“Are You Gonna Burn?”

Again I am going to talk about the long ago past and my mistakes. Live with it. I do.

This is another story about hanging out with douchebags in high school.

In the spring of 1981, my friends and I went to Oklahoma University for the day to tour the college and pre-enroll. In my dad’s car were my girlfriend Tina, Michael and me. In another car were “Skip” and “Adam.”

We got enrolled, walked around for a while, had a bite, then started home.

In 1981, there was no “PikePass” system in Oklahoma like there is today, and since we were either cheap (in Skip’s case, since he always had plenty of his dad’s money), or broke, like Tina, Michael and I were, we decided to drive the “back way” from Norman to Lawton. The road at that time was a 1950’s-esque narrow, two-lane affair with no shoulders, that led through Blanchard, then took us through Chickasha (past a barbecue place noted for dispatching deliveries with a CD radio), to a place along the H. E. Bailey Turnpike where you could make a very illegal u-turn and join the highway without paying the toll.

I was never very happy about making that u-turn, and didn’t do it unless I was pressured by my friends, which, of course, makes me a douchebag by association.

Anyway, we made the turn south out of Norman and started along this narrow, rough highway. As the miles rolled by, I tried to keep up with Skip, but found that neither my car nor my driving abilities were enough for the road. After passing through Blanchard, and back out onto the open road, we lost sight of Skip entirely.

It was much to our surprise that a few miles down the road, we saw Skip pulled off onto the side of the road. He was leaning on his car with a frown on his face. He approached and we rolled down the window, and he stuck his head in the window, and demanded, “Are you gonna burn?”

“Burn” was his teenage codespeak for speeding.

It was as he asked this that I realized the reason he liked to “burn.” It was a sport. Going fast on the highway had absolutely nothing to do with making good time or getting somewhere soon. If it did, he certainly wouldn’t have stopped for us that day, since stopping meant he would lose all the time he’d gained by speeding in the first place.

His speeding was a game in two ways:

  1. He felt he was above the law and should not have to obey traffic laws like everyone else
  2. He was fantasizing about driving a race car

I drove faster than I should have back in those days as well, but never to the degree that Skip did.

In fact, after Jeff died in 1982, we discovered he had amassed 33 traffic citations in his short life, mostly for speeding.

You could say that speeding is for the rush, or in his case you could call it suicide in disguise, but in the end speeding is among the silliest rebellions there is. And adults continue it to this day, not realizing how little is to be gained. For example, that trip, from Norman to Lawton, was about 90 miles. At the then speed limit of 55mph, the trip took about 98 minutes. At 70mph, it would take about 77 minutes. What could you possibly need to do with that 21 minutes at risk of traffic citations and endangering lives?

But for doughbags like Skip, and proxy doughbags like me, it somehow mattered.