I never bought the argument about the dangers of friends being a bad influence. I figured it worked both ways based on who was a stronger influence. Somehow I collected a motley pack of hell-raisers as friends in high school. I was straight as an arrow and everyone knew it but no one seemed to mind me hanging around or being the designated driver on our various adventures. I was, however, stunned when one of the most committed party-hounds showed up in my church one Sunday.
A sense of pride washed over me as I went to greet him. “Mike. What are you doing here?” It was a rhetorical question. I knew that slowly over the years my good influence had worked its way into his heart. He looked surprised and muttered, “Your Dad didn’t tell you?”
My Dad, it turns out, had come home in the middle of the day to find a strange car in our driveway. We never locked our doors, so he entered the house with caution. He heard a strange sound upstairs from a back bedroom and called for my Mom, “Leona?” At that, the sound turned into a noisy scramble full of bumps and thuds. Upstairs now, in the master bedroom, he could see that the bathroom window was kicked out. He rushed to the window and, looking out and down to the flower bed two stories below, he surveyed the scattered remains of his coin collection. But no intruder.
Out front, Mike was pushing his piece of crap car back out of our driveway. He saw my Dad and my Dad saw him but he jumped in anyway and began slowly coasting down the slight incline, hoping to compression start it. My Dad began walking, not running, after him.
Mike’s car would lurch and slow down each time he popped the clutch, so my Dad began to gain on him. Speed was his only hope of escape, by now the incline was quite steep and Mike took his foot off the brake. At the bottom of the hill our street crossed a very busy road and continued down another hill to a dead end. My Dad began to fear that Mike would run the stop sign and cross the busy traffic so he stopped his pursuit. Undaunted, Mike did just that. Horns honked and brakes screeched but Mike flew through the intersection untouched and began rolling down the next hill. Dad began walking after him.
At the bottom, Mike was sitting in his dead car with the door open when my Dad finally arrived. “Come on, Mike,” was all my Dad had to say. They walked together up both hills without speaking. Back in our living room, my Dad began,
“What would you do if you were me, Mike?”
Mike hung his head. “Call the cops,” he offered.
“What good would that do?” My dad asked.
“I don’t know.” Mike said.
They worked out a restitution deal which involved Mike attending church and taking notes three Sundays in a row. Mike even came a few Sundays past his sentence as a show of good faith. So much for my good influence. We have since lost track of each other and I wonder sometimes how his life turned out. Rumor has it, not well.