Open Call , Short Stories -Carl Palmer


Road Gators

By Carl Palmer


The four-foot strip of tractor trailer truck tire on the side of the road gets Addison talking. He points at the rubber traffic litter and starts telling of another adventure from his youth back in Hamlet, North Carolina. Just as with every story about his hometown, he begins by reminding me that the great saxophone player, John Coltrane, grew up in Hamlet, and Bandit, the original 1977 Pontiac Trans Am of the movie, Smokey and the Bandit sits on blocks by a double-wide just outside of town.

A.G., as he was called back then, and still today, along with three of his high school buddies, had all recently enrolled at the Richmond Community College to put off the draft a bit longer. They did most everything together and agreed if one got called up for the Army, they’d all go in together.

As usual, on a Saturday night, they were enjoying an evening of camaraderie and beer, not all that drunk, but not all that far from it. It was probably a combination of both not knowing when to stop drinking and not knowing how to safely pull off the road onto the shoulder which contributed to having the Player family sedan ending up in the ditch on its roof.

They were on the new stretch of Highway 177 coming back from the Community Center Go-Go party in Hoffman. All the boys knew the pretty girls lived there where girls loved to dance and rumored to do other things, too.

Laughing and all talking at once, A.G. pulled over to the side for a pit stop. Right away it was obvious that the soft shoulder was narrower than it looked and the slope was steeper than he expected. Since it was all just recently constructed, the ground was not yet solid under the freshly spread gravel and sod. As A.G. felt the car go down off the edge, he quickly turned the steering wheel back up towards the road.

As he did, the front wheels dug in, the car leaned downward in slow motion, tipped, rolled gently onto its passenger side and then stop on its top, upside down halfway to the bottom of the ditch. All this without a sound from the car or the boys inside.

It had gone in smoothly and the ground gave way to the weight without scraping or scarring the car’s finish in the newly sown grass. They surveyed the situation, made a plan to just roll it down a little further so it would be back right side up on its wheels and then drive it on out, none the worse.

To aid the roll-over operation, the boys found some discarded sections of tire tread on the side of the road, a couple as long as four foot. These hunks of recap tire are commonly called gators in that part of the south. They looked like the partially submerged bodies of those alligators floating in the swamp down by Crawford Lake.

Each boy grabs a gator and each hollers out into the night. They’d failed to realize the rubber tires were reinforced with steel mesh belts that immediately dug into their arms and chests.

The plan worked. The car rolled down the rubber cushioned ramp to the bottom of the ditch without a single flaw on the body of the sedan. The only casualty was the radio aerial. Now broken, the only station the radio would pick up was WYFQ, a religious channel out of Wadesboro. It was his mom’s favorite anyway, so it’d do until A.G. could get a replacement antenna.

The bodies of the boys, scratched and scarred, were the topic of all conversation. Every time the story was told it grew just a little bit better, soon becoming a Hamlet legend of those fearless four boys rasslin’ rabid wild gators back into the swamp, making the community safe again.

All four left for Fort Bragg two months later, got matching tattoos right after basic training and ended up making the military their career as lifers in the United States Army.

A.G. always has time to tell a story, share a cold drink in the shade and, if you ask, may just show you his gator tattoo.



Carl “Papa” Palmer of Old Mill Road in Ridgeway, Virginia, lives in University Place, Washington. He is retired from the military and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enjoying life now as “Papa” to his grand descendants and being a Franciscan Hospice volunteer. Carl is a Pushcart Prize and Micro Award nominee. MOTTO: Long Weekends Forever


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