“I’m telling you, Chief Kemnitz. Hansen outran four cops in a Volkswagen! I was with him, and I’ll tell you exactly how he did it!”
Last week, the News-Sentinel story about a VW Bug meet in Lodi reminded me of an incident that happened back in the summer of 1964.
On a July day, I was working at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C. My civilian friend and colleague, Rick Collins, was telling Navy Chief Kemnitz about our caper from the previous day.
The short and pot-bellied middle-aged chief raised an eyebrow of skepticism as Collins proceeded to tell our tale: “We were heading toward Bethesda on the East-West Highway,” Collins continued. “Hansen looked in the rearview mirror and said, ‘A cop is on my tail with his light going!’”
I’ll interrupt Collin’s story here. I couldn’t have been doing more than 10 mph over the 45 mph speed limit, but it must have been a slow day for the Montgomery County Police Department.
At that time, I noticed the right-turn lane was open for Jones Mill Road. I ducked into the lane on a yellow light. Two other cars pulled in back of me, cutting off the officer as the signal turned red. Other lanes were full of traffic.
After several hundred feet, I turned left on Jones Bridge Road. My young, handsome friend continued to describe our adventure to Chief Kemnitz: “We crossed Connecticut Avenue, and to our surprise, a white Montgomery County ‘64 Ford was stopped — facing the opposite direction. The cop waived and whistled for Hansen to pull over. But this crazy buddy of mine just waved back at him and punched the pedal on his little green Bug for all it was worth!”
The National Naval Medical Center was just up the road. So I ducked through the back gate, figuring that, once again, I had avoided the long arm of the law.
Rick looked back and saw that we had not been followed. The Montgomery Country Police had no jurisdiction on federal property.
Figuring we were safe again, I came out the other side of the NNMC on Wisconsin Avenue. By now, the chief was beginning to believe our story. Rick resumed the tale while Kemnitz attentively leaned forward in his chair: “We pulled out on Wisconsin Avenue, and as soon as we did, there were two more cops waiting at the intersection of Cedar Lane. So, what does Hansen do? He drives directly across the street into the National Institutes of Health — also federal property!”
Collins looked back for a second time and saw that one of the officers had not entered the NIH property. He had stopped at the entrance, while the other waited at the Cedar Lane east intersection.
I drove as far as I could inside the tree-lined grounds until I could no longer be seen from the surrounding streets. When I thought the coast was clear, I snuck across the west end of Cedar Lane and drove through residential streets until I was home. That happened to be right across from NIH.
I ordered my friend to get out of the car and get into the house. For the few hours, we wondered if a knock on the door would come, but it did not.
“So, that’s our story, Chief,” Rick concluded proudly.
Kemnitz just stared at us both, stood up, shook his head with a disgusted look and left the room without comment. It was obvious he thought we had done something really stupid.
Looking back, I suppose he was right. If I had been caught, I’m sure I never would have heard the end of it from my father. The authorities probably would have suspended my driving privileges until the next millennium.
Today when I see a classic Bug on the streets, that adventurous memory returns. Young men are widely known for their impulsive judgment, taking chances and playing high-risk games. This just happened to be one of the few times the breaks came our way, and luckily for me, I was able to pull it off!
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.