It was the summer of 1973, full of freedom and possibilities. I had just purchased a new car, or at least new to me. A finely crafted piece of American engineering, with all of the essentials for pursuing a young red-blooded male’s needs: speed and impressing girls.
This Adonis of American motoring was called the Chevrolet Nova - a 1972 chrome and steel work of art. Equipped with a small block 350 cubic inch engine, slotted chrome and black hood air intake, Thrush muffler and pipes, Cragar mag wheels, appropriately sized wide tires with taller rear tires, brown metallic paint, and a five speed manual transmission. A thing of beauty, especially for someone that couldn't afford a Camaro. I was able to purchase the car from money that I earned working in the tobacco fields near Cedar Grove each summer. The car also became a consumer of that source of income in order to keep up to date with the latest chrome, new tires, and gas, lots of gas.
When a young man owns such a fine automobile, he has to be on the road. Of the many alterations that I made to my gleaming chariot, the coolest was the rear air shock absorbers. Being a minister's son, it was expected that I not appear to be some hot rodding, teenage bad boy. So, having a car that was jacked up in the rear was not allowed. But I was able to work around that by installing the air shocks. The air shock inflation valve was hidden in the trunk behind the spare tire. Whenever I would leave home I would stop by the nearest filling station and "pump up" the shocks, elevating the rear bumper another foot off the ground. To the casual observer it appeared as though the car was legitimately raised with blocks and leaf springs. Then when I would return home at night from a date or whatever, I would stop at the end of the road that we lived on and crawl into the trunk to lower the rear of the car by letting the air out of the shocks. I was so smart.
Now you have an adequate picture of how cool I really was, I mean am. And that is where the story really begins. When a young man acquires such a hot ride, he no longer can be seen in his parent’s vehicle - at least when he can afford his own gas.
My father was the minister at a very rural, and by that I mean country, church about 30 miles from our home. This was the same area of the county where I worked in the tobacco fields every summer from the time I was 8 years old. Since I could afford the gas, I convinced my parents that I should drive to church every Sunday in my own car rather than ride with them and my sisters. The only condition was that I had to be there every service on Sunday and be there on time. This was no problem. I knew the area roads and highways like the back of my hand and could maneuver the short cuts with ease and always be on time. Of course on occasion this required leaving bits of rubber at each stop sign along the route or acknowledging that the posted 65 miles per hour was just a suggestion or a good starting point.
One Sunday morning I was lagging behind schedule a bit. In retrospect it was probably due to a few detours past the homes of a couple of girls that I thought might like to see or hear me drive by once or twice. Anyway, I realized that I needed to be getting to the morning church service and in a hurry too. Since it was necessary for me to try to take a few short cuts there was really not a lot of stretches of road to really make up some time by utilizing the robust power plant under the metallic brown hood of the Nova. There was a considerable stretch of straightaway on Highway 86 that ran right in front of Five Forks Baptist Church, also known as the finish line. I knew that I could bring it in just in time by putting my foot into it on that 5 mile stretch.
I was tooling along in the neighborhood of 80, plus or minus 10 just in case my mother reads this, and I crested a hill about a mile from the church. There, just pulling off to the left shoulder of the two lane highway, was
Barney one of North Carolina's finest State Troopers waiting for me. I took my foot off of the gas, but it was too late. Since a lengthy line of traffic was passing the trooper he couldn't immediately turn around and give chase. Even though the car was in fifth gear, my mind and reasoning abilities were not engaged accordingly. For some reason, it seemed that I might be able to pull one over on the Highway Patrol.
As I disappeared over the next rise in the road I could see in my rear view mirror that the trooper was just now turning to give pursuit. "I know, I'll pull into the church parking lot and go inside." It was brilliant. No patrolman would expect that. So I careened into the church parking lot and hopped out. Briskly walking into the church sanctuary I still did not see the cop. In getting to my pew just as the service began I had met my dad's requirements again.
While the morning welcome was given and the announcements were being read, there seemed to be some interesting looks come over the faces of the choir members in the loft behind the pulpit. A gentle nudge on my shoulder wanting me to slide over let me know exactly what had caught the choir’s attention. Sitting beside me now was the biggest North Carolina Highway Patrolman I had ever seen, in a uniform crisply pressed, spit and polish, wide brimmed hat in hand, with service revolver and handcuffs.
My mind was spinning. All right, so he drove through the parking lot and found my car, I get that. But how did he know that it was me and in that pew? Now what? Is he going to arrest me right here in church? Handcuff me and walk me out while my dad is up there preaching? Either way I knew that I was a dead man walking.
Then Trooper Johnston leaned over to me and whispered in my ear. "Son, I know who you are. I know who your father is. I also know that giving you a ticket right now will not be the worst of your problems. So I am going to let you off with a warning because no ticket and fine is going to be as bad as what will happen to you later today." Ah, the man was a prophet.
After the service my dad motioned for me to come to his study in the back of the church. When I got into the office his first words were "what was that all about?" In my usual way I thought that I could diffuse the situation by injecting a little humor into the conversation. "Well Dad, you know how you are always after us to bring visitors to church, I just happened to pick one up by the highway on the way to the service."
I guess I could relate to you what transpired after that, but somehow I think that you already know.