He Must Need a Tune-up

In my story, Then He Lit ‘em Up, I tell about the hot rod Ford Galaxie I had the use of for a period of time when I was in high school. It was one of fastest, if not the fastest, cars in town at the time. One of the drawbacks was, it seemed every time I raced it or drove it fast, something on it would break and need to be fixed. A mechanic, I was not, so driving the hot car got expensive. It was still a time in my past I will never forget, though.

One of my favorite stories was about the night I outran the city policeman, St. Pierre. In the small desert town of Buckeye, Arizona, there were a limited number of police officers, and as far as I know, there was never more than two of them on duty at the same time. It seems to me there was a total of only five—maybe six—on the force, and we knew all of them by name. We also knew who was on duty and what their normal routine was. That said, I should have known St.Pierre was somewhere nearby, as he usually had the evening shift, and would be watching Main Street for just such characters as me.

Dick Villa—one of my good friends and football teammates—was with me, and we were cruising Main Street; we did that a lot. Dick was one of the biggest meanest guys on the football team, by the way.

I was driving in the inside lane—there were two lanes each way in the heart of town—when another car pulled alongside us in the outside lane. It was Russell Stevens, in his newer model Ford Galaxie. I think it had a 390 with a four barrel, but they’d made the Galaxie lighter and more streamlined starting in 1964, so his machine (I think it was a 1966 model) was as fast—maybe faster—than the 1963 model I was driving.

The funny thing was, I’d removed the exhaust cut-outs from my 406 monster of an engine, which means you are running without mufflers; it’s loud as the dickens when the cut-outs are off. I was idling through town, and we were on our way to one of the country roads where we raced. I was trying to keep the engine noise to a low rumble until we got out of town.

Russell pulled alongside and revved his engine, and without thinking, I stomped the foot-feed of the powerful Ford. The roar the engine emitted was ear-splitting, and probably rattled the windows on the laundromat we were just passing. Russel’s eyes got big and Dick said, “Uh-oh,” then turned and looked behind us. I looked in the rearview mirror just in time to see St.Pierre—the cop on duty—doing a u-turn, obviously coming after me. Because I’d been looking at Russell, I hadn’t seen the policeman when he turned Main and drove slowly in our direction.

I had no desire to get a ticket that evening, so I tromped the accelerator, and away we went. We went by the city park, already doing seventy or so, rounded the first curve, and hit the straightaway. We were doing over a hundred when we passed the usual east-end-of-town-turn-around, the root beer stand. I glanced over and saw a bunch of our friends heads whip right to left as their eyes tracked our speeding vehicle. That glance was very nearly our waterloo.

When I glanced over, the car drifted right and I heard this ping ping ping; it was the right side of the car’s bumper hitting those little reflector light poles that line the highway. As I tried to ease the car back onto the road, it began to go into a slide. Then, another funny thing happened.

My friend Diana Turner had, not long before, taken me for a ride in her new Mustang. She was crazy behind the wheel of that thing, and at one point, demonstrated, quite proficiently, how to bring a car out of a skid. About scared me to death, and I wasn’t easy to scare.

I employed what Diana had showed me, and it worked like a charm. This all happened fast, and I can still hear Dick yelling, “Don’t roll this sucker, Charlie! Don’t roll this sucker!” I didn’t roll the sucker, and when we were safely back onto the blacktop, I glanced over at Dick. I swear he was squeezing dents into the metal dash with his huge hands.

I looked in the rearview mirror—no sign of St. Pierre—and we sped around the last curve then took back roads to my house. When we got to my house, I parked the Ford and we jumped into my little Austin Healey convertible. What a difference!

A little later, we pulled into the root beer stand, and some of the people who’d watched us fly past earlier were still there; not surprising; there wasn’t a lot to do in Buckeye back then. One of the guys came over and was chuckling as he told us about the other half of the high-speed chase.

“You went flying by in a blur, taking out those reflectors,” he said. “I almost got whiplash trying to watch you.” He grinned and chuckled some more, then said, “I’m not kidding, man; about five minutes later, here came St. Pierre doing about forty miles an hour, the cop car spitting and coughing and backfiring.” More laughter then, “It was hilarious!”

I smiled and said, “He must need a tune-up.”

Looking back, I have but one thing to say: “Crazy kids!”

1 Comment »

  1. Sherry said

    That’s funny . . .

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