#TBT: They Aren’t Loaded; They Just Smell Bad


My Engine looked like this.I ran this post back in summer 2011. Then, Budge and I got pulled over recently and the way the traffic stop went reminded me of this particular event. Hope you like it.

Lately, I have taken to perusing the classified ads gathered on Craigslist.com. Yesterday, I found the car of my dreams could be mine for $25K or the best offer. The car was a 1969 Chevelle SS 396, and it was hauntingly similar to Marilyn, the ’69 Chevelle SS 396 Daddy bought for me after I wrecked my beloved ’79 Mustang.

Like the car in Craigslist, Marilyn had a Chevy big block 396 cubic inch engine under the hood bolted to a racing transmission. I loved that car. I miss that car every day. I sold her to help pay for my last semester of college and to take care of some debts I owed. If I had it to go over with again — knowing what I know now — I’d have kept the car, bad credit be damned, and dropped out of college. By now, the car would be worth more than my degree is anyway and I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot happier with the car than I’ve been with the degree.

Marilyn looked just like this only with white SS stripes on the hood and trunk lid and a white interior.

Looking at that Chevelle in the classifieds, then looking at the weatherman promising a week of sweltering days ahead led me back in my mind to the summer when I was 17 and had just gotten Marilyn on the road with her newly rebuilt, highly tuned engine.

Back then, gas was hovering around $1.25 for the premium her engine required, which was good because Marilyn would pass anything on the road but a gas station. I used to joke with my buddies how she got 60 mpg, until I dropped the engine and transmission in, then the mileage went down to about 7 mpg . . . downhill . . . with a tailwind . . . and no passengers.

She was NOT an economy car. Of course, I knew that when I built her, but I couldn’t have cared less. Why should I? I was a teenage boy with a decent job and no bills, a pretty girlfriend, and what at the time looked like a great life full of promise ahead of me. In short, life was good and the days were long; it was summertime in South Carolina.

The particular day I remember was exceptionally hot. We’re talking “two hobbits climbing Mount Doom” HOT, and unlike the complete restoration I found in Craigslist, Marilyn didn’t have one nice luxury — AIR CONDITIONING. Now, she had the vent system, controls, and spot on the firewall where an A/C unit had been when she left Detroit, but in the 20 years between that day and the one in question, the unit had disappeared. I had every intention of replacing the climate control right up until I found out doing so would cost $2000 — in 1987 dollars. On my $3 per hour stocking job at Community Cash, the likelihood of me getting such a head of lettuce together was somewhere between slim and none, and slim had saddled up and left town.

Since I didn’t have the factory A/C, I made use of an aftermarket system called the 2WD70MPH model. That was short for “2 windows down going 70 miles per hour.” As long as Marilyn was moving she stayed cool. You did NOT want to be stuck in traffic though. In addition to the scorching ambient heat, it is amazing how much heat a pair of aluminum headers on a 396 cubic inch Chevy big-block generate as they pass right under your feet. My car was HOT in more ways than one.

Due to this lack of climate control, it was my custom in those days to drive shirtless and shoeless. At the time, I could still take my shirt off without getting complaints from the International Space Station about the glare, or some crazy man with a peg leg and a harpoon trying to stab me while shouting “Thar she blows!” I actually had a waist. Like I said, it was 1987.

Now, here’s an important tidbit of information — in the state of South Carolina, it is illegal to drive barefooted. Did you know that? Guess what? Neither did I, and thereupon hangs the rest of this story.

I was on my way to Gray Court from Laurens running about 85 mph up Highway 14 with my AC/DC “Back In Black” CASSETTE TAPE (!!!! remember those anybody? !!!) cranked to 11 when I passed the old fruit market in Barksdale. Did you know that stretch of road happens to be a 55 mph speed limit zone? Guess what? NEITHER DID I! However, the nice man in the grey car with the blue lights who pulled out behind me would enlighten me once all the soon ensuing excitement died down.

So, to set the scene, Smokey Bear was behind me and the road was too straight and the day too bright for me to out run him. I was caught dead to rights. Reluctantly, I pulled over, cut Marilyn off, and waited. Trooper Douglas walked up beside my the car and said, in the same half-bored, half-irritated tone I’d heard quite a few times before, “Son, get your license and registration and step out of the car.” Remember how I said I drove barefooted? Now imagine how hot the asphalt on the highway had to be. No way I was “stepping out of the car” barefooted. I needed to get my pair of blue canvas Nikes (!!!! remember those anybody? !!!) and put them on.

Guess where they were? Under the seat.

But there was just one of him. Of course, he was PLENTY.

Gentle friends, a word of advice — should need ever arise for you to retrieve something, ANYTHING, from under the seat of a hot rod in the middle of July with a large and somewhat aggravated member of law enforcement standing beside your open window . . . tell the man (or woman) what you need and what you are about to do before you move. No one ever gave me such sage advice, so I didn’t say anything; I just nodded, quickly reached down between my legs, and stuck my right hand under the seat almost to the elbow.

At that point, the day got a lot more interesting.

For reasons I now understand perfectly, but had no concept of then, Trooper Douglas took exception to me reaching under the seat for some unknown, unseen object and  being a man of action, reached through the open window, seized me under the left armpit and with ONE ARM snatched me bodily through the open window, flipped me — shirtless and spreadeagled — across Marilyn‘s hood, drew and thumb-cocked his .357 magnum service revolver (1987, no Glocks), then placed said revolver’s muzzle right against my left temple with his hand still pressing me firmly into the sheet metal of the hood.

As a matter of fact, that hole DID look this big or maybe a mite bigger.

Time stopped.

Somewhere off in the distance a mourning dove cooed out his sad song. A lone dog barked. I heard a radio across the meadow playing Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”. My nose was filled with the smell of chest and thigh flesh roasting on the superheated sheet-metal of my car hood. I remember thinking two things quite clearly and quickly. First, I thought,”Well, Mama, wearing clean underwear whenever I went out presupposes the underwear would still be clean once they examine my body.” In this case, it most certainly wasn’t. Second, I thought, “This is gonna hurt bad, but at least it ain’t gonna hurt long.”

After an eternity, Trooper Douglas spoke and his voice rolled down like Moses commanding the Red Sea to part for the Children of Israel, “Son, just what in the hell (pronounced in the stereotypical Southern lawman two syllable way “hay-yill”) do you think you are reaching for?”

Somehow or another, a primitive part of my brain realized my survival depended on the careful wording of my answer so I said, somewhere between a sob and a whimper, “Um, shoes, sir; my canvas Nikes, Sir. They are under my seat and I promise they aren’t loaded; they just smell real bad.”

Love y’all. Stay cool, keep your feet clean, and drive with your shoes on in South Carolina.


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