• Karl

From A Broken Past: Burning Cars And Minds In Vinton, Iowa

Updated: Apr 29, 2019

Midwest Life 101.

Vinton, Iowa.

When I was about 16 years old, my friend Kyle came over to my house driving his beat-to-shit old Ford. It was a 4-door something-or-other from the mid 60's. It didn't seem collectible and he didn't have it long enough for any of us to make claim and fall in love with it, or even remember what the hell kind of Ford it was. But I remember a few things about it.

It was a mix of white paint and rust, it smelled like an old car, the seats were freezing cold in the winter, it had an AM radio and a dashboard ready to decapitate anyone in an accident.

And I remember the day he picked me up so we could go smoke some weed in it at a local park.

It was a cold Iowa Winter day, a weekend I think. My parents didn't care a whole bunch for Kyle, so I met him at the curb and climbed into this unknown Ford beast. We drove to Riverside Park on the Northeast side of town and parked along a wooden barrier. Kyle was a couple years older than I was, maybe 19 at the time, me being closer to 16. 1988 maybe. Aside from being an excellent guitarist, Kyle was also the guy who usually had a bit of marijuana in his pocket (The local court records will likely reflect that as well).

On this particular and very special day, Kyle had a bit of the green stuff, but otherwise lacked any sort of weed delivery method - no papers, no pipe. We were often the type to smoke weed, but not necessarily have the paraphernalia that goes along with it. I honestly can't remember any of my friends at that time having a pipe or bong or anything. It was always rolled in papers or smoked in a make-shift soda can pipe. We were not heavy users, so no need for anything too complicated.

This was a special day, though. Kyle had a bible.

In our delinquent minds, the pages of a bible seemed very similar in texture and consistency to the papers we had used in the past to roll joints. So, our youthful logic led us to believe that one paper could be substituted for the other. We moved forward with this logic - like mighty kings onto a battlefield.

Kyle grabbed the bible and tore a page from this good book. It was a page from 1st Corinthians where Paul is speaking about the gifts of the sp... Ok.. not really, I have no recollection of what chapter the page was from. ... He folded the page onto his lap and pulled the bag of weed from his coat pocket. The sacrilegious adventure had officially begun.

The joint rolled nicely. It was enormous and looked like a giant "Cheech and Chong" type of thing we had seen in a movie. It was all getting kind of exciting. We did immediately notice that licking the bible page to seal the joint did not really work (it worked neither for the joints structural integrity nor for our young salvation).

Structural integrity beside, we both felt confident that this monster sized Jesus-Joint would work just fine and in no time at all we would be listening to Neil Young and floating off to a different reality. An alternative Iowa Universe. An escape of our small town Midwest. Certainly, we would surely soon stumble into the local fast food joint (pictured above) with bloodshot eyes, carried softly upon a cloud of greasy burger smells and curly fry dreams.

I rubbed my hands together with an eager anticipation (and also to warm them) as Kyle initiated our great journey by lighting the joint. All was fine at first.

But, what happens when you put a flame to the pages of a bible, or any other non-flame-ready paper, for that matter, is that it straight up just catches on fire. Kyle was able to light the joint and take a huge hit, but by the time it was passed to me and it was my turn to puff away on this massive weed-stogie I was basically holding a legit paper fire in my human hands - a now growing and angry fire - made of weed and flammable paper: the embers of which, were now beginning to float around the enclosed space of the car, carried by the breeze from the cracked window.

The fire was soon unable, maybe even unwilling, to be contained by the flesh of my young hands. It needed more oxygen and had become part of the very air we were breathing in the tight Ford space. We flung open our doors as I dropped what was left of our mega sized scorched joint and bailed to the safety of the frozen Iowa air. Each of us thankful we had survived. Both of us now laughing our frozen asses off.

We were Kings of Iowa on this day. A great battle had been lost, but we lived to fight another day. I have no recollection of what we did next, it has been 30 years after all. But, I imagine we probably found a soda can to poke holes in and likely finished our quest to get baked. Likely ending our afternoon at the fast food place (pictured above) - stuffing roast beef sandwiches and burgers and curly fries and soda into our stoned looking juvenile delinquent faces.

I think back upon that day fondly. It always makes me smile. Especially since I learned of Kyle's passing a few years ago. I think about him a lot and it always leads to thinking about this day.

Kyle and I didn't see much of each other after high school. I went off to do things away from the area while Kyle stayed somewhat closer in Cedar Rapids. He continued his pursuit of music and became a pretty well-known guitarist in the area, playing with lots of different people in numerous bands and projects.

We got together one Saturday around 2006-ish and hung out, recorded a song. He had continued to improve his guitar licks, I had continued to slack off on guitar, finding other things like art that interested me more. It was a fun day too.

But, not as fun as that winter day in the late 1980's when we tried to burn our minds, but ended up just burning a car.


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