Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Forever Cars, Part 6

Word came the other day of the impending death of the Pontiac, one of the makes that General Motors will ax next year. This can’t be a shock. Anyone who’s ever owned a GM car or truck has wondered about the redundancy of its brands. Still, it’s hard not to feel a shiver of nostalgia.

My second car was a Pontiac. My father was a little worried about me driving back and forth from home in New York to college in Washington, Pa., in the old Karmann Ghia, with not even a radio to help keep me awake, and not enough pickup to get me out of the way of tractor-trailers barreling along the Turnpike. And so I found myself heading back to school in a 1968 Pontiac LeMans. It was goldish-green (they called it “champagne”) with a black vinyl top, a 326 V8 delivering 250 horsepower under its enormously long hood. No problem getting out of the way of trucks.

I was never caught speeding in that car, but I did get a ticket, which is a story worth telling. Two friends and I were heading to our fraternity’s rented farm house in the country for a party. We were hauling a couple of boxes of potato chips and a half-keg of beer, in the trunk. I did not notice the red light at the intersection of East Maiden Street and Route 19 and was pulled over by a state trooper. (About 35 years later, a state police cruiser and another car would be involved in a tragic collision at the same intersection.) The trooper saw the potato chips in the back seat and asked where we were going. We told him the truth, that we were asked to take the chips to the party. “Anything in the trunk?” he asked. “Nah,” I lied. I had to. I was only 20 years old. No one in the car was of legal age.

The trooper asked me to follow him to the office of the Justice of the Peace, Evogene Smith, just up the road. The trooper told her what I had done. She picked up a gavel on her desk, banged it down, and said, “Guilty! Thirty-five dollar fine.” My friends and I pooled our money and paid the fine and left, driving away slowly and carefully, all the way thanking the Creator for allowing us to get away with one and keeping us out of jail.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speaking of near misses with the law ...
Back in the early '70s, my two friends and I (all longhaired hippie types) were driving home around 3 a.m. on Route 22, from Johnstown to Pittsburgh, and we were smoking marijauna. Route 22 in most places was (and still is) a two-lane, hilly road, and in the '70s was frequented by semis , which chugged up the hills and trapped cars behind them. We were following a truck up a hill when I noticed a flashing red light in my rearview mirror. We immediately opened all the car windows before pulling over, hoping that the air would somehow rid the car of its telltale smell.

The cop walked up to the driver's window, asked for license and regsitration, then handed them back. "Do you know how close you were following that semi?" he asked. All I could say was, "No."
"Did you ever see what the back of a truck can do to a Volkswagen?" he continued. Again, "No."
"Well ... be more careful!"
With that, he returned to his cruiser and drove off. So did we, after which my friend in the back seat told me he had an ounce of weed in his suitcase.
I still don't know if the cop was kind or had no sense of smell.