Robert was a gifted mechanic. For his fifteenth birthday, he asked for, and got, an arc welder. He proceeded to modify his bicycle, extending the forks like the chopper bikes of the day. He made all kinds of things out of pipe and whatever metal he could find.
I guess he got his abilities genetically, his father was a nuclear research scientist, and his brother invented a painting technique: combining certain chemicals and dyes, he made colorful, swirling paintings that hardened into sheets of plastic.
After getting his driver’s license, he somehow developed an affection for Morris Minors. They were snubby little English cars, not too reliable but lots of character. Over time he acquired three of them and would swap parts between them.
One afternoon we were cruising around in the Morris convertible. As teenagers do, we smoked some joints and had a few beers. We ventured up into the hills, and headed for the coast on a small, windy dirt road, Tunitas Creek Road. This road snaked through the redwoods, up and down, with lots of twists and turns.
Approaching one turn, Robert said ‘watch this’ and turned the wheel hard, with the intention of making the car lose traction or ‘drift’. Well, drift it did, right into the ditch at the side of the road, causing the car to flip. Robert and another friend were thrown clear, I was suddenly aware that the car was resting on my leg. Actually, my leg was under the convertible top, and I was easily able to pull it out. We hadn’t been going very fast, and no one was injured, but Robert was beside himself with remorse. ” You guys coulda been killed!” he said. We said relax, Robert, no harm no foul. Karl, who had been in the front passenger seat, wrote a stoned, whimsical note: “Whoops! It’s okay, nobody hurt. We’ll be back for the car as soon as we can.” We smoked our last joint and hiked the remaining couple of miles to the coast, where we hitched a ride home.
Robert went back the next day to get the Morris, only to find that someone had stolen two of the the wheels. On Karl’s note they had written, ” don’t get so stoned next time”. So Robert went home and got a couple wheels, put them on, rolled the Morris back over, and drove her home. There was only a bit of body damage, nothing significant.
Robert went on to get a degree in mechanical engineering at Cal Poly. He moved to Hawaii. Decades later, we re-connected over the internet. He moved back to the mainland and lived with his son in Napa.
Sadly, Robert passed away a couple of years ago. Glad we got to see each other again. Will never forget my friend Robert and that afternoon on Tunitas Creek Road.