  sparks.  A fireworks show  would have had nothing on me.

Then came the thunderous finale:  A scary,   gigantic  ball  of  fire.  Bright  orange-red  fire.  The kind  that  bellows and screams,  run!

Run for your  ever-lasting life!

My car had backfired, big time, like a giant motorized belch.

To  this  day,  in  the  mind’s    eye,  I   can  see  that  smoky,  fiery,  threatening tailpipe eruption; to  this  day  I  can  hear  the ever-louder   spewing  and  popping   —  peeesssuuuuuu,   peeessssuuuuuu,  peeeeesssssuuuuu  — of  the  gasoline  truck’s  airbrakes.

In a  split second,   my   tailpipe   had  done  what  I had  been  unable  to do – convince   the  driver  of the  tailgating   gasoline  truck  to  get   off  my  back bumper,  to  pull  a  hasty  retreat.

In  my  rear-view  mirror,  I  saw  the  truck  slip  farther  and  farther and  farther back.

The truck driver finally was convinced he should  surrender  to  me  a Texas-size bit  of  road space.

Such a display of wisdom.

And to  this  day  I’d  wager   the  price  of  my  ’37 Ford  — hard  as  it  was  to  earn  the  money  to  pay for it — that,   since  then,   he’s  willingly and courteously granted  that  same  bit  of  consideration  to every last  driver  he’s come across while out on the road.

Roger Summers is a journalist and essayist who spends time in Texas, New Mexico and England and in a world of curiosity and creativity. He can be reached at

Please click the book cover to read more about Heart Songs from a Washboard Road, a short story collection from Roger Summers.


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