(To be read as though you're reading a cheap detective paperback novel. Think of Joe Friday.)
Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning I found myself "riding dirty."
While in Wichita for my high school reunion I checked Craigslist and found a Chevrolet SSR at a good price so I called my friend Randy. He's an auto broker and had been interested in an SSR. He called the seller and made a deal and I agreed to finish the transaction and drive the car back to Denver.
Problem? No tag. No temporary tag. I'd have to drive over 500 miles without benefit of legal cover. I'd be riding dirty.
Now I've driven a car before without a tag. You know, something that I bought and drove a few blocks or even across town, but this...this was big. This was 500 miles with no cover.
I worked on my alibi. I had it all down pat. They could throw me in the hole. They could use the rubber hose on me but I would not change my story.
Here was my response: "Whaaaat? You mean it's wrong? I wish someone would have told me. I had no idea it was against the law to drive a car without a license tag."
Yeah, that's what I planned to say.
I was reminded of an old black and white movie starring Robert Mitchum. It was called Thunder Road and it detailed guys in the 50's who ran bootleg whiskey in hopped up cars.
I envisioned myself as one of them as I drove that purple hot rod across I-70 on a cloudless autumn day.
The strains of the movie soundtrack ran through my mind. I tinkered with the words...
"Let me tell the story. I can tell it all
About the mountain boy who ran illegal in the fall
Randy did the dealin. Tim, he drove the load
And when his engine roared they called the highway Thunder Road."
This run would be the holy grail of driving without a tag.
Leaving Wichita late on Tuesday afternoon I found myself on sensory overload. I was inspecting every car for signs of the Law. I knew if they were coming toward me I'd be okay but I couldn't let some cagey patrolman approach on my rear flank.
I had some cover. Jane was driving our car and I positioned her behind me with specific instructions. "Don't let anyone get between you and me." She didn't. One other thing I did was to put a dealer's advertisement on the rear bumper where the tag should go. I hoped the Law would think it indicated a car out on a test drive. I also counted on the tinted windows being dark enough to make the Law assume there was a temporary paper tag stuck in the back window.
We pulled in to Hays, Kansas, and decided to spend the night. Hiding the car out of sight I slept fitfully, wondering if the SWAT team had been sent to find us yet. If so, they failed.
Wednesday morning we loaded into the two vehicles, filled up with fuel and hit the highway. Early. While the cops were still in the donut shops.
For the next 300 miles cops were everywhere. My palms grew sweaty as I gripped the wheel tighter every time I saw another patrol car. I spotted nine. that's right. NINE. And I dodged everyone.
And then, just when I thought I was home free I spotted a patrol car coming up behind Jane. I got on the phone and called her, "Keep as close to me as you can." And he stayed on her bumper. We were on a two lane and for 20 miles he rode her bumper. I kept praying that he'd turn off. He didn't. Then we came to one of those passing areas. I moved far to the right. Jane stayed on my bumper. The patrolman pulled out to pass. I'd be vulnerable, uncovered, naked. No tag. Would the jig be up?
No!!! He pulled around Jane and with my heart pounding he passed me. Whew! That was close. Adrenaline surged through my body. I never felt so alive! Just 20 more miles and I delivered the car.
"And there was thunder, thunder, over Thunder Road
Thunder was his engine and a hot rod was his load.
And there was moonshine, moonshine to quench the devil's thirst
The law they swore they'd get him but McDonalds got him first."