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In Memoriam of Dodge Pioneer

'Don't think they'd let you do that anymore." I take a moment and silently replay what I've just said, add, "I think they'd track you down and arrest your ass." The foregoing is spoken halfway through an odd conversation having to do with an activity few people experience, like collecting wooden ball bearings or memorizing the post--World War II poetry of Robert Service.

This conversation is taking place in the aft cockpit of a 36-foot Chris Craft Constellation that is parked in a Chula Vista marina. My host is a Southern California assistant district attorney. Since we live in puritanical, vengeful times, it serves no good purpose to go into more detail about him, except to say he's a son of Ireland and therefore a gifted storyteller. I'll call him Colin.

We were talking about the sport of acquiring and abandoning used cars. I have bought, for $175 or less, and driven, and abandoned, at least six automobiles. My clunker burial mounds can be found in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Georgia, British Columbia, and Nevada. Ownership ranged from six days for the one-door Mustang left in Hawaii to two years for the no-front-seat Toyota last seen in a snowbank near Fairbanks.

How about Colin? I ask, "What make was your first castoff?"

"Well, I guess you could say the Pioneer was my first, although I didn't actually own it. I'm not sure who did," Colin says as he passes over a bottle of Guinness. "I was living in Flagstaff, going to Northern Arizona University. I had an apartment close to campus with a guy named David and woman named Karen. She was an English major. We decided to take a trip. It was early February, snow on the ground, and we wanted some sun. David drove a lumbering, elephantine, 1960 Dodge Pioneer station wagon. So, we headed down the mountain planning to find a beach by sunset. It was cold; a north wind was blowing hard.

"A California highway patrolman pulled us over a few miles south of Needles. No taillight, he said, which seemed strange since it was 11 o'clock in the morning and no one else was on the road. David was driving, Karen sat in the middle, and I was shotgun. We were still a bit loaded from the night before. The cop tapped on David's window. Cop wanted to see registration and insurance. David had neither. Another cop drove up and took a position at the rear of the Pioneer wagon.

"The first cop demanded to see David's driver's license. David's Oregon license was three years out of date. Karen had no I.D. I had a student I.D. This is 1969," Colin says, "we have three hippies and an unregulated station wagon. Humans and machine are already guilty of a half-dozen crimes and nothing had been searched yet. I see where this is going.

"Slowly, slowly, carefully, carefully I retrieved a lid of marijuana from my jacket pocket. Slowly, slowly, carefully, carefully, I pushed the bag of marijuana out the wing window and watched in stupefaction as the bag slowly, elegantly, exactly, flopped across the length of windshield, turning over and over and over into the waiting hands of Cop 1. I would have said, 'Nice catch,' except the cop put no effort into the catch, the baggie of 1969 eight-years-in-prison marijuana flopped straight to him as if on a string. He merely cupped his hands."

There's only one question to ask. "What happened?"

Colin says, "Maybe the cop was a stoner, maybe the cop knew he didn't have probable cause to stop us in the first place, maybe he was an unusually good person, but in a burst of inexplicable kindness, Cop 1 turned the baggie over, emptied the pot, and watched as the windstorm sent it to Baja. He told us to get our paperwork straight and sent us on our way."

Nice. "Not even a ticket?"

"No." Colin happily shakes his head, beaming, decades later, at the remembrance. "Fifty miles further on, the engine seized. At least there was an abrupt lurch followed by a loud metal-on-metal scraping racket followed by a World War II bombs-over-Berlin sound, as the Pioneer took a direct hit; or, if you insist on a literal rendition, Pioneer station wagon pistons melded to Pioneer station wagon cylinder walls. Death grip.

"End of ride. I opened the hood and looked at car guts. It's not like anyone of us knew what we were staring at, or that gathering round and viewing unknown auto parts would bring the Pioneer back to life. It was just something you're supposed to do," Colin laughs. "We saw that in the movies.

"I closed the hood, climbed inside, retrieved our gear, found a notepad in the glove compartment, wrote, 'It's yours' on it, and placed the note under the driver's side windshield wiper."

I laugh, grunt, and chortle in the manner of a co-conspirator, motion for another beer, "That's how you do it."

