A year ago I made my first Ephblog post offering a ride from Pennsylvania to Williamstown. This year, I repeat the offer, though with less advance notice (sorry) and a different point of origin: Ithaca, NY, leaving Thursday and returning Sunday.

When I bought my car junior year, I vowed to “pay forward” all the times I had depended on friends with cars in my previous years in college. Since then I have given many rides to Williams students and alums, many to people I had never met or spent real time with before. I regret only one; every other has led to a good experience, and sometimes a friendship.

Those seeking rides from these points or in between are welcome to email me. One Albany pickup and dropoff should be easy, if your timing is right.

That’s all you need to know if your sole purpose is a ride. But I figured as long as I’m posting, I’d tell a little Williams story associated with the acquisition of a car that is exactly my make and model, but which was acquired by a close friend. His story has been a favorite in our circle for years. The police are involved.


I’ll tell you the story just as my friend always tells it to me:

I own a 1997 Pontiac Sunfire. She’s a General Motors, 4 door sedan, completely unremarkable vehicle. As my first car, I have no idea how well she is taking her 143000 miles but she hasn’t stranded me yet, or ever had a major failure. I am very happy with her, and intend to drive her til I can’t anymore. Even when a gallon of milk went bad in the trunk and no one could bear to ride with me for weeks, and my brother told me I would never have a romantic life again, still I was faithful.

I’ve been through a lot with my Pontiac, and I went through a lot just to get her. Well, actually getting her was rather easy. I saw an ad hanging in the Driscoll dining hall for a Sunfire. It was my junior year and I was in the market, and the price was fair. I called the number and it turned out to be a Williams alum I knew, in fact one fairly well known to my friends group.

Here’s where we get into some trouble, because I need to start using a pronoun to refer to this person, and he is a female-to-male transgender. So “he” it is, I guess, though when I first met her he was a she. At the time the car was sold to me, and he let me test drive it with him, he was a he. This, believe it or not, is a salient point that we shall return to later.

I was happy with the car and price, and decided to buy on the spot. So the Pontiac became mine, but since it was a person to person sale the paperwork was kind of informal. There was the title, which he signed over. There was a bill of sale and release of liability, which was handwritten on a sheet of looseleaf and signed by us both. Then the car was mine, but without plates. But Melissa–or Mel, as he now called himself and signed to the documents–said I could keep it in his driveway until I could get it registered.

So I walked home to Currier leaving it parked behind a home on Water Street, and figured I’d wait until after mid terms and the like to register it. This was going to be a lengthy process, requiring me to beg a ride from a friend to get to an insurance office, RMV, all that jazz, and I didn’t need the car anyway for my day-to-day.

A few weeks later, I was having dinner at the Water Street Grill with my girlfriend, and we were going afterwards to see a show at the Adams Memorial Theatre (before it was a huge, overblown structure with a strip-club-like marquee), The Bacchae. The Grill was running slow and we were going to be late, and then I had the bright idea that my new car was parked right across the street. We could drive it the short distance to the theatre to make the show on time and park in the new parking garage, that double-decker support structure that had replaced an open lawn/marsh with two tiers of blacktop that sat empty for about 3/4 of the year.

I figured this short drive was a legal gray area because I was under the impression, then, that one had to drive a car to the RMV to get it registered, so it must be legal to drive short distances. Or something.

The Bacchae, in my not particularly educated opinion, was awful. It was this that preoccupied me as we left the show, and between that mental burden and the newness of owning a car, I completely forgot that I had parked in the Greylock lot. I was reminded when, at 5 am, Security was pounding on my door.

I was a good boy. I had never had Security pound on my door. I am also notoriously inhuman when I just wakeup; my best friends and family know to leave me alone during those tender dawn moments. So it is a miracle that I immediately knew why they had come for me. I told them to come in.

“Are you the owner of a green Pontiac Sunfire currently parked in Greylock?”

“Yeah . . . hang on,” and I fetched my documentation from my desk drawer. Two officers had come, and the man looked over my papers while the woman was silent. I think I gave some explanation of what it was doing there, but I never remember or can be held responsible for anything I saw within the first ten minutes after I wake up.

