I ain't hurtin' nobody. I ain't hurtin' no one.
I enrolled at Oklahoma State University in 1966, just as the Vietnam War was heating up. The rules were quite clear. Boys could avoid the draft for four years if they kept their grades up. But if they flunked out, they’d be drafted and probably go to Vietnam.
I still remember some of my dorm buddies who lived with me in Cordell Hall, a four-story neo-Georgian monstrosity located near the ROTC drill field. No air conditioning. Most of us were poor or nearly poor or we wouldn’t have been living there.
I remember Alton and Bobby, two freshmen from southwestern Oklahoma. Alton was from the little town of Amber; Bobby was from the nearby hamlet of Pocasset. If you asked them where they were from, they both would say Am-Po, expecting you to know that they were referring to the Amber-Pocasset Metropolitan Area.
And there was another kid whose name I’ve forgotten who was clinically shy and morbidly frail. His skin was almost translucent, which gave him the appearance of a young girl. I’m ashamed to say the guys in the dorm nicknamed him Elsie. He never objected.
Everyone liked Elsie, partly because he had something most of us didn’t have: a car. His parents loaned him their 1961 Chrysler Imperial, perhaps the ugliest car ever made. It had all sorts of buttons and gadgets, including power windows, which I had never seen before.
Elsie was incredibly generous with his car and loaned it to just about anyone who asked. One Saturday during the fall semester, Alton wanted to go to Oklahoma City to see his girlfriend, and he asked Elsie if he could borrow the Chrysler. Oklahoma City was 120 miles away, but Elsie offered to drive him there. Several bored freshmen joined the expedition, and six or seven of us piled into the Imperial for the run to OKC.
But Elsie didn’t drive us. Alton insisted on taking the wheel, and when we got out on Interstate 35, he said, “Let’s see how fast this baby can go.” In an instant, we were hurtling south at 120 miles an hour. No seat belts.
I was terrified but I didn’t have the courage to tell Alton to slow down. Then I looked through the rear window, and I saw a Highway Patrol cruiser closing in on us--siren wailing.
Alton panicked when he heard the siren. In a desperate attempt to get his speed down to double digits, he stomped down on the brake pedal and jerked up the hand brake. That definitely slowed us down.
Alton laid down about 100 feet of skid marks, which you can probably still see on Interstate 35. In an instant, the whole car was filled with smoke and the smell of burning rubber and fried brake pads.
We’re in big trouble now, I thought. But the cop didn’t seem concerned about the fact that seven idiot teenagers were apparently trying to kill themselves in a Chrysler. The cop said hardly a word; he just wrote Alton a speeding ticket and drove away in his cruiser.
Am-Po Bobby also had a car, an old Chevy Nova; and every Monday night he chauffeured a bunch of freshmen to Griff’s Drive-In. Griff’s sold tiny hamburgers for 15 cents apiece, and on Monday nights it sold them for a dime. Pooling our resources, we could usually scrape up three bucks, which would buy us 30 hamburgers. We all ate four apiece, and a couple of big eaters would eat five. Oh, we were living high!
One Monday night, we were waiting in Griff’s drive-through lane and Bobby spotted a metal gasoline can behind Griff’s back door. Bobby got out of the car, shook the can, and confirmed there was fuel in it. Free gas! Bobby put the gas can in the backseat of his car, and we picked up our 30 burgers at the drive-through window.
Unfortunately for Bobby, an alert Griff’s employee witnessed the theft and called the Stillwater police. A cruiser arrived immediately, and an elderly officer gave us all a lecture on stealing. He confiscated the gas can and then walked to the back of Bobby’s car to jot down the license plate number.
And what did Stillwater’s finest see on the rear bumper? A sticker that said, “Support Your Local Fuzz.” Now we’re really in trouble, I thought. We’re going to be arrested, OSU will kick us out of school, and we’ll all wind up in Vietnam.
But the officer had seen moron college students before and knew we were basically harmless. He just shook his head when he saw the bumper sticker and drove off without even giving us a citation.
|The 1960 Chrysler Imperial: Power windows!|
|Oklahoma Highway Patrol: "Let's be careful out there."|