Adventures in a 1973 Mustang Mach I (or just how fast can a Highway Patrol car go?)
When I was young
I suppose, if I’m going to talk about parenting my teens that I should talk about what I was like as a teenager. In the words of Rod Sterling, “Imagine if you will…” Let me take you back, back, back in to the distant past; another time, another state (Arkansas, really). Back to what, for me, was a far simpler time. Most of you old enough to know would probably agree with me. Times were simpler; problems were simpler. Travel with me, and remember your past years.
The year was 1976. I was dating a very nice young girl from a neighboring town. I had a 1967 Mustang, so I thought I was pretty cool. Truth be told, I was a geek; you know, one of those kids you see, but don’t associate with because to do so would bring down your “coolness” factor by a large degree. I was too small to play any sports; I was not a good student. About the only thing to be said was that I didn’t cause any trouble. I was straight laced, didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. Oh, I knew all of those types of kids; even ran with a few of them. But I just never felt the need to do any of it. Anyhow, I was dating this really nice girl. It was a Friday night, and we went out on a date, and then came back to her parent’s house to watch some TV. I was the oldest, and the only boy in the family. I had two younger sisters, one three years younger; the other seven years younger. My father was one of these old style, strict parents, and my mom was, how to say it nicely, gripey. We were at her house with her parents, when my curfew passed. A Friday night, I was a senior, and 17 years old. My curfew was 10:30 PM. I left her house about 10:45 PM, heading home, when I passed my father a couple of blocks from her home. He came to a screeching halt; threw open the door; and in no uncertain words told me to get my fanny home, that I was in deep doo-doo. Of course, those were not the exact words used, but this is a family show.
To say the least, I was in trouble. I was grounded for two weeks from anything except work and school, for being less than a half hour late on my curfew. Oh, what a bad boy I was! I was to set the example of how to be responsible, he said. Show the girls how to act, how to mind, how to be a good son. Boy, did they learn how to act. Not that they did it, but they sure knew how. Each of them came home highly inebriated several times (not me – I steered far away from that stuff!).
Now, I am not going to say I was an angel. No, far from it. But I was smart enough to not do things obvious enough to get myself into trouble. But I was also very lucky at times. One of those times was in 1977. We had moved to Arkansas after I graduated due to my father’s job. To a tiny little town named Flippin. Yep, Flippin. Population 1,025. S-a-a-a-l-u-u-t-t-e! There wasn’t anything to do in this town. To take a girl on a date required no less than a one hundred mile round trip to either Mountain Home or Harrison. That was the only place to get a pizza, and see a movie.
On this one particular night, I was with three other kids from Flippin High School. I had met them by hanging out at the gym afternoons playing basketball. We went to go see Star Wars in Mountain Home. None of us had ever seen a movie like that, and we were really hyped up. Now, as you left Mountain Home to head back to Flippin, you went into a right turn, slightly downhill, then a left turn leading into a long, straight road running through Gassville. This was a known speed trap, night or day, but the road leading to it was almost never watched. Almost never. When I hit that first turn, I hit the gas in my car. By this time, I had upgraded to a 1973 Mustang Mach I. It had a 351 CI Cleveland motor, and would flat out fly. 60 in first; 120 in second, and who knows from there. The speedometer only went to 120, so I never knew just how fast it would go.
At the first turn leaving Mountain Home, the speed limit went from 35 mph to 55 mph. I dropped the hammer, and didn’t let up until I saw the sign for Gassville. Now, Gassville was known as a speed trap in those days. A little (compared to Flippin, if that gives you any idea of just how small it was) town with nothing to it except a decrease in speed limit from 55 to 35 mph. No stop lights; no stop signs; not even a speed bump. Nothing. But I slowed down anyway. As I crawled along through the town, far in a distance behind me, I saw a flashing red light.
“Hm. I wonder what that light is? Hey guys; see that? Can you see what it is?”
It didn’t take too long before I knew what it was. An Arkansas Highway Patrol. He flew into town, and crawled that cruiser right up my bumper. Gesturing angrily in the dashboard lights, I could tell he wanted me to pull over. So, I did, with a bad feeling settling in my gut.
Sitting beside the road at midnight in that deserted town, I waited for him to walk up to the car. I had my license out and ready, knowing I was going to get it. Tapping on my window, he signed for me to get out and follow him back to his car. Swallowing my heart back into my chest, I did as instructed. Setting down and shutting the door behind me, I waited. It didn’t take long.
“Boy.” Why do all southern cops start their sentences with boy? “Boy, do you have any idea how long I’ve been chasin’ you?”
Gulp. “No sir, I don’t.’
“Since you went through my speed gun back at Mountain Home, where the speed limit changes from 35 to 55. You went through my gun at 66 mph. I lit out after you as soon as you went by, and I been chasin’ you ever since. That’s fifteen miles of me running hard, and I couldn’t even see you! You sure you don’t want to tell me how fast you were goin’?”
Now, as I said, my speedometer only went to 120 mph, and I hit that shifting into 3rd gear. I really didn’t know how fast I was going, but there was no way I was going to tell this officer anything he didn’t already know. “No sir!”
He studied me there for a long, long moment before saying “Boy, I was runnin’ 145 mph, and I couldn’t catch up to you! You sure you don’t want to say somethin’ to me?”
Another look that turned my insides to jello, then “Well, I guess I can only give you a ticket for 66, 11 miles over the speed limit. You is lucky, boy, that I didn’t catch you running’!”
Well, he continued to rake me over the coals as he wrote out that ticket. He yelled and screamed a time or two, trying to get me to commit to something I really didn’t know. Finally, he tore off the ticket, and handed it to me. But before I could get out, he said one more thing. “Boy, you got a fast runnin’ car there. Try and keep it somewhere near the speed limit, cause if I catch you again, I’ll make up a number, write it on a ticket, and take your butt to jail for the night!” Then, he chuckled, and said “I guess I ought to thank you for slowing down. If you hadn’t, well, I don’t think I would of ever caught you, and I just don’t want to think about what I would have heard back at the station if I had someone outrun me!” With that, I got myself out of his car, and back into mine as fast as I could. And, truth be told, that was almost the last time I let that car stretch its legs. The last time, well, that’s another story.