Young and Fearless

The autumn air was quiet yet crystaline. There was a clarity rarely seen, what with modern technology pushing ton after ton of particulates into the only atmosphere we have. Visibility was up to fifty miles or more, everything in sharp relief and represented vividly. The predominant color was green, the leaves not yet getting nature’s signal to change color and then die in piles spread by fickle winds to create a blanket of decomposition that would become the nutrients of next year’s greenery. The two of us sat side by side in the airplane, a small Grumman American Traveler. It was an awful shade of pastel yellow and thus had earned the name Pukemobile from the denizens of the airport. In the air over Salem, Oregon, it was easy to see all the way down to Klamath and beyond, the Three Sisters visible as purple backdrops jutting into the azure sky.

“We’re on our way.” I said, looking over at Greg. He nodded and we listened to the thrum of the 150 horsepower Lycoming engine that pulled us along at 110 miles an hour. That’s what our airspeed indicator said, but we knew our speed over the ground was different, depending on the winds. I suspected we were moving over the state at about 120 miles an hour, what with a light southerly wind. I’d been in a very gentle climb, only 100 feet per minute so that we’d keep up our speed. When I got to nine thousand feet I’d level off, only to start an equally gentle descent to our first gas stop. That would raise our air and groundspeed, what with our going downhill so to speak. It was dead calm and Greg poured some cocoa from a thermous into a cup and set it on the center console. No worries of it splashing in the crisp still air in which we flew. The vibration of the engine caused little ripples to oscillate from the rim of the cup inward, only to reach the center and move back toward the rim. The cup was for me and he poured another for himself that he kept in his hand.

“This will definitely fulfill the long cross country flight to get you signed off for your commercial ticket.” Greg mused aloud.

“Yeah it will.” I replied. Vancouver to Monterey, California and back is what, five times the needed distance?”

“Something like that. Where do you figure to land for gas?” He had a Seattle sectional map out and was unfolding it, trying not to spill his hot chocolate.

“Upper Klamath –I think it’s called Sisters Airport. Check the Flight Guide.” The Flight Guide was a book published by the Jeppeson Company and was a little loose leaf binder with each page giving information of every accessible airfield in the western United States. From it we could get it’s altitude above sea level, radio frequencies in use, the services offered, approach and departure information; everything one might want to know.

Greg turned on the radio and contacted flight following to check on destination weather. I listened with him as they warned of high winds in the area, although with good visibility. In a couple of hours, about the time we’d get there, clouds were expected. That figured, moisture would build as they day passed, and heated by the sun would coagulate into cumulus clouds. We flew on, the passing land and the hum of the motor almost hypnotic.

“They almost caught Kirkland yesterday.” said Greg out of the blue. Tim Kirkland was a part of our posse, one of the friends in our little clique. We rode our motocross bikes together, hung out and watched television (mostly cartoons) and shared the occasional joint, and generally passed the time together. Kirkland’s hobby was lobbing decomposing fruit, apples, tomatoes, prunes, plumbs and other squishy projectiles at passing police cars. He would wait for one to approach, walk to the middle of the street and let fly, and invariably score a hit on the windshield. The police officer would slam on his brakes and Kirkland would take off and the chase was on. The cops always chased him, what with being so blantantly affronted, and Kirkland always eluded them, circling back to their car. It was always left stopped with the driver’s door open wide, and from the interior, Kirkland would grab some memento –the radio microphone, a ticket book, the cop’s lunch –whatever was handy. He never took any weapons, although there were often some to be had. He was in this for the fun of it and weapons weren’t fun.

“He’s been doing this long enough I think the cops would beat him to death if they put the arm on him.” I said, chuckling. Greg laughed with me. Both of us thought Tim’s antic were a riot. More or less harmless, we saw it as a profound way to say ‘up yours’ to a police force that was notoriously hard on young people. Even the so called ‘straights’ in town saw the police force as a bit fascist and unreasonable. Of course, our group was convinced of this since we often were targets of the cop’s wrath as we rode our off-road motorcyles to the places we would race and practice at. All of us had been given multiple tickets for improper equipment of no registration. We weren’t too angry about it at first, but we were getting stopped and ticketed for putting a foot on a peg and coasting on downhills as we walked our bikes to the riding areas. We saw this as overzealous policing, especially with the cops frisking us and making us empty our pockets and backpacks at every turn. They would pull out the contents of our wallets and drop them on the ground after looking at them, often stepping on them purposely and then making a sarcastic ‘oops’ noise. All of us had been slapped, more than once, for simply asking why we’d been stopped on the occasions we literally had done nothing wrong. So Tim’s hobby was one we watched with amused interest, feeling abashed that we didn’t have his courage of conviction. We figured all we’d get was a different kind of conviction.

