The Richard Nixon Library Incident

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Bundy was the King of Tapping. This is when you take a bolt and scotch-tape it to some unsuspecting suburbanite’s front door so it hangs down a few inches on the slack of a piece of fishing wire. Then you let the wire out and go hide behind some bushes across the street. The string, when pulled, makes the bolt tap against the door, like somebody’s knocking; but when the person opens their door nobody is there. And because the string is attached to the door they’re pulling open (and fishing wire being pretty near invisible) they don’t see anything. They close the door. Then you yank the string a few more times, the scene repeats itself, and you sit cracking up in the bushes watching the homeowner grow increasingly frustrated. In a pinch you can pull really hard and take the whole bolt with the string, if you need to. Bundy had great touch when it came to this. He could lightly brush the bolt against the door from 20 yards away with a mere lithe tweak of his wrist, creating just a subtle grating sound, if need be. Conversely, he could thwack the thing so hard against the door (without tearing the bolt off) that a few homeowners probably thought they were being attacked by a medium-sized wild boar. Bundy was the king, and, well, the rest of us troublemakers deferred to him in all matters of Tapping. And this made him almost sage-like to us in all areas of teenage public nuisance.

I grew up in a small California town in Orange County called Placentia. Orange County is divided into North and South, the south being the ritzy, mansion-strewn, beach-living sort of place you see on reality TV shows: Dana Point, Laguna Beach, etc. The north is the towns around Disneyland. No beaches. No mansions. Just places where orange trees used to grow. And, in a city called Yorba Linda (which bills itself as “The City Of Gracious Living”), The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. Placentia’s squashed between Yorba Linda and Anaheim like a dead centipede, and everyone who lives their has a license-plate frame that reads: Placentia, a pleasant place.

As teenagers we’d often grow bored and restless, and would go out in my friend Matt’s 1974 Imperial LeBaron looking for adventure. This car was going to pot: what was left of the ceiling hung down and got in your hair; there were no windshield wipers; rolling the windows up with the hand lever was a challenge; and the gas tank leaked. But we never drove it too far. Matt was very particular about driving very slow around the placid tree-lined streets of suburban neighborhoods. For fun he’d keep the thing below 10 mph, almost coming to a complete stop at times, seeing how close he could get to stopping while technically still being in motion; and he would blast classical music the whole time with all the windows down. This wasn’t always appreciated by our cadre of punk-loving passengers, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. After all, it was his car. We stalled on those pristine lamppost-lit streets with Mozart blaring, a stationary object barely contemplating motion, an incongruous sight in the mild suburban night, waiting to begin being who we’d forever grow up to be.

One of our favorite activities was to pile into the LeBaron and drive out to the Richard Nixon library late at night — well after business hours. There was a fountain there in the parking lot, and Matt would start circling around it, slowly at first, while blasting the classical music. As we circled, the car would pick up speed, and soon we’d be flying around the thing like we were on a carnival ride: all of us being thrown against the far door by the centrifugal force, the wind slashing in through the rolled-down windows. Around and around we’d go, faster and faster, with all the windows down and the classical music blaring. It was quite something.

Matt was really pushing it one night. There were five of us in the car: Matt, Mason, Lowell, myself, and, of course, Bundy. Matt was really flooring it around the fountain, and we were all having a great time trying to lean towards the middle while being pushed towards the outer window. Matt was circling counterclockwise, in adherence with what he believed was the law: driving on the right side of the fountain.

As we reached an obscene speed (Matt was really having a hard time keeping the car on track, and was starting to drift a bit) we saw flashing lights. It seemed the Nixon Library security officers had come to pay us a visit. They were barking something at us through their patrol car’s PA system, but we couldn’t hear over all the wind and classical music. Matt kept circling. The lights kept flashing.

Soon we could hear some of what they were shouting at us, and it basically boiled down to: “Stop circling that fountain!”

After a few more spins, Matt got tired of holding the car steady, and slowed down, and then pulled the car away from the fountain. The security officers were pissed. They tried to follow us, but Matt started weaving around the parking lot, maneuvering the LeBaron between parking blocks, revving the engine as they’d pull closer and then peeling out to elude them, and in the end the poor security guards just couldn’t keep up. So, we sped off and out of the grounds of the Nixon Library and pulled the car over in an empty public parking garage across the street.

There were cement walls separating the different sections in the garage, and Matt had pulled the LeBaron over right next to one. We all sat on the hood and smoked cigarettes under the sickly glow of the garage’s sodium-yellow lights. We were feeling triumphant: we’d escaped the long-arm of the Nixon Library security forces unscathed. We were free and safe, and flush with a teenage high on danger’s adrenaline rush. Or so we thought.

