The first time I ever ran from the law
Spring 1982

Okay … this story has been distorted enough through the yearsby so many people that I think I’m the only one who still has a clear memory of it.  If I remember correctly, this happened sometime back in the spring of ’82.  I remember this because at the time of this incident that I had just bought a Heavy Metal magazine, at Bookland, in the Cloverleaf Mall.  I remember the cover art and going back through the old magazines that I have I see that issue was April of 1982.

I was almost 13. 

Charbonneau had just turned 14 and we has spent the Saturday morning hitting our favorite haunts around Hattiesburg.  I had a 1980 blue and white Honda moped that I used for my paper route.  It was a two-stroke, oil and gas burner with a white wire frame basket on the front and an old, red plastic milk crate bungee strapped to the rear cargo rack for storing newspapers (the Dairy Fresh – “Thou Shalt Not Steal” logos had been spray-painted over long ago). 

That Saturday was a pretty good day, bright, sunny, warm enough to wear T-shirts … not a cloud in the sky.  Normally when we went to our favorite places like the Patton’s Hobby Shop down on Hardy Street and the Cloverleaf Mall, Charbonneau would ride his 10-speed Schwinn beside me and slightly behind me, reaching over and grabbing the handhold on the bungee corded milk crate on the back of my moped and letting me “pull” him along.  Doing that we could get up to 35mph on city and suburban streets (and while we thought it was way cool I guess it was funny to see a kid on a 10-speed holding onto the back of a moped for almost dear life as we sped by).  When we rolled up to stop signs or needed to turn down a street, Charbonneau would let go of the milkcrate on the back of the moped and coast, using his brakes to slow down if he needed to.  Sometimes he would just slide on around the corner of a turn leaving me to myself and having to obey the same laws of traffic as the larger cars and trucks.  After coming to a stop at a stop sign, I’d speed back up, matching his still high coasting speed to let him grab a good hold again of the milkcrate then I’d roll the throttle back easy, take Charbonneau under tow again, and soon we’d be back up to 35mph.

We did this moped-bike tow thing all the time, keeping to the back streets of the neighborhoods and off main city streets like Hardy Street or Broadway Drive.  Our only problem we ever encountered was when we had to cross busy Highway 49 to get to Cloverleaf Mall and we usually did that at the intersection between Forrest General Hospital and where County Market used to be (the main entrance to the mall).

On the day of this incident, Charbonneau had something wrong with his bike and, so he said he’d just ride on the back behind me (there was room for two on the moped).  I had a helmet, he did not.  At that time, you didn’t need a license to ride a moped on the streets of Hattiesburg, but you were required to wear a helmet. 

Screw it, we thought. 

We’d done this before, like … a lot … and we’d never gotten caught.  Today wouldn’t be any different … or so we thought.

It was late morning and we’d ridden down to the old Hobby Shop on Hardy Street (near where LaserMania is now) and after we’d spent some time and money there, we decided to head over to Cloverleaf Mall to hit Bookland and Camelot Music (which is what teenage boys do on a Saturday when they have time to burn and money to spend). 

Everything was uneventful, even routine, and on our way back I took a road that is no longer there. 

In the early 1980’s there used to be a stretch of road behind Jitney Jungle that left the mall parking lot and connected to the neighborhood on top of the hill there.  This was, I believe, South 19th Avenue, or an extension of it looking at Google Maps for Hattiesburg.  For whatever reason, the city closed that stretch off and now, unless you remember that road, you couldn’t tell that it ever existed … it’s just a steeply rising grass hill on the side of the mall parking lot.  Anyway, we got our stuff, books like Fangoria, Starlog, Heavy Metal and some hair band cassettes, threw our loot in the milk crate on the back of the moped and headed back to Charbonneau’s parents’ house. 

There we were, two teenage kids on a blue and white Honda moped, powering along at a super-fast 35mph, and we’d just climbed the South 19th Avenue extension / hill and turned down Fuller Street, heading west towards Highway 49 where we’d get on South 26th Avenue and cross 49 to get on the Forrest General side of the highway and make our way back into the neighborhoods and quiet streets where we lived.  As we turned onto Fuller Street, we were two happy teenage boys wasting time and gas and money on a lazy Saturday morning … doing 35 mph on a moped which, for a pair of teenage boys, was equivalent to doing about Mach 1 with afterburners in the wind stream.  Our blissful fun came to a sudden end when about halfway down Fuller Street one of Hattiesburg’s Finest turned off Pineview Drive and onto Fuller Street, coming right at us. 

Cop.

We saw him, he saw us.

Charbonneau loudly shouted “Cop!!!!”

We weren’t doing anything illegal.  The only law we were breaking was Charbonneau wasn’t wearing a helmet and that was a small fine, at best.  I should have just kept on going, rode past the cop and never looked back.

But that wasn’t my style.

I don’t know what came over me right then, but this is what I did …

Charbonneau shouted “Cop!” and I came to a sudden stop in the middle of Fuller Street, turned the moped around, and gunned it back for the mall.  This wasn’t an easy task with a teenage boy sitting behind me, suddenly thrown forward into me by deceleration forces, but somehow I did manage to both come to a rapid stop and walk the moped around in a 180 degree circle then gap the throttle back for all I was worth.

I have no idea why I did that … maybe I’d watched Mad Max too many times.  Right then it just seemed like the right thing to do … run from the cop on a moped. 

It was epic! 

It was glorious! 

We were like the Night Rider; a fuel-injected suicide machine laying down a rubber road to freedom!

No.

We were just two teenage boys on a moped, both screaming and for completely different reasons.

