"One foot on the brake and one on the gas, hey!
Well, there's too much traffic, I can't pass, no
So I tried my best illegal move
A big black and white come and crushed my groove again"
- Sammy Hagar - "I can't drive 55"
How NOT to run from the Mississippi Highway Patrol
Just outside Hattiesburg, Mississippi
is an ancient proverb that says "In order to be old and wise, you must
first be young and stupid". Well, I was young but I’ve never thought of
myself as stupid at any age and I guess that is everybody’s story while
hindsight is always 20/20.
was July 1986, my junior summer heading into my senior year of high
school. One week before I had taken possession of one very smurfy
black and gold, 6.6 liter powered, WS6 suspension equipped, 1979
"Bandit" Special Edition Pontiac Trans-Am with factory Fisher T-tops, a
big 6.6 liter V8 under the hood and the WS6 performance option.
had barely owned the car a week and already I had put over a thousand
miles on it just cruising, getting the feeling for the car, driving the
hell out of it, etc. The more I drove it, the more I was amazed at the
capabilities of the big cube motor and more than capable WS6 suspension
setup of this car. Overall, it was loads better than my ’78 Chevy Camaro Rally
Sport; it had fifty-three more cubes under the hood and that gave it
enough torque to jerk an elephant through a keyhole.
I was in love with one very seriously bad ass car.
was cruising in the TA, coming up Highway 49 North, heading to
Hattiesburg. I was returning from a long day of visiting some
know-wells on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The T-tops were off, the
403cid V8 was rumbling nicely under the hood, and I had some Sammy
Hagar "Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy"
cranked really loud on the Kenwood stereo system that I had just had
transplanted from the '78 Camaro Rally Sport. The sheer overload of big
throaty rumbling V8, wind through the T-tops and Sammy Hagar screaming
out some sort of love tune was a match made in heaven, heavy metal hard
rocking bliss. I was tapping my fingers on the thick padded Formula
steering wheel, cruise control set at 70mph and not a care in the world
but to get back home before dark which was itself rapidly approaching.
reached down and grabbed my glass bottle of Pepsi, unscrewed the metal
cap, and took a long swig of the still somewhat cool cola. I looked
down at the clock on the radio face. It was 7:55pm by the green
numbered digital clock on the stereo face, the sun was setting through
the trees to my left and I stared into the sunset … lost in a day
dream. Something on the other side of the median, going fast in the
opposite direction, stared back at me and snapped me back to my senses.
A dark gray Ford Crown Vic, with Mississippi Highway Patrol markings and a bubble gum machine on top.
that time, the speed limit on Highway 49 was still only 55mph. I looked
out the window at the other side of the highway just in time to see the
dark gray MHP Ford Crown Vic pass the other way. The trooper behind the
wheel was staring straight back at me.
"Aw, damn. That’s not good." I said laughing flatly.
looked down, saw the speedometer buried more than three quarters of the
way to the right and knew I had been caught, dead bang to rights.
Fifteen miles an hour over the posted limit and me being a teenager
driving a black and gold Pontiac Trans-Am. Yeah, I saw what was going
to happen in the next few minutes. I was going to get a ticket from
hell with a big cop smile to go along with it …
Or was I?
really calm feeling came over me then, a feeling that I was totally in
control and totally indestructible. Maybe it was The Force. I don’t
know but one thing was for sure; after my little head gave me the idea
of how to get out of the speeding ticket, my big head took over from
there. A speeding ticket would probably cost me all of my paycheck plus
make my insurance go up plus get my dad on my ass for driving fast and
throwing money down the toilet by giving it to the MHP. I worked part
time at County Market, a big discount grocery store in
Hattiesburg. I made about $35 a week, so a $70 ticket would cost
me two weeks pay and I'd already worked my ass off this past two weeks
just to make what little bit I got to carry home.
I had other plans for that hard earned money.