“Alright, you can’t leave that parked there. Tomorrow, it’s going to be towed.” And then, he appeared to be on my side. “If I were you, listen, if I were you, I’d go over there right now and move it. You got somewhere you can put it?” I did. “OK, that’s what I’d do, I’d go move it. Your choice though.” And then they left.

It was late March but it was also 5 am and to my sluggish blood it felt like winter as I trudged the full width of campus, completely on automatic. On the off chance there was a patrolman on the road or something, I had taken my papers with me to prove that I owned the plateless, registrationless, completely undocumented vehicle I was about to be driving. I didn’t think this was a real possibility, but I knew better than to bet on my good luck.

I specifically drove so as to stay off public roads for as long as I could, driving on roads across campus until I got to Southworth Street. From there, I had to make a short dogleg across Route 2, then less than 1/4 mile on Water Street and I was home, to the garage. I was driving like I was on a road test: easy speed, full stop at the stop sign on Southworth. Extensive peering in both directions; not a car in sight, no squad car.

I make the left onto Route 2. The moment I’ve committed, a white car appears over the hill in front of WCMA, to my West. I am slightly piqued but continue to roll along, right past my home dorm of Currier when the blue lights start flashing. Utterly amazing. I turn down Water Street and pull over into the Water Street Books parking lot. The squad car pulls in behind me, perpendicular to me, to prevent the escape I was not contemplating. I am annoyed but I am far, far more tired when he walks up to my window and asks for my license, registration, and insurance.

I give him what I’ve got, which is my license, my title, and bill of sale. He walks back to his car to process things. I fall asleep, or near to it.

When he returns, he says something that has puzzled me to this day. “You were just told not to drive this, weren’t you?”

I think. Actually I had just been told to drive it by Security. I decide to protect College-police relations. “What would you have done?” I ask.

“I would have waited until I could get the car properly registered.”

“OK.”

He hands me a ticket. I am written up for two misdemeanors: no registration and failure to display plates, total fine $135. Then there’s “Uninsured.” Next to it there is no fine indicated.

“Unfortunately, driving without insurance is a criminal offense. I’m going to have to take the car.” He indicates that I should give him the keys. I wonder if I was required by law to do this, since I was later going to get to pay a fee for towing that probably never happened.

Of course you do what a cop says, and as I get out of the vehicle and turn over my property I see there there is not one but four squad cars on the scene. While I was dozing, they had arrived and boxed me in, one on all three sides and a fourth parked a ways back. I was boxed in, drug-bust style. They had brought in three cars from North Adams for me; there were at least six officers there in case I was to turn from slow-moving, 100% compliant driver into Scarface.

I took note of all this and that I would have to appear for trial in the summer, but what I remember most of all is how happy I was that I was pulled over so close to home. All I wanted was to get back to bed, and it was a short walk from Water Street Books to Currier, where I climbed under the covers and fell promptly into the sleep of the righteous, with nothing at all to remind me the next morning that I was a criminal.

It took over a week to get everything straightened out because I had to wait until someone could drive me to the various offices I needed to visit. I smooth talked my way through getting licensed at one window at the RMV, then came to a crotchety old woman at the window where I’d get my registration. That’s where I came to my last and weirdest hurdle.

“This is no good,” she said, indicating my bill of sale.

“What’s wrong? That’s what I’ve got.”

“Well, the name on the title is ‘Melissa’,” but the bill of sale here is signed ‘Mel’. I don’t who that is, could be her brother, her father.”

My “Are you serious?” didn’t move her, nor could any other explanation. I researched the law and learned that the bill of sale is not required. I had to go to a different RMV, get a younger, more flirtatious clerk, and simply not produce the document. This worked fine.

***

My friend never figured out how Security traced his car to him, since his ownership of it was not recorded on documents that lay anywhere outside of his desk drawer. The only thing we figured was that Security found the car and called the police to help them track the VIN number. There are still some odd steps between where that would have taken them and my friend’s door in Currier, but the key is that that some cooperation between Security and the police probably occurred, and that’s how the police were tipped off to camp for him on Route 2.

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