the worst goddam car chase in history

by dm gillis

a Vancouver moment, remembered

You’re probably not gonna like this story, but too fuckin’ bad.

This town was too small for a proper car chase back in ’63. There were a couple of good stretches. Broadway or Hastings, east to west; Cambie, Burrard or Granville, north-south, over one bridge or another outta downtown. But there were pinch points everywhere, especially the bridges. And the intersections, too. A few of them still controlled by traffic cops.

No stops, no cops. That’s how I like it.

Anyways, so Jasper Marx stood in the hardware department of the downtown Army & Navy store, looking at sledgehammers. He had a score to settle with Rake Philbin who hung out at the Number Six Legion on Commercial Drive, and a sledge seemed like a good fix.

Marx liked the three pond short handle. It’d fit nicely on the shotgun seat of his red 1962 Chevy Impala, but the five pound long handle was a better choice. He’d keep it in the backseat, and pull it out like it was a rifle when the moment was right.

Now, the thing about a car chase is that you can’t arrange it ahead of time. A chase is always kinda spontaneous-like. Otherwise it’d be a parade, not a car chase.

How it works is, you see some guy you got bad business with in a car, and he sees you in your car. And before you know it, one of you’s chasin’ the other. And usually it’s down the worst goddamn street in the city, like Denman in the west end. One of the shortest most jam-packed streets in town, because it’s the run up to the Lions Gate Bridge. And holy fuck, God forbid there’s a jumper on the bridge. ‘Cause if there is, you and the creep you’re chasin’ have gotta sit in a fuckin’ traffic jam. Which makes for one of the worst car chase scenarios possible. Believe me.

I’m just sayin’ it because it’s good to know this shit.

Anyways, Marx pays for the five-pounder long handle, and takes it out to his car that’s parked on Hastings Street. And when he gets out there, there’s this meter-maid writing him a ticket. ‘Cept he’s a fella meter-maid, not a dame. Which is significant, because back in ’63 writing parking tickets was supposed to be woman’s work. Which means this character is probably a homo. And he’s writing a ticket because as usual, Jasper Marx is parked illegally.

But you don’t just write Jasper Marx a ticket. It’s understood. I mean, the guy’s an animal. He’d bite your eyeball outta the socket and spit it back in your face. His mother always said he was a nice boy, though. She said Jasper just did that kinda shit to relieve stress and stay outta trouble. What a dope.

So, I’m straying a bit from the point of this. But try to stick with me.

Here’s Jasper Marx on the sidewalk, out front of the Army & Navy store, and there’s this homo meter-maid fella writing a ticket, and Marx says –

“What the hell you doin’?”

And the homo meter-maid fella says, “I’m writing you a ticket, sir.”

“Waddaya doin’ that for?” says Marx, like he’s gonna go atomic any second.

“Because you didn’t pay the meter, sir,” says the homo meter-maid fella.

So, Marx pulls out that pearl handled switchblade of his – the nasty one with the six inch blade — you probably remember it. And now he’s got the five pound sledgehammer in one hand and the knife in the other. And he says –

“You give me that ticket, and I’ll cut your fucking head off and mail it to your mamma who shoulda drowned your queer fuckin’ ass at birth.”

And the homo meter-maid fella holds up his hand and says, “Okay, but before you do, let me tell you a joke.”

And Jasper Marx is lookin’ like, what the fuck? But he’s also kinda sucked in now and decides to listen.

And the homo meter-maid fella says, “Three guys walk into a bar. One’s a Catholic, one’s a Jew and one’s a guy who’s got a sledgehammer in one hand and a switchblade in the other. And the Catholic says he’ll have some nice red wine because it reminds him of the Eucharist. The Jew says he’ll have some Manischewitz because it makes him think of Kiddush.”

And here, the homo meter-maid fella stops. Doesn’t say another goddamn word, quiet as a grave on Tuesday night. Just staring Jasper Marx in the eye.

So, Jasper Marx waits a second or two and then he says, “What the hell? What’s the guy with the sledgehammer and the switchblade have to drink?”

I mean it’s a reasonable question under the circumstances. Marx wants to hear the punchline, right?

So, the homo meter-maid fella says, “The guy with the sledgehammer and the switchblade couldn’t really order anything. Since he had a sledgehammer in one hand and a switchblade in the other, he didn’t have a free hand to drink with.”

“Really?” says Jasper Marx. “That’s gotta be the worst joke I’ve ever heard.”

