“A Young James Bertino”
I knew James Bertino several decades before he had matured and blossomed into Hammonton town councilman James Bertino. Jim has a twin brother John and their parents Anthony and Margaret Bertino owned “Twin Boys’ Farm Market” on the White Horse Pike across from the Oak Grove Cemetery. My parents were proprietors of Pete’s Farm Market in Elm, New Jersey, which is now owned by Dennis Donio. Being in the same retail fruit and produce business made our families’ rivals but also friends.
From the years 1967-‘81 I had co-owned boardwalk businesses in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (a beach tee-shirt and gift shop) and in Ocean City, Maryland (a boardwalk arcade). It was an April Friday evening in the mid-1970s and I desperately needed a healthy young body to help me install twenty re-conditioned poker-card drums into Dealer’s Choice machines at my Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk arcade. My brother-in-law Ollie Paretti had done his usual excellent repair work on the electromagnetic devices that rotated inside the cabinets’ windows. I figured I would get in touch with the prospective assistant I had in mind.
I gave young James Bertino a call and the teenager was quite anxious to accompany me on the 175-mile excursion down the Delmarva Peninsula to Ocean City. I picked Bertino up at his parents’ home in my green Pontiac station wagon and we were soon heading south on I-295 toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge. I was already rather fatigued from teaching my grueling six English classes at the Hammonton Middle School so while motoring toward Dover I stopped at a McDonald’s in Smyrna, Delaware where we could devour some much-needed carbs and enjoy mutual sugar rushes. I quickly learned that my callow friend and I were not-too-enamored with studying in school and teaching in a public school respectively.
Soon James Bertino and I were on our way east on Route 13 heading toward Rehoboth Beach where my boardwalk’ tee-shirt store was located beneath the high-rise Star of the Sea Condominiums. We dropped off several boxes of decals and a new heat-transfer machine. It was then after midnight and our eyes were already bloodshot. Our next task would be to deliver the rehabilitated poker drums twenty-five miles down the coast to 410 South Boardwalk, Ocean City, Maryland.
I was getting a little giddy and groggy from sheer exhaustion so I told Bertino a story John Rizzotte (the driver education teacher at Hammonton High School) had once related to me in the faculty room.
“John, what should I do if I’m ever stopped on the highway by a policeman?” I innocently had asked the driving instructor while retelling the anecdote to my rather apathetic passenger.
“That’s easy John,” Rizzotte told me. “You have to simply take away his psychological advantage. Ya’ gotta’ aggressively steal the initiative from him.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I persisted to my faculty room colleague. “Sometimes I don’t know if you’re being facetious or being honest.”
“Well,” Rizzotte continued with his little informative seminar, “as soon as you come to a stop, jump out of your auto’ and go directly to his car. Respectfully ask the officer why he had stopped you. Cops are usually so used to being in control and walking over to your car that most won’t know what to do or how to react when you break that regular pattern. Most policemen will then let you go without a ticket because you’ve successfully taken away their psychological advantage.”
While articulating the story to young James Bertino I continued driving my green Pontiac wagon out of Rehoboth Beach onto the devoid-of-traffic Coastal Highway. My station wagon was soon heading due south through Dewey Beach, Delaware, a summer college bar town like Somers Point up in Jersey. Dewey Beach has a strict 25 mile-per-hour speed limit. I was wrapping up telling Bertino the instructions that John Rizzotte had confidentially told me in the faculty room.
Suddenly a police car’s red beacon light became visible behind me in my rear-view mirror. Next my ears perceived a shrill siren blasting. Naturally I had to enact what I had just told my rider Bertino in the car.
I halted my Pontiac wagon, leaped out of the vehicle and briskly hustled toward the police cruiser. One burly Dewey Beach cop had already jumped out of the driver’s side. He had thought that I was about to attack him so the patrolman roughly grabbed me, threw me up against the rear of my station wagon and directed me to keep my hands on the roof while he expertly frisked me for possible weapons. As the no-nonsense cop was performing that act another policeman stopped with a K-9 German shepherd, which began growling, snarling and ferociously barking at me while displaying a wicked set of fangs. At that juncture I was completely intimidated and quite cooperative.
The first cop asked me what was under the tawdry old blue bed quilt in the station wagon’s rear storage area. I showed him the poker machine drums with their new regulation-sized cards recently glued on. My interrogator immediately suspected that the mechanisms were illegal Delaware slot machines, which were also perfectly legal licensed amusement gaming devices on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland.
I then discreetly dropped a few names of some big shots I knew in Ocean City. Bill Purnell was my landlord and Jim Mathias was a good friend who owned another popular amusement arcade where players acquired and accumulated coupons to trade for prizes. Both gentlemen were prominent Ocean City councilmen. After the Dewey Beach cops made several radio calls, those influential Maryland names were verified as legitimate references. I was allowed to re-enter my green station wagon. All the while I was cursing John Rizzotte’s non-sage advice under my breath.
The first cop apologized for the rough treatment he had administered to an honest hard-working midnight-traveling teacher-businessman. “Mr. Wiessner,” the cop said with a grim expression on his countenance, “ for your benefit I’d like for you to do me one small favor.”
“What’s that?” I solemnly and respectfully asked trying my best to be polite and sincere.
“Please sign your name on the back of your driver’s license. It’s not valid until you do. And then I’ll call ahead to the Bethany Beach and to the Fenwick Island police so that you’ll not be inconvenienced again. I guarantee you safe passage until you hit Ocean City.”
I fired up the engine and slowly pulled my vehicle onto the highway. James Bertino was laughing so hard because a tough brawny policeman had very efficiently manhandled his former English teacher. I thought young Jim’s appendages were going to fall off from excessive laughter. Needless to say I was very embarrassed.
“See,” I said to my traveling apprentice as I drowsily motored down the coast through Fenwick Island toward my ultimate destination, “Mr. Rizzotte was right. I didn’t get a traffic ticket after all!”
Bertino cackled and gasped for air in reaction to my timely comment. I imagined he was going to explode all over my dashboard and inside windshield. Truthfully I have never seen a person laugh so indulgently.
Councilman James Bertino is presently employed in Hammonton being a key supervisor at Garden State Color Film Corporation on Fairview Avenue. I know he vividly remembers the bizarre Dewey Beach police/motorist incident. The man has a photographic memory.
Jay Dubya (author of 47 Books)
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