Inexorable angst over teenage driving notwithstanding, I am reminded of what it was like to be that age, hankering for some small semblance of freedom that could only be found in personal transportation. For me, it was a street legal Suzuki dirt bike my dad purchased for my brother and me at the age of 12. By the time I turned the ripe old age of 14 my brother had a car and I had a motorcycle license in my wallet. Yes, back in the day all you had to do at 14 was pass the driver’s permit written examination and the State of Alabama would give you a motorcycle license. Newfound freedom was indeed sweet but also delivered my first direct interaction with local law enforcement.
The only wreck I ever had on a motorcycle happened right in front of the chief of police. I was headed to a friend’s house, making a turn off Hwy 43 past Elk Food Mart across from the police station. The bike came out from under me on some loose gravel in the intersection. It wasn’t that bad, I wasn’t going all that fast. As I picked up the bike and surveyed my scraped up body parts, I saw that the Chief of Police had stopped at the same intersection in time to view the incident. I had just laid my bike down not eight feet from his driver’s side door. Surely, he was going to take my license away and not allow 14 year-olds to ride motorcycles anymore and it would be all my fault. The Chief rolled his window down and asked, “You OK son?” With a simple “Yes Sir,” he was gone. The occasion of our next meeting lasted much longer.
One Sunday night after church I decided to take advantage of a long summer day and enjoy a ride out to the lock and dam on the river before dark. Approaching the s-turn that cuts across the railroad tracks from W. Jackson Street over to Lock and Dam Road, I got stuck behind an old junker that was billowing oily smoke all over me and doing all of 10 miles an hour. Even though there was a double line on the turn, he was going so slow I decided to pass anyway. About the time I was ready to zip back into my lane, not one, but two patrol cars with lights flashing came flying around the turn right at me. Fortunately, I managed to squeeze back in front of the junker before being run over by my hometown’s finest. It didn’t kill me, but it just about scared me to death. I was so shook up that I was almost to Foscue Park before I noticed that wherever the two cops were going in such a hurry, they must have only needed one of them, because the other one came to get me.
The officer checked my credentials and escorted me back to the police station. After sitting for a few painstaking minutes I was taken into an office to see none other than Chief Johnson. He sat there quietly looking at my license and finally asked, “You live over on Strawberry Street?” “Yes Sir.” “That big yellow house?” “Yes sir.” “Your dad works at the paper mill?” “Yes Sir.” “Come on go with me.” He didn’t even have to say it; I knew he was taking me home. “Can’t you just write me a ticket?” “Nope, your dad will take care of this.” Having my mother answer the front door to our house with me standing alongside the Chief of Police is all the motivation I have ever needed to stay out of jail. As suspected, Dad took care of it.