When I started driving, whenever I would leave the house, particularly with a group of friends, my mother would yell out, before I could even get out of the door, “Seatbelts, Speed limit.” This was a reminder for us to wear our seatbelts and drive the speed limit. She still says that to me to this day, and me being me, I still don’t listen.
Delvin and I have been friends for a long time. Seems like, since the beginning of time. We go back, way back, almost further then I can remember.
We used to play football together at this community center in South Nashville called Rose Park. We played there for all of six years and the field was like a home away from home for us. I remember one day in particular. We were about ten years old, our team that year was called the Mary Pruitt Saints. Our team changed names every couple of years, whenever we got a new sponsor. It was a Saturday, we had just finished a game and the fields was soaking wet because it had rained heavily the day before. All over the park, there were these large puddles of rainwater. I mean huge puddles that looked like small ponds dotting the landscape of the park.
Delvin and I were coming off the field. We had already taken off our shoulder pads and our helmets and were in full out mischief mode at that point. We came up to one of those gigantic rainwater puddles and I can’t recall who suggested it first but I have to assume it was Delvin who said it to me.
“I bet you won’t dive into that water?”
And I respond, “I’ll do it if you do it.”
We drop our equipment and take a few steps back. A running start is only fitting for a challenge like this. At the count of three, we both break into a sprint running towards this pool of open water. Legs are kicking, arms are pumping, and we are moving fast as we hit the edge of the water. It’s ankle… no, shin deep, but that’s as far as it goes, we splash through, still running, neither of us dives in. We don’t trust each other. The entire time we were running, I’m looking at Delvin, he’s looking at me and we are trying to figure out who is going to back out first. Who is trying to make the other look like a dummy for diving face first into a giant puddle of dirty rainwater?
“You didn’t do it!”
“You didn’t do it!”
“That’s because I knew you were gonna back out!”
“No, I knew you were gonna back out!”
“Fine, let’s go again and this time we’ll do it for real.” We agree. We go back to our starting point and this time when we take off for the water each of us has a tough grip on the collar of the other’s shirt.
We break into another sprint, each with a fist full of the other’s t-shirt. Mutual assured destruction. We hit the edge of the water again, but this time, we don’t run through. One, two steps into the puddle and I go for it. I commit and in an instant I am airborne. Shortly after I am face first in the water sliding forward with a surprising amount of momentum. Water is sliding up on either side of me and I feel like a human boogie board. Ever drive your car through a large puddle and watch the water flare up on the left and the right. At that moment I was the front bumper. I must have been running faster than I thought because I kept sliding forward further then what seemed logically possible, and then before I knew it, I stopped. We stopped.
I look over and saw Delvin had just taken the same ride as I had. We stood up, soaked to the bone and covered from head to two and dead grass. My uncle Troy was there, he coached at Rose Park along with my father. He came across the two of us, dripping water and spitting grass out of our mouths.
“Why are ya’ll so wet?” he asked in bewilderment.
“We dove through that puddle over there.” One of us answered.
I don’t think he ever even asked why. He took us to his truck, gave us new shirts to put on and sent us back on our way.
After we exceeded the Rose Park age limit of 12, we never played football together again, but still managed to stay close friends, so close in fact that we didn’t refer to each other as friends anymore, just cousins. During the summer we would stay at one another’s house for weeks on end, it would get to the point where my father would force me to come home, and force Delvin to stay home.
By 15 or 16 both Delvin and I had earned quite a bit of autonomy and for the most part, we were left to do as we pleased, granted, we stayed out of trouble. We were right on the cusp of driving age and on the edge of what we knew would be true freedom. Anytime either one of us could get out hands on some car keys we did. One would go pick up the other and we would spend our nights exploring the city from the driver and passenger seat of a car, driving through downtown Nashville, going to movies and the mall, finding parties and hangouts and the ever popular Teen Nights.
In Nashville, Teen Nights, were when clubs and often times hotel ballrooms, would rent out space to a party promoter who would then throw parties and events for kids ages 17 and under. Sounds innocent enough. It wasn’t. These Teen Nights were testosterone charged battlegrounds where numerous fights, shootings and other random acts of wanton violence took place. At one such event, I remember standing outside of a venue, waiting in line to get in, and I overhear a police officer sigh and say to another officer nearby. “Man, I’d rather work riot squad then do teen night.”
That’s how vicious these teenage parties used to be. If the average Metropolitan Police officer was given the choice between a riot line and a large group of unruly, bloodthirsty, sex-crazed teenagers, they’d choose the riot.
