THE CORNERSTONE OF MY THINKING ON RELIGION
I went back to college in Richmond, Virginia, my sophomore year, in my own car. It was an old Peugeot
which my father helped me select. He crawled underneath it, poked around under the hood, removed a
spark plug or two, grabbed a wheel and tried to wobble it, drove it up a hill, drove it down the other side
in the wrong gear (on purpose), ran his finger inside the exhaust pipe, looked underneath it again,
opened the hood up again and asked to see the spot where it was usually parked. After all of that was
over he declared it sound. In fact, it was wonderful. It was unassuming, to say the least. It was, above all
else, mine. Green and mine; rusted in spots and mine; old and smelly and mine. It wasn’t lovely to look at
and it wasn’t always dependable, but it was mine. You know, some very good cars have springs coming
through the driver’s side seat. And you have to admit that some extremely amenable cars have slight oil
leaks. I’d purchased this car myself with money that I’d earned working that summer in the mills. No one
had ever been prouder than I was of that neat old car. Oh, and it had a sunroof. In those days nobody
had a sunroof. My old Peugeot had a sunroof.
“What’s that hole for?”
“It’s a sunroof.”
“What the heck is a sunroof?”
“Well, you know, like on a sunny…”
“I bet it leaks.”
I was especially fond of the lion rampant cast in lexan in the center of the yellowed and crackle-
infested steering wheel. He was silver, balanced forever on his sinister leg, the other leg kicking
like a Rockette, forelegs and claws striking out wildly at some unseen pest (a gnat, a fly); I liked the
playfulness of this regal dancing beast. He has a long flickering tongue and eyes a-blaze.
In those days, in the beginning, I parked this wonderful little vehicle alongside the park whenever I could,
so I could look down upon it day or night, from my place above the Laundro-Mat where I lived, and say to
myself, “That’s my car, by god.” Of course any student who had a car had a better car than mine, but
nobody on earth had a better car than my old Peugeot. That really was a pretty neat car. That was forty
years ago and when I think of that car a smile comes to my face; when I see one in an old French movie
a bolt of delight runs through me. I know what they smell like. I know how they handle. I know the
peculiarities of three speeds on the column shifting. I remember it all with a happy smugness. That’s
about as much as anyone can ask from a car I think.
Joanie and I drove everywhere in that car; putted around town and out into the countryside. On school
breaks we would chose between Pittsburgh, where my parents lived, or Charlotte, where her parents
lived, and we drove there. My Peugeot got something like 38 or 40 MPG in the city and 48 on the
highway and the very best gas was 27 cents a gallon and you could get the unmarked stuff for 19 cents.
In those days I was making almost—not quite, almost--$4/hour working in the school cafeteria, and that
could buy you a lot of gas. It was wonderful to be able to fill-up and get out of town; a miracle of liberty.
During one break we drove down to Charlotte first and then all the way back up to Pittsburgh. So that you
are properly impressed I must tell you that’s a distance of 87,423 lunar miles. We did it in one sitting;
average speed 47 MPH. The springs were coming through the seats for most of that trip, but we were
happy. I loved Joanie, she loved me and we both held a tremendous fondness in our hearts for that car.
My mother didn’t really trust that car and she was always glad/relieved/exhausted/worn
out/delighted/thankful to see us pull into their driveway even when it wasn’t snowing. Joanie’s folks didn’t
trust either me or the car and they were always glad to see their daughter arrive home in one piece (as it
So with that in place, here’s a lovely little tale entitled, Yet Another Lovely Spring Outing near Richmond,
Virginia, Heart of the Confederacy, 1968.
SCENE: Springtime. Richmond, Virginia. Two young lovers, side by side, going out into the country for a
little ride in a nifty old car. What could be nicer? Nothing, you say. Precisely. You understand completely
and that makes my task so much easier. So far we have Spring, Love, a little ride out in the countryside.
Joanie was snuggling beside me as we wound away from the city. She had both arms entwined in mine.
She had her lovely little face pressed warmly, adoringly against my shoulder--my arm was taking the
brunt of her affection on that Spring day. We were filled to the brim and overflowing with the very
goodness of Life; it was in us like a rhythm. We were smiling. We were probably giggling with delight.
Who wouldn’t be? The pasture on either side of us rolled away smoothly, quietly, taking cattle and trees
along with it without resistance. The road was a gentle roller coaster under the warm, softening tires of
my old car. Windows open. Gentle breeze. Clouds, birds, stream running along beside us for a bit before
swerving off into the distance between two lush green perky hills, that sort of thing. It’s a pretty picture.
Your quick understanding helps.
