By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 10, 1939
“The trouble with going four in a car,” said Jimmie Frise,”is, you can’t hold conversation.”
“The more the better,” I differed.
“That’s a common mistake,” stated Jim. “The perfect setup for purposes of pleasant conversation is two people. Like man and wife, for example. Why did polygamy die out of the more civilized world? Because a man couldn’t carry on a decent conversation with five wives.”
“I don’t agree,” I declared. “When two people engage in conversation, it generally boils down to a one-sided conversation. You rarely find two people of equal wind.”
“Some people are natural born listeners,” pointed out Jim.
“I like about three or four people in a group,” I explained, “because then, if there is one windbag in the party, the three others can generally work up enough between them to sort of balance the windbag.”
“Then,” said Jim, “you will be happy today. Because Skipper and Vic will very nicely help me hold the balance against you.”
“I resent that, Jim,” I informed him.
“I always hate to get into a car with you and several people,” said Jim, “because the minute you see three people you think it is an audience and you begin making a speech.”
“Is this the spirit,” I demanded, “in which to start off on a nice trip to the country?”
“If there were only two of us in our car,” said Jim, “I could let you drive and then I could go to sleep. I’ve often worked that scheme.”
“I never knew you to be so unpleasant,” I protested. “What’s got into you?”
“Oh, nothing,” sighed Jim. “I just feel like having a fight with somebody.”
“Jim,” I consoled, “I often feel that way myself. Life gets humdrum, not from having to do the same things over and over forever and ever, but because it gets so eternally pleasant. Life gets pleasanter all the time. I don’t think human nature can stand it.”
“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “Look at all the inventions of the past 30 years. All to make life pleasant. The motor car, to take us quickly and pleasantly wherever we get the whim to go. The movies, to give us the pleasant thrill of romance for 35 cents. The radio, so that with a click of a button we can get any sort of entertainment we desire, from a symphony to an educational talk about how to kill potato bugs.”
“Life is getting too pleasant,” I concurred. “Why, even the poor can’t be poor any more. They are hounded and chased and given food and clothing and life made as pleasant as possible for them. Criminals can’t even find any real unpleasantness in life because they are making jails into educational institutions.”
“At the rate we are going,” decreed Jim, “there will be no escape from pleasantness except in our own natures. The more perfect the conditions of life are made, the worse our characters are going to become.”
“Nobody wants perfection,” I admitted.
“It is the struggle for perfection,” explained Jimmie, “that makes life interesting. To attain perfection must be a horrible thing.”
“We can always figure,” I reassured, “on things going wrong, however we perfect life and all its arrangements.”
“No,” said Jim. “the way we are heading now, life is going to be made perfect. For all. There will be no more poor, no more underprivileged, no more unhappy. The whole vast force of humanity is right now in the throes of a gigantic struggle toward perfection, Hitler going one way. We democracies the other. But back of it all, a countless army of scientists, thinkers, workers, politicians, all striving day and night to find some road to perfection for all mankind. It will be a technical perfection as well as a social perfection. We will have pleasant ways of going where we want to go as far ahead of the motor car and airplane as they are far ahead of our grandfather’s buggy. They will have pleasant ways of being entertained and amused as far ahead of movies and radio as they are ahead of the ham actor touring theatrical companies and elocutionists of our grandfather’s time.”
“But always something will go wrong,” I assured him.
“No, sir,” prophesied Jim. “As they have taken out the defects of the motor car, progressively, over the past 20 years, so will they take out the defects of the social system during the next hundred years.”
“What a smooth running world it will be,” I mused.
“And,” said Jim, “life being perfect, we will turn to our own natures for a little relief. We will turn into cantankerous, mischievous, troublesome and altogether miserable creatures, just for a little relief.”
“Just for an occasional surprise,” I agreed. “Because if we get things perfect in this life, we take out all the surprise. And what is life without its surprises?”
“You’re right,” said Jim. “Of all the deadly dull people to have to live with, the perfect characters are the worst.”
“They never surprise you,” I admitted, “even with their perfection.”
“I wish somebody would surprise me today,” sighed Jimmie, sinking back into his former gloom.
“Look here,” I suddenly thought, “we can surprise Skipper and Vic, even if I can’t surprise you. You know that speed cop on the highway between Orangeville and Shelburne?”
“Eddie?” said Jim. “What about him?”
“Look,” I chuckled, “we’ll have Skip and Vic in the back seat. Eddie usually takes his stand on that long hill about five miles north of Orangeville. When we see him ahead, you call out and warn me. Make sure the others hear you. Then I’ll say, ‘Aw to heck with speed cops. I’m not afraid of speed cops. And I’ll step on the gas and shoot her up from 50 to as high as she’ll go.”
“Swell,” laughed Jimmie, quite refreshed.
“And we’ll go by Eddie at 70 miles an hour,” I exulted, “and Skipper and Vic will think I’ve gone nuts.”
“This is a swell idea,” agreed Jim. “I wish it was on me you were playing the trick. I’d like somebody to give me a thrill.”
“Well, you can have the second-hand thrill,” I pointed out, “of imagining how Skip and Vic will feel.”