We met Tim by being witness to his hobby. One afternoon a few of us were standing around a friend’s bike and offering opinions as to what was making it toss its drive chain unexpectedly every now and then. The bike was parked and on its kick stand and we were standing next to it when a Vancouver cop spied us and pulled over. He turned on his red flashers (they didn’t use red and blue back then), grunted his big gut out of the car and swaggered over to the group. He was about twenty feet away from us and just about to speak when a lithe figure popped from between a hedge that ran along the other side of the roadway. He got to the center line of Fourth Plain Boulevard and the cop and my group watched as this wiry kid let fly with what looked like a tomato. The squishy fruit hit the dead center of the cop’s windshield, splattering its ooze everywhere. “What the HELL!” bellowed the cop. In reply, the kid gingerly pulled another soft projectile from his pocket and let fly one more time. “HEY!” screamed the cop, turning towards the kid standing about fifty feet away in the middle of the street. He lunged into a run and the kid took off like a shot.

Of course, those of us witnessing the event were laughing raucously, excited and atwitter at what we’d just seen. The kid cut through the hedge he’d appeared from, followed a few seconds later by one very pissed off police officer. The cop was a big man, which is to say his belt buckle had a serious roof over it, and we could hear him huffing even after he disappeared through the foliage. We could also hear his heavy footfalls. My group just stood there, expecting to see the cop reappear in a few moments with the kid firmly in hand. After all, there was his car by the side of the road, the driver’s door wide open. Our wait stretched into minutes and no cop. But then the kid reappeared, this time coming from the other side of the road, the side we were on. He smiled at us and trotted over to the open door of the police unit. He reached in and grabbed something, we didn’t see what. We called out to him but he just said “Can’t stop to chat, gotta go!” and he took off again. Two or so more minutes went by and the cop, sweating and red faced from exertion came trotting through the hedge on the far side of the street.

He looked at us but slowed to a walk and headed towards his car. We took an unspoken vote and decided to get out of there, and so pushing the bike we moved on down the road. We were a hundred feet along when the cop yelled “Shit!” and we realized what the kid had taken from the car. The cop was standing next to the vehicle looking in a slow circle. We knew then that this kid, this wraith, had taken the keys to the car. The cop yelled for us to come back but we chose not to hear. We kept chattering among ourselves and looking as innocent as we could and kept right on going. Unfortunately, the cop trotted after us, hollering for us to stop. It got to the point we couldn’t feign not hearing him and so we stopped and waited for him to catch up. We’d stop, but we weren’t going to go back, walking to our doom.

“You boys are witnesses.” he said. “Let’s see some ID.” said the cop. We were all wearing cutoff jeans and tee shirts and as a group we all shrugged and mumbled that we didn’t have any. “Then let’s have your names.” he huffed. “Starting with you.” he pointed at me. I told him my name was Barry Schwartz. He looked at me suspiciously until I said I was from New York. The rest of the group coughed up their names, or at least what their names might have been if they were someone else. The cop asked for our addresses and we each gave fictitious apartment numbers for the Thunderbird, a recently completed apartment complex. “We may need to call you as witnesses.” the cop said again, “you all saw what that guy did to my car.” We all looked as though we’d been struck stupid and shook our heads in the negative.

“You were right there. You’re saying you didn’t see that guy throw rotten tomatoes at my car?”

“I saw a kid run across the street.” I said.

“Looked like he was ten or twelve.” said Jordan.

“Blonde kid.” said Greg.

“Kinda pudgy.” said Craig.

“No, no.” said the cop. “This guy was your age, long brown hair and skinny.”

“I didn’t see that guy, just the blonde kid.” I said. The cop looked at all of us with definite displeasure. “Can we go now? We gotta get this bike fixed.”

The cop didn’t say anything, but turned and stomped back to his car. We moved off the other way, taking the first right we came to. We all broke into a trot and hoofed it the three blocks to Greg’s house. Anyway, that’s how we first met Tim.

I looked over at Greg and then back out at the expanse in front of the airplane. “Almost caught him? They didn’t get him though, right?”

“Right.” said Greg, nodding. “He plastered the car of some young cop who was pretty fast himself. Tim says he’s gonna hang out at home and watch TV for a few days.”

“Sounds like the smart move. I’m surprised they haven’t caught him yet, seeing as he’s been doing this for almost a year now.”

“Yeah, he said he was planning to quit. The cops are closing up the cars and locking them. They got tired of losing keys, badges, microphones and other crap I guess. Tim says it isn’t fun unless he can take a trophy.”

We sat in the small plane and watched Mt. Shasta getting closer.