Getting caught tonight just wasn’t going to happen.
you’re definitely going to work hard for this one, bro!" I shouted to
my law enforcement adversary as I settled back in my seat.
slammed the glass Pepsi bottle down between the passenger seat and the
center console, the black vinyl seat material held it tight. I didn’t
have time to bother with the metal screw on cap; thank God I hadn’t
bought a TA with a cloth interior. I scanned the rear view mirror, side
view mirror and then turned around in my seat like a jet fighter pilot
caught in a dog fight would. I was straining against the seat belt to
throw my head back over my left shoulder as far as I could turn it,
looking back past the long door of the Pontiac, past the side sail
panel of the car, looking for the MHP unit to see what he was doing.
The MHP unit was definitely in pursuit, the blue lights were going and
the trooper was racing away from me, looking for a place to cross over
the highway to my side. I thought back, really calmly, to where he
could flip flop across the median and cross over to my side to give
pursuit. It would be about a mile and a half back at the earliest, if I
judged right. He couldn’t cross the median before then. Mile and
a half behind me, mile and a half plus what distance I could cover
ahead of him. That gave me a few minutes head start. Good enough, I
had about a mile and a half to go before I got to the intersection of
Elks Lake Road and Highway 49. There was an old drive in theater there,
a package store, a Chevron gas station, and a little vacant strip mall
with about four abandoned micro stores. In fact, I couldn’t ever
really remember any businesses ever having established their selves in
that strip mall … it had always seemed like some kind of bizarre failed
venture, an economic afterthought on the landscape but the overgrowth
behind the strip mall let a car or truck get back there behind the
empty stores and offered one hell of a sweet make-out spot to bring a
date. If I could time it right, I could whip around the
back of the abandoned strip mall and hide there from the MHP unit when
it passed by and he wouldn’t even see me pull the trick off.
black finger-less gloved hand slipped from the steering wheel to the
gear shifter as my right foot went straight to the floor. The big 403
cubic inch V8 under the hood screamed as the four barrels of the
Rochester Quadrajet opened wide. The last bit of sunlight glinted off
the large three-toned gold Firebird decal that blazed across the top of
the hood. The shaker scoop slammed hard to the right in its hood
opening as the accelerator met the carpet on the floor. I slid back in
my seat as the power from the big cube motor came on strong and even,
effortlessly accelerating the old Pontiac up to speed. The THM350
transmission kicked down from third gear to Super and then back up to
third as the speedometer needle crossed the north side of the eight
zero range and moved into the nine zero speed range. The 403 under the
hood produced a primal, feral note that mixed beautifully with the wind
that came screaming over the windshield and in through the open roof
slots. The speedometer needle slipped past the one zero zero mark and
like that Neal Young song "Hey hey, my my", it headed towards the
black. The highway vanished beneath the front end and hood of the
Trans-Am, the centerline like the blade of a band saw in action. Air
building up under the hood was streaming out the side extraction vents,
preventing high speed compression and underhood lift. The car felt rock
steady, like it was on rails ...
God, I loved this car!
So smooth at speed, so capable, so dependable, so easy to drive fast with confidence.
speedometer needle continued to move down into the right side of the
gauge, into the black numberless area of the speedometer. I watched the
tach after 100. The tachometer was hovering around four grand and
climbing as well into the yellow. I slapped the radio off, killing
Sammy Hagar just as he screamed out "Your love is dri-ving …!" and
concentrated on doing just that… driving! If this was going to work, I
couldn’t afford to be distracted by anything. I was cutting it
pretty fine as it was and if I didn't pull this off then a ticket was
going to be the least of my worries for a long, long time to come.
quick scan in the rear view and side view mirrors showed no sign of
pursuit, yet, but that wouldn’t last long if the trooper was determined
to nail me. State troopers could be ruthless and quite determined
in their pursuits and hauling in a kid in an old black Trans-Am would
have been worth any trouble, probably even some bragging rights with
his buddies. It was getting darker and even though I didn’t see blue
lights behind me in the mirrors, that didn’t mean the trooper wasn’t
back there, somewhere, closing fast. I had a small advantage and if I
kept my wits, I could win this little contest of reflexes and brains.
