It’s a Crime!


As a teenager growing up in rural upstate New York State, I wanted what every red-blooded young male fervently desired when they reached their sixteenth birthday – a driver’s license and perhaps even more important – a car!

I passed my driver’s test easily enough and two years later, when I was eighteen, I had saved enough money to buy a car. It was a beauty and the envy of my friends – a 1951 Mercury Two-door Coupe! I think I paid $400 for it. How times have changed!

While I had enough money to buy the car, I didn’t have enough cash to complete the customizing job I had begun on the vehicle, so I drove around in a primer-painted car sans hood and trunk ornamentation, but sporting dual exhaust pipes and fender skirts.

As you might imagine, the Merc attracted plenty of attention, most of it from unappreciative and unfriendly parents of the occasional young ladies I dated.

I also did what many male teenagers in my town did in their cars; I drove recklessly with little regard for the rules and regulations of the road. My behavior behind the wheel got me into considerable trouble on one occasion and contributed to dire consequences on another. Both situations seem funny in hindsight, but certainly not at the time.

Crime #1:

Driving in a nearby suburban area, I found myself in a line of traffic that seemed to be moving slower than the legendary turtle heading for the finish line. After five minutes of crawling along, I decided slow and steady was not going to win this race for me and that I was above all of this responsible behavior. Even though the road was bisected by a double yellow line that clearly meant no passing, I downshifted into second gear (the mufflers backed off nicely and noisily), swung the car to my left across the double line, stomped down on the gas pedal and proceeded to pass the cars ahead of me.

All was going well until I passed a Monroe County Sheriff’s car also caught in the slow traffic. As I passed the Sheriff’s car, I looked over at the uniformed driver and he glared back at me. His look said it all, “You’ve just racked up a ticket, kid!”

Sure enough, he pulled me over and issued not one, but two tickets – one for crossing the double line, one for speeding.

In those days, if you picked up a ticket, you had to appear in court to pay your fine. So I went to court, without informing my parents, of course. Luckily, I had just enough money on hand to pay my fine, which I did and went home counting myself a lucky dude to have escaped with so little consequence.

Days passed, and no mention of my offense arrived at our home. I thought the incident was history until one evening when my father bellowed at me from the backyard.

“Phil, come here!” he commanded.

He was reading our local newspaper.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he now demanded, pointing to The Police Blotter (a section eagerly reviewed by our small town readers).

There in black and white it clearly stated that one E. Phillip La Borie, age 18, of such and such address, having been ticketed for two travel violations had appeared in court and dutifully paid his fine.

Although I was tried and convicted, I remained undaunted.

“Hmm, must be a misprint, Pops,” I casually remarked. And with that, turned on my heel and prepared to return indoors.

My dad was stunned at first, but he quickly recovered.

“Get back here!” He shouted.

The long and short of his speech was that I was not going to receive my allowance for the foreseeable future (a princely sum of $5.00 per week) and that I was going to do even more work around the house until he saw fit to reduce my sentence.

This paucity of funds now led to…

Crime #2:

Having no money meant there was no way I could buy gas for the car, and with the needle resting nearly on “Empty”, I was scuppered. This situation also meant that I might be reduced to riding the school bus instead of driving to and from school. Plus, there would be no way to drive any date (not that there were many, but my hope sprang eternal) anywhere. This was an unacceptable situation that I needed to address, but how?

My younger brother had a solution.

“I know where you can get gas for free,” he quietly announced. I hadn’t expected that he would offer his allowance to help out, but his announcement was totally unexpected.

“And?” I asked.

“Well,” he responded, “You know that construction site down the road?”

“Yep,” I said.

“They have a gas pump just sitting there. It’s not locked or anything, it’s just sitting there.”

I pictured the site in my mind, remembering the large construction vehicles parked there. I hadn’t noticed the pump, but where there were construction vehicles, there had to be gas to run them.

So, a couple of nights later, we drove my car over to the site. No one was around, and there was the gas pump, unlocked and unguarded as described. Within minutes we had gassed up the Mercury and were on our way back home, congratulating ourselves and feeling smarter than most common thieves.

The car purred along rather nicely for the first half-mile or so and then, going up a long hill, it started to jerk and buck; the engine was clearly having difficulties. We looked at each other in panic, but luck was with us and eventually we got the car home. What could the problem be?

Our parents were away on one of their frequent short vacations, and we had the one car garage to ourselves. Only one solution came to mind – we had to drain the gas tank since whatever fuel we’d put into it was clearly the wrong stuff.

Since my brother was smaller, he got under the car and using a large pipe wrench commenced to open the drain on the bottom of the tank. We positioned a bucket next to him to pour the useless fuel into and I stood by with several other buckets – a one-man bucket brigade.

With a final turn of the wrench, the fuel began to pour out. It filled the first bucket instantly and I frantically handed him the second one. What to do with the first bucket? With no time to think, I rushed to the garage back door and hurled the contents onto the back lawn. We repeated this maneuver numerous times until the flow was reduced to a mere dribble and then stopped.

The contents were now spread all over the back yard and quickly soaked into the lawn.

Our aborted refueling attempt completed, we went to bed.

On Saturday – our usual day to pull weeds and mow the lawn, the parents arrived home. As usual, my dad came out to supervise our efforts and inspect our work.

Unfortunately, the sight that greeted him in the back yard was very much not to his liking. To our complete surprise, the areas where I had tossed the gas had turned a very ominous brown. Long stretches of burnt grass in lengthy wide swathes covered a good portion of the lawn. In short, I’d killed the grass and ruined the lawn.

Apparently, the grass did not mix well with diesel fuel, which was what we’d poured into the Mercury gas tank.

To say that my dad was unhappy would be the understatement of the year. But this time, instead of yelling at us, he simply shook his head in bewilderment.

To top it off, despite repeated applications of grass seed, the grass stubbornly refused to grow back.

And that may have been the biggest crime of all.

Smiles For All