Monday, September 1, 2014


Dan with Black Bart/photo courtesy of Carl Botefuhr

In 1966, my brother Dan stole a police car. He was nineteen at the time. He wasn't a thug or a criminal, and he wasn't fleeing a crime scene. When the officers parked at the curb of a residence where a party was getting a bit loud, my brother, a guest at that party, spotted them through the window and quickly retreated out the back door, high-tailing it over the back fence and walking around the block to see what would happen to his friends still inside the house. Dan had intended to stroll by nonchalantly, hands in pockets, but when he noticed that the cops had left the keys in their squad car and the engine running, he couldn't resist. Keeping his hands in his pockets (to avoid leaving fingerprints), he opened the door, slipped into the driver's seat, and drove away. Two blocks later he drove the car into a field, surrounded it with tumbleweeds, and walked away, keeping the keys. He was never caught.

This story was legend in our family and was often repeated on holidays such as Thanksgiving when we all got together. Years later I would share it with my high school students—with the strict admonition that they never, ever try anything so foolhardy.

When I mentioned to Dan once that I shared his story with my students, he chuckled and asked, "Do you also tell them about how I stole a big yellow school bus?" On a walk with his girlfriend and her young son one fine day, they happened upon a bus yard, where row upon row of bright yellow buses sat waiting for the next school day. The boy mentioned that he'd always wanted to ride in one. Since the large chain link gate to the yard was rolled pen, Dan saw no harm in taking the boy inside and climbing into the nearest bus (his girlfriend all the while repeating, "Dan, I don't think this is a good idea"). Lo and behold, Dan found a set of keys above the visor, and to the child's great wonder and thrill, fired up the big bus and drove it right out of the yard as a maintenance man ran along behind shouting at them to "Bring back that bus!" As Dan looped around the big city block and headed back toward the yard, he formulated a complicated plan for escape. "You run that way," he told his girlfriend, "and I'll run the opposite way. He can't follow in both directions." It worked. Again, he was never caught.

My zany, devil-may-care brother had countless adventures in his life. As an adolescent, he was a chubby, nerdy kid with glasses who spent far too much time lying on his bed, eating and reading science fiction novels. But in high school he had to walk two miles to school and two miles home, so he quickly lost the excess weight. Then contact lenses replaced his thick glasses, and suddenly my brother resembled James Dean. With his exceptionally high I.Q., he was smart, confident, attractive and far too ready and willing to embrace what kids would refer to now as the YOLO lifestyle: You only live once.

And what a life he lived. My brother taught me many things: Dogs are family members. Repressed anger can kill you (or at least make you very ill). Bullies are, more often than not, very frightened people, which is why they take pleasure in frightening others. And funerals are for those left behind.

We fought a lot when we were kids, then reconciled as young adults, then fought a lot in middle age (as I found myself still saying, "You're not the boss of me!"), then reconciled again. In Dan's last weeks of life, we spoke often on the phone. We said "I love you" a lot.

Today marks five years since he passed. I still tell him often that I love him, and I still miss him trying to tell me what to do.