There I am staring out the window at school, grade 2A at J. J. McGilvra Elementary School, thinking how smart I am to be able to read an entire sentence from the historic novel, "Dick and Jane." The next thing I know I am applying for my driver's license. That is the day the world opened in all its freedom and majesty.
Passing the driver's test was another giant leap toward adulthood. Driving a car demanded certain responsibilities; and if one wasn't diligent in the rules of the road, the occasional traffic violation sometimes occurred.
I liked spending many hours working on a 1942 Dodge 4-door car. It had been an army officer's car during World War II but my uncle, a veritable Rembrandt of car painters, and I had applied some 30 coats of midnight lacquer blue onto it, totally disguising its past reputation. The mirrored finish convinced us to continue the transformation by lowering the chassis, adding fender skirts and full moon hubcaps, and finally splitting the manifold. The icing on the cake was adding Smitty mufflers because it would give the ride a real hot-rod sound.
Now, like anyone proud of their first car, I found just the right time to cruise by some girls I knew walking to school. I revved the motor and dropped the clutch leaving just the right amount of rubber. With tires spinning, I gallantly laid a squealing strip behind me.
It was truly a proud moment, except that Mr. Policeman witnessed my macho attempt to convey manhood. His siren blared far too loud as he pulled me over.
"Do you think this street is a drag strip?" he asked.
I slumped low as I heard the girls walk by laughing at my misfortune.
Not quite getting the message from that experience, my next encounter of the illegal kind came rather unexpectedly. I had just installed a Bermuda bell under the floorboard of my car so that at the right moment when someone needed impressing; I could apply my foot to the plunger of the bell and a loud gong sound would blow, really turning heads. That day, it happened to turn the head of an off-duty policeman who was right behind me at the intersection of 22nd and Madison. He honked and pointed at the curb.
"Remove the bell or I will issue you a ticket!" he warned.
I explained that the only way to remove the bell was from underneath to which he replied he was going to get his ticket book. Quickly I removed it then and there. Trusty screwdriver in hand I crouched onto the street and reached underneath the car to remove the troublesome accessory. Once again, I heard laughter from the passersby.
Yet another memorable, illicit event occurred one night while I was buried in homework. I looked out the window to see my buddy go by in his car faster than the traffic on 42nd. He then slid around the corner of 41st and Lynn followed by a Madison Park policeman who everyone knew.
Moments later, the phone rang. It was my friend who asked if I had heard him go by.
"Duh" I answered.
He proceeded to tell me he outran the otherwise friendly policeman by zigzagging west to 33rd, a block off Madison, and into his garage. He was proud to have outrun the local cop. Not moments later he asked me to hold the phone while he answered a knock at the door. Guess who?
The moral of the story: Don't try to outrun the police if everyone knows who you are. My friend received a large ticket that he later mimeographed and hung from his rearview mirror like a Medal of Honor. His parents, of course, grounded him for a long while.
One of the fads in the Fifties was to accessorize a car with taillights sold at Schuck's Auto Supply. These lights had a bright blue center that gave off a sexy glow on dark nights. While out on a great evening with a date, my car, once again, was stopped by a vehicle flashing signals and blaring sirens so loud it drowned out "Sh-Boom" booming on KJR-AM.
An officer around 9-feet tall got out and asked me if I was a snowplow. It seemed blue taillights were only used by snowplows so that they could be seen long distances away. Even though I admitted to not being a snowplow, I did receive a ticket. I was so bummed I almost spilled the stubby of beer balanced between my knees.
I have to reiterate how different the times are today compared to those years. The punishment for being stopped for a driving infraction was one thing but if the aroma of alcohol was prevalent any subsequent infractions were based on driving attitude. If you were in control, a warning was always adequate. On the other hand, weaving or careless driving called for a big ticket and instruction to leave the car and find other means of getting home. It also could mean a night of a small bowl of prunes, a bowl of cereal, two cigarettes, two wooden matches and seeing the world through vertical gray bars.
In the late Sixties I worked downtown for an engineering company on the second floor in a building on Third and Vine. A few of us employees took turns wiping chalk marks off our tires parked at the curbs near the building. Every four hours we fed the meters and wiped off the chalk marks.
One day it was my turn for chalk duty. I looked up to see hands waving, giving the all-clear sign. I got onto my knees and proceeded to reach under the tire of the first car to wipe off the chalk mark. Suddenly, there was a tapping on my back. Apparently the meter maid had just moments before silently coasted her scooter to within a few inches of me. She retracted her marking wand and proceeded to scold me with her finger. I could see my coworkers looking down laughing and making gestures. The more they mimicked the situation and the more I laughed, the more irritated the meter maid became.
Parking on the street was always an issue. Once when I was shorthanded for meter money, I ran across the street to get some change. Again with the loud siren and lights! At least there were no guns drawn while I was presented with my first ever J-walking ticket. In lieu of paying the violation, I was invited to attend J-walking school. After choosing the latter, I reported to the third floor at the Public Safety Building. There was a guy there cussing that he had just gotten a J-walking ticket on his way to J-walking school. We all had a little laugh.
The class started with a film about horrible accidents involving J-walkers. A very large policeman at the podium asked seriously, "If you were driving 35 miles per hour in rainy conditions, how many feet would it take you to come to a complete stop?" Several people answered "38 feet," "26 feet," "12 feet" etc. when a guy with long hair, sunglasses and definitely of the hippie persuasion raised his hand. The officer caught his eye and pointed at him. The bearded man said "837 feet!" The officer repeated, "837 feet?" Hippie guy answered, "Yes, 837 feet; I have really bad brakes!"
That brought down the house and while the officer was still laughing he said, "You're all staying after school!"
After years of driving everything from small cars to semi- trucks I have maintained a good driving record after mending my wild, early ways. Fifty-two years without a ticket (except for one "conservation" ticket in Oregon; a.k.a. speeding ticket) is not too shabby.
Driving has become a new skill in this day of mass population, overcrowded freeways and road rage due to congestion. That is one major reason living in Madison Park is so desirable. What is noteworthy is how new communities are being built nationwide reflecting the desire for a neighborhood like ours. Walking to stores, shops, restaurants, tennis courts, the park and the beach make the need for a car almost invalid.
Just remember to cross the street in the crosswalk.[[In-content Ad]]