At triple digits, I had covered the distance from the start of my run
to the intersection in less time that I had guessed I would. I saw the
intersection appear up ahead, more rapidly than I would have
anticipated, and I let off the gas, placing my foot over the brake
pedal to cover it. The Trans-Am started decelerating, the nose of the
heavy Pontiac dipping noticeably. I waited, watching and judging,
juggling my timing. I would have to make a quick right hand turn and
some fancy steering to get out of this but I had confidence in my own
capabilities as well as that of the Trans-Am.
This was an awesome machine.
My money had been well spent.
was an out-of-sight, fully hidden place set at an angle behind the
package store where you could pull back there and watch the back of the
Chevron and the highway. It was off the parking lot, hidden back in the
shadows of the building, big enough for the Trans-Am to get into and
hide at night, even from people in the parking lot just a few hundred
feet away. It was the ultimate make-out place with just a hint of
public voyeurism thrown in, dangerous in a provocative / exciting way.
I’d used it a few times before when making out with members of the
fairer sex, I knew the spot well. I was about to use it again for a far
different purpose than it had ever been used for before.
intersection was about half a mile ahead and the TA was still doing the
better part of ninety miles an hour, thanks to the aerodynamics and the
high gears in the rear end. I waited until my speed fell to below
eighty. My gloved hand clicked the shifter indent and slapped the
selector backwards from "D" to "S" and the big V8 roared even louder as
the power train was forced to downshift. The tachometer jumped a good
thousand revs as the transmission went from third gear to second gear.
The speedometer fell more rapidly now and the overall feeling was of a
more comfortable performance envelope, something I could more readily
manipulate to my advantage. I liked it, a lot. This car had a lot of
guts to it.
waited, judged, prepared all the while my speed was falling below
sixty. I cut the apex of the turn hard, doing a long bank into the
turn, turning the wheel into a gentle turn off the highway. I applied
the brakes to the point of almost locking up, let off of them, and then
pumped them repeatedly, riding the threshold of braking. Powered
four wheel disc brakes clamped down, bleeding speed in a predicable and
controllable way. The fifteen by eight inch snowflake aluminum wheels
and Firestone performance radial tires dug in and stuck like nails. The
big TA left the highway in a much more graceful manner than I would
have guessed, locking my seat belt solid and inertia pushing me against
the driver’s side door. It gave me pause enough to praise the WS-6
suspension setup and realize that even as good as the factory setup
was, there was room for improvement in the long run. The car and I
entered into a decreasing graduated right turn that eventually went
forty-five degrees from where I was originally headed. The four wheel
disc brakes of the WS-6 suspension package and the bigger sway bars
were simply incomparable to the front disc, rear drum and the wimpy
sway bars found on my old ’78 Rally Sport.
This TA was one serious handler with the power under the hood to back its tough image up!
was careful to control the brakes and tires, to keep them from breaking
loose and to prevent any slide across the pavement if I could help it.
I also didn’t want to leave any fresh tire marks, tire smoke or
indications on the pavement that the MHP unit could easily follow, and
I kept the tires from screaming in the turn through a coordinated
combination of brake pedal manipulation, manual gear selection of the
THM350, and hard, quick but precise steering. The TA left the highway
and turned onto the start of Edwards Street with just the hint of
rubber squealing, no more than normal for someone leaving the turn at a
little above the rated speed. Nobody at the Chevron even looked up as
the TA passed by on the street beside the station. My speed was
hovering around 45 miles an hour or down to the local speed limit. The
turn had been rated at 20mph according to the yellow and black sign at
the entrance to the turn. Letting the TA coast in Super gear, I turned
the steering wheel gently, losing speed as I passed by the Chevron and
headed for the stores of the abandoned strip mall a few hundred feet
away. When I wasn’t casting a shadow on the pavement due to the white
spots at the Chevron, I slapped the light switch on the dash hard
against its rest, killing the quad halogens in the hawk-like nose of
the TA, plunging the area ahead of me into darkness and merging the TA
in with the shadows.
