When I was 18 I spent a week without my drivers license. It wasn’t lost. I knew right where it was. It was just suspended. At the time, I blamed The Man. I’m older and wiser now. I blame Todd Agnew.
If you don’t know Todd and you happen to be in the market for a top-notch field-trained spaniel, I suggest you contact him immediately. You’ll do no better. He’s amazing.
But Todd, the mature adult dog breeder/trainer, will not be appearing in this post. This is an ’80s buddy-picture courtroom comedy starring a much slimmer me and a much less woodsy Todd. It’s kind of like My Cousin Vinny only (spoiler alert) nobody dies.
So without further adieu, I give to you the epic legal saga, “Greg and Todd Go to Court.”
In the summer of 1985, Todd and Whaley (a fantastic friend and character whose role in this already-long story ended up on the cutting room floor – sorry Whaley) and I all worked at the Sunoco station in the parking lot of the State Line Plaza (which, logically enough, lies directly between Plaistow, N.H., and Haverhill, Mass.).
HELL ON WHEELS
It’s important to detour for a moment here to talk about Todd and I and our respective rides.
Todd was driving a pale blue (very pale blue by that point) 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. And it was everything that name conjures up. The picture above is not Todd’s Bug – but it’s pretty damned close. Todd’s didn’t have the stereo actually “mounted” in the dashboard. And Todd’s had some distinctive burn marks around the glove box where Mike Harriman had lit a fire one cold winter morning while waiting for the ice rink to open for hockey practice. Also, I don’t know about the car in this picture, but I guarantee Todd’s Bug didn’t have a floor in the back. There were some floor mats draped lovingly over the rusted-out holes. But if you lifted up the floor mats, your ride took on a very Flintstone’s vibe. That was Todd’s car.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite that lucky.
I was riding a moped. (I blame Glenn Harnett for that one. But that’s a different story.)
It was a Batavus Starflite. It looked a lot like the one in the picture above, only without the rack on the back… Or the rack on the top. It was funny looking. It didn’t run all that well. With momentum and a steep downhill grade, I might have been able to get it up to 25-30 mph. In addition (listen up, Law & Order, this part’s important), it was goofed up to the point where you couldn’t start it by pedaling. You had to push it, get a running start, hop on and pop the starter. But it got great gas mileage!
Directly across bustling Route 125 from the Plaistow Sunoco station was a nondescript little strip mall with a Hallmark store. And in that Hallmark store worked a girl. I remember two things about this girl:
- Todd thought she was cute and had invested some time into flirting with her.
- She had a friend who worked with her. (And I can’t even remember two things about that friend.)
Now, as any bro will tell you, the presence of #2 necessitated a wingman in order to execute #1. So, on the afternoon in question, Todd and I (who weren’t working) had grown tired of sitting around watching Whaley (who was working). “Let’s go to Hallmark,” he announced. And, bored stupid, I was on board. Todd hopped in his car, I ran for my moped, we crossed bustling Route 125 from our parking lot to the other, I jumped off my moped and in we went.
I don’t remember how long we were in there, but it couldn’t have been long because Todd was making no progress toward #1. But by the time we came out there was an odd couple waiting for us. Both, as it turned out, were among Plaistow’s Finest. He was resplendent in his crisply pressed blue uniform – the very picture of civic authority. She, on the other hand, was off duty. I remember flip flops. I remember a pony tail. I remember a beach towel over the shoulder. And I remember a t-shirt that featured some version of Mickey Mouse.
The off-duty police officer was sure that she had witnessed reckless operation of a motor vehicle and so she’d called down to the station for reinforcements. She was sure that what she had witnessed was two ne’er-do-well hooligans “racing” across from one parking lot to the other. And that shit don’t fly on the streets of Plaistow.
So we were cited and given our pieces of paper that directed us to appear in court on July 16, 1985. (“Happy birthday to me,” I mumbled.)
DUNK DUNK [cut to courtroom scene]
Sure, things looked bleak. But we weren’t going down without a fight. After all, this was America. And the truth was on our side, right?
Todd and I left nothing to chance. We prepared a 3’x4′ diagram of the “scene of the crime,” featuring cutout representations of all vehicles in question which could be moved and repositioned with Velcro. We wore suits. We had briefcases. We entered the courtroom and waited for our case to be called.
Here’s a brief-but-inclusive representation of how that went:
- Bailiff: “Al Coholic? Public intoxication?”
- Al: “Here.”
- Judge: “How do you plead?”
- Al: “Nolo.”
- Judge: “Next.”
- Bailiff: “D.T. Shakes? Public intoxication?”
- D.T.: “Here.”
- Judge: “How do you plead?”
- D.T.: “Nolo.”
- Judge: “Next”…
Then we were up. To their credit, the judge and the police officers involved were completely patient with us. I think they were all just happy for the change of pace. And I think they caught on that, while we were being a little smart-assy, we took this pretty seriously.
So time after time when Todd shouted, “I object!” the judge wouldn’t tell him to shut up and hold him in contempt. Instead he would calmly explain to Todd that, “Your objection is overruled. Mr. Agnew, you can’t object here because…” Until finally, after Todd’s fourth or fifth objection, the judge paused, cocked his head to one side, thought for a moment and replied, “Sustained.”
Back and forth the case went.
“Why would I possibly be racing a poorly functioning moped against a car? It doesn’t make sense.” (score 1 for us)
“Yes, I ran to get started. But not to race. That’s the only way to start the moped.” (score 1 for us)
“Why did I jump off my moped and bounce up and down? I’m just a bouncy kid, I guess. It certainly wasn’t because I was celebrating my victory – you just testified that I was the second one into the parking lot.” (score 1 for us)
In the end I think I was hurt by two words: “I’m sorry.”
“If,” they asked, “you’re not guilty, then why did you say you were sorry to the officers on the scene?”
I don’t think the judge grasped (and I certainly didn’t know how to articulate) that I was a pretty timid, well-mannered, extremely conflict-avoidant kid. If a figure of authority is yelling at you, you say you’re sorry. That’s how you make them stop yelling at you.
The judge took a few minutes to think over the case. We were both charged with Reckless Operation of a Motor Vehicle – which was a misdemeanor. I suppose technically that meant it could have involved jail time, but we never really worried about that. We were worried about big fines and long-term loss of licenses.
Finally the judge announced his verdict.
“Mr. Agnew? Not guilty.”
“Mr. Skoog? Guilty of Failure to Yield. You’re ordered to surrender your license for a period of one week and pay a fine of $100.”
Failure to yield. I don’t think you can appeal a ruling on a simple moving violation. So I would never get to point out the obvious fact that I was on a moped. If there had been a car there to whom I had failed to yield, I’d have been squashed. Whatever. At least Todd got off! Sweet freedom and justice. I felt moderately vindicated.
I’ve told this story a lot. And every time I conclude it with some sort of scoffing comment about the ridiculous accusation that we were “racing.” I was on a moped. Of course we weren’t “racing.”
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago – when Todd and I were actually together and telling this story – when I got to that point in the story and caught Todd snickering.
“I don’t know what the fuck you were doing,” he laughed. “But I was racing.”