“I know”, says the homo meter-maid fella. And kicks Jasper Marx in the balls really fucking hard, like his life depends on it. Which it does. And Marx can’t do nothing to defend himself because he’s standing there, stunned by the stupid joke, and he’s got a sledgehammer in one hand and a switchblade in the other. So, he falls over in sheer agony, rollin’ around on the sidewalk. And when he’s down there on the sidewalk rollin’ around, the homo meter-maid fella really lays into him, kicking him in the head, the ribs and all over.

When he’s done, the homo meter-maid fella puts the ticket under Marx’s wiper and moves on to his next victim, while whistling a happy tune.

All of which you might think is besides the point, because we was talkin’ ‘bout car chases. But just hold yer horses.

So anyways, Jasper Marx recovers, hauls himself up and gets to his feet. He notices that everyone’s looking at him like he’s a bug, and who wouldn’t under the circumstances. But he gets into his red 1962 Chevy Impala, and throws the five pound long handle into the backseat. Then he drives away with the parking ticket flapping away in the wind on his windshield.

Now he’s on his way to the Number Six Legion on Commercial Drive, where he expects to settle Rake Philbin’s hash. Except, when he turns right off of Hastings onto the Drive and comes up to a red light at Venables Street, there’s Rake Philbin in front of him in a brand new Corinthian White 1963 Ford Galaxie 500.

Rake had just picked it up from the dealership that morning, round about the time the homo meter-maid fella was starting to tell Jasper Marx his Three Guys Walk into a Bar joke. And his brand new, shiny car makes Jasper Marx even madder at Rake than he ever was before.

So now Marx floors it, and BAM!, he rear-ends Philbin.

Remember, Rake Philbin is still stopped at the red light. And damn if their bumpers don’t lock solid.

Philbin’s real rattled after the impact, and it takes him a minute to look in the rear-view and see Marx grinnin’ like Satan in the car behind him. And it’s then that he suddenly remembers the misunderstanding concerning that thing that resulted in the falling-out between him and Marx, and for which Marx promised to bash his head in with a sledgehammer. So, now it’s his turn to floor it. Which he does, but he don’t go nowheres because of the locked bumpers.

While this is going on, Jasper Marx, who ain’t normally the sharpest tack in the wall, has an idea. Since their bumpers are locked, he just releases his brake. And then Philbin’s 500 goes real good. Maybe not as fast as it would if Marx’s red 1962 Chevy Impala wasn’t attached, but Philbin doesn’t actually know about that. He just figures Japer Marx is following awful damn close.

Regardless, Philbin speeds up Commercial Drive and takes a hard right onto Charles Street. They’re swerving like mad, and people are runnin’ in all directions to get outta their way. And they’re missin’ running into other cars by mere inches.

Philbin’s doing sixty mph now. He’s even up on the sidewalk here and there. But can’t seem to shake Jasper Marx off. So he gets it up to sixty-five with Marx still attached, which really says something about the Ford 352 cu. inch V-8 engine and three speed manual transmission, and he goes right onto Cotton and left onto Williams. Meanwhile, Marx just sits in his driver’s seat, turns on the radio and listens to Gerry & The Pacemakers.

Then it’s right onto Mclean and left onto Napier. And Philbin can’t believe it. He looks in the rear-view and sees Jasper Marx isn’t even trying. Marx has gotta be the best goddam car chaser in the world.

That’s when Rake Philbin goes right onto Clark Drive, which is one very busy street, and speeds it up to seventy. Then seventy-five. And he’s passing on the left and the right, but there’s Marx right behind him. They even clip a trolley at Pender Street.

This goes on for blocks, past Venables, Georgia and Francis. Until they get to Hastings, another damn busy street, where there’s a red light. But Philbin can’t stop, because Marx is still right on his ass. So, he speeds directly into the Clark and Hasting intersection and KERPOW! The two of them are t-boned by a semi-trailer carrying a full load of pianos, doing forty mph. I mean, they got clobbered. And this was back when real men didn’t wear seat belts, baby.

There was body parts and piano keys everywhere. A middle C key here, an F and A there. An arm here, a leg there, a head rolling into the gutter. No one knew what parts belonged to who. In the end they just cremated all the parts together and split ‘em up evenly between a coupla urns.

And you might think that that was some kinda exciting car chase in a crappy little town like this, where nothing ever fuckin’ happens. But it wasn’t no car chase at all because Marx’s and Philbin’s bumpers was locked. In fact, as things go, I figure it was the worst goddam car chase in history. ‘Cept the ending was kinda unique.

You see, when the semi hit ‘em, all of the pianos seemed to play the same loud and melancholy chord. It was sorta musical, stupid and tragic all at once. And as the chord ended, a parking ticket floated down like outta Heaven and came to rest on what had once been the windshield of Jasper Marx’s red 1962 Chevy Impala.

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