15. The Ballad of Jake and 10-Ton Molly
By Mike Agranoff ©1988 Mike Agranoff
Recorded live at the Mine Street Coffeehouse, New Brunswick NJ, Jan. 31, 2000
They tell it still
at truck stops along old I-95.
It's whispered on the CB all along the midnight drive.
Some say it's just a story, but these eyes saw it done
When Jake and 10-Ton Molly made their one last farewell run.
It happened back
in '72 as near as I recall.
Watergate was in the news, and Nixon 'bout to fall.
The last Apollo flight came home. The Vietnam War was lost.
And the budget men sat down to figure what it all had cost.
They said, "We've
squandered mega-bucks. And if the truth be known,
It's the cold gray morning after the greatest party ever thrown.
It's time to roll back aerospace, cut down on defense spending."
So the word went out. The squeeze was on. The boom years, they were ending.
Jake had worked at
Avco since 1954.
No paneled office had he there, no name upon the door.
But with slide-rule, square, and drafting board, intuition, faith, and zeal,
He could take a wild half-baked idea and turn it into steel.
But times had not
been good of late, and rumors made the rounds
About which contract would get cut, whose project would go down.
There had been no layoffs, at least not yet. (Knock on wood!)
But Avco's business was defense, and business wasn't good.
Jake left for work
one morning much like any in July.
By habit, kissed someone who must have been his wife goodbye.
Wheeled his Datsun out the drive, New England Thruway bound.
Joined ninety thousand other cars as up the ramp they wound.
Six lanes run to Stratford,
forty miles from here.
Toll booths every fifteen miles. You never make third gear.
Construction in the left lane, a truck stalled in the right,
And a Plymouth wagon on his bumper close enough to bite.
Jake had a CB radio
back when CB first began.
We had but nineteen channels then; a small, but close-knit clan.
I spoke with him that morning. He was eastbound; me going west.
And as his troubled voice went out of range, I wished him all the best.
Jake arrived at work
that morning twenty minutes late.
His parking spot was taken; he walked four blocks to the gate.
He missed the coffee wagon; dropped his doughnut on the floor.
When from the office, his boss called, "Jake, come in and close the door."
Eighteen years at
this old drafting board. Isn't that a laugh?
But they say, "We've lost the contract, and we've got to cut back staff.
A couple of weeks severance, some vacation pay past due,
I'm fifty-six years old now. What am I supposed to do?
Get a cardboard box
from shipping. Pack up tools and books.
Wander the halls aimlessly avoiding people's looks.
Make the rounds of friends and colleagues, shake hands as faces blur.
And for last, let's go see Molly. What's to come of her?
Poor old Ten-Ton Molly. What will be come of her?
Out the door, 'cross
the street, out to the testing shed
Where Molly waited patiently as if asleep or dead.
Snap the switch. Flourescents bathe her in their cold blue light.
"Hiya, girl. How ya doin'? Boy you're a pretty sight!"
Twenty tons of armor
plate. A diesel heart inside.
Caterpillar treads forty inches wide.
Dully gleaming olive drab on flanks and turret gun.
Sixteen hundred horsepower! My God, how she could run!
I was there at your
conception. I was midwife to your birth.
My pencil was the implement that gave you life on Earth.
I know your insides inside-out. Each bolt and bearing cap.
But they say now you're superfluous; they'll melt you into scrap.
I'll climb inside
you one last time and take the pilot's seat.
Down the turret; dog the hatch; controls at hands and feet.
Go through the old routine once more: Hydraulic pressure - go.
Fuel tanks - filled. Electrics - charged. All gauges read just so.
All of their own volition
his hands go through the routine.
With no help from his brain his eyes watch telltales turn to green.
When suddenly a sound cuts through his dreaming like a knife
When with a whir from the hydraulics, the big diesel springs to life.
"What the Hell 'm
I doing?" Jake asked no one nervously.
Molly didn't answer. She just purred contentedly.
Then the weight slipped from his shoulders, and out his laughter rang.
"Oh well, if I'm going to go I'm going with a bang!"
He eased the lever
into low; throttle up a crack.
Molly hunched and started out, and Jake he settled back.
Grinning like a madman now without a fear or care
They blasted through the test cell wall as if it wasn't there.
Chain link fence
loomed in their path. Went down beneath the treads.
A flashing glimpse of startled eyes and wildly turning heads.
Out onto Main Street, Stratford, laughing madly at the jest,
Turned left onto the entrance ramp: "New England Thruway, West"
Jake cut in the supercharger.
Warning lights winked red.
He swung into the passing lane and let her have her head.
"I've really built you well," he crooned. "You've turned out quite a lady."
And the traffic scattered left and right as the tank bore down at eighty.
"Where's that goddam
Plymouth that tailgated me this morning?
I'll ram my cannon up his ass. And let that be fair warning!"
They came to the construction site. "Squeeze right" the roadsign said.
And the roadsign turned to flinders as Jake forged straight ahead.
Then over Molly's
rattling roar he heard the siren's wail.
Connecticut State Trooper fast approaching on his tail.
The cop pulled up. Jake looked across. Smiled, waved howdy-do.
The trooper shrugged and fell behind. What was he to do?
Jake reached up to
the radio. Switched to the CB band.
"Breaker, breaker number nine. This here's the Iron Man.
I'm headed west on 95 and headed straight on through.
You truckers want to convoy up? I'll clear a path for you!
Me and Ten-Ton Molly, we can clear a path for you."
I was in the Exxon
Station filling up with Diesel Two.
I'd left the CB on, and from the cab Jake's voice came through.
Flipped a twenty to the gas jock. (That could fill my tanks back then.)
Swung my rig onto the cloverleaf and headed west again.
I'd timed it right.
They overtook me in a little ways.
I never saw a convoy such as that in all my days.
Cop cars mixed with semi rigs of every size and rank,
And at the head of that parade, a Goddam freaking tank!
As Molly pulled abreast
of me I swung into her wake.
The convoy fairly shook the ground. A Richter-7 quake!
Sirens, air horns, treads and tires, diesels' throaty sound.
Juggernaught a mile a minute, New York City bound!
But then Jake slowed
the pace. For he could see from where he lead
That bane of every Thruway driver: Toll booths dead ahead.
He aimed for the exact change lanes. Kablam! three lanes were gone!
Tossed a quarter in the rubble, gunned his motor and drove on.
For fifty glorious
miles went that triumphant cavalcade.
Thruway to the Cross-Westchester traveled the parade.
Then Jake took Merritt Parkway west. That road was banned to trucks.
So we peeled off while the cop cars followed. We all wished him good luck.
We followed him by
CB long as he remained in range.
Till one by one we lost his signal. Man, it seemed so strange
To stand beside the interstate with fifty other drivers.
Strangers till an hour ago. Now comrades and survivors.
We heard it by the
grapevine that they drove on till at last
At Times Square and 42nd Street he just ran out of gas.
The cops were very gentle as they led Jake off that day.
And they busted up three wreckers getting Molly towed away.
Jake stood his trial;
did some time. But while he was in jail
He took computer programming courses in the mail.
Started writing video games. Even sold a few.
Have you played that one where you're in a tank, and the screen shows you a view
Of highway, cop cars, trucks and toll booths…and you try to get through?
They play that game
at truck stops along old I-95
They drop their quarters in the slot, and down the road they drive.
Some say it's just a video game, but these eyes saw it done
When Jake and Ten-Ton Molly made their one last farewell run.