eyes squinted, and I went more on memory than anything else as I
entered the side parking lot of the abandoned stores of the little
failed strip mall at a speed that would not attract undue attention
from the customers or workers at the nearby Chevron gas station. I
looked over my left shoulder and then my right shoulder, rising some
out of the seat, balancing myself on my elbow planted on the center
console but still held in by the seat belt, looking for my pursuer.
be here any second though, his own engine was probably screaming hell
bent for justice. In the time it took for me to scan left and right, I
had covered half of the parking lot of the abandoned strip mall at an
ever decreasing speed, coasting down from thirty-five to just below
thirty. I cut the wheel gently and eased the TA slowly around the side
of the strip mall, waited for the end of the pavement and felt the
front tires bump off the pavement onto the softer surface. I turned the
wheel again to the left, gently, slowly, feeling the resistance as the
tires left asphalt for hard pack ground and gravel. I shifted down from
Super to first gear and felt the Pontiac lug down and slow even
further, the gear shifter all the way back in the console selector
housing. I maneuvered the Pontiac easily into my chosen spot, using the
floor mounted emergency brake (my left hand holding the release handle
out as I bent over the steering wheel) using my left foot to apply the
emergency brake instead of the main brakes, pumping it to slow the car
to a stop. I didn’t want my taillights to give me away. The Pontiac
came to a slow stop with gravel crunching under the Firestones. I
shoved the gear selector up into neutral, ratcheting it through the
dual gate design, letting go of the emergency brake release and jamming
the emergency brake to the floor with a satisfying
"crinnnnnchh". The TA rocked twice on its suspension as the emergency brake bit fully and
then was still. It was quiet then, very damn quiet and all I could hear
was the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. I breathed in counting
to three, held it for three, and let out again for three. Doing this
twice brought my heartbeat back down to manageable levels and cleared
the TA and I waited and watched, there in the shadows. Black on black,
the exhaust burbling authoritatively as only a set of dual turbo
car and I sat there in the abandoned space behind the strip mall. Just
the trees, the back of the vacant stores, and the darkness of the
shadow cast by the building itself, as illuminated by the white spots
of the gas station nearby blazing over the roof of the abandoned strip
mall. There in that small spot, motor idling, I was completely
invisible. I sat, took a deep breath, and listened. I heard the sound
of a siren, muted at first, off in the distance, a warbling wail that
was all too familiar. Soft at first, then louder and then growing
louder and more angry with each heart beat. It was getting louder and
louder, almost matching what I felt was surely my pulse rate. I looked
back over my shoulder quickly to make sure I hadn’t left any tell-tale
signs of my passage, there were none that I could see, not even tire
marks where the heavy Pontiac had left the parking lot surface for the
This was either going to work or it wasn’t.
I was either going to be really happy with a story to tell or sitting in jail waiting on my parents to bail me out.
Like all things in life, it was a gamble and I was anxious to see how good a gambler I was at such an early age.
gripped the steering wheel with one gloved hand, the console mounted
gear shifter held tightly with the other. Hell yeah, I was alive at
that moment. If this didn’t work, I was in big time trouble. Serious
big time trouble.
If it did work …
warbling siren grew louder, almost like it was right on the other side
of the strip mall parking lot. A chill ran through me as a little bit
of doubt began to creep in. What if the MHP knew of this make-out spot?
What if someone else had tried this trick before? I leaned my head back
on the high back custom vinyl seat and reached over for the glass
bottle of Pepsi, lifted it out from between the side of the center
console and the passenger seat cushion, and took a long drink out of it.
didn’t realize how dry my throat was and I almost seize-coughed as the
Pepsi swished around in my mouth. I leaned over, spit the mouthful of
warm Pepsi out against the side of the building, watching it slowly run
down the faded, chipped and cracking beige paint, soaking into the hot
and thirsty bricks. Bored, I took another swig. I turned to stare out
the front windshield of the idling Pontiac, downing my third swallow.