Of course, I still don’t know why I did what I did … why I just turned around in the middle of the street four car lengths in front of a Hattiesburg Police Department cruiser then gunned my moped for all it was worth in the opposite direction.  I was caught up in the moment, whatever that moment was, not really thinking that the cop could probably easily do a hundred miles an hour and some change on top and my little Honda moped maxed out at 35mph with the throttle rolled all the way back and my knuckles turning white from the effort.

So, I ran away from a Hattiesburg cop, on my moped.

No.

I tried to run away from a Hattiesburg cop, on my moped.

Hilarity ensued.

Charbonneau was screaming … something … and I don’t know what he was screaming.  He was probably screaming that I was an idiot … or that he wanted off … or that we were going to die … or that we were going to die and go to jail or that we were going to jail and die or some combination of whatever part of his past, present and future life he was seeing flash in front of his eyes.

I didn’t hear anything but the roar of the wind and the sound of that two-stroke moped single cylinder giving it all that it had. 

I was a rebel! 

I was an outlaw! 

I was sticking it to The Man!

All at (barely) 35mph and I was actually leaning into the handlebars, like somehow, I could coax an extra mile or two of top speed out of making myself more aerodynamic.  I didn’t take into account that Charbonneau was behind me taking turns wigging out and berating me for being an idiot thinking that I could outrun a Ford Crown Vic police cruiser, on a city street, on a two-stroke moped.

Charbonneau continued to shout at me and I probably deserved every bit of that, especially when we hit the steep road that we’d just climbed up out of the Cloverleaf Mall parking lot.  As soon as we hit that ramp, I just held the throttle and leaned into it.  The little Honda moped single cylinder engine screamed and I watched the speedometer needle creep past 35mph.

36mph.

37mph.

38mph.

We managed to pull right into the edge of the parking lot of Cloverleaf Mall, behind Jitney Jungle, when the HPD unit put on its siren and lights. 

Busted.

Everything that I was feeling just drained away.  Images of us going to jail in handcuffs crossed my mind.  I looked back in the side view mirror and saw that HPD Ford Crown Vic behind us, lights and siren going; there, in the mirrors, that cruiser looked three times bigger than it was.

Knowing that the chase was over, I stopped there in the parking lot and took a deep breath, realizing that my wild ride to freedom had suddenly become a dead end.  Charbonneau was still screaming and shouting at me, obscenities that I probably deserved, but all I could hear was this deafening calm and the roar of blood in my ears.

I sat there on the moped, thinking of all the bad things that were about to happen to me in my life.  The police officer sat in his car for a few minutes then got out.  I swear that if Charbonneau was saying anything I couldn’t hear him because the blood was pounding in my ears like ten bass drums.  Everything was in this kind of fugue and I started chuckling to myself.

I’d just tried to run from a cop, on a moped.

I laughed a little louder.

This was going to be an epic story to tell … one day.  Maybe after a few years when I got out of jail.

The cop walked up to us as we sat on the moped and started questioning us.  He looked through our bags, asked if we had any ID on us (we didn’t, we were 12 and 13 years old, man!) and then went back to his unit.  While all of this was happening, other cars and trucks were driving by, teenagers and young adults and old people rubber necking at the HPD Crown Vic police cruiser with lights flashing and a moped with two teenage boys sitting on it in front of the cruiser. 

The officer walked back and started to write a ticket … not to me … but to Charbonneau for not having a helmet. 

We probably would have gotten off with just a warning if I hadn’t turned around in the middle of the street and tried to run from him, but I guess he had to make an example of us and since I was legal, he chose to take it out on my friend instead, mainly because I guess he could.

What I do remember is that while the officer was standing there writing my friend a ticket, cars and trucks were driving by, driving around the mall, and other teenagers and young adults were leaning out their driver and passenger windows and ridiculing the cop as he stood there writing us a ticket.

“Hey, officer!  They sure look dangerous!  Do you think you should call for backup!”

“What did you pull them over for, officer?  Speeding?”

The taunts on the officer were non-stop.  I felt like I was part of some celebrity roast and I know that the poor cop was fuming.  I laughed softly but the more the people passing by ridiculed the officer, the angrier he became.  Finally, he said something to me (I didn’t really hear him over all the traffic and because I still had my helmet on), gave Charbonneau a ticket for not wearing a helmet (a whopping $10 fine), walked back to his unit and left.  I guess he had suffered enough humiliating abuse at the public.

Charbonneau and I rode back to his house where we kind of called it an early day.  He had to explain to his dad why he got a ticket and I had to tell my dad what happened.  I think we both got a stern talking to and maybe grounded for a day or two but after that it was back to being teenage boys with a moped.  When we went down to the police station to pay the fine, other officers asked if I was the kid who tried to run from the cops on a moped.  I told them that I was and they laughed.  The officer who pulled us over walked past and his buddies gave him a good roasting for giving us a ticket and for chasing down such teenage outlaws.  Even my dad couldn’t keep his professional father manner and snickered.  The officer who pulled us over beat a hasty retreat from his buddies and vanished into the depths of the station.

That was the first time that I ever ran from the law, but not the last.  It was also the first time that I was ever caught when I ran from the law.  After that, I realized that in order to run from the police you need to actually be faster than they were … and a better driver than they were. 

That’s a lesson I took to heart several times in my later teenage years and early 20’s but those are stories for another time.

Now, as for the story of me running from the cops and getting away on a motorcycle by using the pedestrian bridge down by the Lutheran church, that didn’t involve Charbonneau at all.  That story took place in June of 1992 and by that time I had no idea where Chris was and I hadn’t seen his brother, Pat, in about a year.  I was running with my “outlaw” set of friends, Cody and Flynn, raising hell and doing things that I’m still not sure that the statute of limitations has run out on so … yeah, that’s a story for another time.

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