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Dean's List: The night the Simca was bewitched

Dean's List: The night the Simca was bewitched

Would you be surprised if I told you that alcohol was involved?

The Plattsburgh Police Department last week arrested two 21-year-old Vermont men who reminded me of the slacker protagonists in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

Police say they were summoned at 6 a.m. by a report of people in distress on Lake Champlain near the Plattsburgh marina. When they got there, officers found one of the men about 200 yards out in the lake struggling to get to shore. The other had made it and was collapsed on the docks at the marina.

The men had crossed the lake from Vermont to New York state on Jet Skis the night before, slept on the beach and then tried to return to Vermont early in the morning. It was a brilliant idea except that they ran out of gas and had to dump the Jet Skis and try to swim back to shore.

Would you be surprised if I told you alcohol was involved?

The duo was charged with boating while intoxicated and unlicensed operation, among other violations.

I always wonder if the people who hatch incredibly stupid ideas while drinking still think those ideas are sound once they’ve sobered up.

And I don’t mean to sound judgmental. We’ve all been there, or at least I have.

I remember a winter night in the ’60s when several of the guys in my crowd got a phone call inviting us to go for a ride and drink some beer. We were in high school and one of the guys not only had his driver’s license, but a car. It was a Simca, a little boxy import made by Fiat.

One of the guys had gotten hold of several bottles of beer. The idea was we would drink the beer while driving around. What could possibly go wrong?

Come to think of it, we came up with this idea before we’d drunk anything so I guess it can’t be blamed on alcohol.

We drove around for a couple of hours, honked the horn at girls, ragged on each other and drank beer.

It was snowing when we pulled onto a country road not far from the local ski center. Moments later, the Simca sputtered and stopped.

The car owner — let’s call him Eddy — was very worried. First, it was later than he was supposed to be driving. Second, we had beer in the car. Third, the car was resisting all our collective efforts to restart it.

Finally, we determined that we’d have to hoof it to the nearest house and call for help. First, we hurled the empty beer bottles into a field and watched as the snow swallowed them up.

We’d gotten only a few yards from the car when it made a noise.

We looked back and in the moonlight could make out that the windshield wipers had suddenly sprung to life.

Then, to our horror, the Simca seemed to be signaling us by flashing its headlights. Then horn began to blow.

“I think it’s haunted,” I said.

Eddy told me to shut up and then began wailing. “My father’s going to kill me.”

About that time, a man in a nearby house hollered helpfully, “I’ve called the police,” and we almost immediately could hear a siren in the distance.

Later, Eddy went into the house and called his father while the rest of us insisted on waiting outdoors and watching the firefighters. They made quick work of extinguishing the electrical fire that had caused the lights, wipers and horn to activate as it burned through the car’s wiring.

Nobody was arrested that night, nobody was injured, and nothing was said about our drinking beer. But the ride home in Eddy’s father’s car was just awful.

Nobody said anything. The rest of us walked home from Eddy’s house wondering what would happen to him.

We found out later that he’d been grounded for the rest of his life or something like that.

The Simca was back in service in a couple of weeks, but for some reason Eddy never invited us to go for another ride. We figured his father must have forbidden it.

The car’s electrical fire had nothing to do with our drinking — unless there was some karmic justice at play — but somehow I linked the two then and still do.

Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Reach him by email to dean@dailygazette.com.

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