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'Don't think they'd let you do that anymore." I take a moment and silently replay what I've just said, add, "I think they'd track you down and arrest your ass." The foregoing is spoken halfway through an odd conversation having to do with an activity few people experience, like collecting wooden ball bearings or memorizing the post--World War II poetry of Robert Service.

This conversation is taking place in the aft cockpit of a 36-foot Chris Craft Constellation that is parked in a Chula Vista marina. My host is a Southern California assistant district attorney. Since we live in puritanical, vengeful times, it serves no good purpose to go into more detail about him, except to say he's a son of Ireland and therefore a gifted storyteller. I'll call him Colin.

We were talking about the sport of acquiring and abandoning used cars. I have bought, for $175 or less, and driven, and abandoned, at least six automobiles. My clunker burial mounds can be found in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Georgia, British Columbia, and Nevada. Ownership ranged from six days for the one-door Mustang left in Hawaii to two years for the no-front-seat Toyota last seen in a snowbank near Fairbanks.

How about Colin? I ask, "What make was your first castoff?"

"Well, I guess you could say the Pioneer was my first, although I didn't actually own it. I'm not sure who did," Colin says as he passes over a bottle of Guinness. "I was living in Flagstaff, going to Northern Arizona University. I had an apartment close to campus with a guy named David and woman named Karen. She was an English major. We decided to take a trip. It was early February, snow on the ground, and we wanted some sun. David drove a lumbering, elephantine, 1960 Dodge Pioneer station wagon. So, we headed down the mountain planning to find a beach by sunset. It was cold; a north wind was blowing hard.

"A California highway patrolman pulled us over a few miles south of Needles. No taillight, he said, which seemed strange since it was 11 o'clock in the morning and no one else was on the road. David was driving, Karen sat in the middle, and I was shotgun. We were still a bit loaded from the night before. The cop tapped on David's window. Cop wanted to see registration and insurance. David had neither. Another cop drove up and took a position at the rear of the Pioneer wagon.

"The first cop demanded to see David's driver's license. David's Oregon license was three years out of date. Karen had no I.D. I had a student I.D. This is 1969," Colin says, "we have three hippies and an unregulated station wagon. Humans and machine are already guilty of a half-dozen crimes and nothing had been searched yet. I see where this is going.

"Slowly, slowly, carefully, carefully I retrieved a lid of marijuana from my jacket pocket. Slowly, slowly, carefully, carefully, I pushed the bag of marijuana out the wing window and watched in stupefaction as the bag slowly, elegantly, exactly, flopped across the length of windshield, turning over and over and over into the waiting hands of Cop 1. I would have said, 'Nice catch,' except the cop put no effort into the catch, the baggie of 1969 eight-years-in-prison marijuana flopped straight to him as if on a string. He merely cupped his hands."

There's only one question to ask. "What happened?"

Colin says, "Maybe the cop was a stoner, maybe the cop knew he didn't have probable cause to stop us in the first place, maybe he was an unusually good person, but in a burst of inexplicable kindness, Cop 1 turned the baggie over, emptied the pot, and watched as the windstorm sent it to Baja. He told us to get our paperwork straight and sent us on our way."

Nice. "Not even a ticket?"

"No." Colin happily shakes his head, beaming, decades later, at the remembrance. "Fifty miles further on, the engine seized. At least there was an abrupt lurch followed by a loud metal-on-metal scraping racket followed by a World War II bombs-over-Berlin sound, as the Pioneer took a direct hit; or, if you insist on a literal rendition, Pioneer station wagon pistons melded to Pioneer station wagon cylinder walls. Death grip.

"End of ride. I opened the hood and looked at car guts. It's not like anyone of us knew what we were staring at, or that gathering round and viewing unknown auto parts would bring the Pioneer back to life. It was just something you're supposed to do," Colin laughs. "We saw that in the movies.

"I closed the hood, climbed inside, retrieved our gear, found a notepad in the glove compartment, wrote, 'It's yours' on it, and placed the note under the driver's side windshield wiper."

I laugh, grunt, and chortle in the manner of a co-conspirator, motion for another beer, "That's how you do it."

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