A Trip to Remember, by Sandra Maxwell

4 Aug

Author, historian and teacher, Sandra Maxwell has spent her life attempting to understand the human condition. Urged by many of her teachers to either teach or write, Sandra chose writing because it puts into one place all of the elements she is interested in. She can study history, explore human behavior, and teach — all at the same time.  She lives happily with her husband Robert in a Victorian cottage and gardens in Southern California called “The Havens.”

 

Late in 1969, my writing partner and best friend Lucy and I were heading back to Los Angeles from Illinois. We had stolen a few days to go back home to visit family, but a meeting with the story editor of a TV show made us hurry back.

Lucy’s parents had given her a brand new Dodge van. It replaced the rather unreliable Chevy Malibu we’d been driving. The van had a snub nose with the engine mounted between the front seats. It took a while to get used to not having a front end, and I always put my foot on the fantasy brake on the passenger side whenever Lucy pulled up behind another vehicle.

Everything was perfect except for one fact. Illinois had failed to get us our license plates in time for our trip. Some mix-up in Springfield. Lucy called them to find out what to do since we couldn’t afford to miss our appointment. Illinois said not to worry, just keep all the papers proving she owned the van. If we were stopped, they would check with Illinois to verify we actually did have plates coming. It would all be fine.

As we drove back to LA, we discussed ways to make the van more comfortable, what to do with all the space in the back, should we go science fiction, maybe cushions on the cold steel floor, or keep it practical? Lucy decided we should call the van “Critter.” Seemed reasonable to me.

On a Sunday afternoon we pulled into Tulsa, Oklahoma. Suddenly the engine began to make horrible noises. Lucy pulled over at the nearest exit. That’s when I noticed the state patrol car following and exiting with us.

I opened the glove compartment. “We have the State Patrol behind us. I’ll take care of this while you see about the van.” I pulled out all the paperwork, confident that at least one problem would be easily solved as we pulled into a gas station. It was the van’s engine that worried me.

Now, you need to know that Lucy and I did not look like hippies. We kept our hair styled, used makeup when we went to meetings and wore business clothes to the studios. For the drive we were wearing jeans and blouses. Our hair was a bit windblown and there was no reason to wear makeup, but no long hair, no leather fringe, no beads, no large sunglasses. Those items were back in LA.

I barely glanced at the patrolman as he walked up to the van window, but the moment I handed him the paperwork, I noticed his demeanor. His small, wiry stature bristled with anger. He had short red hair, and his blue eyes glared at me as I explained what Illinois had told us to do under the circumstances. He snatched the papers from me and went back to his car. I still felt confident that things would work out and waited for Lucy to return. She was gone for an uncomfortable amount of time and the state policeman was still in his patrol car. I began to worry that we could be stuck here while the van was being fixed.

Last June I had seen “Easy Rider,” and visions of shotguns and murderous mayhem flew through my mind. Memories of the Freedom Riders who were jailed or murdered in the early 60s haunted me. Young people were still mysteriously disappearing in the South. I jumped when Lucy opened the van door and vaulted into the driver’s seat.

It’s Sunday. No mechanic but the guy in the gas station said it sounded like we’ve blown some seals in the engine.”

What can we do? We can’t stay here. We’ll miss our meeting.”

He said we could buy oil, water and transmission fluid and just keep everything filled until we can get it fixed. It’s still under warranty.” Lucy reached for the key.

Wait. The state trooper still has our paperwork. He’s been back there all the time you were gone.”

Lucy gave me a puzzled look. I shrugged. We waited. My imagination brought even more horrifying pictures of people disappearing on the highways. We were two young girls, easy targets. I tried to rationalize: This was Oklahoma, not the Deep South.

I looked around when I heard a car door slam. I almost laughed in spite of the horrors my mind had unearthed. The patrolman hiked his pants and marched toward our van on slightly bowed legs. He struck me as the stereotype you’d see in bad TV shows that made fun of Southern lawmen. I bit my lip and kept a straight face.

He came up to the window on Lucy’s side and glared at us. “I tried to get you on Oklahoma law, but I couldn’t,” he drawled. “So I tried to get you on Illinois law, but I couldn’t.” He took a deep breath. “But if you’re not out of the state of Oklahoma by midnight, I’ll get ya for something.” He threw our papers at Lucy and stomped back to his patrol car.

Lucy handed me the papers to put back in the glove box. “Were we just in a bad movie or was that for real?” she chuckled.

Thing is, we can’t risk not taking him seriously. He has all our information and could track us the entire way. Maybe send any of his buddies out to get us.”

Lucy groaned, “I’ll get some oil and transmission fluid here. Let’s fill up on water, too. We can stop for more as we go.”

We took off for the Oklahoma border and kept below the speed limit. Every time something rattled in the engine, I raised the lid beside me and poured in the appropriate liquid. We were out of the state just before midnight and made it all the way to LA like that. At a Dodge Dealer we got things fixed on the warranty. Critter lived to be over ten years old before we had to put him down.

I’m actually proud I was thrown out of the State of Oklahoma. Seems a fitting tribute to the life and times of young people trying to make their way through the sixties and seventies. I do realize how lucky we were now that I look back, and my youthful view that nothing bad could really happen is gone. But I still smile at the image of the little red-headed, cock-sure, bowlegged patrolman strutting up to our van to threaten two young “hippies” from the North who had to be there with trouble on their minds, no doubt about it. All he accomplished was to make me fight harder against mindless prejudice in days to come. I’m still fighting even now.

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3 Responses to “A Trip to Remember, by Sandra Maxwell”

  1. Pat Bernstein August 5, 2017 at 3:47 am #

    Great post – thanks Best wishes Pat

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Roselva August 5, 2017 at 5:32 pm #

    Great story!

  3. gibsonauthor May 27, 2018 at 4:47 pm #

    Reblogged this on s a gibson.

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