1968… God, what a beautiful day! One of those late summer afternoons, sunny but dry and not too hot.
Halfway through my first quart of DeKuyper Blackberry Brandy and I’m just hitting that ‘all right!’ spot. I can even smell a faint hint of fall in the air. A reminder of what’s coming. I wonder if I look green. Everybody tells me they can always tell when I’m drinking this stuff – ’cause I turn green.
I’m driving my 1954 Pontiac Chieftan. I love this car. Cost me $25 (used), has a solid body, and runs great too. Well, except for when it gets vapor lock in the carb and I have to wait a half hour for it to cool down enough to start. And the tires are kind of old. Having a flat almost every day sucks. That time at Hampton beach when I got two flats and the spare didn’t fit really sucked. Had to hitch home (50 miles) and then come back the next day. Oh well… I love how it sounds when I floor it – slow as a turtle but that straight 8 sounds like it’s doing about 90. People turn around and can’t seem to figure out what’s happening. Sounds like a race, but there’s just this big ol’ car slowly cranking along.
It used to be blue and white, but I painted it flat black. It looked cool. Except I was drunk when I sprayed it, didn’t wash it or anything, and sprayed right over where Dave puked the other night. That was dumb. Both the spraying and the puking. One day I got pulled over and the cops said it didn’t match the registration, so I brushed on some blue and white on the hood. I think they were really OK with the color but had to find something wrong because they didn’t like all those Smirnoff labels. Every time I finished off a quart, I’d peel the label off and stick it on the car. Did the same with the brandy labels. There were lots of ’em.
I fixed up the interior with white & brown cloth fur. Later on, I turned it into a convertible by cutting out the top (left the rim). Used a tarp when it rained. Worked OK too except when I stopped it sagged down onto my head and when I drove it would bubble up & bugs kept getting sucked in along the front above the windshield. Mostly that was OK though because they got swept back to the rear and were knocked out on the back window. Sometimes they woke up and that was nasty, specially if it was a big ol’ bee or wasp.
Cops couldn’t figure it out – just too weird. One day I was driving along, happy as can be, when I came upon two cops who were stopped in the road – one going one way the other going the other way. Right there in the middle of a class 1 two-lane highway – just stopped – chatting. When they were finished, the guy coming my way flagged me down & took more than a full minute – right there in the middle of the highway – looking over my cool convertible. Up, down, front, back. The tarp was sagging down, my head held it up. Up, down, front, back. Guess he couldn’t find anything to write me up on so he just said, kind of pissed off I think, “take that chain off the mirror.” Hanging anything off the rear view mirror was illegal. They call it “obstructing the driver’s vision”. I said OK, did as I was told, & drove off – smiling. “Can’t get me. Can’t get me…”.
Anyway, back to the story…
Dave and I were rolling along in my flat black, blue and white Chieftan with the dozens of Smirnoff stickers on it.
We were on our way back from the liquor store with about 5 or six cases of Budweiser in the trunk and another quart of DeKuyper under my seat. I was the “designated buyer” because, with a goatee & mature face (?), I looked older than my 17 years and besides, I had an ID card if needed. I used a boat license. Somehow I learned that boat licenses worked different from drivers licenses. To get one you sent in a request, got a blank card, which you were then supposed to fill out. I did all that – typed it in nice & neat & official like. But what most people didn’t know (unless they were boaters) is that you had to send the card back in (with a fee of course) to get it stamped. I never did. And nobody ever looked for the stamp. They saw the ‘official’ card and that was it – I was 21.
So there we were, tooling along listening to Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”, with the radio cranked up, windows down, hair blowin’ in the wind, smokin’ cigarettes, when way up ahead I see the single red dome of a cop car coming the other way. Yeah, they were still red back then – we called them ‘bubble gum machines’ – they had just started updating and not all cruisers had the dual light units yet. Blue lights came a little later.
“Hey Dave, you watch and see. That cop’s going to try to pull us over,” I said as the cruiser came up and passed us.
