Artwork by Chris Hahn

The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

With all the attention police are getting all across the country, perhaps I can kick in some of my experiences.

I have Paula with me in my old, souped-up Chevy. It’s 1965. She’s a nurse, just finished a night shift. I had just picked her up after my band gig, and although it’s 3:00 am, we’re headed south to Ottumwa, Iowa, where she lives. Late at night like this, since I like to drive fast, I figure it’s a good time to blow the cobwebs out of the Chevy.  There’s little traffic, Paula is asleep (or, it occurs to me now, trying not to view her certain death), the speedometer is so far off as to be useless because of my tinkering with the gear ratio, I’m probably going somewhere around a hundred miles per, when I blow by a dark wooded area. As I go by, I think to myself: Good place for a speed trap.

The road south is arrow-straight, and very up-down hilly. I look behind me at the tops of hills, which are going by me like a roller coaster. I see headlights. At another top, again. Then, again, and oh, oh, they’re gaining on me. I overtake a car going some normal speed, pass him perfectly between two hills, but several hills and miles later, I see it’s no use. Those headlights are gaining on me. I slow down to the speed limit, and sure enough, it’s a cop, he lights me up and I pull over. 

He walks up to me, asks me to get out. I cannot shut my engine off; it’s too hot, too high compression. It won’t start if I do. So it sits there and grumbles, duals smoking because the Offenhauser intake manifold is flooding a bit.

“Lift the hood,” he orders. I do, confused. What’s he going to do, shoot my engine? He shines his flashlight in. “Okay, what am I looking at here,” he asks me. I list what I’ve done. Dual carbs, ¾ grind cam, magnafluxed and balanced. It’s a long list. He says: “I used to have a car just like this, and I just wanted to know what it took to make it go fast.” He writes me a warning, gives me the eye, says he cannot ticket me because it’s too hilly to “get the radar on me,”  says: “You know that car you passed back there?”

Uh huh, I say. The slowpoke.  The patrolman says: “I’m getting him next. He was going 90 mph.”

I’m just barely back from Vietnam. It’s 1969. I’m appearing before a judge for going 39 mph in a 30 mph zone. I’m walking to the front, my hair –five months long—is messed up from the ride over on the bike. The judge in his nice black robe sneers at me and says something like: “No wonder you’re here; your hair is a mess.” I want to say to him: “That’s nothing. You should see inside my head.” But I don’t. 

It’s then about 1977. I’m up here, learning the plumbing and heating trade. I’m stopped outside Battle Lake for going 39 mph in a 30-zone. (Hard learner, no doubt about it.) I’m sitting in the seat of the patrol car while the cop is writing my ticket. “What do you do?” he asks me. Chit-chat. Nice.

Plumbing and heating, I tell him. He replies: “I’m hooking up my washing machine tonight. Any tips?” Tips? I think to myself? Yeah. Right.

I look at him and say: “There are three things you can do really wrong.” First, I said, “you can fail to extend the drain PVC to the correct height.” Then I said: “Second, hook the hot and cold water up backwards.”

“The third thing,” I told him, “is the one that can wreck the washing machine.”

I nod at the ticket book. I tell him: “I forget stuff when I’m sitting in cop cars.”

Have a nice day. (I don’t say that, but I think it really hard.)