The siren was a deafening scream now and I watched as the MHP Crown Vic
seemingly exploded out the side of the Chevron gas station in front of
me and several hundred feet to my left, but it was an optical illusion
generated by the play of the flashing blue lights on the huge glass
front windows of the gas station and the high speed of the MHP unit.
The highway patrol blew by the front of the Chevron gas station in a
roar, flying down the highway, lights flashing, siren wailing, heading
away from me at an angle and I watched it go, glass bottle to my lips
ready to take another shot.
"Go, cat, go!" I thought and laughed. "Don’t stop for nothing!"
highway patrol unit never slowed down, never tapped his brakes, and I
watched as the flashing blue lights vanished down the road, and the
siren soon faded into silence. I held the Pepsi bottle out the window,
turned it upside down, and poured the rest of the now luke-warm soda
out on the ground next to the Pontiac, listening to it fizz as it hit
the ground. Then I high arced the bottle over my head and onto the roof
of the abandoned buildings, hearing it land and roll around on the tar
paper roof. Soon it clanked next to another glass bottle and made a
distinct sound. There were a lot of bottles up there on that roof, I’d
used this place many times before.
reached up and rubbed my gloved hand across the dash over the engine
turned aluminum dash instrument pod, patting the dash of the Pontiac
and caressed the steering wheel.
"Girl…" I said to the TA. "You and I are going to have some adventures."
laughed, depressed the gear selector switch, moved the gear shifter up
into reverse, looked over my shoulder, and backed out of the spot I had
just months before been occupying for a wholly different reason. My
heart was slowing down, and the chemicals racing through my body were
like the nectar of the gods. It was incredible, I had actually pulled
off a stunt of epic proportions. I backed the Pontiac out completely
the way I had entered, dropped the transmission into drive, turned the
wheel, and slowly left the parking lot, using the vacant buildings as
cover. Once I was back on Edwards Street, I reached up and brought the
headlights back on, turning up the radio again to a more normal volume
and watching my speed. I took the long way home that night, going
through the old part of town. An extra thirty minutes out of the way,
but it kept me off the highway and the major roads, just in case my
adversary had gone into the city to go prowling for me. I bet he was
I never got in trouble over that.
never heard anything, no state troopers or local law enforcement came
knocking on my door to haul me off in handcuffs and I considered it to
be just a learning experience to pay more attention behind the wheel
when I was raising hell. I
didn’t think anything else about that incident, it was just something
that had happened. I'd made a decision and everything had turned
out all right.
forward to four months later.
My senior year in high school.
somewhat of a loner and an outsider, I of course attract the same kind
of non-cheerleader / non-jock outcasts and misfits who gravitate
to me. I meet a guy named Chris. Funny, that seems to be a popular name
around here. He owns a ’75 Monte Carlo that he’s going to shoe in a ’70
solid lifter LT-1 into when he gets the chance. He loves my Trans-Am,
so we start swapping tales of our car adventures and one day during
break, the ‘me vs. MHP’ story gets told much to the obvious pleasure of
the hair band angst filled outcasts that meet with me every day at the
same time. Chris has a Cinderella "Night Songs" T-shirt on under his
"You outran the highway patrol?!" he asks.
I say softly, not exactly proud of what I see as a story that is going
to be blown way out of proportion when it makes the full circle.
"Wow! That's pretty tight!" he muses over that, the others are in awe as well.
I have to retell parts of the story, adding more detail, keeping my
group totally enthralled until the bell rings and we have to go back
inside. I don’t think anything about it. Soon the story gets to
be the talk of certain circles in high school, and I find myself, my
outcast loner self, being invited to the more ‘popular’ events. I’m the
one always at the home foot ball game, relaxing on the hood of my TA
near the chainlink fence, watching the game as the motor pings and
cools, me with legs down the hood and my back and head up against the
front window glass, arms folded, leather jacket or denim jacket, just
being what I thought was ‘cool’. I usually drew a crowd who stayed near
me or pulled their cars up next to mine and we would all watch the game
and just hang out. I was the first there, the last to leave.
Kind of like a magnet.
