Tales From My Youth: The Late Night Getaway
For many of us, memories of our youth include stupid, crazy, or dangerous things that looking back make us think that we are lucky to be alive or we are left in a state of disbelief at our former choices to be involved in such reckless acts. It could be jumping off the roof of a house onto a trampoline or diving into a pool off the roof of a garage or driving in a manner that would land you in jail if caught. The possibilities are limitless and everyone will surely have their own experiences that will differ from everyone else. Sure, I did a lot of things with my friends but some things were with different friends than others and some were by myself. This blog series will explore some of the different memories that I have of some of my sketchier experiences.
In the mid-90’s I was old enough to drive, I had my license, and I was on my third car. My parents had bought me a little car when I first turned 16 and then a new small truck for graduation but after getting a job I used my money to buy something a bit sportier. The car I bought was nothing fancy or super fast. It was a used Pontiac Grand Prix 2-door coupe with a V-6 engine and an automatic transmission. No turbo charger, no fancy extras, only a modest engine. It was quick compared to what I had before but it was far from being a “race car” or anything I could take a track. It was sporty looking with decent acceleration but that was about it. Still, it was what I wanted and more importantly, what I could afford.
I never raced the car, I wasn’t that foolish, so my tale this week doesn’t involve me doing anything intentionally stupid. This is more one of those sketchy, dangerous things that has for years left me wondering “why?”
I had taken my car and driven over to a friend’s house in town. Despite growing up out in the country and going to a rural area school, I had a number of friends who lived in town and I would frequently hang out at their houses. On this particular day, I had gone to a friend’s house who had a pool and several of us hung out for the day swimming, listening to music, and just having a good time. Well, as the day turned to night and night turned to late night, everybody started to go their separate ways. I took a friend home that lived nearby and turned to start my 30 minute drive home back to the countryside.
It was well after midnight. The roads were mostly empty and other than the few scattered street lights were dark. I approached a stop sign near the local YMCA building and noticed a set of headlights in my rear view mirror rapidly approaching. I stopped at the intersection, as legally required, before proceeding through and along my way. Due to the rate of advancement, I kept my eyes on the car in my rear view mirror to watch them blow through the stop sign without even slowing as they continued their charge in my direction.
There was a couple blocks between that initial stop sign and the next. I figured the strange car behind me was likely someone just late for curfew and taking advantage of the empty streets to hurry home but I still kept a cautious eye on my mirrors as I approached the next posted stop.
The car behind was still charging forward in my direction very rapidly so I did not dawdle at the intersection. I made a full stop, quickly checked to make sure I was the only car at the intersection, and quickly accelerated through toward the next stop sign just a short block away.
Once again, the unknown driver behind me blew through the stop sign and was beginning to get a little too close for comfort to my position. The other car wasn’t operating their flashers to indicate any type of emergency. The driver wasn’t flashing their high beam lights to signal any immediate need or danger. There was nothing but high speeds and a total disregard for the stop signs that stood between them and me.
At the next stop sign, I made a quick stop before turning right, eager to get out of the path of the concerning driver behind me. I watched from my car’s rear view mirror as the car slowed for the intersection but not stop before turning to continue along the same trail as me.
I was still on what was considered the “main route” to go from where I was to the main roads so the car’s path didn’t concern me, only their pace. The driver had run 3 stop signs in a row and was rapidly gaining on my car’s rear bumper. Keep in mind that I had not interacted with anyone or anything since leaving my friend’s house mere minutes before and this car appeared behind me so I had/have no idea which street or house this car came from. All I knew then, and still now, is that this car was behind me, driving very aggressively, and driving towards me.
I accelerated away from the intersection and toward the first traffic light along the route. I was wary of the car behind and had picked up my pace. Still, the roads were relatively empty as I approached the city’s “big roads” that led to the highways outside of town and the road transitioned from 1 lane in each direction to 2 lanes.
