I confess. I have once upon a time been busted. It was a long time ago.
It was my first encounter of any sort with a law enforcement officer. That is a scary event no matter what the offense, or lack thereof.
I was 14 and possessed a driver’s license with still wet ink. For you kids out there, the DL used to be printed on actual paper. That was pretty handy because a person skilled with a razor blade could be any age he desired. Or so I’ve been told. Yes, age 14. That’s when you could get a DL back in the “olden days” as my daughter Melissa used to refer to my past.
Not only did I have that great piece of paper, but my first car. My dad bought it for me sight unseen — unseen by me that is. I came home one afternoon to find that formerly shiny vehicle of any color you wanted as long as it was black —
a 1935 Ford 2-door sedan with a flathead V-8 motor. The year was 1958, the same year cousin Toney got the brand new Chevy Impala 🙁 It would also be the last car my dad bought for me, I think as part of his character-building plan for me. I had plenty of character, what I needed was a 1958 Impala!
I digress, but that is how I came to have the implement of terror that the officer was ultimately to be concerned with. There was this fella in Big Spring who had a pretty neat older car too. Older than mine, but modified. Roy Burkalow and his souped-up Model-A Ford. My Ford — which I came to love a lot and to this day wish I had it back — was barely a week old in my hands when Roy issued the challenge. You know how that works, mine is faster or mine is bigger or whatever.
Every crime has a scene, and this one was Main Street in Big Spring, Texas, a bit south of 18th street. A nice straight residential street with no traffic and clear visibility in the hot, noonday summer sun. The crime was drag racing, formally known as exhibition of speed. The other car and I were just winding out pretty strongly when “LEO” appeared. Now when I say “winding out” you do know that’s a relative term, right? I mean, I mean this was a race between a 1935 Ford (23 years old at the time) and a considerably older Model-A.
It was just after lunch time and an off-duty police officer had been home for lunch, which he had finished just before we came roaring up Main Street. All he did was step out into the street and raise his un-uniformed hand. How embarrassing to have begun my life of crime being caught in the act by an off-duty cop on a lunch break!
“You boys were trying to go a little fast, weren’t you” he asked. A put-down: “trying” to go fast! “Do you have a driver’s license?” Yet another put-down. “Of course” said I as my trembling hand tried to pull it out of the crappy plastic sleeve in my wallet. With my license and Roy’s in his hand, standing next to my car, he looks down and quizzically asks “you Guil1 Jones’s boy? “Yessir” says I. After just moments of looking over the two small pieces of paper he handed mine back saying “you boys slow it down now” and simply walked away.
Well. It pays to have pull, doesn’t it? You see, my dad was the District Attorney for the 118th Judicial District — Howard, Martin and Glasscock counties. That was my first experience enjoying a taste of power, vicarious though it was.
I did slow it down. The officer’s advice seemed like a good idea and anyway, it wasn’t much of a drag race. I don’t recall what I did the rest of the day. It had to be on a Monday because I was the lifeguard at the Country Club pool and was not working. Eventually I made my way home.
It was a little odd that dad was already home, I thought, because it was nowhere near dinner time and he usually came skidding in just in time for dinner. But there he was, in the big easy chair with mom in her recliner on the other side of the table with the newspaper pieces, the bourbon and 7 and the ever-present cigarettes and ash tray. As I stepped from the foyer into the living room the newspaper dropped from in front of his face to reveal that “Mr. District Attorney” face and the outstretched, upturned hand. I just dropped the keys in his hand and asked “how long?” “Oh, I think a week should do it” came the answer.
As you know by now, the officer went straight to dad’s office to tell him of my transgression, knowing that the home treatment would surpass anything a ticket might have exacted. He was right and lessons were learned. The character-building plan continued until “big Guil” died in 1990.
The 1935 Ford he bought for $100 in 1958 was later sold by me for $225 and I don’t even want to know what the value would be today. I bought my own cars after that, owning a
Crossley (I think it was a 1949 model) and a ’54 Ford
OVERhead valve V-8 before graduating from high school.
Thus endeth the tale of my narrow escape from a life of crime.
- dad abbreviated “Guilford” differently ↩