I was pulling ahead when I saw the flashing red lights and heard the siren behind me. I slowed down, pulled over in the right lane and watched the car that had been next to me race off into the distance. I thought I’d be considerate, and turned off on a side street; much to my dismay, the cop followed instead of continuing after the other car. I was busted, well and truly.
I was 19, had just flunked out of college after two glorious years of partying, and was unemployed by choice, having quit a sweet job in construction pulling down $3.59 an hour, pretty good money in 1966. In short, life was good, but for one minor problem.
It was, as I said, 1966. The Vietnam war was just ratcheting up, and the draft was in full force. This was before the lottery system, and anyone who lost a student deferment was, essentially, next. In a preemptive move, I had enlisted in the Air Force, and was due to report in about a month.
What to do in the meantime? Quit my job, borrow my brother’s ’59 Ford, and cruise around getting in trouble is what.
A ticket that read “Speed Contest” and a court date in three weeks was the result.
So, off to court I went, with my last civilian $20 bill in my wallet, hoping against hope it would cover the fine. I sat in the sparsely filled courtroom and waited to be called up. There were two or three cases ahead of me, including a guy dressed in county jail outfit, who was getting a few niggling little traffic issues out of the way before dealing with whatever it was that landed him in jail. The judge was in a sour mood. I got up and approached the bench when he called my name, and, to my surprise, another name. Somehow, despite the cop abandoning the other car and pulling me over, they had managed to get him, too.
There we stood, meekly, as the judge explained the charges, and called up the arresting officer to recite the infraction in detail. A blue ’59 Ford and a red ’57 Chevy, it seemed, were side by side at a stop light. The light changed, blah, blah, blah, the two cars pulled away, tires squealing, blah, blah. Everything was as expected, until the cop got to the part in the narrative where he said “…and then the Ford started pulling away.”
To my surprise, my co-defendant blurted out, “No, it didn’t!”
So much for any defense that we weren’t really racing, I thought. The cop finished his story, and the judge addressed the guy next to me, asked about his life and job situation, and fined him $75 plus court costs. That was a good chunk of change in 1966, when $50 a week was a fairly typical wage for kids our age. Then the judge turned to me.
I was unemployed, I told him. When he frowned, I added that I had enlisted, and was reporting for duty in a week’s time.
“Good,” said the judge, “that’ll straighten you out,” and reduced my fine to court costs. I breathed a sigh of relief and left the court room to find the cashier.
As it turned out, court costs came to $18.75, much more that I thought. I left the building feeling downhearted, with $1.25 in my pocket.
There are several possible morals to this story. I’ll leave you to find them.