Weird Yellow Hudson Situation
"Looks like we're gonna stop 'n' eat," Rob said.
We got out and, along with the other two drivers, started to follow the lead man into a restaurant. He appeared to be in his sixties and had an air of authority. Inside the restaurant he gestured to Rob.
"Hey, flyboy — I want to talk to you!."
Rob winked at me and went over to where the man with the angry face was waiting. I couldn't hear the actual dialogue, but it was obvious Rob was being chewed out, as the convoy manager glanced my way several times.
Finally Rob walked back and gave me another smirky grin. "I gotta use the can," he said, "but he wants to talk to you."
The man introduced himself as Phil Grainger, and said I probably knew I shouldn't have been picked up back there. "But you seem like an alright guy, so I guess you can stay on with us — but I ain't buying your meals."
I said that was fine and thanked him for letting me stay on.
"By the way," he asked, "do you have a driver's license?" When I told him no, he said, "But you know how to drive, don't you?"
"Oh, yeah — sure," I lied. Actually I'd never been at the wheel of a car in my life, but if it made him feel better to think I had, why bother with the truth?"
After my visit with Mr. Grainger I walked over to where the other two drivers were sitting. One was a young sailor named Steve, and the other was a big burly black man named Ben, who said he was an out-of-work longshoreman looking for a job. Since Rob hadn't yet returned from the restroom, they asked me what I thought of him.
"To tell you the truth," I replied, "he scares me. Did you know he has a loaded gun in the car?" But before they could say anything Rob joined the group — and everything got real quiet.
As we were getting ready to leave, Steve said, "Hey, Don. How'd you like to ride with me for a while?"
I looked over at Rob. He just grunted and mumbled something like, "Okay with me."
Well, I was relieved to be riding with Steve. He seemed like a regular guy with a friendly personality. And as we were travelling he would periodically check his side view mirror.
"Funny," he said after a while. "I don't see Rob back there. In fact, I haven't seen him for about ten minutes. What was that again about a map and a shortcut?"
"I'll bet that's what he's doing," I agreed. "He seemed real serious about finding a shortcut and taking off on his own."
At this Steve started leaning on his horn and flashing his lights to get Phil Grainger's attention. The Lincoln slowed down as Phil looked for a place where we could all pull over safely.
Steve and I jumped out and ran over to tell Phil of our suspicions. Phil pulled out his own map and pointed to a fork in the road. "This must be where he went. It may look like a shortcut on the map, but that road heads straight into the mountains. Well, he can't be moving too fast pulling that Jeepster through those foothills. Let's go get the sneaky bastard!"
He told the other drivers to lock up their vehicles, and then disconnected his tow. We all got into the Lincoln, and as soon as Phil saw an opening for a U-turn his tires screeched as we sped back to the cut-off.
Although I didn't mention it to anyone at the time, I had another concern about Rob trying to get away from us — all my belongings were in a duffle-bag in the Hudson.
And a couple of other things were bothering me; Rob had a loaded gun — and he seemed just crazy enough to use it. And when we did catch him — who was going to be driving the Hudson?
We had only gone a few miles when we saw a gas station closing for the night.
When we told the attendant who we were looking for, he said, "Yeah, he was here a little while ago. Said his car was stuck in second gear and asked if I could fix it. I told him no, and that he'd best head for that 24-hour truck stop back on the highway."
"Well, he just cussed and bought some gas and took off. But I don't think he's got very far, what with pulling that other vehicle — and doing it in second gear."
So we thanked him, and resumed the chase. Well, we'd only gone a couple of miles when we spotted the Hudson and the Jeepster parked — guess where — in front of a sheriff's office.
As we entered we found a surprised Rob talking to a deputy.
"Oh look," he said, "here they are now. Hi, y'all. Hey, I was just telling the sheriff how I got lost and was trying to find my way back to the highway."
"Yeah, right," I said. "And did you tell him about your loaded gun?"
"Gun — what gun?" asked the officer as he moved quickly from behind his desk. That's when Rob made a dash for the door. It was obvious he wanted to get that pistol before anybody else did. And he might have succeeded had it not been for Ben's flying tackle that nailed him on the front steps.
"Hold him there," yelled the sheriff, as he followed me to the Hudson. I opened the glove compartment and pointed to the pistol."
