The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

Night of the Living Gumballs


"Your LICENSE, where's your license?"  “Uuuhh, it's on the bumper, back there....”


- Cheech, responding to an LA cop, UP IN SMOKE, 1978

The great Dave Densmore (journalist and PR person) once told a story, I believe it was called "I'm in jail, I'm loaded and I'm screwed." Nobody can tell a story like Dave, and nobody should even TRY, but I do know this: Everybody, and I do mean EVERYBODY, in this sport of ours has run afoul with Johnny Ringo at some point in time. I'll bet even GARLITS has a story! So, with apologies to the former DRO columnist, this month we shall hear this particular story, which I call 'The Night of the Living Gumballs'.

The year is 1993, and at the urging of the late, great Jim Crownhart, I have joined forces with the United Drag Racers Association. For the record, one of the best years in my life, as all those people in the UDRA were just the best. Late May to early June was the Midwestern Swing, as it were, US 41, Gateway, and Cordova, and as luck would have it, Cordova gets rained out. So, I'll have to return the following week.


But there's one little detail I've left out: I do not have a driver’s license at this point in my life, some unfinished business from my divorce in the mid eighties. After that little venture, I adopted the "Capt. Tony Nelson recovery plan" You remember Tony Nelson, right? Played by Larry Hagman, everyone’s favorite TV astronaut looked into the bottom of a bottle and found a smoking hot Barbara Eden in a belly-dancing costume! SO, I looked into "a lot of bottles", and found...a lot of COPS! I'd been bumming rides to all these races, but that's a lot of favors, and so, for the Cordova make up, I'm going to have to pray for luck, and hope I can sneak down there and back without incident.


Should'a prayed harder, I guess, because I get lit up in Byron. Turns out the front plate had fallen off, and that's why Gumball number one has me on the shoulder. He is a genuinely nice guy, who actually feels bad over what has to ensue. He even only writed me up for the plate violation, instead of the higher charges (this is important later). The gal at the Byron police station also feels bad for me, allowing me more than one phone call, in an attempt to secure a ride, but we are a one-car family, which is now at "Morty’s Impound Emporium", and like I said before, all our friends are busy this weekend. Finally, around 9 p.m., she releases me on my own recognizance, and I start walking, hoping for a good Samaritan, who is eastbound.


Around 11, a beat up '75 Mustang II pulls up, being driven by "Tommy". I refer to him as Tommy, not for his affection for pinball, but for his resemblance to Chong. We get about twenty minutes down the road when gumball number two lights up. This guy, "Officer Falfa", is definitely NOT like the guy from Byron. It's hard to tell when you have a maglite pegged in your face, but I swear he was wearing those 'Alabama Sheriff sunglasses'(that probably had the mirrors on the inside as well). Tommy has a clean record, and when the officer gives him his license back, he says 'I pulled you over for having a brake light out', and he leaves. Tommy turns to me and says, "But I didn't touch the brakes til AFTER he...." Yeah, I know. See, Tom, it's a Mustang, with two long-hairs in it, around midnight, and for the record, your tail light is NOW probably broken.


My finished version of the UDRA 1993 In Review video has a clip of Chief Wiggum breaking Homer Simpson’s tail lights with a Billy club to commemorate this incident.


Tommy drops me at the interstate, I thank him for the lift, and start walking again. I figure, as long as I do not stick my thumb out, I'm not doing anything wrong, so again, I'm hoping for a good Samaritan. Around 1 a.m. I sense some headlights slowing down, and hear the crunch of tires on gravel, and just as my hopes begin to soar, the night sky turns a flurry of blue. Enter gumball number three, and apparently, I'm getting a frequent-flyer UPGRADE of sorts, because this one is a full blown State Trooper. I suppress the urge to say, "I don't know why my dirt is in Boss Keen’s ditch", because I can tell THIS guy (Lt. Colonel Niedermeyer) does not have a sense of humor.


"Whatta you doin’ walking on my HIGHWAY, BOY?" OK, he didn't really say it like that, but damn close. He makes it VERY clear that I am breaking the law, but there is an oasis down the road, and I, as politely as I can muster, say that all I want to do is get there, and call for a ride. He gives me a lift, putting me in restraints first, of course. ("It's just procedure, BOY.") And so, there I spent the balance of the night, feasting on a nutritious bag of Cheetos from the vending machine (of COURSE the restaurant was closed!) and hoping nothing else could go wrong.


Fast forward to my trial later that summer. We as a family barely had two nickels to rub together, so I opt for a public defender, which we are genuinely poor enough to qualify for. My advice to anyone in this situation, do NOT get a public defender; ANYTHING is a better idea, I should have represented myself and burst into an Al Pacino rant, "You're out of order, YOU'RE OUT OF ORDER!” It would've ended better, trust me.


My attorney (Lionel Hutz) listens to me tell my situation for about thirty minutes, and proceeds to remember three letters: D, U, and I. We get to court, and I see Hutz laughing it up with the PROSECUTOR! I amble over and say, “So, there's just going to be a fine, right?” This little yuppie-schmuck looks at me like I puked on his shoes and says, "FINE? I'm pushing for ONE YEAR on this!"


Call me Casper, because I'm truly white as a ghost now. My case is called up, and Hutz starts flailing around like a dinner theater version of Clarence Darrow, babbling on about “Mister Hoffman’s DUI’s” until the Judge does a little "Lance Ito deal" and bangs both hands on his bench and yells out "WHAT are you talking ABOUT?" He then holds up documents, saying that this is a charge about an equipment violation, nothing more. Remember the Byron cop? My 'inner Catholic' proceeds to say a million Hail Mary’s to that guy, while the prosecutor and Hutz stare at each other like the two dopes that they were.


I STILL got a fine and a week, which turned into 'not a week'. On Sunday afternoon, all the tweekers in my block went out to pick up trash and wash cop cars, so I celebrated having the cell to myself by taking a shower, and turning off the same stupid Jim Carrey movie that the tweekers insisted stay on. (He was a vampire and I think it was called THIS SUCKS, no wait, that wasn't the title, that's what it did.)


And I turned on Steve Evans and NHRA Today. That's where I was when I learned we'd lost Al Dapozzo, so I realized that I didn't even have a down PAYMENT on "bad". By five that afternoon, I was back home with the family, eating pizza and watching the Rams destroy the Steelers, while regaling the kids with my adventures in "The Big House".


Love my driver’s license, bad photo and estimated cost of 16K and all. Kids, don't drink and drive; Barbara Eden is NOT in the bottle, it was a TV show, and not a very good one to boot.


I AM Chicago Jon. Til next time, C-YAAAA



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