Thursday, July 19, 2012
Just a Little Bit More Than the Law Will Allow
And then there's this:
Last week, a state trooper in Bradley, Maine, pulled over Rosco P. Coltrane, fabled sheriff of television's Hazzard County.
Okay, so the Maine state trooper is real, but the driver he pulled over was a Maine civilian who collects memorabilia from the classic 1980's TV show, the Dukes of Hazzard. It wasn't the driver who was committing an offense, but the car he was driving - a white, mint-condition 1978 Dodge Monaco (pictured above), complete with sheriff decals, emergency lights, and a siren.
Oh yeah - and a stuffed animal named "Flash," after Coltrane's languid basset hound, in the back seat.
Once the owner of the replica cruiser explained his vehicle to the mystified trooper, named Michael Johnston, Trooper Johnston let him off with a warning to have its emergency lights and siren disconnected. Even though everybody else in town already knows it's just a show car.
Now, if like Trooper Johnston, you're too young to recognize the '78 Dodge from its days as a ubiquitous police cruiser, allow me to remind you about the Dukes of Hazzard. I've commented before on that true period piece - it aired during the same era as the prime time soap opera, Dallas. Poorly written, horribly directed, and badly acted, Dukes was even worse than the artistically-challenged Dallas, but just as wildly popular.
(What does it say about the 1980's that these were two of its signature TV shows?)
There wasn't much cheatin', back-stabbin', and cutthroat oil dealin' in Dukes, but it had what most any other TV show needs to succeed: goofy comedy, a flashy car (in the form of an orange Dodge Charger with the Confederate Flag painted on its roof), good guys always comin' out on top, and a gorgeous girl.
Catherine Bach played Daisy Duke, the gorgeous girl, and her impossibly short denim shorts - not exactly a new fashion idea - soon were called "Daisy Dukes" because, well, she embodied them so well.
John Schneider and Tom Wopat played the mischievous Duke brothers, Bo and Luke; two guys who never seemed to have regular work, unless you count always running afoul of the county's white-suited villain, Boss Hog. Boss Hog, played by Sorrell Booke, used his feeble-brained sheriff, Coltrane, to protect all of his various nefarious business schemes. The Duke brothers' iconic orange Charger, christened the General Lee, was just as famous as any of the show's human actors, and exaggerated car chases between the General Lee and Sheriff Coltrane's cruiser - and sometimes, Boss Hog's old white Cadillac convertible - usually ate up more air time than the show's dialog did.
Backing up that cast was the wizened, grizzled Uncle Jesse; the greasy mechanic, Cooter, who usually ended up having to get Bo and Luke out of trouble; and the docile, bashful Deputy Strate, who for southern law enforcement agencies, made about as cringe-worthy a reincarnation of Mayberry's ineffective Barney Fife as any of the show's other blatant stereotypes.
Oh yes - and Flash, the sad-eyed old hound who'd probably seen so many of his owner's hijinks go awry, nothing could perturb him anymore.
Really, it shouldn't have been as popular as it was, but it was. And its popularity came from its uncanny ability to portray a simpler place and time in American folklore. Something not quite turn-of-the-century Old South provincialism, but not quite modern-day suburbs-invading-the-countryside, either. Good and evil were easier to spot and deal with, with good ol' common sense and family values ruling the day.
Of course, it's rather ironic that a cop in rural Maine would pull over a benign, unofficial cop car outfitted as a replica of southern sheriff Coltrane's veee-hickle, as Coltrane would say. Geographically speaking, Maine is about as far north from the South as you can get, but in terms of its slower pace of life, both New England and the Deep South have a lot in common. Switch the accents, and take out all of the wealthy Boomers who've recently retired to Maine, and Dukes could have been filmed in the Pine Tree State. For something like a state trooper's concern over a replica squad car to make news speaks to the down-home nature of Maine, and probably would have made news down South if it happened there, too. Here in urban north Texas, this wouldn't be news, because most of our local police departments are too busy fighting real crime.
Indeed, word is beginning to spread here in Arlington, between Fort Worth and Dallas, that a new urban gang may be trying to establish itself in the northern part of town. Just today, our neighborhood crime watch sent out an e-mail with the link to a video on YouTube showing a group of about twenty gangsta-type wannabies in a local park rapping with vulgarities and sinister swagger about drugs and general mayhem. This same group is suspected of vandalizing another city park and bullying groups that had legitimately reserved pavilions at local parks. Arlington never used to have a real crime problem, but it has now for years, and the small-town feel that was still here when my family moved down in the late 1970's is long gone.
It's this kind of stuff that is unsettling and even threatening to people like my neighbors and me, since we live in an established neighborhood, and are surrounded by dilapidated apartments like the ones featured in the video. People who used to leave their front doors unlocked during the day now have security alarms, motion sensors, and closed-circuit cameras wired all over their properties. If this new gang proves to be a genuine threat, what's next?
If only we had the crime problems like Trooper Johnston - shucks, and even Sheriff Coltrane - have, then everyday life would be a lot less stressful.
Oh well, at least in Bradley, Maine, traffic is tame enough for this replica cruiser's owner to drive his classics around town without fear damaging them - or having them get stolen. Here in north Texas, meanwhile, driving is done pretty much the same way Bo and Luke careened their General Lee through those dirt roads and ramps on the studio lot.