Our crew worked a small unheard of area in SW Louisiana, just the other side of Thibodaux. A town named Houma. Houma is fishing center with bayous, stretching out like fingers towards the ocean. Each side of the bayou is lined with docks and piers, home to the fishing fleet that supports the local financial interests.
To my surprise on the first day, Joe McDavid showed up, ready to work. He was ready to go “skin him a mullet”. Our slang for finding an unsuspecting buyer. It was strange to see Joe after all these years. He was the one that hired me. He’s the one that came up with our sales pitch and techniques for “dropping iron.”
In my eyes Joe was the “Messiah.” Sweet Pea Da Jeeda, He wrote the book. I always felt insignificant in his presence. I did what ever he asked of me to prove my worth. What ever it was, it never seemed to satisfy him.
Still sporting a crew cut, hair now turned gray with the passing of time, his once formidable size had dwindled somewhat, but not his mind. He was as sharp as they come.
True to form, the first thing Jumping Joe did was to bet our crew boss Buddy Barnes a hundred bucks, what we called a “Bat hide’ as to which one of the crew would be the first one back with an empty truck or “hammered check”, a cashier’s check. Joe bet on me, Buddy bet on Roy Landrum.
I had been selling tools for over ten years. I sold to make money but kept the traditions alive. I still used the same pitch I was taught to use by Joe many years before. It worked then and it still works today. I had picked up Roy as a hitch hiker many years before when I was taking a hiatus from the “road.” I gave Roy, Buddy’s phone number and Buddy put him on the crew.
Roy wasn’t like the rest of us. He looked out for Roy and Roy only. You might call him a back stabber. He stole a suitcase from me and my nephew Glen several years before in Salt Lake City. I found it first; it was full of money, wrapped up in 35 mm film canisters inside a double sided suitcase. The suitcase was left at my motel room door. One side was packed with U.S. currency and the other side was full of Canadian money. I sent Glen and Roy to hide it, because I felt that the original owners might be gangsters. Glen dropped Roy off supposedly to go do his laundry, then, Roy doubled back to the hiding spot and grabbed it for himself, leaving the crew and flying to the city of New York, to shoot it up in his arm.
When he went broke and needed money, he whined his way back unto the crew and promised that if I didn’t kill him, he would pay me back. He did, some of it anyway, about 18 to 20 thousand.
I grew up around boats, ships and barges. My brothers and I played on the docks and piers everyday. Working southwest Louisiana was like “going home.” I left the motel early, eager to see the sights and find a good neighborhood to work in. Houma wasn’t an easy place to figure out the highways and byways. There were five bayous. Each bayou had two sides, an east bank and a west bank. The bayous had at least one bridge to connect them, some had two.
Every home I drove past usually had a dock jutting out behind it. Each family worked certain sections of the creeks. Control of these territories had been passed down from generation to generation. I noticed every house had an old bathtub setting out in the yard. Come to find out, these tubs were partially filled with turtles, to be sold at the market.
Most young men of the area worked for themselves in one fashion or another. Even the guys that worked the oil rigs had a small boat that they would run trap lines for muskrats and nutrias. Some gathered oysters, others gigged for frogs. You never know exactly what’s in that “Jambalaya.” Most restaurants use the same oyster shells over and over. They wash them, then when some one orders oysters, they take out a jar full of shelled oysters and place them on the clean shells. Once they steam them, the oysters stick to the shell. Every one knew someone that had a rice paddy that they could harvest “mud bugs” otherwise known as crawfish.
The whole area was covered with naturally fed economic development.
My first pitch that morning was to a guy coming off of a shrimp boat. He was wearing a pair of white rubber boots that caught my eye. Like most people in that neck of the woods, he kept a wad of hundred dollar bills stashed close by, his was in “Red Man” chewing tobacco pouch behind the seat of his truck, right underneath his gun rack. I got $2,500 cash for my load, first pitch. That’s how I found out about the bet between Joe and Buddy. Buddy paid off, when I seen him slip Joe a hundred, Joe told me, “I bet on you to be the first one back.”
