Growing Up in Alameda: Cars and cliffs

Growing Up in Alameda: Cars and cliffs

Dave LeMoine

Devil’s Punch Bowl was an old rock quarry we passed on the way up to Skyline Drive. We often hiked through the trees and brush, and would climb down inside, just for the adventure.

One of my neighbors gave me an old Dodge that didn’t run; maybe I can fix it, I thought. After a while I was bored with it, so the Shifters put their heads together and decided to tow it up to the Punch Bowl and shove it off a 500-foot drop (having seen one too many movies about cars crashing over cliffs).

We towed it through Castro Valley to the fire trail and up the backside of the hill to the cliff. With one giant push, we had our own movie spectacular.

That didn’t take long.

Two days later, Mom received a knock at the door from the Oakland police. It seems that they had investigated the wreck, concerned that someone might be dead inside. My neighbor’s name was still on the title, but Mom had to pay the tow bill to remove our movie prop.

Sorry, Mom!

Smokin’ Opal

Gary Soulage had a foreign car, an Opal with a small block V-8. By loosening the rear brake shoes, he could lock the front brakes, rev the engine, pop the clutch, and smoke the tires for long periods of time. By keeping pressure on the front brakes, the car would move slowly but the tires would keep spinning. The only real problem was tire cost; Gary could burn the tires off in a couple of days.

We would buy cheap tires at the auto wreckers, knowing that they’d only last a short time. It didn’t matter if the cord was showing on the sidewall, as long as they had good tread. We didn’t think about safety; we weren’t going fast, just leaving tire tracks all over town.

One day, with a car full of guys, he started his burnout from in front of Alameda High; he burned to the corner and continued at right turns, onto Oak Street, and out of sight. When he performed this burning of tires, the smoke would enter the car through holes in the floorboard and fender wells.

I was in Rider’s Drive-In when Gary’s car arrived, straight from a great display of black rubber on asphalt. The smoke in the car was so thick, you couldn’t see anyone inside. They skidded to a halt; four doors flew open, smoke exploding from all sides. Out of the cloud stepped four proud, laughing, choking, coughing, teary-eyed Shifters, to the amazement of the bystanders!

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