The light at the intersection was green as I approached. I wanted to turn left at the intersection but was worried about the car behind me so I chose not to use my blinker. I drove deep into the intersection before turning hard to the left to swing my car down the perpendicular road. While I was in the intersection the light changed from green to yellow and soon red.
To my horror, from the sights of my rear view mirror, I watched as the trailing car ran the red light and made the same hard left-hand turn that I had. The unknown driver was still on the same path as me and still showing no regard for traffic laws or concern about cops.
By now I had grown heavily concerned about the driver’s intentions. Late for curfew, running from the scene of a crime just committed, or eye-balling me as a target for a crime…I didn’t know and I wasn’t interested in finding out. The car’s actions over the last few blocks sufficiently worried me and in a time before cell phones were commonplace among people my age, I didn’t want to put myself in harm’s way by not taking defensive measures.
I put my foot to the floor and the V6 of my Grand Prix churned out what power it had at its disposal. I accelerated to speeds that were easily and well above the road’s 30 miles per hour speed limit. There was a traffic signal two blocks away from where I turned onto that road but when I saw that it was red I decided to adopt the same strategy as the car that I was now fearful was chasing me, though I wasn’t sure if that was true or why it might have been.
I ran the red light and continued accelerating toward the next major intersection and traffic light along the road’s path. I watched as the car behind continued on the same path and ran the red light as well. I kept my foot pinned to the floor until I had no choice but to the slow for the next major intersection.
Normally, I would have gone straight through the intersection to take the road leading out of town toward my home but there was little in the way of safety on that path. There were few roads to turn off on to evade a pursuer, no shoulders on the road, narrow 1 lane roads, no street lights, fewer police patrols, and just in general an area that would be harder to get help if something happened. Instead, as I approached the intersection, I cranked my steering wheel hard to the right and slid my car across the road as I drifted it through the intersection and into the lanes reserved for oncoming traffic. Luckily, the road was empty and no other cars or people were at risk with my maneuver but it was one I felt was necessary to maintain my speed while attempting to make the turn to keep as much distance between me and the other car as I could manage.
Once through the turn, I put my foot back to the floor on the car’s accelerator and sped away. At one point, I looked at the speedometer and I was going roughly 90 MPH, nearly 3 times the posted speed limit. I found a nearby road and jerked my car off the main road and down this small side road. I turned off my lights and coasted down the path as I watched in my rear view mirror as the mystery car bolted past down the main road.
If they were chasing me, I felt secure in the thought that I had successfully lost them but if they weren’t chasing me then I was at least off the same path as they were racing along. I turned on my lights and used the densely populated residential streets to wind my way back to the road that led out towards my house. I made it home a short while later without further incident but the events of the evening left me somewhat shaken and relieved.
I never got a good look at the car behind me to know what make/model it was, the car’s color, anything of an identifying nature that might help me figure out who was behind me that night. At the speeds I ended driving my efforts to keep out of their range, I was more focused on my car and what was in front of me than on trying to pick out details of the car in my rear view mirror in the flashes where it emerged from the night’s darkness.
I’ll never know who it was or why they were driving they way they were but anyone driving that fast and running stop signs and red lights while being on a direct path behind me will always encourage me to get out of their way and make sure that I’m safe. There is an old adage that “nothing good happens after midnight” and given the late hour this all took place, I had no desire to be involved in something that could be described as “nothing good”. Sure, my efforts became somewhat reckless and could have endangered the lives of others had they been on the roads in that area at that time or had my car suffered some type of failure that resulted in a loss of control that sent me crashing into someone’s home or business but luckily none of those things happened.
I made several drives home from various points around town and from out of town that had me driving through that area and others at similar times of night before and after that incident but nothing like that ever happened again. Was I in any real danger? I don’t know and am glad that I never had to find out. I wasn’t up to no-good that night and was just trying to get home. I’m glad that I made it but looking back it was among the most exciting of my returns home.