So it went most of my senior year.
the mid-spring my friend Chris gets his graduation present early; it’s
a 1981 three tone Smurf blue Camaro Z28, T-tops, posi, automatic, 350
under the hood with the factory "air induction" solenoid activated
scoop, factory five spoke aluminum wheels. It was smurfy. We used to
race some on the back roads, his 350 powered Z28 never could catch my
403 powered Trans-Am. It used to make him mad to no end, all the time
he would be claiming he would outrun my ass as soon as he dropped his
solid lifter LT1 into his Z28.
was life, that big six point six liter V8 under the TA's hood gave his
small block Chevy 350 fits, left and right, believe me. He never pulled
on me, not once. We started swinging wrenches at his parents house, at
my house, and just hanging out together. A few weeks later I
went away with a group of friends to Florida for Spring Break, taking
the TA and enjoying cruising the beach in it. When I got back, I found
out that Chris had apparently tried to outrun a highway patrol but to a
much lesser degree of success than I had enjoyed …
His particular tale goes something like this ...
was late one Friday night, the last weekday of the Spring Break week,
and just after dark. Chris was coming back from the Gulf Coast, about
the same spot on Highway 49 South that I had been just nine months ago.
Just like me, Chris had been speeding, pegging out his Z28 and
just enjoying the power of his car, not really paying attention to
anything around him. His '81 Z28 was sure faster than his '76
Monte-Carlo and Chris had a lot heavier foot than I had ... he also had
a lot less experience driving, especially driving fast and hard.
looked over, saw a highway patrol unit sitting in the median, and
remembered my tale of running from the cops. Well, he decided that if I
could do it in a Pontiac Trans-Am that he could certainly do it in a
Chevy Camaro Z28.
punched the accelerator to the floor and the solenoid activated
hood scoop flipped open, sucking in cold air from the boundary layer at
the base of the windshield, feeding the Rochester Quadrajet under the
hood. As he ran from the pursuing MHP unit, he came upon the exact same
intersection that I had. Only this time, Chris made a left hand turn
across the intersection, across four lanes of traffic, breaking his
rear end loose and leaving long tire marks across the highway from the
start of the turn until the end where he almost lost it turning onto
Elks Club Road. His rear tires smoking, he barely managed to keep
the car under control, manhandle the steering wheel to get straight
again and then head down Elks Lake Road as fast as he could
the Z28 all it had, he came upon a dirt road and decided to duck down
it to hide. He slammed on brakes, leaving long tire marks again on the
asphalt and lots of tire smoke, cut the steering wheel to the right,
slid on the dirt road, and roared down it about three hundred feet
before he came to a stop and killed his lights, foot still resting on
the brake pedal. Chris then held the steering wheel in both hands,
staring back over his shoulder, and his blood ran cold when the MHP
unit casually pulled in right behind him.
What had happened?
He had done everything like I had, so how did they catch him and not catch me?
didn’t do everything like I had, in fact, Chris had made a lot of
mistakes, the first was leaving so many fresh dark skid marks to
clearly mark his direction of travel. He should have just gone ahead
and painted big orange or white arrows on the pavement showing where he
was going. The second was to run down a dirt road where his high speed
passage would raise a large dust cloud in his passing, telling the officer exactly where he'd gone. The third was to
sit there, three hundred feet down that dirt road, headlights off, but
with his foot on the brake pedal, clearly illuminating his red brake lights
in the dust cloud there in the Mississippi dusk.
MHP hadn’t had to work too hard to track down Chris and the next thing
he knew, he was on the far end of a rough cuffing and sitting in jail.
funny thing about this story is that Chris’ mom, at that time, was the
radio dispatcher for the Hattiesburg police department, and when all of
this was going on, she was listening in on the chase over the radio.