I took this as a compliment. Roy and I were adversaries to say the least and he was pissed when he rode in to the motel parking lot about 2:30 that afternoon with an empty truck to find out that I had dropped two loads that day. My second load went to a fishery out on the point of the bayou, right were the tip of land pointed towards the ocean.
Joe was past his prime, he couldn’t even load his truck anymore. The tools were too heavy. He wasn’t making any income off of the crew any longer, he had passed the torch years before. Now he needed to go out and drop a load now and then, to bolster his finances. Instead of loading a saw, a press and a hoist like every one else, he just had his truck loaded with two band saws. They were still in the shipping crate; folks had to walk up to the truck to see what it was. That’s just what he wanted.
My condition wasn’t much better. I was getting some age on me too. I didn’t really have that old spring to my step, though I didn’t feel like I needed it anymore. I just needed to talk to about 10 or 12 people to sell a load, that wasn’t too difficult. I was still recovering from a life threatening truck wreck that I had suffered the spring before. Five broken ribs, holes poked in my lung, dislocated jaw and a 15 inch scar running up from my belly button, to prove that the LSU Trauma Center in Shreveport tried to harvest my organs, topped off with a case of amnesia that I was still recovering from.
I sold tools left and right, so did Joe. The boys that depended on shops and garages to account for their sales didn’t fare so well, they were ready to move on. Joe and I stayed at the Holiday Inn, every one else was at Motel Six. The Holiday Inn had free “hors-de-vours” everyday during happy hour in the lounge and beautiful waitresses. The Motel Six just had the complimentary peppermints they put on your pillow and “coon ass” maids to shake the farts out of the sheets.
We enjoyed our stay and neither of us was ready to move on. When the crew went home for the week end, Jumping Joe and I shared a room to keep each other company. I look forward to being around Joe again, hoping that some of his old magic would wear off. He was a motivator, the best I ever saw. A lot of the success I had in my life, was just from being around him and me remembering the things he taught me.
Joe liked to play “Liar’s Poker” with hundred dollar bills. While we swapped “Jack Stories,” Joe would have me sort and stack his bills with the best serial numbers on top. Joe was strong alright, stronger than a “well rope” or “40 acres of garlic.” Just to prove his point sometimes he’d have me count his wad of hundreds, while he cleaned his .45 automatic, while we practiced our “pitch”, something we did every day.
Joe went to the bank and got $500 dollars in brand new five dollar bills, in sequence. Then he went to a printing company and had them made into a “pad”, stuck together with a gummed strip across the top and a card board backing. Then, when we went into a restaurant, he would hand the pad to the waitress when she brought us our bill, just watch how she would react. We did get accosted by the police afterwards a few times, but since we didn’t break any laws, they had to let us go.
I felt sorry for Joe, just a little. He wasn’t the man he once was, not as muscular or as heavy, less intimidating. He was still on top of his game. Anything he could do, to get over on some one, was his cup of tea. When he went out pitching his two saws at once, he tried to find some one who didn’t have a clue about machinery, but looked like they were pretty well off. He’d pitch shoe store owners, jewelry store owners and people with red sweaters, folks wearing golf attire or just wearing a shiny watch. To him, if you looked like you had money, you were a “mullet.”
He would get right up in their face and say “you know some one who could use this kinda stuff don’t you?” Then he’d say “Look, I’ve got two saws that list for $5,984.00 each. The Boss ain’t shipping them back to Carolina, we’ve got band saws back home stacked to the ceiling. How about you making him and offer on one of them and if he takes it, I’ll give you the other one, just for helping me out. What if I get him to knock off a thousand on the one and just give you both of them?” The saws only cost us about $800.00 each, so it wasn’t hard to close them out, if you could get them to bite.
I’ve watched him flip for a hundred bucks many times. If he had the winner, he would whine and act like he was trying to crawfish out of the bet or talk the other guy into switching his choice. Then when he the other guy would stick to his choice Joe would say “Well, in that case, if you are so sure, then why don’t we go for $500 instead of a hundred?” It worked every time. I can still see him pull back his hand covering the quarter, showing Joe’s choice and hearing him say “Sucker.”
