Monday, June 16, 2014

Bonnie and Clyde's Death Car

"Okay, there's obviously a story here," the young black-clad, tattooed woman said next to me.

 "This is Bonnie and Clyde's death car, stolen from a driveway in Topeka, Kansas," I responded.

"What?  You mean Bonnie and Clyde were real people?"

I wasn't surprised by her reaction.  My son had thought these notorious out-laws were also characters from a pulp fiction novel.  And there you go.  The real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were nothing like the characters made famous through movies and t.v. so in a way, they are fictional.

They started out as two-bit bungling robbers of gas stations and small stores.  Later, when they got more bold and the Barrow Gang started to rob banks, they shot their way out of precarious situations, killing several people in the process from sheer panic.  Bonnie was a cute sprite of a young woman who was very photogenic.  Once the tabloids printed her picture, the country went crazy for more.  After all, this was the Great Depression.  There were 13 million people out of work.  Life was one long continuous struggle.  Who didn't dream of robbing a bank or two?  Of living the high life in hotels and fancy restaurants?
  But if you want the real story, read The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde by John Treherne.  In it he describes what it was like to live life on the run:  . . . the five fugitives adopted a restless, nomadic life; camping in secluded country places and driving, always driving, in stolen cars along quiet country roads. . . .This nomadic life must have been uncomfortable, especially for the two women of the party.  Personal hygiene seems to have been a particular problem, for there was no possibility of even the occasional hot bath or shower.

They survived gun battles and horrible car accidents, having to dress their own wounds and heal without a doctor's care.  They lived on sandwiches and never really had more than a hundred bucks in their pockets despite all the robberies.  Arguments and betrayals caused members of the gang to drop out, one by one, until on May  23, 1934, it was just the two of them.  And this time, while driving on a lonely back road in Louisiana, they did not survive.

There were so many bullet holes in the tan-colored Ford V-8, that I gave up counting.  The officers must have kept firing long after the two of them were dead.

Once word got out, the site of the ambush was mobbed by an adoring public.  It sickened the law officers.  Their corpses were put on public display in Dallas and again, mobs of people came to gaze at the now legendary Bonnie and Clyde.
It seems fitting, somehow, that their death car ended up in a lonely casino on the California-Nevada border.  The few people that were in Whiskey Pete's on the morning I was there, were all hoping to make a fast buck at the slot machines or blackjack tables.  A fast buck.  That's how it all begins.  Dreams of escape.  Not having to work at a boring 9 to 5 job.  Being wined and dined and treated like a celebrity.  If only for a day or two.

Life can be fictionalized, but death is all too real.

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