Sunday, May 12, 2013

Catch Me If You Can

So, I told you that last story to tell you this one.

After receiving, at taxpayer expense, surgery to correct the problem that almost cost me a kidney, in their beneficence, I got sent home on a couple of weeks' convalescent leave, to recover at home in sunny California.

Which gave me, at last, the chance to drive my very own Ford Escort clear across the country upon my return, with suitable funds, and a bit of planning.

I worked out the distances, and came up with what I expected the trip to cost, and require, in terms of driving time, meals, gas, lodging, etc.

So on the appointed day, off I went. Living in SoCal, I made a minor detour on the I-10, just to tag up at the terminus at the Santa Monica Pier on PCH. If I was driving coast-to-coast, I wanted full props for the effort.

It being late fall/early winter, I didn't want to risk snow or the associated delays, so I went the southern routes. Midnight found me in Phoenix, and ready to stop for the night, which I did. A 7AM wake-up and drive-thru breakfast, and I was off again.

I was surprised to find that the gentle grade I crested that day was the Rocky Mountains in NM, and on I went. El Paso by sunset.

And then, into the eternal nothingness that is West Texas. Hours and hours of nothing. So much nothing, they could sell you all you'd want, and they'd still have the corner on the market. Nothing like you'd have to watch Lawrence of Arabia in slow motion to appreciate. George Lucas was a fool for going to Tunisia: West Texas is Tatooine, and you can drive to it. Whether you can ever drive out of it was beginning to give me doubts. Somewhere around 1 AM, I elected to take an exit alleging to be Midland. But it was dark, and I couldn't see much beyond the exit lights.

Another early start got me to Dallas by about 3PM. Just in time for rush hour non-moving traffic that would make a native Angeleno proud. Once I got past that nonsense, I hooked up towards Texarkana, and fell in among the big rigs, cruising along blissfully, and happy to see trees again, which I'd missed for most of the previous day.

But trucks are trucks. Whereas I was driving in something that offended the dignity of Texas law enforcement on the highways: not the Ford, but the California plates. So amongst about 200 16-wheelers all merrily driving 20 over the limit, they bypassed them, and singled out my car to pull over.

"License and registration please, sir."

Trooper Dawg evidently ran my plates and particulars, then returned to my window to hand them back. He hadn't pulled out his cite book yet.

"Where are y'all headed?"

"Camp Lejeune, sir. I'm a Marine returning from convalescent leave, and I was bringing my car back so I could have it there on post."

His partner (who I hadn't noticed, but wasn't surprised to find out was back there) played his flashlight, like a luftstalag guard post, sloooolwy  over the big green sea bag in the back seat. My high-and-tight haircut was pretty obvious too, but I handed him my military I.D. and a copy of orders to confirm my story.

He retreated to the rear of the car to confer with his partner, and probably to let me sweat a bit. It worked.

About a minute later, he returned to my window, handed me my papers back, and said to me, "California to North Carolina? That's a loooong way, son. Slow down, y'hear?"

"Yes Sir!" You betcha sir, absolutely, positively sir. Apparently in Texas trooper math, Marine Corps cancels out California. I officially love Texas for that alone. I also drove at precisely 55MPH from that point to the border at Texarkana, despite the headlight flashes and horn honks from more truckers than I could count. Fair is fair, I made my deal, and I'm sticking with it.

I continued across Arkansas, accelerating at the state line, and made it to cross the Mississippi at Memphis, and get a room for the night. Five states in 2 1/2 days, and all the next day to only get across two more.

Tennessee was beautiful country. So was North Carolina. What I had failed to consider, however, was that most of it was posted at 55MPH, or in random stretches, and that I was driving both states the loooong way across. Which amounts to a helluva lot more than it looks in an atlas. And the incomprehensible maze around Raleigh kind of pissed me off. Apparently, to the hillbilly assholes who allegedly planned the routes there, the simple expedient of marking the proper exits has not yet trickled down. But after trying only 9 times to continue on the exact same route I'd started off on, I was finally free of their attempts to misdirect me.

And then, with still half a state to go, it got dark.

For non-military readers, leave is up at midnight, just like Cinderella's party. Now, having been gone for over two weeks, if I'd returned at 1AM or 2AM, or even 530AM, provided i'd been in my PT gear at 6AM for morning PT, no one would have said a word. But they could have, and it was also the principle of the thing, so I knew I needed to make up some time.

Consequently, around 10PM Somewhere In (hopefully western) North Carolina, still heading eastward, but not having made the turn to the north where lay Swamp Lejeune, I was flying along in my 4 cylinder rocket, tank full of gas, doing every bit of 90 MPH.

Folks thereabouts evidently go to bed early, and I hadn't seen a soul on the road going my way for about an hour by that point. I was just slaloming along on a double two-lane interstate, hoping to get to the post before I turned into a pumpkin.

So when I came around a long curve, on a highway with light standards no more than 1 per mile, I was rather quickly cognizant of the headlights, high up on the side of the road facing the other way, across the median and up by the woods, which snapped on out of the pinewoods murky darkness just after I blew by.

Well, maybe the shock wave woke up some couple necking or somesuch, thinks left brain.
Nuh uh, points out right brain, as the headlights describe a slow arc across the highway towards my side, as I zoom out of sight around the next few curves.