Sunday morning after breakfast, we we’re sitting in the motel room at the Holiday Inn in Houma. I tired to catch up on the football scores on ESPN while Joe was reading a hot rod magazine, leaning up against the headboard, eating black beauties out of a bowl by the handful (like they were M & M’s), that he kept on the night stand, chasing them down by chugging swallows of Jack Black straight from the bottle. I went to the drink machine to get him a Sprite for chaser, when I got back, he had the magazine folded to the lead story about the world’s fastest mustang on display at a car show, about a hundred miles away at a car chow at the “Superdome” in New Orleans.
The article advertised the fact that this car was the world’s fastest mustang. Joe was adamant that he had the world’s fastest mustang. He had bought a GT and then took out the 302 and installed a supercharged 351 cubic inch motor. He endured all types of problems trying to make the big motor fit. He told me about all of the little add-ons he had installed to trick it up. He wanted to check out this guy’s car to see how he overcome his problems and if it was indeed the world’s fastest mustang, he wanted to see if the guy would sell it him.
To this point, it seemed like it was gonna be a boring Sunday afternoon. Nothing else to do, everyone else had gone home for the week end, it was just us, so when Jumping Joe asked if I wanted to go along for the ride, I said “Sure, let’s go.” It took a little more than an hour to go the 70 miles or more to New Orleans. This was back in ’95, the construction of I-110 was underway, it ran parallel to Hwy 90, all the way to town. I-110 was the new Highway between New Orleans and Lafayette, that dipped down from I-10, went through Houma and Morgan City, joining up again with I-10 in Lafayette.
The crowd at the Superdome was waning when we got there, it was already 2 o’clock, most of the folks had come and gone. We stopped to check out a white stretch limo that had two cheerleaders from the New Orleans Saints posing with you, if you wanted your picture taken for ten bucks. Joe figured that I’d been mooning over a gal or something, he wanted to cheer me up. Joe talked me into it, but before he did, he talked to the two beautiful girls in their cheer leader outfits, taking them to one side. I should have known something was up when I seen him pass the two gals some money. Having counted his money for him earlier that morning I knew it had to be hundred dollar bills, because that’s all he had. “What’s he up to?”
I got into the back of the stretch limo with a cheerleader on either side, both gals had unfastened the hook, pinning their top together. The photographer got into the front seat, just as he told us to “say cheese” both gals leaned over to give me a kiss on the cheek and grabbed me by the privates, then the flash went off. “That damn Joe.” I think I could smell “black mail” in the air.
Right after he got his copies of the pictures we took, we left from there and went looking for the world’s fastest mustang. Joe and the owner hit it off and soon we’re talking car stuff way over my head. Joe eventually got around to telling the guy “oh I like how you done this or that. We had to cut out the wheel wells or something,” you know. Joe told the guy what his car would do in the quarter and on top end, where it would red line in each gear, that sort of stuff. They were comparing notes. Finally Joe said “Well I thought my car was the fastest mustang in the world, if your car is faster than mine, I want to buy it. How much. Cash?” Then he pulled out his wad. I think I only counted about $36,000 that morning but Joe told him “name your price.” They agreed to an amount, but Joe wanted to drive it first to be sure it was what the guy said it was.
Being as it was getting late, the man didn’t have any problem pulling it out of the center stage of the show. The rows of empty seats all the way to the ceiling made the stadium seem ghostly. We pushed the car out the double winged glass door, right in the front entrance of the Superdome, in downtown Kenner. The guy started acting a little leery. He wondered out loud, “Just where could we go to check out the car on a Sunday afternoon. The local drag strip is closed.” Joe told him we had just passed I-110, it looked like it was almost completed and since it was blocked off from the public, it would be perfect. He told the man that he would take all responsibility.
The car owner put his mustang on a trailer, Joe and I followed him to the construction site, there was a concrete barrier blocking our entrance. Joe was driving his souped up Ford Supercab. It had a racing engine with lots of horsepower. Joe eased up to the slab of concrete that blocked out passage and goosed the engine. The tires on the truck started squealing but slowly ever so slowly the concrete barrier started to move, burnt rubber smoke filled the air, until eventually there was enough room to allow us to pull the truck and trailer inside, allowing us to unload the car.