When the MHP officer called out the tag number of the vehicle he was
pursuing, as well as the make and model, she immediately recognized it
and went ballistic. Well, the MHP hauled Chris down to the HPD jail and
booked him on several charges, and his mom, in her police uniform, was
waiting on him when they brought him through lockup.
wasn’t pleasant, so he told me, but after everything blew over, he and
I had a long laugh about it. Stupid teenage kid stuff. His remark about
hiding in the dust cloud with his foot on the brakes and the rear tail
lights illuminating the dust cloud made me laugh out loud. I think he
realized that was probably the biggest mistake he had made. He was
lucky not to get seriously hurt the way he had been driving.
So, whatever happened to Chris?
high school graduation, Chris and I kind of drifted apart. He went to
Mississippi State University up in Starkville while I stayed further
south and went to Hinds Junior College in Raymond. We met once while he
was passing through Raymond and we went out and parked his '81 Z28 and
my '79 TA in a big open field at night, had a few beers, shot some
whiskey, sat on the hoods of our cars, our backs to the windshields,
and just caught up on old times, chased memories, watched some storm
clouds pass over, etc. Being all alone in a new town, off at college my
first year, it was good to see a familiar face. Chris left that night,
and that was the last time I ever saw his smurf blue 1981 Z-28.
About three years later, I met Chris again.
had not been kind to him. I was in my junior year of college, dating a
girl rather seriously, and I had just purchased a white 5.7 liter TPI
powered 1989 Chevy Camaro IROC-Z. On our way to my girlfriend's
parents’ house in Flora, I had caught a nail in my rear tire. I stopped
by the local Goodyear tire center on 40th Avenue to get the nail
removed and the tire plugged before we went on the trip. When the
manager took my work order, he called in a mechanic to patch my tire.
That mechanic was my old friend, Chris.
It was a small world.
had dropped out of college. He had lost the Z-28. And here he was,
working full time at a tire service center to make ends meet, and my
high school friend, my friend that I hadn't seen in several years was
about to repair my tire. It was kind of awkward, seeing my friend doing
menial labor like that, him being an employee and me a paying customer,
but he seemed happy and all he wanted to talk about was cars. I thought
for sure that Chris would have been halfway through engineering school
by then because Chris was a smart kid, he just had his priorities in
the wrong place sometimes. He spent too much time swinging
wrenches, not enough time with his nose to the school books and it had
come back to haunt him.
the left rear Goodyear Eagle Gatorback was patched and put back on the
IROC-Z, Chris and I talked. His Z-28 was gone, it had been stolen and
demolished before being recovered. When I asked for the details, the
story went like this…
Chris liked to party hard.
had met some friends, followed them back to their apartment, and
they began to act like sponges dropped in a bucket of liquor. In a
short time, people came in and out of the apartment to the party like
it was a train station. Chris kept drinking, and drinking, and drinking
and finally passed out in a corner of the living room of the apartment.
By this time the alcohol was running a little low and a beer run was
planned by his friends. Chris’ good friends decided that they would
take HIS Z-28 on the beer run, since it was such a cool looking and
sounding car, so they got his keys from his passed out dumbass, popped
the T-tops off of the car, and drove it like hell down to the local
convenience store. Being somewhat wasted themselves, they had long ago
thrown common sense and sobriety to the wind. Since they had cash in
hand, and they couldn’t make up their mind what kind of booze to get,
both of them would have to go in. Obviously, the car would be okay
sitting right out in front of the store, so this led to a great idea of
leaving the keys in the Z28, the motor running, the car unlocked, and
the T-tops off while these three mental giants went inside to buy more
beer. Ten minutes later Chris' three friends emerged from the
convenience store loaded down with three paper sacks each of beer and
wine coolers and discovered that they had no ride back home.
The Z-28 that they had left in front of the store, running, unattended, windows down, T-tops off, was gone.
Chris woke up from his drunken stupor the next morning to hear the worst news of all; his car had been stolen!
days later, the smurf blue 1981 Chevy Camaro Z-28 was recovered by the
county sheriff’s department. It had been twatted up in a ditch, it was
a total insurance write-off. Chris’ aftermarket stereo system and his
entire cassette tape collection were the only things of value in the
car, and needless to say, both of those were gone.
didn’t see Chris for about a year after he changed out my tire for me.
