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James R. Stout

The Great Airwick Caper

              Friday nights in early 1973 were very special for me. A typical Friday night would perhaps start with me going over to my girlfriend’s house (Terry) and sitting in her parlor (how quaint). Her parents still didn’t allow her to go out on single dates, so we would just spend time together in that little parlor. Sometimes I would serenade her on my guitar or play something for her on their upright piano. I was usually wearing my standard outfit of the day. A flannel shirt, some brush denim pants or a pair of corduroys, desert boots, and as wide a belt as possible that always matched the shoes in color. I also had a leather watch band that was at least 2 inches wide. I was stylin’ and then some!

            Terry and I would steal a kiss or two, but nothing long cause her parents were in the other room and could and would pop in from time to time to just “see how we were doing”. I liked her parents. They were very nice to me. I never felt judged or looked down upon by them. They would end up being much more to me years later after I had kids and we still went to the same church. Terry’s mother would sometimes work in the nursery at the church during the service and she became very attached to my daughter. They were always very sweet to me in those years long after Terry was married with children as I was.

            Most of those Friday evenings were a time for Terry and me to just be together. As usual, 10 o’clock was time for me to go. We would step out onto the porch and talk a little more, kiss a little more, and just hold each other a little. But when the porch light flashed, it was time to hit the road. My Friday evening didn’t end there though. Not even close. On one particular Friday evening I had arranged to pick up my friend Lonny about 10:30 and we would go cruising in the car. This was a common event during those days. I picked-up Lonny and the first thing he said was, “I need to stop and get something for my Mom before we cruise around.”

            “No, problem.” I replied.

            We drove to the nearby grocery store that was open until 11 o’clock and Lonny ran into the store while I waited in the car. The car was my mother’s 1967 Chevy Nova. Not a speed-mobile, but it was freedom. Lonny got back in the car and threw the bag on the floorboard behind us.

            “What’s in the bag?” I asked.

            “A couple of those Airwick solid air fresheners. My mom wants to try them out.” He replied.

            “Cool”, I said.

            Then we started on our long drive around. Just cruising around and listening to tunes on the AM radio. It was all the Chevy had. No FM, no cassette, no 8-track, just the AM radio, but the best radio station in Texas was KILT 610 and they played great top 40 tunes of the day. On that drive we listened to songs like “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, “Jambalaya” by The Blue Ridge Rangers (John Fogerty of CCR), “Hi Hi Hi” by Paul McCartney and Wings, “Do It Again” by Steeley Dan, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John, “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina, and “Hummingbird” by Seals and Crofts. We would turn the sound down and talk when songs like “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, and “Sing” by The Carpenters came on. No offense to those artists, but we were just not into those songs. There was one song that elicited a debate as to its worthiness to be heard. For some unknown reason, I liked the song “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” by Hurricane Smith. Lonny thought it was horrid! Keep in mind that all of these songs were new hits of the day. That list reads like a greatest hit’s compilation from the classic rock years. We got spoiled in those days with the variety and great music that was common at the time.

            The drive took us down neighborhood streets throughout the Spring Branch area of Houston. He always drove through a Jack-in-the-Box and got a couple of tacos, a super-scoop of fries, and a large Dr. Pepper with instructions to “be cool with the ice”. $3 would fill the tank of my mother’s car and we wouldn’t use but about a quarter of a tank of gas. Yea, gas was still about 23 cents a gallon. Most of the stores closed by 10 o’clock in those days. While we were sitting in line at the Jack-in-the-Box, I noticed a dark colored sedan sitting across the street idling with two guys sitting in it. The car looked familiar and I realized that I had seen it several times while we were driving around. I thought it was just a coincidence.

            We got our food and drove down Long Point Dr. and pulled into the big parking lot for a strip mall center about halfway between my house and Lonny’s. It was time to dig in and start working on the svelte figure I now display. I was about to take a bite of a taco when I saw that car again. There was something odd about it. It pulled into the parking lot with it’s headlights off and started to speed through the parking lot, circling around and then coming up lickity-split behind our car finishing with a screech of the brakes. Before I knew what was happened both the men in the car got out of their car and ran up to our windows. One on each side with flashlights shining in our stunned eyes. What on Earth was going on?

            It was a cool night, so we had the windows rolled-up. The guy on Lonny’s side banged on the window and then shone his flashlight onto a police badge while loudly saying, “Put your hands on the dash.”

            We were then ordered to exit the car. The guy on my side ordered me to move back to the trunk and said, “Put your butt up against the car.” I complied. This guy was a Dirty Harry wannabee and he no doubt had a .44 magnum that would blow my head clean off.

            Meanwhile, the other cop had Lonny put his butt against the right front fender. My cop just stood there looking at me and then admonished me to “Don’t move a muscle” while he shined his flashlight into the back seat of the car. Lonny’s cop was looking at Lonny’s driver’s license closely and then Lonny’s face and then the license and so on. Finally, he was satisfied that Lonny wasn’t the person he was looking for. But these guys probably felt like they needed to save face or something. So, my cop says, “What’s in the paper bag?”

            I looked at him and simply told the truth. “Two Airwick solid air fresheners.” The look on that cop’s face was priceless. He just didn’t know what to do with that answer. So, he ordered me to get the bag and very slowly show him.

            I picked-up the bag and opened it and he shined his light down into the bag revealing two “Hawaiian Breeze” Airwick solid air fresheners. The cop just looked at me like I was a nut. The cops decided that we weren’t John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd after all and left as quickly as they had arrived. Lonny and I got back in the car, looked at each other, and wondered how we made that foray into “The Twilight Zone”. I asked Lonny what his cop was asking him about, and he said that they had a report of a runaway that looked a lot like him and that they had been following us around all night. We both shrugged and went back to our now cold tacos.

            It was a pretty strange event for us and something that we have talked about over the years. We’ve played the “what if” game. What if they had arrested us? What if this and what if that. In the end, it turned out just fine, but to this day I don’t tempt fate. I buy some other brand of air fresheners.

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