Besides noticing that the car is suddenly a good deal warmer, several things occur to me, with an astonishing speed:
I'm military personnel in a state that loves to jerk military personnel around, undoubtedly with some justification after 60 years of knuckleheads.
I'm in a car with California plates in backwoods North Carolina.
I'm doing 90 in a 55 zone.
That was almost certainly a state trooper, whose coffee and doughnuts just got interrupted, if not actually his nap.
He may not have noticed anything but a blur and headlights.
If I stop now, I'm the only thing moving on the road, and I'll be caught, cleaned, and filleted in about a minute.
At 90MPH, I'm covering a mile every 40 seconds. That means I'm already two miles ahead of where he was just over a minute go.
It's going to take him a minute or two to catch me, even with 125MPH on tap.
Since I'm already screwed, don't slow down!!!

So I floored it, in the 3 seconds it took to figure all that out. Still no sign of him in my rear view mirror. Also no sign of anyone else.

So for another minute or two, I'm flying. I didn't know an Escort could do 100MPH without pieces coming off, but so far, so good.

And then, a miracle occurred. The two-lane highway passes through a town, with a no-kidding four-way stoplight. And mine is red.

So after popping the drogue chute, throwing out the speed brakes, downshifting, and everything else but popping the hood up to slow me down, I make the stop without laying rubber or totalling the car. And STILL no sign of Deputy Dawg in my rear view.

As I'm sweating bullets waiting the endless interval (probably 10 seconds) for the light to switch, another miracle. Out of nowhere, three cars pull up to the stop, one going in each of the other directions!

Thank you Jesus!
Light goes green for me, and off I go, now at the posted 55MPH.
Everyone else, I see in my mirror, does likewise.
So now Dawg'll have 4 targets to choose amongst.

And then, a mile or two beyond Podunk, the road turns north (at last!), because somewhere ahead is the Atlantic Ocean, and I'm on the home stretch to Swamp Lejeune. And STILL no state highway patrol cruiser in my mirror.

So about two minutes later, I'm heading north on a two-lane road through the pines of Nowhere. A car appears behind me.  With highbeams on. But since I'm obviously nearer to civilization than I was an hour ago, I think nothing of it.

Until, in about 45 seconds, it makes up the two miles from the curve to me, and flying around me in the opposite direction lane, I see two NC Highway Patrol officers in their cruiser, tail wigwags flashing, going like a bat out of hell at what had to be every bit of 125MPH.



And about another mile or two ahead, the only other car on the road with little old me doing my legal 55MPH, I see the back end of their cruiser pop up, and the brake lights snap on.

And they start shining their spotlights up dirt roads and driveways on both sides of the road.

Now, I'm laughing so hard my sides hurt.

A couple of minutes later I pass two really pissed off officers, doing about 10 MPH along a dirt side road, obviously looking for the sumbitch who interrupted their naptime a few minutes earlier, on the other side of the county, in an unlicensed rocket-powered dragster.

No way was some kid in a 4-cyl. Ford Escort impersonating Richard Petty.

I cruised onto the relative safety of the base at 1135 PM, and checked in with the Duty NCO at 1152PM.

Better luck next time, boys.


Paul said...

Now that is funny. Good thing you where in a escort instead of a 6 cylinder firebird.

Tam said...

You know what we called NC in GA and TN, right? "The California of the South." ;)

Aesop said...

My experience in the mid-80s was that the television chronicles of Andy Griffith were far more documentarian than anyone thereabouts wold have liked to admit.

But we could tell who'd been pulled over by local law enforcement, generally by the imprints of their two hand in the hood when whacked across both sets of knuckles by a nightstick.

OTOH, the people there from GA and TN assured me that NC had "mild" winters, which snow on my head while walking to the local mall one fall Saturday evidenced a decided lack of a common English dictionary frame of reference.

But I love that there's always some overachiever way ahead of analyzing these things than I am:

I will say that the only way Bakersfield got beat out by Sacramento is that Bakersfield probably doesn't have any Yellow Pages, so the sampling methodology missed a lot of its finest qualities.

Anonymous said...

Nerves of steel. I never could have pulled it off. I salute you, sir.

Windy Wilson said...

Thanks for the story. I once worked for a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, and one time he told me about how he had the trip from his parent's home in Venice CA to his base in TX calculated right down to the minute so he would return with mere minutes to spare.

Windy Wilson said...

You do know the Escort was a real hotrod in European trim, so this performance shouldn't be so surprising. My '83 Jetta was flat out at probably 90 mph, the yahoos at DOT determining that it was a safety measure to only let the speedometer indicate up to 85 mph.

Aesop said...

Happy to oblige.

I was none too impressed with the Escort, as it had replaced a '69 Mustang with a 302 that I'd had up to 130+ when I was immortal and stupid.

I later found out that the Escort had a thing called a "timing belt" which I also learned is essentially the Jesus Nut for the whole engine. I also noted that Ford had cleverly marked the replacement interval - at 60K miles - on the grease-covered plate under the hood, which I inspected right after the thing snapped at precisely 60,003 miles. The only thing that saved me replacing most of the engine was the phenomenal luck that I'd been shifting between gears when the rubber band broke, otherwise I was informed there would have been a handy trail of bent rods and parts to find my way back home.