Red scare in Nixonland

Recently, an item appeared in The Seattle Times mentioning that during Nixon's vice presidency a drive-in along Whittier Boulevard down in southern California by the name of "Nixon's" was the teenage hangout spot.

I know; I grew up nearby, and I've eaten more than a few "Nixonburgers."

One night my father almost inadvertently caused a riot there when we cruised past.

"What kind of tires are those?" I asked one evening in 1961 after my father had pulled into the driveway with what looked like red tires on the car he'd brought home that night.

"They're a set of experimental Goodyears that we had mounted on this new Chrysler to help promote it," he explained. "They aren't made out of rubber but a soft, translucent plastic that Goodyear thinks may replace rubber someday. We'll take a ride after dinner; they do something that I think will really surprise you."

Needless to say, I bolted through dinner without really tasting anything. Because my father worked for Chrysler, he was always bringing home all sorts of strange cars. Police cars, taxi cabs, limousines, movie stars' cars or the latest factory high-performance model - it made no difference to an about-to-be-teenager in car-crazy southern California. Cars were neat, and thanks to Pop, I got to ride in a wide assortment of them.

"Let's take Mr. Weissie along," my father remarked as we were just about to finish dinner. "He's an engineer at U.S. Royal, and I'm sure he'd be interested in what the competition is doing while taking a little ride as well."

Soon we were all loaded into the big, white car; my father and Mr. Weissie up in the front and my brother Ron, little Carl Weissie and me bouncing around in the cavernous back seat.

"I think it's gotten dark enough," my father intoned from the front seat. "Let's light 'er up."

With that, he flicked on a strange switch on the dash, and a curious red glow seemed to emit from beneath the car.

"What's happening?" I asked in amazement.

"Look at our reflection in the store windows that we're passing," advised my father. When we checked out our reflection, it looked like the car was levitating down the street on an eerie scarlet light.

"How does...?"

Before I even got a chance to finish, my father answered: "Each tire has 16 light bulbs inside it. They're mounted to the wheel and then powered off a slip-connector, like on a Ferris wheel. I've got to keep the engine revving whenever we stop because they pull so much power. Otherwise, the engine would stall."

We cruised down Whittier Boulevard and then looped up through the town of Whittier itself. I've never been in a car that got so much attention. People would stop whatever they were doing and point us out to the person nearest them. Other people in cars would either speed up or slow down just to get a look.

Just before we turned back onto the boulevard for the ride back home, we went by the city police department. As we passed, I thought I saw a cop run out and jump into a patrol car.

We'd made our turn and were right in front of Nixon's drive-in when the flashing red lights came on behind us and my father pulled to the curb with the engine roaring.

"TURN 'EM OFF!" yelled the cop as he walked up to the car. The officer wasn't a traffic cop, so he radioed for someone else to write the citation. When our description went out, four other curious police cars and three motorcycles answered the call.

The kids at the drive-in began gathering at the curb to see what all the commotion was about. "Hey, turn your tires on again," they yelled, and, "Chicken offense - don't write him up!"

It took 45 minutes and a thorough search through the phonebook-thick California Vehicle Code to discover a law we were guilty of breaking. Finally they decided on: "Red lights facing forward on a non-emergency vehicle."

"Can I come by your house later tonight?" one policeman asked. "I'd like to take a picture of this; they're never going to believe me back at the station."

"What's this?" questioned the judge when my father showed up for traffic court. "Red lights facing forward in the form of tires that light up? What's this all about?"

My father showed the judge a slice of a tire sample and explained it all, and the ticket was eventually dismissed with a warning of "Don't do it again!"

The best line of the night, though, came from one CHP motorcycle officer: "I've fallen off that bike a few times - but that was the first time I almost fell off it standing still!"

Gary McDaniel is a freelance writer living in Magnolia.

[[In-content Ad]]