The car owner kept looking over his shoulder like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but the wad of cash in Joe’s pocket seemed to haunt him and he busied himself getting the car ready to run. He had two tanks of nitrous and two helmets, one for each of them. Joe told him I had to go along as witness. I volunteered to ride in the back without a helmet. There wasn’t much room, but I cradle myself in between the roll bars and tried to make myself as comfortable as I could.
The highway was empty alright, almost completed. It was a perfect place for our “test drive.” They checked it out in the quarter mile, Joe seemed impressed, he said his was faster but he was willing to allow for three extra weight of two passengers. He wanted to see what it will do on top end, wound out all the way. Joe told the other guy that he had to “install a double pulley set up on his car because the belts kept coming off around 225 mph.” Hearing that scared the you know what out me, “What? I’m sitting in the back without a helmet and you’re gonna try to drive faster than 225 miles per hour?”
I didn’t want to break weak, but I started to tell Joe that he could take those pictures of the cheerleaders grabbing my privates and stick them up his you know what, but it was too late, we were off. I gritted my teeth and held on, faster and faster, watching the speedometer, around 140 the front end started to shake, Joe hit that first bottle of nitrous and the car zoomed up to around 180, then car started to drift from side to side. Oh shaky pudding, I watched the needle as it climbed pass 200, then 205 and that’s where it pegged out between 205 and 210. I had a white knuckle grip on the roll bars I was straddling when I caught a glimpse of something out the back window. There it was again, a tiny gray and blue little speck coming at us. It looked like I saw flashing lights too. Don’t tell me. We’re busted. What are we gonna do now? There’s no way the police car could have caught us, but we had to go back the same way we come.
I told the two up front about our problem, I had to holler over the roar of the motor. I had to say it about 3 times because they were both wearing helmets, “Cops”, the car owner had Joe pull over. It took a couple minutes but when the State Patrolman came up to the window he was grinning from ear to ear. He was a big guy, about the same size as Joe. He said “That thing can really haul ass, what chu got in it?” Joe had taken off his helmet, he picked up the hot rod magazine and said, “I read here that this man is advertising his car as the world’s fastest mustang. I’m not so sure. He had it at the car show in the Superdome. I told him that if it was true, I wanted to buy it. I got one back home that’s supercharged that’ll blow the doors off of this one.” The cop said “Oh really? What chu got under the hood?” Then they all got out and I climbed out behind them while they raised the hood. I looked behind us, deserted, what a lonely stretch of high way, where’s Rod Sterling?
The three car enthusiasts gabbed for about a half an hour, finally they came back to me, Joe and the cop started buckling on the two helmets. They looked like the bears at the circus that ride the little motorcycles in a circle. Joe came up to me and said that they wanted me drive the patrol car and follow them back. The guy that owned the car was gonna ride with me. Joe and the cop finished strapping on their helmets, the state trooper got behind the wheel, they fastened their seatbelts and then, they were off, hauling ass. Two of a kind I think.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity, I tried to give them a run for their money. The cop had told me that his engine was called a “police interceptor” but after the trooper hit that second bottle of nitrous there was no way it was gonna intercept those two. At least I got to drive it with the lights on. First time I ever got to ride in the front seat of a police car.
I can’t remember the car owner’s name but he was so scared that he was going to jail that he didn’t seem deflated at all about Joe telling him how slow his car was. I started to tell him that Joe was just putting him on but I didn’t want to ruin the story he was gonna be able to tell his grandkids.
A few years went by. I was no longer selling tools. I had heard that I was the last Jackman alive. All the rest of the fellas have moved on. Yep, Buddy, Gary, Roy, Tex all of them. I’m the last man standing. You can imagine my surprise when I got a packet in the mail, in it was a folded up magazine cover. I unfolded the cover and to my surprise there was “Jumping Joe” standing in front of a bright red mustang. The caption read “World’s Fastest Mustang,” as I unfolded the magazine cover, a picture fell out. It was the picture of me in the back seat of a limousine, receiving a kiss on the cheek from two bare chested New Orleans Saints Cheer leaders. This was a few years ago, I was sure glad to see that Joe was still alive but what I was most happy about was the fact that my wife didn’t open the mail that day.