Thursday, September 25, 2008

Keystone Cops

It was 1971. Mike, Gumby and I were out for a cruise in my ’67 Mustang (yes, I know a fellow named after a tall, green cartoon figure). Cool car. Made even cooler when I cut the tail pipe off in front of the rear axle, put a Cherry-Bomb muffler on it and a chrome extension that exited just in front of the oversized rear tires. Illegal, but way, way cool. Unfortunately, it was a 6 cylinder and Volkswagen Beetles gave me a run for my money. Actually, it generated more noise than power. But it was my poor-kid’s version of a “muscle car”.

I smoked cigarettes in my youth but had run out of cigarettes this particular night and decided I needed some before we drove over to cruise the local scene. Can’t look cool unless you’re smoking right? (stupid)

I turned around in the lot of a bar to head back towards a convenience store where I could buy cigarettes. Remember the bar. In a minute, it will be important to this story.

We drove to the convenience store, Nite Owl, and bought the cigarettes. In retrospect, Nite Owl was a strange name for a convenience store that closed at midnight when all good night owls are just getting fired-up. Sorry, back to the story - as we were returning to my car, the one with the illegal muffler, we couldn’t help but notice the two police cruisers sitting right next to it. Uh-oh. There they sat, side by side, they were pointed in different directions like cops do when they share donuts and talk. Suddenly they hit the lights and sirens and in a cloud of smoke, they peeled out of the lot. COOL! No ticket for me and HEY! - they’re after somebody – let’s follow them and see who!

We would find out later that it was US they were looking for. But I’ve interrupted my own story …

So off we drove, following the police that were looking for us. But we didn’t know it and neither did they.

In two blocks, the two police cruisers turned in opposite directions and shot off. OK, enough of that, I’m not following them any more. The light they turned at was now red. So I stopped. That’s what law-abiding citizens do, right? Now we're back where we started, sitting opposite the bar where we turned around.

As we were sitting there, I notice a very large, black mountain of a man standing next to a much smaller guy in an apron. The mountain was wearing a police uniform. This was Officer L. I hadn’t met him. Yet. Now I’m REALLY paranoid. Here I sit, in a glaringly-white Mustang, blowing very loud smoke rings out of my illegal muffler with a badge-wearing mountain standing on the opposite side of the street.

Suddenly my heart froze! The little guy in the apron looked up, pointed at my car and the mountain lost interest in his notes and gained a new-found interest in me. Or my car. Oh, crap. I gets worse. He, the very large cop, motioned for me to drive over there.

Let’s get one thing straight here from the get-go. I’m pretty much a law-abiding citizen. Well, most of the time.

That explained, I continue: I was terrified of getting a ticket for an illegal muffler, so I kind of, well, looked the other way and pretended I didn’t see him flagging me and I well, kind of drove off when the light turned green. Yes, yes, I know, it’s illegal to ignore the orders of a police officer. But if you didn’t actually see the police officer? (Kind of the tree falling in a forest with no one around to hear it – has it really fallen? – kind of thing) Any way, I got the hell out of there. And drove as quickly as I could about 4 blocks to a burger joint.

Safe at last. I’d avoided a ticket.

My buddies and I bought soft drinks and were seated in the burger joint laughing about our brush with the law.

And then it started.

One by one. Every Jeffersonville Police cruiser on duty that night pulled into the parking lot of the burger joint. Even the K9 unit showed up.

And they all started walking around and around my car. With flashlights. Even the police dog is interested in my car. It looked like Christmas in the lot with all the flashing lights.

Oh SHIT! All this for a friggin’ muffler violation?! Well, you DID run, dumb-ass.

It became obvious that they weren’t going anywhere. So as much as we hated it, my fellow-felons and I decided to go face the music. Maybe they’d just give me the ticket, all get a good laugh and leave.

Uh … no.

As we walked out of the burger joint, there stood the mountain. And he did NOT look happy. I’m not quite sure how a mountain can actually LOOK happy, but this one didn’t. And he was a telepathic cop-mountain too because somehow, he KNEW who we were when we walked out of the door! I suppose the piss in my pants might have given me away.

And then the mountain spoke, actually it was more of a command, “LINE UP ON THE SIDEWALK BOYS.” Mountains ALWAYS talk in capital letters. And when a mountain commands you, you listen. We lined up. Quickly.

I’m not a courageous person. Never have been. Truth be told, I’m a complete coward. But from somewhere in my inner ooze rose just enough courage to utter, actually, it was more like a squeak, “What’s the charge officer?” I knew what to ask. I’d never been arrested before or since, but I’d seen it on TV. So I was an expert. I was holding out on the big one, “I want to see my attorney!” until I actually needed it.

At this point, I figure these guys are REALLY pissed about this muffler thing.

A quasi-law-abiding citizen such as myself generally doesn’t have the misfortune of hearing the words next barked by the mountain, “ARMED ROBBERY.”


did he just say, armed robbery?!

It’s hard to describe my feelings at that point: nausea, fear, simultaneous bladder AND bowel release, dizziness … and one more thing … elation. I was HAPPY that he’d just said, ARMED ROBBERY, because I sure as hell knew we didn’t do that!!! And he hadn’t said anything about my muffler. Odd thoughts for a boy about to be detained by a mountain.

With a little more courage, I replied, “We didn’t do THAT!”

His response, “I HOPE NOT BECAUSE I KNOW YOUR DADS AND THEY WILL KILL YOU.” Or something like that. It was kind of hard to hear because my brains were oozing out of my ears at that point.

No handcuffs. Darn. We DID get put in the back seat of the cruiser and got to listen to all the cop talk on the radio. We were REAL desperados! They were talking about the “alleged escape vehicle being a 1967 Mustang, white in color, 3 dumb-ass kids, etc.”

After about 15 minutes of sitting in the back of the cop car, off we went with the lights on. Had we not been scared shitless, it would have been fun.

Where we went next was NOT fun.

We were taken to the hospital emergency room for a victim ID.

At this point, the story is funny in no way. What had happened was that some person(s) had strong-armed this poor guy in the parking lot of the bar (remember the bar?), the bar tender heard him screaming, ran outside to see what was going on, and saw and HEARD my bright white Mustang leave his parking lot and take off (toward Nite Owl).

There, in the ER bed, surrounded by monitors, beeping and blinking machines, laid this fellow, who had been beaten pretty badly. Officer L. asked him if we were the guys that did it.

My friends and I compared notes later and ALL were afraid he would look up and say, “yes.” But he didn’t. He said, “no”. Thank, God.

The mountain took us back to our car, and as I recall, told us that we needed to get home and get off the streets because it would take a while to clear the APB on the Mustang.

We did. And that was my last brush with the law. Until 30 years later. But that’s another crazy-magnet story for another time. And it’s VERY similar to this one!

The cops never did say anything about my muffler. But I got it fixed anyway. I wish I still had that car. But time marches on.

I hope the guy was OK.