It was 1981 and I had just acquired my newest fun car, a pristine 1975 Cosworth Vega. After sorting some things out, replacing a few items and updating minor things like tires and an exhaust, I longed to take it on a trip. My old friend Bill had called and asked me to come down to Hallandale to see his new truck race in the mud. Not really my cup of tea, but it would be nice to see him again. I took off early one Friday just after 2 PM. I was ready for the weekend drive.
As I cruised over the Skyway bridge, I took pride in the new sound my exhaust made against the inside barrier of the bridge. I exited to route 64 around Bradenton. Getting off the exit felt like leaving the last vestiges of civilization. Downshifting into second I let the engine growl back down to an idle before the stop sign. I was headed toward Sebring!
I wound the little engine up a bit, in first and second, listening for sounds of trouble and watching the temperature gauge carefully. In third gear, I let it wind past 5000 RPM just because I liked the sound. Finally I pulled the crappy shifter slowly back that half mile into fourth gear, blipping the throttle in between. The speed limit on the road was 55 and I was traveling about 70 still. It felt really good. I slipped in the only Stones tape I owned, "High Tide and Green Grass". “Satisfaction” blared through the speakers as I turned up the volume and sang along. It was a great driving song for the Cosworth.
The call of the engine forced me to edge the tach up a bit past the 4000 mark. The exhaust was blatting happily, practically begging me. However, I was hesitant: what would I do if something broke out here? The idea of a redneck wielding a pry bar and a hammer over my little jewel made me involuntarily shudder. The spring air, the exhaust note, the engine turned gold plastic dash and a pair of overhead camshafts overruled my sense of caution. I gave it a go about 15 miles outside Zolfo Springs. There was absolutely no one on the road. This kept getting better and better. Mick was in fine voice.
After I hit 5500, I knew I was over a hundred, but the engine, not yet sounding frantic, but only excited, like it was doing what it was built to do, told me I had to try for an even 6000. I knew that was just short of 115 and I vowed that was where I would stop: despite the care I had given it, I had no real idea bout the condition of the engine inside and pressing things was not a good idea. I crept up to and held it at 6000 RPM feeling like I was near to breaking the sound barrier, the little car still feeling remarkably stable on the reasonably straight and narrow road at times. It really liked to run up there.
When, after a mile or so I backed down slowly, I listened to the grumble of the exhaust; she was like a greyhound and she wanted to run. My grin was practically ear to ear. No satisfaction indeed!
That grin was caught short when, just as I was slowing for the last five miles before Zolfo Springs, a very familiar bubble gum machine zoomed past me, seemingly out of nowhere. I couldn’t see the eyes of the state policeman, but his dark glasses met mine with a sense that indicated serious business. Quickly looking down, I realized I had been doing about 4000 RPM. That was about 72. Expletive deleted! Mick was singing for him to get off of my cloud but it had no effect.
Watching behind me in the rear view mirror, hoping against hope, I saw him apply his brakes hard and pull to the side of the road to turn around. Cursing to myself, I brought the car down below the speed limit of 55 and waited for the inevitable. At less than 3000 RPM, the poor car felt like it was hardly moving.
I have decided that you know you have been pulled over too many times when the sight of the police car lights in your rear view mirror doesn’t immediately send your heart to your stomach. Instead I automatically reached for the glove box to get the registration as I pulled over and stopped. I thought I might get an edge by being polite. Hoping to meet him at his cruiser, as soon as I opened the door, I heard a very stern, “Remain seated inside the car!” over his bull horn. I pulled the door closed again, making sure my seatbelt was still properly fastened. Would he see the gold dashboard and the four speed and automatically think “hot rod”? There was no way to disguise the fact. Would he find my tickets from South Carolina? I had no idea whether they shared information, but I hoped not. I wondered how fast he thought I was going. I started to reprimand myself, but it didn’t work; I told myself to keep my attitude positive and my answers polite.