Soon as he went by I did a ‘180’ turn in the road – right over the solid white line. Yeah, the lines were still white then. There were no other cars coming either way and it was one of those larger back roads that’s just wide enough for a u-turn. Not a whole lot of shoulder though. Tight, but I managed it in one sweep.
Sure enough. As I start heading back the other way, here comes the cop again – heading in the opposite direction.
Dave starts laughing, “No way man. How did you know?”
“See,” I said grinning from ear to ear. “Told ya. Now watch this.”
Soon as the cop goes by and is out of sight around a turn, I bang another 180. Dave is still laughing but wide-eyed.
Same thing happens again. Cop goes by. I bang a u-ey. That’s three times.
I did not make this up…
Well, by now the cop’s catching on. Smart huh? This next time he flags me down as we’re getting close to passing by. He was doing about 35 & I was doing about 30. Since I knew what was going to happen, I was already slowing down and looking him in the eye. He sticks his arm out the window, points at me with that cocked gun thumb & finger look, and then puts his palm down.
I nodded in agreement and proceeded to pull over, coming to a stop – while the cop turns around, one more time, and pulls up behind me.
Meanwhile Dave is cracking up. I tell him to shut up. He tries and finally manages to.
The cop gets out of his car, puts his hand on his gun – they always do that – walks up to my door and kind of looks at me for a bit. That was odd – that look.
I couldn’t tell if he was mad but I figured I’d better be polite just in case. He didn’t have his gun out or anything because back then we kids weren’t as dangerous as nowadays and we had more respect for cops – which most had rightfully earned. Besides, it was a mid-sized town and people knew each other or at least of each other.
I don’t know if he was new or what, but I didn’t know the guy. I mean hey, it’s not like I made it a point to hang around with the town cops. Know what I mean?
He didn’t know me either, but he didn’t do one of those ‘Hands where I can see ’em!’ deals. He just kept looking at me, with that odd look, and finally said, “Could I see your license and registration?”
Instead of just getting the things out, for some reason, I start saying, “Look officer, I know why you’re stopping me and I just want to say this: I quit. You can go back and tell all the guys at the station that I quit. OK?”
The guy stands there, for about 20 or 30 seconds, just looking at me – probably trying to figure out if I was for real. I was. Then he says, “OK” and just, like that, he walks back to his car and drives off.
“I’ll bet he even knew what was in the trunk.”
I turned the car around (had to, we were pointing the wrong way) and drove us to where ‘the gang’ hung out during the summer – the sandy parking lot of a small, privately owned, ‘open to the public’ beach on a small lake – and before I even got out of the car, Davey boy jumps out and starts in, “Hey guys, he told th cops he’s quitting…”
Everybody starts asking questions all at the same time and Dave answers them without letting me get in a word. Then they start getting on my case with what do you mean you quit. You can’t just quit!
All I said was, “Look, guys, the cops were warning me. Ask Dave. He saw it all. Right Dave?” Dave nods yes. “So I’m not going to jail for you and your beer. For being a delivery boy. I’ll stick with you, party with you, and even fight with you if I have too, but I’m not going to jail for buying you beer. Find somebody else.”
Well I expected everybody to get upset but not like they did. Dave’s brother Don said if I quit he’s going to beat me up and as he’s talking, he hauls off and kicks my car, putting a big dent over the rear tire.
“Shit man, that’s my car! You don’t have to wreck it. It’s not the car’s fault.”
Finally I just walked away, figuring I’d give them time to cool down before I really did get beat up. People are weird. They’ll turn on you, just like that, for some totally dumb reason. But I try to forgive ’em… I forgave the guys, but I didn’t forget. I was wary after that – even though we went on to have some really good times.
Meanwhile, my brother pulls up in his car, with his girlfriend next to him, and says, “You been drinking that blackberry brandy shit again?”
“Yeah, some, why?”
“You’re green.” His girlfriend nodded in agreement. I think she may have been just a tad too emphatic, but hey, what do I know.
Oh, almost forgot… I never got stopped by the cops again – at least not for that reason. Guess they believed me.
I wasn’t lying – not then and not now when I say this is a true story.