We are the only ones on that road. It’s me and her and everything in nature that counts as good. A
pickup truck passes by. I hardly notice it; I’m in love. She doesn’t really notice, she’s a young lady—a true
southern belle, gentle, soft spoken, and sweet--they don’t notice such details. Young women don’t notice
pick-up trucks with shotgun racks and leering rednecks. The truck slides up over the top of a rise and
around the curve, out of sight ahead of us. They have no part in our little world.
When we round that curve, I can see that same truck stopped up ahead. It’s in the very middle of the
road. I slow down as we approach it. This is unusual, I think. What on earth would a pick-up truck full of
leering rednecks be doing stopped in the middle—right smack dab in the middle--of a country road?
“Do you think they’re OK?” she asks. “Maybe we should stop and ask if they need help,” she says.
I slow down to a crawl. This ain’t right and my instincts are telling me so. My instincts are screaming at
me. This ain’t right, this ain’t right. I notice that the driver of the truck is turned around in the seat, one
arm thrown over the seatback, grinning at us. The guy in the passenger seat is doing the same. They’re
leering like unshaven jack-o-lanterns. Between these two is a baby seat with a child in it. She squirming,
craning to see. The driver continues to stare at us as we roll slowly toward them. He unconsciously
reaches over and pats the little child on the head. By this time we are maybe a dozen feet from them and
I have come to a complete stop. Something is very seriously wrong here. I don’t know what it is, but
something is not right. Joanie is sitting bolt upright, “Do you think they need help?” I can tell by the break
in her voice that she’s hoping that’s the case; she’s hoping the matter’s as simple as that.
The driver turns away for a second, and now his truck is coming at us in reverse. I can hear it whining as
he accelerates. He’s climbing on the accelerator. The truck is barreling toward us; it’s fishtailing wildly.
Both of these men are grinning at us as the truck slams into the front of my car.
“Oh my God,” screams Joanie. She can’t believe this is happening.
The truck pulls forward again and suddenly he’s coming at us again in reverse.
My trusty old Peugeot has conked out from the impact. I’m telling Joanie to brace herself for the next hit.
Meanwhile I’m frantically trying to get the engine of my little car to turn over. Seconds before he hits us
again it starts. The collision takes place just as I throw it in reverse. Now, I’m driving as quickly as I can
away from him in reverse. The impact has the truck bouncing. I continue to back up as quickly as my old
car can go. Joanie is in tears, crying, “Oh God. Oh God. Dear God.”
We’ve managed to put about 30 feet between us and them, when the Peugeot conks out again. As I
frantically get it started I’m keeping my eye on them, The driver of the truck ruffles the hair of the child,
reaches up and takes a shotgun down from the rack that hangs above the child’s head. The passenger
and the driver both get out of the truck; they’re laughing as they pick up parts of my car—pieces of grill
and trim from the headlights. They hold them up jokingly victorious and toss them into the back of their
truck. Then the driver points the shotgun at us, and peering down its barrel he begins slowly walking
I am praying as loudly and as quickly as any reprobate has ever prayed, “Dear God, help us. Dear God,
help us. Dear God, please help us.”
And God does help us.
The redneck moron bastard father idiot lowers his shot gun, laughs, spits in my direction (this is a male
thing), goes back to the cab, replaces his shotgun on the rack. His door closes—clunk. His buddy stares
at us for a bit longer, then gets in the other side. His door closes—clunk. They drive off, with the child
between them looking back at us. What could be nicer than a little ride in the country around Richmond
in the Spring?
For several months I refused to leave my loft, except to go to school and I sat up nights keeping an eye
on my car from my window. I was convinced that anyone crazy enough to attack us like that was crazy
enough to come into town looking for us—or they might stumble across my car while driving through
town, and new visions of glorious violence would open up before their eyes.
Here’s irony or something…an historical note at any rate. About three weeks after this event took place,
a movie called Easy Rider came out and EVERYONE who knew me went out of their way to caution me
NOT to see that movie. I took their advice. I would have to guess that my redneck friends in the pick-up
truck probably liked that film a great deal however. Their friends were probably sayin’, “YEW GOTTA go
see that movie, Beau! I think you’ll be able to relate pretty strongly to the antagonist.”
I’ll tell you what I honestly believe.
I don’t think God stepped in to save our lives that day. I think God stepped in to save the life of the lovely
young woman beside me. I was just in the right place to be saved along with her. Ever since then I have
made a point of seeking out, latching onto, and, if not always strictly devoted, at least remaining close to
the finest, purest and most wonderful women on earth.
And, that has really worked out pretty well. I now have the best wife any man has ever had, perhaps in
the entire history of marriage, and, I’m as happy as a man of my peculiar temperament can possibly be.
So, for me, it’s been a blessing. Those idiots in that pick-up truck did me a favor.