Meanwhile, we were breaking our necks to attend Teen Night at every available opportunity that we could. Needless to say, whenever we could get our hands on a car, this is where we went.
Teen Night consisted primarily of two phases. Inside the venue, where you did one of two things. Try and get a girl to dance with you, and by “dance” with you I mean to have her grind her butt raucously against your pelvis. Before twerking was mainstream it was the number one reason a young man would venture into the jaws of death known as Teen Night. You would risk life and limb for a chance to get twerked on. Either that or you were picking a fight. When the girls weren’t dancing, or even sometimes when they were, the center of the dance floor would turn into a makeshift mosh pit. Groups of guys from different parts of town would try and establish their dominance by pushing, shoving, elbowing and eventually by flat out punching one another, all perfectly in-synch to the overdeveloped bass of everyone favorite hip-hop songs.
That was phase one, inside the venue. Phase two took place outside the venue, in the parking lot. Once again with two options, the first being picking up where you left off inside the party. Fights started inside would spill out to the street, as well as conversations and relationships started under the hypnosis of gyrating hips. If you could land the name and phone number of a cute girl that you danced with inside the party, it was a good night. If you could do so without someone stomping on your head anywhere in the process, it was a great night.
The second part of phase two took place once you made it to your car. In part two of phase two, all of the teenagers run out to the parking lot, jump into their cars and leave.
Only thing exiting the parking lot is an ordeal that takes anywhere for thirty to forty-five minutes, mainly because each teenager takes roughly 3 to 4 laps around the parking lot itself, driving erratically and quite recklessly the entire time. We use to call this “yanking it” or sometimes referred to it as “swerving”. The key was to take wide, dangerous, what my father used to call “Cadillac turns”. If you are turning left, then you’d accelerate gently and turn the wheel to the right and at the absolute last moment you press the gas down hard and yank the steering wheel left. The car engine would rev, and the vehicle would rise up and bound forward swinging and pitching under the stress of the spontaneous direction change. Then, before you hit someone or something, you slam on the brakes, change direction and accelerate again. Sometimes you weren’t even doing a full turn, we’d actually do this within a single car lane, all in the venue parking lot.
This is where Delvin excelled. For the most part, I had always imagined Delvin and I were on equal footing in pretty much everything we did. Where he was faster, I was stronger. Whenever my size played to my advantage his agility played to his. We were always different but still always evenly matched. When it came to driving however, I was completely and utterly outclassed and outmatched. Delvin would drive like a maniac, but still always maintain complete control of the vehicle. His reaction time and reflexes were inhuman and whenever he was behind the wheel of a car it was an amazing thing to behold.
Now flash forward some eight to nine years after the puddle jumping episode. It’s the summertime. Delvin and I are about 16 years old and we are hanging out at his house on South Fourth Street in East Nashville. By this time in our lives Delvin had begun hustling, and by that, I mean he had begun his budding career as a street-level drug dealer. He’d sell crack to old fiends in and around South Fourth Street. I’d be with him as he would do hand-to-hand transactions with these old men who would try and cheat him and teach him at the same time.
“Come on D, you gotta give me a lil more than that baby boy,” they loved to complain about the size of the rock they received for the $10 or $20 he was charging them. “You know I’m gon spend with you all weekend. Let me when this time and I’ll let you when next time.” Their negotiation skills were to be applauded and usually, Delvin gave in to their request, within reason.
Delvin used to actually make his sales just to scrape up enough money for us to pay our way into Teen Night. Neither of us had a car of our own at the time, so in order for us to go anywhere without a chaperone one of us had to borrow a car, usually either from father, Big Reggie or from Delvin’s mother, Sweet.
This particular night, for reasons I can’t remember we were desperate to get out of the house, off of South Fourth and into the city. Delvin asked Sweet if we could borrow her car to go to a Teen Night at a nearby venue called the Stadium Inn. A shady rundown hotel that was notorious for its violent Teen Night parties. We were chomping at the bit to get there. Sweet denied Delvin’s request, and wouldn’t budge on her position, we could not have the car. Delvin fumed. He was angrier then what seems reasonable but that’s Delvin for you, he’s always a short fuse. He storms out of the house, still trying to figure out a way for us to get to Stadium Inn. I followed him outside. The night air was warm. We strolled around the neighborhood listlessly for a while, and slowly Delvin’s determination began to fade. A couple of hours passed, and it seemed assured that we aren’t going anywhere for the night.