We’d just finished our cigarettes when we saw the flashing lights of a police car around the corner in another part of the garage. We scattered like cockroaches and tried to hide. I lay down and hid behind the car. I wasn’t sure where everybody else had gone. Soon the lights came closer, and over the police car’s PA came a voice: “Come out from behind there. We see you. Keep your hands where we can see them.” I didn’t move. There was no way they could see me. I was well hidden behind the LeBaron’s immense backside. They must’ve been talking to somebody else.

There was some general commotion and some scuffling sounds. I heard Bundy yell, “Run you idiot! Run!” That’s when I knew we were done for. I peered out over the car’s trunk. It seems that Matt, that good noble citizen, had come out with his hands raised. The cops, half-hidden behind their car and leaning over the hood, had their guns drawn on him. It was a frightening moment to say the least. But Bundy wasn’t scared at all. He was screaming at Matt to run. It didn’t seem like a great idea to me, and, luckily, Matt didn’t listen. Soon we all came out from our various hiding places, and the cops gathered us up for questioning.

Bundy was pissed at us for being such wimps, but came out to join us, as he saw that we were defeated and that it’d be better to give up at this point.

We were all 16, and had never been to jail before, and didn’t want to start now. There were two cops, and they were extremely angry. They kept treating us like terrorists.

“You boys having some fun down the Nixon Library tonight, huh? You think that’s funny?”

Bundy was laughing. “It wasn’t that fun. It was okay, I guess.”

“Son, where do you live?”

Bundy pointed in the general direction of Placentia. “Over there.”

The cop didn’t like that. “Okay son, where’s over there?”

“Son?” This was cracking Bundy up. “If I’m your son shouldn’t you know where I live?”

This made us all laugh a bit.

“Okay you bunch of jokers.” The cop’s mustache was quivering. “That’s enough. Do any of you have any idea of how much trouble you’re going to be in? That’s federal government property you’ve been goofing around on.”

We all tried to look appropriately intimidated. I was uncertain if this were true. Could the birthplace of an ex-president who was impeached really be owned by the US government? It didn’t seem likely, but thought it wise not to question it at the current time.

“Messing around with government security forces is not a good idea, okay? You get it?”

It turns out the security officers had phoned the cops and given them the LeBaron’s plates. I guess we hadn’t been too hard to find, parked across the street like that in a deserted parking garage, though I’m still curious how they’d found us so quickly.

The cop continued: “Now. I’m going to need all of your phone numbers. How old are you?”

Bundy quickly replied, “Not old enough. Sorry. I don’t give out my number to…”

“That’s just about enough out of you, son!” The cop screamed at Bundy. He took out his handcuffs. I sensed this wasn’t going to be end well.

Soon Bundy was cuffed, and they were giving him a pat down. It was absurd, and Bundy kept giggling the whole while they searched him. When they were done, they put Bundy in the back of their car, and then came back to chat with us.

“Okay boys. See what happens when you don’t follow orders? Now, I’m going to need all of your phone numbers. We’ll be calling your parents to come pick you up.” It was after midnight. All of our parents were asleep by now. And, to a 16-year-old kid, the thought of a cop calling one’s parents was extremely frightening. The cop took out a pad of paper, and one-by-one we all gave him our names and phone numbers.

Bundy screamed from inside the car, “Don’t give him your phone numbers, you idiots!”

The cop screamed back, “Hold it down in there, son. Don’t get yourself in any deeper. We ain’t done with you yet.”

Soon the cop was calling in all of our numbers on his CB device. The only person who picked up was Mason’s mom, who was not happy at all about it. She’d freaked and thought Mason had been nabbed for grand larceny or something. She arrived in her bathrobe, cussing and furious with a lit cigarette shoved between her lips, and took Mason by the scruff and dragged him with much vituperation into her minivan.

After a bit more waiting around, amazingly, the cops released Bundy to us, as it seems they couldn’t really hold him, as he hadn’t done anything inordinately wrong besides mouth off to them. The rest of us were given a stiff warning that we were on their “list” of persons to watch, and were told to behave ourselves. They also did a search of the LeBaron, putting on a very officious and professional show as they donned rubber gloves and felt-up the upholstery like they were looking for clues at a crime scene, but didn’t find much besides fast-food wrappers and smashed BigGulp cups. We drove off in the LeBaron, sulking and downtrodden with the shot nerves of wannabe troublemakers, but still sort of marveling at the whole ridiculousness of it all. In the end, the cops probably had better things to be doing that night than harassing a bunch of teenagers, at least we hoped; trying as they were to keep Yorba Linda — the land of gracious living — safe from misbehaving juveniles such as us.

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