The midnight rider gets caught
In fall 1988, I signed up for driver’s education. I had to pass a written exam to obtain a learner’s permit. Little did I know it, but that little piece of paper would be the beginning of a debacle that will live in infamy until the day I die.
My parents had bought a customized van back in the ‘70s. It was a top-of-the-line Ford Econoline. In its heyday, that van was the envy of the neighborhood; but after my parents drove the hell out of it for a decade, it was a rattletrap. It was rusted on the sides, the carpet looked like a huge, dirty dog had rolled in it, the mini fridge had been torn out to make a storage cabinet, every door rattled like it was going to fall off the hinges and, worst of all, the air conditioning didn’t work.
My parents had long since bought newer vehicles, but like an old dog that you just don’t have the heart to put down, that van stayed around. To a teenager with no other options, it was a ride.
I could not drive without an adult in the car. After a while, I was tired of having to follow this rule, so on weekends when I was home, I would sneak into my folks’ bedroom as they slept and, like a ninja, quietly took the keys to the rattletrap and went on a midnight joyride. I usually didn’t go far and had the van back by morning with no one the wiser.
I was able to do this a few times by myself, but one weekend I mentioned my night outings to a friend and asked him if he wanted to come along. I made the mistake of allowing my brother Joe to hear the conversation. He threatened to rat me out unless I let him tag along.
We got the keys, despite all the noise Joe was making, and drove off our block to the street where my friend lived with no problem. I parked the van opposite his house, with the engine running and the headlights on. I thought it was going to be a quick pickup. It wasn’t.
Joe went to the back door of the house with a flashlight to get my friend, who was not awake or dressed. After a few minutes, Joe came to tell me what was up and brought a bottle of vodka with him, which I promptly hid beneath the seats.
As Joe went back to check on my friend’s progress, a cop car passed on the cross street. I shut off the engine and headlights and ducked, hoping they hadn’t seen me. I hovered down between the seats for several minutes. When I was sure they had passed by I sat up in the seat. To my surprise, I had a flashlight being shined in my face.
I was busted. The cop asked me what I was doing. “Picking up a friend,” I said. It wasn’t a lie. “Let me see your drivers license,” he said. There was a long pause, after which I said, “Uh, I don’t have one.” His response was, “ Get out of the vehicle.” It was right about that time that Joe and my friend were coming around the house, and they got busted, too.
The jig was up, so we laid out the whole story out for the cops, except for the vodka under the seat. They really didn’t want to book all of us, so they let my friend go back in his house, but took Joe and me into custody. We were not under arrest; they were going to take us home.
We stood on the front porch of our house with the cops while they rang the doorbell and banged on the door. My parents were such heavy sleepers that they didn’t notice. The cops had dispatch call our house but my parents just slept through all the ringing. After about a half-hour of banging on the door and calling my parents’ phone, one of the cops had Joe go into the house to wake up Mom and Pop.
I could hear my father cussing and yelling at Joe about waking him up. The cops looked at each other in puzzlement. The front door jerked open. Joe quickly came back out on the front porch with the cops. Pop was standing in the doorway in his tighty-whities, scratching his wedding tackle, with a wild look in his eye and his hair a mess.
“Mr. Ellis?” the cop asked. “Yeah,” my dad said. “Did your boys have permission to take your van out tonight?” the cop asked. “Hell no they didn’t,” he replied. They told my dad what was going on and that we were not under arrest.
Dad woke up my mom to have her drive him to get the van. “It’s the cops! They brought the boys home!” he yelled, and told us to “get in the house.”
Pop bawled me out for about an hour about how what I had done was stupid. He got up in my face with enough ferocity to make me pee a little bit but never threw me the beating I was expecting. He took my learner’s permit and I wasn’t allowed to drive for quite a while. We hadn’t opened the vodka, so I was able to retrieve it and give it back to my friend.
I learned a huge lesson from that incident. All of what my dad said was true. I could very well have killed myself or someone else. Forward thinking is a key skill in life. When you make a decision to do something, you have to think ahead. You should consider the gravity of your decision. In the end, what you do can affect not just your life, but the lives of others as well.