The social circle of a young drug dealer is far more expansive than that of your average 16-year-old. There is a network of resources made available to you that simply are not accessible to civilians. On top of that, being a hustler offers a young person from neighborhoods like ours a small amount of celebrity status usually only afforded to star athletes. Coincidentally, Delvin was both, so right when our evening should have been clearly marked as a loss, suddenly it was not.
As Delvin and I are standing outside, his anger from our lack of mobility finally regressing. A car pulls up, stops right front of us and out hops this guy I recognize as TJ. He and Delvin are friends.
“What up Del?” TJ says as he exits the vehicle, he doesn’t even bother putting it into a parking space or cutting the ignition. He just hops out.
“What up TJ,” Delvin responds “Got a new whip didn’t ya?”
“Man, I probably had this for a couple weeks now.”
The car was a caprice, highly sought after during that time, it was obviously a few years old, maybe a 95′ not old enough to be a classic and not new enough to truly impress. It was an odd bluish green color, long and round. I personally preferred the older model Caprice, the ones that had the distinct edges and corners, more in the box style. Then again, I was car-less so I really couldn’t afford to be too picky. Any car was better than no car, and this wasn’t just any car, it was a good find. Any kid our age would be happy to have it, new paint job, an incredibly loud sound system and a set of oversized rims and you’d skyrocket up the social strata. Drug Dealers, Athletes, and Guys with Cool Cars, instantly you’d be ranked among the best of the best.
“Shid let me drive,” Delvin asked without hesitation.
“Gon head,” Tj responded.
I was confused. What was happening? Where did Tj come from and why was he so willing parting ways with a new car. Delvin wasn’t bogged down with such questions. Before TJ could even fully finish saying yes, Delvin had dashed over to Sweet’s car, opened the door grab something out of the center console and was behind the wheel of TJ’s car, all in an instant.
“Come on Nate!” he yelled out, one foot in the vehicle and one hand on the steering wheel. I went to jump into the backseat and Delvin waved me around to the front passenger seat.
“Is Tj not coming with us?” I asked.
“Hell na’ll,” Delvin said with a grin, “This mafucka ours for the night.”
Delvin hit the gas and sped away from South Fourth Street leaving Tj standing on the sidewalk alone and without protest. He began to fumble around with the radio at which point I saw what he had grabbed from Sweet’s car before we left. It was a CD.
At this time in our lives, Delvin and I were both big Nas fans. I had discovered his music during my freshman year in high school and I brought my findings over to Delvin. We latched on to the style and swagger of the Queen’s Bridge Rapper with unabashed enthusiasm, we were walking around in forward-facing Eddie Bauer Dad hats before it was socially acceptable all because we had seen Nas do it first.
Delvin pushed in the CD and skipped down to an already predetermined song.
“We about to hit up Teen Night,” he said as he hit the play button. A woman’s voice cut into the car, crisp and clear.
“Oh yeah Mafucka, that’s that shit!” her voice was rugged and gruff and she had heavy New York accent. Nas came in immediately after her.
“Ladies make it hot, thugs make it hot, make it pop.” When Nas says “pop” the beat comes in loud and heavy, and then the chorus starts. I knew this song, it was a favorite for all the wrong reasons.
“Oo-chie wally wally, oo-chie bang bang
Oo-chie wally wally, oo-chie bang bang
Oo-chie wally wally, oo-chie bang bang” The chorus is sung by a woman, who may or may not have been the same woman from the song’s introduction.
Oochie Wally is a sexually explicit song that celebrates all forms of debauchery and depravity. Needless to say, I loved it. It only took a few minutes to get to Stadium Inn. As we are entering the parking lot, we can see that Teen Night is ending. The kids are leaving the venue and spilling into the parking lot. By now the CD was playing some other random song as we drove into the far end of a parking lot that had to be roughly 150 yards in length. With a grin, Delvin reached down to the CD player and changed the song back to Oochie Wally, hit the “repeat” button, turned up the volume as high as it would go, and pushed down hard on the gas pedal. The engine revved and the car lurched forward, not that you could really hear the engine over the sound system. The car stereo radiated “Oochie Wally” in every direction.
“Oo-chie wally wally, Oo-chie bang bang,”
The people leaving out of the party could hear us and they could see us coming. Delvin was swerving, yanking the car from side to side. The music was blaring, the engine was roaring and I can swear through the chaos I heard at least one person say, “Hey it’s Delvin.” and as if a celebrity had arrived, the crowd started going crazy.
