Pearl Street Peel Out

In ancient Rome, when booty was piled up, the Latin term they used was pilare, to plunder, or to “pile up booty.” That meaning was derived from the word pila, or “pile” (think pillar).

As time moved forward, as time inexorably does, “peel” acquired additional nuances, all derived from the “pile up” original meaning. For example, meanings such as strip away, pull off, or undress. It was even even used in aviation to describe leaving a formation to make a dive or to land.

North Jacksonville Baptist Church in the early 1950's.
North Jacksonville Baptist Church in the early 1950’s. The “burning rubber” to Singspiration ride began here.

By the 1950s it had acquired another meaning that was associated with automobiles and hot rods. To peel out was to accelerate so quickly in first gear that the rear tires would spin on the road surface before gaining traction. The process of tires spinning on road surfaces brought both noise and the stench of burning rubber as the rubber from the formerly new tires was peeled – stripped off – and left on the road surface as tread marks. For some mysterious reason, this process appealed to some male teenage drivers of that time.

Not noted for their “rationality,” these drivers would work at hard labor jobs at less than a dollar an hour – not much, even in those times when gasoline was only 25 cents a gallon – to transform themselves into suede-shoed, DA-ed (short for Duck’s A–, swept back and parted in the rear hair style) “cats,” that could afford flashy cars with sufficient horsepower to peel out, or even drag race with other “rods.” The shoes, DAs, and rods were used to impress and attract the crinoline-girded, White Rain-pooed and bouffanted females of that period of cultural enlightenment.

I, myself, never peeled out down North Shore’s Pearl Street (in Jacksonville, Florida) …just too scared of what might go wrong…and, of course, there are the immutable laws of physics to consider.

My ’49 Nash (hand painted Red & White, of course, and looked it) simply would not “do” more than 45 mph…50 mph on a major down grade.  There were not many of them in Jacksonville, Florida, my home town.

However, I once accepted (note, only “once accepted”) a ride to “Sing-spiration” after an early evening church service…so early…that when we left the church it was still light.

I was about to experience my one, and only, Pearl Street Peel Out…

We all piled into a brand new Ford Crown Victoria two-door coupe and the driver, an 18-year old drop out who owed his soul for the next ten years on that car but was showing off to his girl friend sitting beside him…and I were crammed in beside her…took off.

1955 Ford Crown Victoria (above) and 1949 Nash (below).  My Nash looked a lot like this one.
1955 Ford Crown Victoria (above) and 1949 Nash (below). My Nash looked a lot like this one.

He was still burning rubber IN FIRST when we sailed past Pearl Street and Lucky Drive…he was IN SECOND and reaching the lower limits of Mach something or other when we blew through Pearl and Tallulah…darned near took the doors off old “Doc” Brown’s pharmacy and potion palace.

…Jim Lowry’s house went by in a blur.

When we levitated past the first chain link fence post of Trout River Park, I was sure it was all over for us…he’d never be able to make the turn from Pearl onto 69th Street.

It seemed clear…we were either going into the river…by sliding down the dock, or would turn over…many times…trying to make the turn.

At about the middle gate to the Trout River Park, he tromped on the brakes and we began to skid down Pearl Street on his (formerly) brand new tires. In the middle of the skid, he began making his left hand turn. Finally, the brakes begin to take hold and we enter the skidding turn.

Meanwhile, I’m being squeezed out the open passenger side door-window (no seat belts to hold us and his girl friend was now somewhere under my left arm), watching the scenery go by…dust, shale from the boat ramp (we’re now somewhat off the asphalt pavement), burning rubber…and listening to the sounds of nature where land meets water in a truly pastoral setting…waves lapping at the shore (just below my bugged out eyes), squawling tires being tortured to death at much too young an age, the driver now yelling curses at the speed gods, and the piercing screams of the terrified teenagers in the back seat.

In a split second — it was all over.

Somehow, the brakes connected, the tires held out, and the speed gods decided that they had had enough burnt offerings that Sunday evening.

The car lurched back onto all four wheels and the engine roared to life as the suddenly cocky driver down shifted into third gear in a swirl of dust and engine smoke.

The screams abated…somewhat…it was hard to tell since I had lost much of my hearing it seemed. Do remember that the atmosphere suddenly seemed more humid…might have had some connection to bladder pressure.

Two short blocks later we pulled up at the curb and staggered up the walk to gather round the parlor piano.

Somehow the first hymn of the evening seemed to have more than symbolic meaning…

“Just a closer walk…”

Someone might have been telling us something!

© Tracy D. Connors 2015 All Rights Reserved

About Tracy Connors

Tracy D. Connors graduated from Jacksonville University (AA), University of Florida (BA), the University of Rhode Island (MA), and Capella University (Ph.D. with Distinction, human services management, 2013). Ph.D. (Honorary), Leadership Excellence, Jacksonville University, December, 2013. Designated a "Distinguished Dolphin" by Jacksonville University, Feb. 2, 2010.

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