We are back! As today is the 57th anniversary of the death of James Dean, I thought this quote of Timothy’s from his article “The Highways of Heaven,” appearing in the September 1957 issue of Movie Stars Parade magazine, was rather appropriate. We pray that Dean continues to rest in peace.
One of the most interesting – and prophetic things – I did with Jimmy was ride with him in his MG. I had no idea of what was in store for me the first time Jimmy asked me.
“Crazy, man,” I took him up on his invitation. It turned out a lot crazier than I’d bargained for.
You can go and go on the roads in Mendocino. I thought we’d take a nice drive along the countryside, and maybe see a few chicks, but he said, “You don’t want to drive along those country roads. Let’s take those hills.”
So he went up, up and up. The higher he drove, the more of a charge he seemed to get out of it. I sat there with my legs hanging over the side of the car. We started chewing the fat, and I noticed that the more we talked the harder he stepped on the gas. Once he felt the speed, he couldn’t let up. There was a wild gleam in his eyes.
I began to feel uncomfortable.
“Whaddya want to go so fast for?” I demanded.
“I get my charges out of it,” Jimmy shot back.
He wasn’t lying. He did get his kicks from going over those bumpy, twisting roads at breakneck speed. I kept thinking to myself, “This guy likes to jump out of windows every once in a while – just to show the world he has guts.”
Pretty soon I turned chicken, and didn’t care if Jimmy knew it.
“You want to wrap this car around the pole!” I yelled. “But do it while I’m not in it.”
I was trying to be cool, but Jimmy wasn’t scared. He didn’t care what he did with his car. He didn’t care what chances he was taking with his life.
On one ride, we came so close to ramming into a pole, I almost turned green from the scare.
“We all could have died in that car,” I chewed him out when the ride was over. “You’re a fool, kid.”
“What’s the difference?” he countered. “You don’t want to live forever.”
Then he fell silent a minute, and said a strange thing.
“Well,” he observed flatly, “my mother’s dead.”
“Good,” I deliberately needled him, “that’s a great way to see your mother.”
We rode other times and had other narrow escapes. Jimmy always drove the same way, except once when I spotted a State Trooper and warned he’d get a ticket. He waited until the cop was gone, and then he was off like a shot. To me, these were like roller coaster rides. Not only the speed had a kind of fascination, but watching Jimmy’s characteristics when he’d pour it on. He told me once he would like to take a jeep and ride it on the sand. He really believed he was going into a strange jungle, that maybe something would happen to him, but he didn’t seem to care.
“I never did like highways,” he said. “I like to take the back alleys and the rough roads.”
I reminded him this was a great way to get dead in a hurry, but he only seemed pleased at my apprehension.
“So what,” he scoffed. “There are roads in heaven. I’ll keep on riding.”
He put his hands in his pockets, hunched his shoulders, and blinked at the sun.
“When I die,” he said with a sense of exhilaration, “I want to die with excitement. I don’t want to die in bed.”
I guess he got his wish.
I also hope he got another wish – that he found those highways in heaven.