Delvin lived only a few miles from Stadium Inn, went to high school nearby and was well known in the area, as hustlers and athletes usually are, but our arrival marked a new level of excitement. People begin swarming the car, but Delvin didn’t slow down. The car kept swerving back and forth, speeding up and then braking hard, causing the car to rev and screech in quick succession. The entire time Nas and company are still loudly spouting in rhyme, infeasible sexual exploits that would make a sailor blush.
Soon we were surrounded by teenagers, everyone trying to get Delvin to stop for a moment. He wouldn’t. He just kept driving and the parking lot quickly turned into a rap music video. Guys started jumping onto the car. They would jump up and sit on the hood of the car, pumping their arms up and down in sync with the music, not even this changed the way Delvin drove. Yanking, swerving. He would speed forward, turn the wheel sharply to the right or the left, then stop abruptly. The wheels would screech to a halt, and the frame of the car would lurch forward from the momentum and the guys on the hood of the car would slide off and land gently on their feet. Delvin was not doing this intentionally, it just so happened to work out this way in favor of whoever sat on the hood.
“Oo-chie wally wally, Oo-chie bang bang.”
The girls in the parking lot reacted as well. They started dancing. Twerking. Hands on knees, booty shaking and hips gyrating, right there in the parking lot, amidst a barreling and careening vehicle controlled by someone barely old enough to drive, all in synch to Oochie Wally.
The guys are jumping on to the hood of the car, girls are twerking in the street, and Delvin is swerving in and out this sea of people like he’s taking some type of post-apocalyptic driving course. Another guy slides off the hood of the car, Delvin speeds forward another measly ten feet, as there are too many people to go any further any faster. There is a girl in front of us, I don’t even see her until the absolute last minute, but I imagine she sees and hears us well in advance. She makes no effort to move out of the way of the speeding vehicle and as if the car is not even there, she turns her back to us and starts dancing like everyone else. We are going fast, and she is too close to swerve around. I place one hand on the dashboard and yell “Yo-yo-yo-yo!”
Delvin slams on the brakes and the car screeches as the rubber wheels slide violently across the asphalt with a loud “skrrrrrt”, before stopping a few feet short of the dancing girl. The girl doesn’t flinch, doesn’t scream, doesn’t run out of the way, she just keep dancing.
“Oo-chie wally wally, Oo-chie bang bang.”
Delvin turns the wheel sharply to the right, accelerates and zooms off around her.
A couple of years pass, and by now Delvin and I are nearly seniors in high school. It is another summer night. We are in Sweet’s car, which is an early 90’s Oldsmobile. We called it the Blue Chew, for no reason other than, the car was blue.
This particular night Teen Night was not at Stadium Inn. It was at another hotel on Trinity Lane, not as close, but still not too far away, a ten, fifteen-minute drive at most. We arrive at the party late. Me, Delvin and guy from Delvin’s High School named Scooter, they played football together and occasionally hustled together too. The party itself is not talking about much, its run of the mill. Not very crowded, not very exciting. As the night drags, we begin to see the signs that the party is about to come to an end. Delvin taps me.
“Let’s go,” He says, wearing his signature grin. The three of us leave and we rush out to the vehicle in a bit of a tizzy and I realize that Delvin is rushing off to Phase 2. We jumped into the car, Delvin behind the wheel, Scooter in the back and I slid into the passenger seat.
This hotel differed from the Stadium Inn. As opposed to sitting at the end of a very large parking lot, the venue sat right on a rather busy three-lane street with a major freeway exit/on-ramp to the west of it, and a failed business sector and dwindling residential area far to the east of it. It was more motel than a hotel, as most of the rooms opened up to the warm summer air, as opposed to hallways. The layout was not ideal for stunt driving, swerving or yanking it, but we never really cared for the ideal.
The Blue Chew shot out of the parking spot and into the street in front of the hotel. Two years had passed since the epic and surreal night outside Stadium Inn and in that time our antics had not died now in the least. If anything, they had become more perfectly honed, all in pursuit of another Oochie Wally night, which to that point, had yet to be found.
There were no Nas songs playing this go around. Delvin zoomed down the street passing the hotel as the first group of teens begin to trickle out of the emptying venue. We pulled into a nearby gas station, turned around and sped back up the street passing the hotel again, this time braking hard and swerving in a bid to purchase attention with reckless car tricks that we had become so used to pulling off.
