My son turned 17 today. (Just writing that made yet another gray hair stretch itself outward, wheeze and cough a little sputter of dust before falling from my head.) It’s hard getting older and harder still watching your youngest child reach what you considered a benchmark age in your own timeline. We were, after all, adults in our own minds at 17. Most of us were in relationships and had jobs which equaled adult relationship and work problems, which equaled adult, right?

At 17, I worked at Brunswick True Value on Pleasant Street where a Dunkin’ Donuts now stands. I sold home electronics at Sears and worked in the kitchen at Bowdoin College. Adding to my sense of adultness, I enlisted in the Navy’s delayed entry program as an antisubmarine warfare operator and I had already plotted out where my first year or so would take me after graduation.

Seventeen was the year I first fell in love and Lucy and I would take long, winter night strolls where we would sip wine coolers in the Jordan Acres playground and talk about our respective futures. It had to be Bartles and Jaymes coolers though, because all the others were just so childishly marketed. We would sit on the swings and talk about life before tucking the empties in the Dumpster (lest the little kids happen upon them the next day). We were, after all, adults and had to look out for the welfare of the little ones.

It was at 17 when I finally hung up my bike and got my driver’s license. My first car was a 1953 Chevy my father had restored. I want to say I was a responsible, adult driver — I would be lying. Between launching my friend’s heads off the roof of the car on frost heaves and my lead foot, I was lucky to hold on to my license long enough to leave for boot camp.

On one particular evening driving home I stopped on Pleasant Street to make a left turn onto Church Road. There was a police car coming in the opposite direction and I judged him to still be a fair distance off as I eased, only for a second, into the intersection. That was when I realized the officer was going much faster than I thought and as I slammed on my brakes, the officer noticed my forward roll and almost wound up on the curb. Still, he kept moving and I figured there was no foul — just the officer overreacting.

I was wrong.

In my rearview mirror, I saw what looked like the cruiser making a wide U-turn on Pleasant Street. Wanting nothing to do with a conversation that would begin with me accusing a cop of overreacting, I turned off my lights and gave the straight-six engine everything I had, frantically throwing my three-on-the-tree shift lever into action and hauling for home; the only trace of my escape, the cherry bomb mufflers roaring like a fleet of Harleys tearing up Church Road.

With another check the officer was only a faint spot turning onto Church Road and I was starting to feel pretty confident about my escape. I was flying through the dark of night, obligatory fuzzy dice dangling from the mirror. I even had Dion belting out “Runaway” from the retrofitted tape deck — it was a perfectly framed moment in time and space. I was the reincarnation of a legendary bad ass from yesteryear. I was James Dean. I was Danny Zuko. I … I … There was a light behind me, snapping me out of my reverie that I couldn’t place. It wasn’t that wash of strobing blue, telling me I patted myself on the back too soon. It was a faint flickering of white and orange playing off my mirror, like someone threw a sparkler in the back seat.

I looked in the rearview mirror discovering to my horror that the continental kit, a large case with a chrome ring around it containing my spare tire, had unlatched itself from the back of the car, folded on its hinge and was now throwing a rooster tail of sparks some 20 feet behind me.

I couldn’t tell through the fireworks behind me if the officer was still giving chase. I had since passed the McKeen Street intersection without detection. Maybe he turned off there. Maybe he alerted the fire department. Maybe he was just cruising along, enjoying the show.

I continued on, past Greenwood and up the gentle ramp that used to characterize the Woodside Road intersection still doing about 40. Hooking a left onto Arrowhead, I shut the engine off and coasted the rest of the way to my driveway. I jumped from the car, hauled the continental kit back into place and jumped back onto the floorboards of the Chevy.

About a minute later, the sound of tires moving slowly on gravel cracked and popped its way up the street and back again. With my heart still pounding in my chest, I waited several more minutes before exiting the car and creeping into the house.

Acting as if nothing happened I made a snack and slumped at the kitchen table. I did however, make sure to put my dishes in the dishwasher and clean up after myself before bed. I was, after all, a 17-year-old adult.


Douglas McIntire is a Staff Writer at The Times Record and swears he’s only been handed a couple minor violations in the 29 years since this incident — really. He can be reached at [email protected]

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