The officer scooped it up, and said, "Let's see if this fella has a permit to carry a concealed weapon."
By now another deputy had appeared and was told to search Rob for any other contraband.
When the sheriff asked Phil if he wanted to press charges, Phil replied no, as long as the sheriff had enough evidence to hold him.
"I gotta get these cars to Los Angeles," he said, "and I'm way behind schedule. So if it's okay, I'll just leave this nut with you and we'll be on our way."
When we got back to the cars, Phil told Steve to get in the Hudson and then turned to me. "Looks like you'll be driving that car as soon as we get the gear shift fixed. And don't worry about not having no license. I need a driver."
"And if you should get a ticket I'll take care of everything. But you won't have any trouble because you'll be with my convoy, and we don't do no funny driving."
Well, if Phil had realized I knew nothing about clutches or gear shifts, he might have been less sanguine about the whole thing. So as we headed back to the truck stop I paid very close attention to how Phil did all his clutching and shifting along the way. Maybe I could just pick it up by osmosis.
Fixing the stuck shift turned out to be fairly easy, and we could have resumed our driving right then. But it was late and Phil said we might as well turn in for the night. However, he said he couldn't afford any more motel bills, so we'd all have to sleep in our cars.
This was okay with me because I had intended to ask Steve for some driving pointers. So he gave me about an hour's worth of impromptu shifting and clutching instruction, which made me feel somewhat less intimidated when we hit the road in the morning.
Well, I was glad to be at the tail end of the convoy, so I'd less likely be noticed by Phil as the Hudson alternately lurched and stalled when I tried to get onto the highway. It was a white-knuckle struggle for several minutes, and I was ready to give up and honk for help.
But when I finally did get it into high gear and found myself cruising rather effortlessly down the interstate, I not only felt relieved — I was actually beginning to enjoy myself. However, a real scare was about to happen at the California border.
Having never left California before, I didn't know that vehicles coming into the state would be stopped for some kind of fruit-related interrogation. It had something to do with keeping pest-infested fruit out of the state.
Anyway, as we approached the check point, I had a sinking feeling when I saw uniformed officers stopping all vehicles and talking to the drivers.
Because we were a convoy of eight vehicles we were told to line up on the rather narrow shoulder of the road, which meant we had to park at an awkward angle.
That the inspector was smiling as he approached the Hudson didn't relieve my anxieties. But he only asked if I was bringing any fruit into California. When I said no, he just thanked me and moved on.
After we'd all been cleared, they brought all right-lane moving traffic to a halt so we could move our convoy back onto the road in one group. As the other three drivers got their vehicles into the traffic lane, each stopped and waited for me to catch up.
But the Hudson wouldn't move. No matter how hard I gunned the engine, or how carefully I let out the clutch, it refused to budge. Phil had honked a couple of times as a polite reminder for me to get moving, but I was getting a dirty look from the officer whose white-gloved hand was being held up to keep the other traffic at bay.
But I wasn't going anywhere — and I panicked when I saw an officer running toward me, shouting and waving.
But he ran right past me, yelling, "Wait a minute!" and headed straight for the Jeepster. In the rear view mirror I saw him getting into the driver's seat and cranking hard on the steering wheel. Finally he jumped out and came to me with a big smile.
"The front wheels on that Jeep thing were turned sideways. That's why you couldn't move — but you're okay now." And sure enough, I was able to pull back onto the road with no problems.
As we got closer to the LA megalopolis, the traffic got thicker. Freeways had not yet come to SoCal, and automatic transmissions were rare. Knowing how to clutch and shift effectively was an essential survival skill in those days. And I had gotten pretty good at it.
I could even make wide turns in busy intersections, keeping the Jeepster properly lined up behind me. And if I could do this well with a stick shift, imagine how I'd do with an automatic.
I still hadn't learned to parallel park with the Jeepster hitched up nor had I learned to back up easily — but as long as I could keep moving forward I was okay. In fact, I was feeling so confident that I could hardly wait to apply for a driver's license.
But I still had three more years in the army and my next opportunity at the wheel would come in Korea when they wanted me to drive a 2½ ton truck with multiple forward and reverse gears in two ranges, and required something called "double-clutching."
By comparison, driving that Hudson with the attached Jeepster was a breeze.