“License and registration!” came the demand suddenly at the window on my left. Startled, I immediately handed him both just as a green Chevy Impala drove past well below the speed limit, the middle aged female passenger looking at me as if I had just spit on the American flag. I just knew she was married to someone who molested sheep. The engine ticked as it cooled next to the big field of grass. My ears were still ringing a bit from the high speed. The relative silence felt awkward and strange. I could feel the sweat rolling down my back against the white vinyl. I looked up, trying to appear relaxed, at the broad brim and the sunglasses, the mouth quietly chewing gum like a hay bailer working before a storm. I just hoped he wouldn’t spit.
“D’y’all know how fast you was goin’?” he asked matter of factly, still looking at my license as if to determine I was an extra-terrestrial.
“No sir! I just bought this car and I’m not sure how accurate the speedometer is, but don’t think I was going over 60.” I hoped that God would forgive me for lying about speeding.
He didn’t miss a beat and without missing a chew, he said, “Over 70 is more laak it!” he snapped. I wished I had seen what model of radar he had. I could see the gun on his dash but I didn’t know which one it was. I decided it best not to ask at this point.
“As I said, sir, I realize I was going a little too fast and I apologize for that,” I said trying to sound repentant. Politeness counts with policemen sometimes.
“What kind of work d’ya do?” he asked without an intonation change. I wondered how often they had to practice sounding like Jack Webb. He wasn’t all that authoritative, but he was wearing the uniform.
“I’m an electronics engineer for the US government,” I replied, trying to make this into a bit of flag waving. He wasn’t having any of it and chewed away steadily.
“Where are you headed in such a hurry?” he asked, still writing things down. If I didn’t dissuade him quickly I was going to have a fine on my hands.
“I am driving to Hallandale for a business meeting, officer” I lied again. I could feel God writing down my remarks for the future reference.
“Well, sir, I clocked you at 72 miles per hour and that’s reckless drivin’!” he said emphasizing his pride in the ellipsis. Finally my heart hit my feet.
“Well, I’m very sorry, sir, but I really didn’t think I was going that fast and…” he cut me off.
Handing me his metal clipboard and the pen, he announced, “This says that you were going 63 in a 55 mph zone. We both know you was goin’ faster, so consider this carefully before you drive this fast agin.”
I took the clipboard and signed the ticket. It was amazing how familiar this procedure had become in my life. There was absolutely no way I was going to get out of this so I took it with the spirit of getting, at least, a break.
“Do you know how much this is going to cost me, officer?” I asked.
The cost schedules are written on the back” he said looking off into the field across the street at something else that may have been violating his Nazi law. His jaws never missed their regular motion. I found it amazing that he could talk like that.
With a practiced hand, he tore off my portion and handed it to me. As I took it, he said, “And you better get that speedometer checked before you go that fast again! We patrol 27 pretty closely this time of day so you best keep it down to the speed limit,” he said looking me squarely in the eye for the first time. I nodded at him, partially grateful for the courtesy.
I thanked him and leaning over, I carefully tucked the ticket and registration back into the glove box. I eyed him in the rear view mirror, watching him return to his cruiser before starting the car. As I pulled out slowly, he followed me for a mile or so and then turned off into a gas station. Probably he was going to wait there for some other poor slob to come by. It gave new meaning to the Stones’ lack of satisfaction. At least I now knew what they meant!
I stayed at the speed limit for all of about 10 miles and then dared the world a bit as I crept up past 60 to right around 62. It seemed like I was practically crawling now and although the little engine never complained, it just wanted to run. I found myself wondering whether I should have checked the oil while I was stopped. Why hadn’t someone at Chevrolet put in an oil pressure gauge instead of the stupid clock?
I passed four police cars on the remaining trip, catching my paranoia short of thinking they were all out there to give me tickets. It was, after all, a Friday night approaching a weekend.
I pulled into Bill’s driveway just past 6:30. The trip odometer read 257 miles so I had made pretty good time at just over 4 hours, even with the speed traps and having to travel 50 in a few places. Nevertheless I was wound up tighter than a drum. What a great friggin’ trip this had started out to be!
Knocking on his door, I looked back at the pretty black car and smiled. She had performed well for her first outing. I could hear her tick as she cooled down for a well deserved rest. I would come out and check her oil later. She really was quite pretty with the black and gold, even with the bugs spattered on the windshield. I wondered where Bill’s truck was as I waited.