July 8, 1968

On a date with Juliana, Izzy first stops by his last Boy Scout meeting.  Afterword, they half-heartedly pursue a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.

We pulled up at a four-way stop sign, and a ’57 Chevy Bel Air arriving at almost the same time paused only briefly and then shot across our bow through the intersection. There were teenagers inside and they were smoking.

“Follow that car, please,” I said.

The people in my life were getting used to this, and Juliana didn’t even blink. We turned to follow the Chevy, a heavy, boxy carriage with modestly long skirts and an abrupt windshield that wrapped slightly around the sides of the front cabin. Its distinctive forehead leaned slightly into the wind, and a flat, jet-plane hood ornament steered it streaking down the road ahead.

The ‘57 Bel Air was a popular car for teenagers, reliable and roomy and of an age that middle-class dads no longer saw as suitable for the family car.

A passenger flicked his cigarette, a dramatic fling into a cornfield that may have sailed several rows deep.

We followed the Bel Air a little ways, but our hearts were elsewhere. We gave up and headed down a dark farm lane tucked between a cornfield and a line of trees, where we worked on the merit badge in French kissing, an unexpectedly easy one to earn.

July 5, 1968

Here it is, 9:52 PM on the Right Coast, and no diligent AutoFlicker has prompted me to update the chronology. Thanks a lot, dudes.

On July 5, 1968, Izzy and his mom track a 1959 Desoto Firedome with a Stassen bumper sticker. This is one of my favorite chapters. Can’t believe the Followers let me down.

I was riding home from work with my mother, and in front of us was a 1959 Firedome, nephew to my father’s car, another winged experiment from the Ike fantasy world. Viewed from the rear, it hefted a barrage of thick chrome fittings and a large insignia that included a keyhole for the trunk. On either side, three protruding circular taillights were stacked on top of one another with a chrome V jutting over the top. It had two radio antennas, one on each side of the trunk, and a low, wide wrestler’s stance.

This particular vessel had a bumper sticker that said: “Stassen ’68—Why Not?” The former governor of Minnesota was on his fourth campaign in pursuit of the Republican nomination for president. He had at that point in the summer of 1968 rounded up just one delegate, and there were only a few weeks until the party convention in Miami. After the RFK assassination, the Secret Service assigned an agent to guard him.

It was said this protection was the biggest crowd Stassen had attracted so far in the campaign.

A perpetual anachronism, Stassen would keep running, in 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992, and you can judge for yourself whether his country would have been better off in any of those years with a liberal Republican president committed to peace.

July 4, 1968

Speedy makes his first “I Flick Butts” bumper sticker and places it on a 1967 Plymouth Valiant.

At a red light, we pulled alongside a new Plymouth Valiant. A woman about my mother’s age was smoking a cigarette. She blew the smoke out the window. Her Valiant was a two-door coupe in luminescent aquamarine, a boxy trunk with suggestive, miniature fins. The woman didn’t look like a thrower, but you never know.

“Let’s see where this goes,” my father said. When the light changed, he hesitated long enough for the Valiant to pull ahead of us. The driver seemed to be done with her smoke; her right shoulder dipped slightly as though she might have been grinding out the burning end in the ashtray.

As we were slipping in behind her, the cigarette came flying out the window. She appeared to toss it with her right hand, across her body.

She pulled into a shopping center and wheeled toward the supermarket. We followed her, which was beginning to feel a little less creepy, and parked a few spaces away. She gathered up her things and pulled down the visor to check her face before she opened the door and slid outside. She walked around the back of her car and toward the market.

My father slowly pulled out of our parking spot and rolled behind the Plymouth and then stopped. He tore off a length of tape about 16 inches long and stretched it temporarily across the steering wheel, uncapped the marker with his teeth, and inscribed “I FLICK BUTTS” on the tape.

“Slide over and take the wheel,” he told me. “But don’t start driving until I say so.”

He pushed the gearshift into park and got out of the car, closing the door softly behind him. As I pulled myself behind the steering wheel, he ducked below sea level in the parking lot, into the underwater of tires and side panels and grills below the windowed auto world where the top third of motoring humanity is visible. I watched him carefully place and smooth his homemade bumper sticker on the Plymouth.

He stood up and turned to me. “Go ahead. I’ll come around and get in the other side.” He was a little breathless. I wondered who this man was.

July 1, 1968

A 1962 Olds 88 passes at high speed and flicks a cigarette to the road. Speedy tries to catch up but loses him. Then he gets the idea of marking cars that have already been cited in the study of people who flick cigarettes from automobiles.

“At some point we may find the same car or the same driver in our sample,” Speedy said. “Maybe we should mark them, the way biologists tag species in the wild for study.”

In the National Geographic, the savannah science guys always shot the wildlife with tranquilizers before they stapled tags in their ears. I wondered if this is what my father had in mind.

“It can’t be permanent—we don’t want to tamper with the evidence—and we may have to tag them without their knowing.” I was used to the fact that my father often thought out loud.

“You mean put a mark on the car, right?” I said, trying to lead the witness.

“Maybe the crayons that used-car dealers use on windshields would work on a bumper …”

I should have stepped in there with something to change our bearing, but I came up empty.

“Or something else,” my father said, “like a bumper sticker.”

I was afraid to ask.

“I flick butts.” Speedy seemed pleased with this.

“I guess that would show them,” I said.