“Delvin drive like he damn Dale Earnhardt,” Scotter said from the backseat.
“Man, who you telling,” I responded. I sat leaned back low in the passenger seat, no seat belt, as we never wore seat belts, and trying my best to pretend that the speeding, stopping and swerving were not disturbing or disconcerting in the slightest.
“We gotta make one more pass through ya’ll, just to stunt on’em one last time.” Delvin took the car out of sight of the hotel made a U-turn and started down the street again.
By this time the venue had completely emptied out. Everyone from inside the party was outside, the traffic had begun to thicken with departing partygoers, some as flashy and reckless as us, and the standard civilian traffic of the area. We picked up speed, Delvin shook the wheel and the car swayed and rocked from side to side. We hit the thick of the traffic, right in front of the hotel, we had the eyes of everyone who had yet to reach their car, on us now, we could not disappoint. Delvin swerved out of the lane we were in, saw an opening, zipped between two cars, picked up speed, and swerved back into the previous lane. Then by the time I realized it wasn’t as much space as we thought, Delvin was already mashing down the brake. Again, as it had so many times before the car tires screamed and screeched as they tried desperately to stop the car from rolling forward.
The car in front of us wasn’t moving, we were trying to stop, trying to brake, but there wasn’t enough space and there wasn’t enough time. The hood of the Blue Chew dipped down as the front wheels locked up as the brake pads clenched down hard onto the rotors. The car jerked, attempting to will itself to stop, our sudden change in speed lifted me from my seat, instinctively I braced one hand on the dashboard, assuring myself we would stop just in the nick of time as we always did, and my youthful strength would hold me steady until it happened. It did not. Sliding and slowing but still moving to fast we slammed into the back of the car in front of us. The car stopped but I kept going and for a brief moment I was airborne all over again, the same way that I had been when Delvin and I dived into that puddle years earlier, only this time there was no water to slide through, with a resounding “thwop” my forehead slammed against the windshield of Sweet’s car. The impact created a large crack in the glass that spiderwebbed out in every direction and almost as quickly as I flew forward, I was slammed back down into my seat as if I was being slammed back into reality. We sat for a moment in complete silence, stunned. Delvin looked at me, looked at the crack in the windshield, and then looked at my forehead. We both turned to look at the car in front of us that we had just rear-ended. How in the fuck were we going to explain this? What were we going to tell Sweet? What was I going to tell Big Reggie?
“Go Kinfolk Go Kinfolk!” Scootered yelled from the back seat, breaking both me and Delvin from our confused stupor. On-command, Delvin threw the car in reverse dislodging our front end from their rear end. Then he slammed the car back into drive, cut the wheel to the right and hit the gas so hard that the car screeched and screamed just as loud as it had before the crash. We shot off like a bullet out of the barrel of a gun.
The driver of the car that we hit, was opening his door and getting out of his vehicle. I assume to survey the damage and exchange insurance information. Fuck that. Before he realized what was going on we were halfway to the freeway. As we zoomed by I saw him mouth the words “What the fuck?” and then hop back in his car in an attempt to come after us. It was no use, Delvin hit the interstate and vanished into a blur of headlights before he could fully regroup. He followed us onto the freeway, but we lost him within a mile and a half. A part of me breathed a sigh of relief that we had ran into a young guy who still had the wherewithal and sensibility to hop back in his car and try and chase us down. I’d hated the idea that we had rear-ended some little old lady and then smashed off leaving her with a crashed car and whiplash. I was a hoodlum, yes, but I liked to think I was at least a hoodlum with a heart of gold.
“Slowdown Delvin, you lost him. You gon get into another wreck trying to get away,” Scooter called out again from the back seat, apparently, the only one of us completely comfortable and level headed in high-speed car chases.
“I’m just making sure,” Delvin eeked out a nervous laugh, I could tell he was a little shaken up. He looked over at me, “You straight Nate?”
“Yeah I’m good,” I respond, a little shaken up myself.
“I thought you cracked your damn skull open on that windshield man, you ain’t even got a scratch. Hard-headed ass.” He let out a real laugh this time. I laughed too. What else was there to do.
There is a phrase we use in my community that goes “got it out the mud”, it means you built something from nothing in the most difficult way possible. When you put “we” in front of that phrase, it means “we” built something from nothing in the most difficult way possible, it means when no one else believed, we believed, and we held fast to those beliefs and together we trudged and crawled through dirt and grime to reach a shared goal or level of achievement. Yeah, me and Delvin, we got it out the mud.