1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


The Race That Never Was
H. R. Ayres

There must have been fifteen or twenty young men gathered at the end of the bridge, telling tall tales for want of anything better to do on a warm Saturday in July. Some, generally the elders, were sitting on the ramp or walkway of a billboard sign, used by the sign company’s employees for installing new billboard signs and used by the boys at the end of the bridge, alternatively as a stage or as a seating area. Everyone else was standing, facing the sign or turned in one direction or another to watch the young women and teen age girls crossing the bridge or making an entrance or exit from Mack’s Snack Shack, which was also a gathering place for young people of both sexes, located some twenty feet west of the billboard sign - within earshot of the signboard, but a respectable distance from the boys at the end of the bridge.

 Life in the 50's was a strange mixture of the Victorian and the vulgar, and there was no better display of those opposite cultures than at the end of the bridge. Men, especially those who were married or attached, either crossing the bridge or making their entrance or exit from Mack’s Snack Shack, would give a longing look toward the boys at the end of the bridge, while the women, young and old, would look the other way, as though the boys and the signboard simply did not exist.

 The local police force, consisting of two rather inept police officers who generally traveled as a pair in the city’s single police car, was frequently the topic of conversation. The officers, nicknamed Pepsi and Pete (for some reason I cannot remember), gave the appearance of authority; however, when trouble occurred, real trouble involving violence, both Pepsi and Pete were almost always keeping the peace on the other side of town. Someone said that Pete was like a one leg man in an rump kicking contest and that Pepsi wasn’t much better.

 At the end of the bridge, one of the boys was reciting a story about Pepsi stopping an out of state motorist for speeding. As the story goes, Pepsi pulled over the motorist, got out of the police car and walked with an authoritative swagger to the “subject’s” car. Using his best police techniques Pepsi asked, in his deep voice, “Boy, where are you from?” The subject replied that he was from Chicago, after which Pepsi again asked, “Then what the hell are you doing with those Illinois plates on your car?” The story was acted out by the story teller and offered as “the God’s honest truth”, a phrase which accompanied most tales at the end of the bridge.

 Suddenly, a car nearby backfired. Everyone was startled, because the sound was much like the sound of a shotgun discharged at close range. Then, there was the sound of squealing and the roar of an engine, a signal that Mocas had arrived.

 Mocas was, for lack of better words, an automotive savant. He knew every part of every car or truck, could efficiently repair most defects and had even made or fabricated parts for his old car, a beat up old Ford named “Eight Ball”, which, if not “Mocas rigged”, would have been junked years before. Eight Ball was parked next to a gas pump at the ESSO service station, which had closed an hour before, directly across the highway from the sign board.

Everyone at the end of the bridge waited to see whether Mocas would join us at the sign board or would walk to the pool room owned and managed by his parents, located near the bridge intersection. As a general rule, if Mocas walked toward the pool room, everyone would remain at the sign board, but if Mocas joined us at the end of the bridge, everyone, singularly or in groups of two or three, would gravitate toward the pool room, as a means of escaping his incessant lecture on the subject to car parts.

 The pool room was actually a beer joint with three pool tables and with bootleg whiskey openly sold by the pint, with little regard for the proximity of Pepsi or Pete. Throughout the evening hours, Mocas’ father would yell, irrespective of those present, “Rack the balls Alice, while I get the boys another pint of M & M.” It followed that Mocas’ mother was referred to at the end of the bridge as “Rack the Balls Alice”.

 This night, Mocas walked toward the sign board, which everyone believed would mark the beginning of a mass exodus to the pool room. At about the same time, we saw Don Bryant parking his new 1952 Buick Skylark convertible in front of Mack’s Snack Shack. This was, without a doubt, the most beautiful car I had every seen. It had a red leather interior, a black top, wire wheels with wide white side wall tires (sometimes called gangster walls) and all of the accessories available at that time. This was one of only five hundred manufactured by the Buick Motor Company. Everyone at the end of the bridge surrounded the Buick before Don could open the driver’s side door.

 Now, Don Bryant was not one of the boys at the end of the bridge. He was in his mid thirties and married with a beautiful blond infant daughter named Patty. Moreover, Don had a good job with the West Virginia Highway Department, which automatically precluded him from unofficial membership of the boys at the end of the bridge. Besides, Don was not prone to foul language, a factor which definitely kept him from the end of the bridge.

 Within a minute or so, Mocas had pushed his way through the crowd, moving up next to the driver’s side door where he blurted, “That’s a damn nice looking car, but it’s a little light under the hood.” I could see Don’s face getting red from the neck up. Then, Don said, “Well, Mocas, it has a V8 engine; the biggest engine Buick puts in a car.” “That may be, but it can’t hold a candle to old Eight Ball over there”, Mocas replied.

 Everyone laughed, including Don, which made Mocas furious. Mocas began to taunt Don and demand that a race of the cars from the edge of town to Fort Springs, a distance of about six miles. I think Don must have regressed to a time when he was younger and wilder, because after about ten minutes of listening to the taunting and cursing of Mocas, Don said, “O.K. Mocas, we’ll race to Fort Springs.”

 Mocas ran across the street, jumped into the driver’s seat of Eight Ball and began to crank the engine. There was a grinding noise, but the engine would not start. Finally, Mocas yelled from the open window, “Don, drive over here and give old Eight Ball a push so we can get started.”

 With a smile on his face, Don started the Buick, pressed down on the accelerator so that Mocas could appreciate the full power of the engine, and drove past Mocas and Eight Ball on his way home, slightly spinning the rear wheels of the Buick for effect. Thus ended the race that never was.