Sunday, May 13, 2001

A Mother's Day story

        Here's my wish today. It's not exactly a Hallmark card — more like something from Willie & Waylon: “Mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be outlaws.

        “Tell them they can go out and have fun, but if the police say stop, you'd better not run.”

        It comes with a story about a kid and his motorcycle.

        He was just a teen-ager, acting out his personal movie script of cool. The part he played called for long hair, a fringed leather jacket, frayed bell-bottom jeans and a red Triumph “bike” with a chambered exhaust
that could startle store-window dummies and make a jumpy cat's hair fall out.

        The local cops had a role to play, too. And every time the kid kick-started his red bike, they were waiting, stage right, to make an entrance with sirens wailing and deliver their Sgt. Friday lines: “Forty in a thirty-five zone. Excessive noise. Improper lane change. Rolling stop.”

        What they meant was, “Hippie punk.”

        These days they call it “profiling.” The cops figured hippies on motorcycles, or sardined into smoke-filed VW campers with peace signs painted on the sides, were likely candidates to be caught puffing pot. They were often right.

        The hippies figured the cops just didn't like anyone who challenged authority. They were often right too.

        But in those days, being “hassled by the law” was a badge of honor. So the kid didn't hear “punk” as he leaned against his bike, looking cool while the cops wrote up a fresh fistful of tickets. He heard Easy Rider. He was James Dean and Marlon Brando and the guy on that TV show, Then Came Bronson. He even had the name for it.

        Yeah, it was me. I'm ashamed to admit I was such a moron, but I hope there's a point to make here.

        The kid's dad said he would never have allowed a motorcycle, or let him keep it after the first ticket. But the dad was long-gone divorced. And moms often don't understand that boys of a certain age go looking for walls to run into. If there's no dad to bounce against, they can fly off into the weeds and run smack into a cop.

        The kid's single mom was smart, though. She made him pay his own fines. And one day it hit him like a sharp kick in the Levis that she was right: The beloved red motorcycle had to be sold.

        The night before the new owners came to pick it up, he took it for one last ride. Without a helmet. Nice and fast, just around the block.

        The cops were waiting. They hit the siren and lights and the felony-stupid kid did some sloppy arithmetic and decided a zero fine was better than another $50 ticket, so he took off.

        As usual, his math was all wrong. He left out the biggest cost of all: Getting caught. He wiped out and crashed in the woods. He paid plenty.

        But in return, he got a valuable lesson. Cops are not your daddy. They have a job to do, and no matter how you disagree, a drawn gun always wins the argument.

        A hippie punk can cut his hair, put on a tie and grow up to be a respectable middle-class suit who has a special appreciation of how much kids need a dad who sets limits, and how tough it is for single moms to juggle jobs, bills and teen-age hellion rebellions.

        But he still remembers the kid who ran from the cops, especially when another kid gets killed making the same mistake.

        Nobody expects the grieving mother of Timothy Thomas to tell other moms to warn their kids not to run from police. Nobody expects her to say how foolish it is to make heroes out of kids who resist arrest.

        But someone needs to.

        “Mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be outlaws.

        “If they think they're bullet-proof and 10 feet tall, they might not get a chance to grow up at all.”

        E-mail: Past columns at


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