Saturday, June 23, 2007

Law-Abiding Racer ...

Did you ever drag race against a police car? I did one day. Allow me to explain.
When my family moved to Beaumont in 1940, both Pearl and Orleans Streets in downtown were two-way streets. I remember riding in the back seat of our 1938 Plymouth. There was one lane going north and one lane going south. And there was horizontal parking on either side of both streets. This made for some really compact driving.
Sometimes I would ride with my mother to pick up my dad from work. Dad was a C. P. A. and worked for Mr. O. H. Maschek. Their offices were downtown in the Goodhue Building which was located at the intersection of Pearl and Crockett Streets.
This meant that Mom had to drive north in rush-hour traffic up Pearl Street. There was a policeman on every intersection and the traffic lights were set to where you had to stop nearly every block. When the signal lights turned green, the policemen blew their whistles constantly and waved their hands frantically for every car to get moving. After picking up my dad, we would go over to Orleans Street and head back out to South Park.
Anyway, by the time I received my driver’s license in 1950, Pearl Street had been changed to one-way heading north. Orleans Street had been made one-way heading south. This provided a smoother flow of traffic in the downtown area. Before the shopping malls started springing up, everyone did their shopping in the downtown department stores.
This arrangement with the one-way streets also made a perfect drag for teenagers to while away the time. I had passed my driving test in my mother’s 1939 Buick. When I got my driver’s license, I assumed ownership of that old Buick. I am not sure how all of this came to be but our family started referring to the old car as, “Winston’s Buick.” I was proud. That old car sported a radio and had indicator lights in the rear. Always wondered why that model Buick had indicator lights in the rear but not in the front. I used hand signals anyway. There was no air-conditioner so the windows were always down.
That Buick had a standard transmission with three forward gears. I would start out in first gear and manage to, “burn a little rubber.” Then I would cram the shifter into second gear and finally to third gear. I never knew why but if I ran fast in second gear then crammed it to third gear, sparks and fire would emit from the exhaust pipe. This was lots of fun, especially at night when the fire showed up really good.
Oh yes, what about the police car? Well, one afternoon, I was driving north on Pearl Street in the left lane. I had “burned rubber” at the last two traffic lights and was sitting at the third signal waiting for the green light. A police car pulled up next to me in the right lane. Our windows were down. I was afraid he was going to lecture me about the evils of making the tires squeal. But instead he asked, “ Ya’ wanna drag?” I didn’t know what to say so I said OK. When the light changed we both “got rubber.” However the police car jumped ahead of me and waited at the next red light for me to catch up. We drag raced all the way up Pearl Street. Then the cop yelled over to me, “Hope you had fun and I hope you got it out of your system. Don’t ever let me catch you drag racing again.”
And you know what? I never drag raced again.
Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise


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