The next time I saw him was in early 1992, he was now married to a girl
that worked at the local Taco Bell and he was going to be a father. He
was still doing full time mechanic work, but he had gone to another
garage and wasn't at the Goodyear store on 40th Avenue any more.
Chris was driving a brand new 1992 Chevy Beretta GTZ, powered by
the Oldsmobile DOHC Quad 4 engine with a 5 speed stick. I guess
he was making good money to buy a car like that. A few weeks
later I ate at the Taco Bell on Hardy Street ... Chris' wife took my
order and she was very pregnant. Together Chris and his wife
lived in a run-down mobile home in a run-down trailer park on Martha
Street, on the outskirts of a very old run-down section of Hattiesburg,
just off of East Hardy Street.
I felt sorry for Chris ... I really did.
He was my age and already a father, living in a trailer in a trailer park.
I couldn't begin to wrap my head around being in his shoes.
Our lives had really turned out like night and day.
last time I ever saw Chris was late 1994, a little over seven years
after we had first met at the beginning of my senior year at Petal High
School. Chris no longer had the GTZ. No, now he had an old
'71 Plymouth Road Runner with a transplanted 440cid big block V8 under
the hood and a Torqueflite three speed automatic transmission. I
don't think there was one panel on the car that matched the color of
any other panel. The interior, if you could all it that, was
minimal enough to have made a Spartan cry ... bare metal floors, seats
that were torn, no headliner, no seat belts, no radio ... just the
center console and dash, door panels and rear shelf. Chris
had heard that I was in town for a few days so he came by to look me
up. He pulled up at my parents house in his Road Runner which honestly
looked like an extra from the Mel Gibson movie "The Road Warrior." Chris and I talked for a long time, just standing there in the front yard and the driveway of my parents' house.
He wasn't married anymore.
He was divorced.
He had joined the Navy but had gotten a dishonorable discharge which he didn't go into much detail about.
We talked about cars and high school and college and caught up on old times. We talked until the sun
started to go down at which point he said he had to leave before it got
dark since he didn’t have any lights hooked up on his car and since he didn't have any lights hooked up on his car he couldn’t
drive after dark. When
I asked him what was wrong with his lights on his car, he told me he
had a short in the wiring. He had a short in his wiring because
he had wired his lights up so that he could turn off the tail lights
with a rocker switch on the dash when he wanted to outrun the cops and
something had shorted out all the lights so he couldn’t drive at night
now until he fixed it.
Simple problem, he said, he just didn’t
have any time that day to fix it and since he worked so much and since
he drove the car only during the day, it really didn’t matter until he
could get around to fixing it. Maybe this weekend he'd have time
He showed me his Road Runner and he
bragged a lot about the power of the big Mopar under the hood.
He'd put a lot of money into the big engine and when he left, he
waited until he was three blocks away before he stomped the accelerator
to the floor.
I heard the big block motor roar, I heard sticky tires screaming
as they friction burned and melted on fresh black asphalt, and with
that sound of old style performance roaring away into the distance, I
kind of realized, sadly that I would never see Chris again.
It was just a feeling, right then and there, but it was a sure feeling, one you could bank on.
this day, I still wonder what ever happened to Chris. He had a lot of
hard knocks in life, I'll give him that, but a lot of the situations he
found himself in were simply situations that he had gotten himself in
through no fault other than his own. A lot of his situations
could have been easily avoided with a little fore-thought and / or a
little common sense. Looking back at our friendship spread over
the last seven years I honestly hoped that somehow Chris
would manage to turn things around and pull out of what I
considered to be a self-inflicted nose-dive into oblivion.
was a good friend, he was truly one of those kind of friends who just
rode off into the sunset one day never to be heard from again ... in
fact, he wasn’t even at our ten year high school reunion in 1997 and no
one knew where he was or what had happened to him.
Chris behind the wheel of his
The '81 Z28 and the '79
"Bandit" Trans-Am parked in front of my parents house, circa Spring 1987
Guess which one was faster ...? Heheheheheheh!