During my elementary-school years, my family lived in Del Monte Park, a sleepy neighborhood bordering Pacific Grove and Monterey, California. When we moved there I was just going on five. The lots were still mostly woods, and the houses that were there weren't the cookie-cutter variety of the suburbs that would arrive a few years later. I walked the several blocks to the David Avenue School, which I attended until sixth grade, when we moved away.

One of my closest friends during those years was Roger Eddy. We were in the same class, and also our parents were close friends – part of a close-knit group of bohemians then living there. We kids grew up in the houses of painters, poets, potters, sculptors (my father was one of these), musicians, professors, and other intellectual sorts. Few or none of our houses had televisions, we listened to a lot of Jazz and Beethoven.

With our father's tools, Roger and I built forts, and coasters to ride down the hilly streets. Many days we roamed the woods, where we made forts and climbed the tall pines to the skinny branches at the tops, from where we could see the ocean when it wasn't foggy. Another friend who joined Roger and me in our adventures – only shortly after we were in dry pants – was Mike Weber. He lived with his sisters and mom, who was an abstract painter, just a couple of doors up the street from Roger's family. Together we whiled away many happy hours and days.

After my family moved from the neighborhood, several years intervened during which I lived in Mexico, Michigan and elsewhere. Back in Pacific Grove and in high school, Roger and Dewey and I continued our friendships. In the summer before my Junior year I took a passenger carrying freighter to Maui with my father – a fine adventure that was! – where he taught sculpture at the Maui Community College. I was a good student at the high school in Kahului, even on the honor roll, but on returning to Pacific Grove and my bohemian friends, I was distracted by Rock and Roll.

I had played the guitar since I was eight or so, and the string bass in the David Avenue School orchestra. Roger had played the piano from when he was quite young. He had since taken up the guitar and we decided we should form a band. Originally, Roger had thought to play the bass, but at a jam session one afternoon, I had picked it up and we played some blues with Roger on guitar. I fell in love with the bass guitar – I've hardly played a six-string since – and Roger's talent with lead guitar was obvious. Mike – who we now called 'Dewey' because he surfed and Dewey Weber surfboards were famous at the time – had begun to play the drums in the high school band, and it was only natural that he would be our drummer. We struggled to get going, as high school garage bands do, but after our fits and starts and much missed school, we were the Mysore Sugundhi Dhoop Factory - named after the Indian incense manufacturer. We had also been expelled from school for attending only on Wednesdays for too many weeks for their liking.

It wasn't that we intended to be dropouts. But our good intentions were oft thwarted by our desire to play music. How we loved to play! We applied ourselves to it with considerable devotion, often rehearsing four to six hours in a day, several days a week – the cause of our school days' limitation to Wednesdays. In addition to the delight of playing together as a band, was the continuation of our playful friendship of years past. Once more we spent happy hours and days together – now making a joyous noise. We had many adventures together as a band, including a trip to British Columbia one summer, and carried on in a wild fashion as we had in our younger days, with girls and cars added to the fun.

Dewey owned a '55 Ford station wagon that had been the school bus for the retarded children (that was the politically correct term at the time), and was therefore that awful school bus yellow and had 'C-2' in black letters on the cowl and tailgate. The back seat was always folded down and a thin mattress installed for carrying his board – and for sex, which I believe he preferred to surfing, if only very slightly.

One afternoon we were in the Ford wagon, heading to Dewey's place to play music, as was our nearly daily routine. Roger was riding "shotgun" and I was lying prone on the mattress in the back with my chin resting on the back of the front seat. Our route took us down David Avenue and past David Avenue School. A new wing of classrooms had been added since our departure, and the playground extended about the size of a football field into what had been just woods in our days there. This new playground was only a field of grass, surrounded by the tall pines and huckleberry bushes of the woods we had walked through as children on our way home from school.

It must have been a weekend, or maybe school had ended for the year – we weren't in the know, after all – because the classrooms were empty and no one seemed to be around.

At the last moment before passing the school, Dewey suddenly swerved into the driveway. He passed the new wing and drove out onto the field. We had used the former trails of this wood as our way home for so many years that we all knew that right at the end of the field had to be a dirt road that led back out to David Avenue, though none of us had actually been on the new field. As we crossed the field Dewey picked up speed until we were doing about 20 or 25. As we crossed the field we saw that the ground was banked up in a wide arc at the playground's end. I remember thinking that the top of this rise must be dirt road that we would obviously use as an exit, and I suppose that Dewey had much the same image in his mind's eye.

As we barreled toward the bank, we came to the shocking realization that it was quite high, probably fifteen feet, and quite steep. But Dewey was going to go for it anyway, perhaps in fear of having been observed entering the school grounds and not wishing to return to be confronted by a mop-brandishing janitor or the ghost of our old principle, Mrs. Allemand, who would have certainly disapproved. He turned the car slightly, so as not to plow in to the bank's steepness, and up we went, still going plenty fast. We shot up the bank at an angle and at the top he turned again, as if to straighten our course and to align with the expected road.

But we had been wrong. The bank did not plateau and become the road as we had imagined. It was really a mound of earth that dropped right back off on the other side, just as steep and high as the side we had so brazenly ascended.

Before the calamity of our situation could be fully appreciated, we were airborne – flying through the woods in a '55 Ford. The sudden steepness of the far side of the bank took all four wheels off the ground, and the fact that Dewey had turned the car just as we got to the top of the bank had a couple of interesting – and alarming – effects: First it made the car turn in the air, so that the trees spun past the windows like people standing beside a merry-go-round as you careen past. Second, it gave us a rotating and therefore panoramic view of the available landing zone. This turned out to be populated by the stumps and roots of the trees cut for the clearing of the field – and they were huge, as big as the car. It looked more like impending catastrophe than a safe landing pad for a flying Ford.

Dewey – however impossibly – was doing all he could to coax the car into controlled flight. He was having no effect of course, but that did not lessen his efforts. He frantically operated clutch, brake, gearshift and gas pedal in no particular order, while uttering a long, low "Whoa" – he seemed to beseech an invisible team of demon horses, intent on pulling us to an evil demise. We seemed to hang forever in spinning flight.

Miraculously, the car landed – painted side up – between the stumps, and with a relatively clear exit path to the dirt road and David Avenue. When I think of it, I'm still amazed at our good fortune. The Ford thudded down with a great solidity, the frame making full contact with the ground. The impact was bone jarring, but we all made it through in good shape, if somewhat in shock.

Dewey had the presence of mind to keep the engine revved up, and it stayed running through our rough re-entry from flight. He dropped it into low gear and we got the hell out of there in a cloud of dust and perspiration.

The impact of that much old Ford tonnage with the ground, however, had crushed the exhaust pipe flat as flat. Our rush to escape was thus given a cartoon sound effect – we dashed for home with the exhaust blasting a metallic Bronx cheer. The sound was incredibly comic, but in that alarming moment it lent a surreal humor in contrast to what had seemed a certain disaster.

When we had safely reached Dewey's house and leapt from the car, we had a good laugh. It was the Ford's demise, however, despite its erstwhile success as aircraft – a few days later it caught fire and died, never to drive, or fly, again.