The Gray Ghost Vs. Seabiscuit


My friend Doug has a lot of great stories. Today I’d like to share one that’s printable.

Doug lives in Roanoke, and for many years, Roanoke had mounted patrol units. Back when I lived in Roanoke, I would routinely be walking around downtown and see a police officer riding by on a horse. I never quite understood why the police department had horses, although I did notice that intoxicated people exiting bars were always really excited to pet a horse, so maybe it was a good way to nab people for drunk in public.

I’m not sure if Roanoke still has these mounted units, but they did when this particular story takes place.

Some years back, Doug drove The Gray Ghost, a primer-gray ’88 Toyota Camry with a perpetually expired inspection sticker and no cap on the master brake cylinder. I don’t remember this vehicle – the only one of Doug’s old rides I vividly remember is the wood-veneered Dodge Caravan that looked almost identical to the vehicle on the cover of the Black Keys album “El Camino” – but I understand it was not exactly a speed demon. I’m guessing it wasn’t a stopping demon, either.

One day, Doug said, he was driving through downtown Roanoke in The Gray Ghost. He passed a patrol unit, and the female officer on horseback craned her neck, clearly noticing that his inspection sticker was expired.

To Doug’s amazement, she dropped what she was doing, slapped the horse’s flank, and gave pursuit.

Doug is generally a law-abiding sort, but he quickly did the mental math that I believe any of us would do in this situation.

The base engine on a 1988 Camry was a 2.0 liter, four cylinder twin-cam with an output of 115 horsepower.

The horse, meanwhile, was powered by oats, and it presumably had an output of one horsepower.

While the Gray Ghost was not exactly a drag racer, Doug figured it could outrun a horse any day of the week. And so he punched the gas.

The Camry’s engine whirred into action as Doug pointed its nose down an open straightaway. He glanced in the rearview mirror.

Behind him, the officer was still in hot pursuit, hunched over and bouncing on the horse’s back like George Woolf coaxing Seabiscuit to victory at Pimlico.

Doug realized that he was now locked into a low-speed pursuit. Still, he knew there was no way his Toyota would be beaten by a horse.

He would have been right, if not for the train crossing.

The gates ahead lowered and the red lights began to flash, and Doug’s path of egress was blocked as the freight train roared through downtown Roanoke. He slowed the Gray Ghost to a stop at the crossing and awaited his punishment.

The horse clopped up next to the car and the rider dismounted. The officer stepped up to the car.

“License and registration,” she said. Her mood, Doug said, was not particularly merry.

As she handed back his documents and began writing two tickets, one for the expired sticker and one for speeding, the horse began to relieve itself.

Loudly. And prodigiously.

Doug nodded his head toward the horse.

“You know,” he said, “if I did that in public, you’d write me another ticket.”

This did not improve the officer’s mood.

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