Something Up Your Sleeve
So when we came to the time to pick up Skipper and Vic it was with that good-humored feeling you have when you’ve got something up your sleeve. In fact, it was a very jolly party that sped in the late afternoon out of Toronto northerly and westerly to visit some friends in Owen Sound and have a little early morning trout fishing the next day.
“No hurry, no hurry,” shouted Skipper from the back seat. “This is swell. Let’s take it slow enough to see the scenery.”
Which you can see from an open car in a fashion unknown to those addicted to closed cars.
So I slowed down to a lazy 40 and under; and when we passed through Orangeville, I slowed her even more, so as to make the surprise all the more exciting.
“Speed cop ahead,” suddenly cried Jim.
And sure enough, half a mile ahead, Eddie’s motorcycle sparkled modestly in the shadows and there stood Eddie, watching the great sweep of hill before us.
“Speed cops don’t worry us,” said Skipper, from the back seat.
“Oh, don’t they?” I retorted a little indignantly.
And I started stepping on the gas.
“Hey, hey, hey,” warned Skip. “There is a cop there. I can see him.”
“Aw, who cares about speed cops,” I shouted over my shoulder. And put my foot right down on the floor boards and the old car picked up all she had and flew.
“Hey, hey,” cried Skipper, from the back seat. Don’t be crazy. You’re hitting 65.”
“I’ll make it 75 by the time we pass that guy,” I shouted, amidst the wind of our passage.
And did I ever have her leaping when we passed Eddie!
Jim was sitting beside me and behind sat Skipper and Vic almost out of sight so did they huddle. The fear of a speed cop is curiously ingrained into the human species. And it was with a feeling of having committed blasphemy that the two of them crouched as I drove the car at a mad pace past.
Eddie was magnificent. I cast him a sly smile over my shoulder so as to tip him off to chase us. And hidden behind his goggles, he put on an expression of outrage and indignation it is impossible to do justice to. Just as we are intimidated by the sight of a speed cop – other than a friend – is a speed cop astounded and hurt by indifference.
“Have You Gone Nuts?”
In the rear view mirror I watched, as I still tramped on the gas, and sure enough, with every indication of outrage, Eddie grabbed his cycle and with a run and a jump was after us.
“He’s after you; he’s after you,” wailed Skipper, looking back. “Slow up, slow up. Have you gone nuts?”
“Let him catch me,” I roared, holding the speed.
“The guy’s gone nuts,” shouted Vic, leaning forward to grab Jim’s shoulders and shake him. “Turn off the ignition!”
“Aw,” replied Jim loudly, “what we need is a little excitement. Let him go.”
“Excitement,” groaned Vic, relapsing back.
“Yes,” said Jim, turning around so he could see the rapid approach of Eddie on his motorcycle, but with an air of bravado also, “a little excitement. We’re sick of going through life with nothing happening.”
“Turn round, turn round,” hissed Skipper at Jim. “Let on you don’t see him.”
“Aw, I see him all right,” shouted Jim, half raising in his sent and looking over their heads back at Eddie, who was now within 30 feet of us and gaining fast however hard I tramped down the gas. In fact I had it on the floor boards.
I made plenty of room for Eddie by keeping well over to the side. I didn’t want any accidents to mar our little fun.
Eddie went by with a final wild rush. It was magnificent. He blew his horn as he flew by and veered in ahead of us, forcing me to slack speed. His arm flew out to signal us to stop. I slacked and drew into the shoulder of the road, and Eddie dismounted ahead of us.
“Aw, what’s the matter!” I roared hotly “We were only doing 50.”
Eddie swung off his cycle, turned, walked slowly back, lifted his goggles – and it wasn’t Eddie.
It wasn’t Eddie. It was a white-faced cop I had never seen before and hope never to see again. His eyes were blazing in his face. He stood and looked for a long steady minute at me, while I slowly shrank and shrank.
“First,” said this stranger, “permit me to smell your breath.”
I permitted him.
“Next,” he said, “permit me to behold your driving license.”
And he suited the action to the word by producing his own little notebook. I fumbled numbly through several pockets and finally found the little black case I always carry in the same pocket.
“Is there any explanation,” inquired the stranger frigidly, “for your actions in increasing your speed when you approached me and continuing to accelerate your speed though you had full knowledge that I was in pursuit of you?”
I tried to speak, but it just went gug.
“I think,” put in Skipper in a rather weak voice, “that he went a little nuts for a minute, officer. He’s had a lot of work lately, he’s overworked, he works night and day, he’s a tremendous worker, and maybe he just went a little nuts for a second.”
“Did you go nuts?” demanded the constable grimly.
“May I speak to you a minute privately, constable?” I inquired.
“Certainly,” said he. He sounded like a university graduate.
I crept out of the car, steadying my legs under me and grasping the fender for support. I walked up ahead of the car and the constable followed me. In a low voice, up beside his motorcycle, I explained to him how I knew Eddie so well and I just thought would have a little joke on my two friends the back seat who were very high strung, jittery fellows.
“Jittery, are they?” said the policeman.
So he gave me his arm and we returned to the car.
“I think one of you jittery gentlemen should take the wheel,” suggested the speed cop.
So Skipper did.
Editor’s Note: 35 cents for a movie ticket in 1939 would be about $6.50 in 2021.