‘Baby Driver’: Reflections where facts are more dramatic than fiction

Even through the new film Baby Driver isn’t quite out yet I think it’s safe to say that my own car chase story Tail of the Dragon is still the most intense action packed of its kind ever put to paper by a human mind to date.  But I’ll have to say, when I wrote that story, I was thinking about movies done in the style of this soon to be Edger Wright classic.  There is room in our culture for a lot more of these types of stories and this one has hit me hard with anticipation for many personal reasons. First of all, since I first heard the song “Radar Love” by the Dutch Band Golden Earring in 1973 I have wanted to see it used as a backdrop for a car chase of some kind and it looks like Edger Wright has done it.  Second of all, by the previews shown so far, the main character of Baby played by Ansel Elgort looks remarkably biographical to my real life between my 17th and 19th years of life.  After all it was those experiences which provoked me to write Tail of the Dragon to begin with—to get all that out on paper.  So it makes me very happy to see movies like Baby Driver getting made and that several of the Fast and Furious movies have continued to push great box office numbers in theaters.  I hope the same for this one—I am very excited for it.

I’ve alluded to it before but after watching these trailers it may be time to get a little more specific because the Baby character just in these previews speaks to me with quite a bit of reflection.  I understand his dilemma.  It was only a month or so ago where a political enemy of mine had looked me up on one of those online searches trying to get dirt on me, and they were stunned at what came back to them.  It showed over 17 hostile interactions with law enforcement and this person sent me that information hoping to get some leverage on me because I’m now living the life of a respectable citizen and they thought I wanted to hide that past.  What they didn’t know is that I consider my actions back then—at that critical juncture between youth and adulthood–to be very respectable—even though it might have been on the wrong side of the law. All I ever wanted was freedom—real freedom—and I wanted to be a millionaire quickly and just step over the nonsense of fighting it out the way I saw was making other people miserable.  I did live heavily in the fast lane and I was willing to use those skills to acquire all the money I could to launch a family and when I found the right girl for me—those people didn’t want to let me out of that lifestyle—and many conflicts ensued.

If I were ever have been said to have an addiction it was probably speed, the kind you get from driving a car extremely fast.  Like I said, as a youth when I first heard the song “Radar Love,” I was thinking of it playing to excessive speed in very fast cars.  The very first person I remember admiring as a young man was Evel Knievel so even at ages 5, 6, and 7 moving fast and recklessly was pretty much all I thought about—so when I was finally able to turn 16 and buy my own car I was ready and I quickly made a reputation for myself. My very first traffic ticket for excessive speed was on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving in 1984 where I was in a race with a Trans Am that clearly out powered my car at the time.  So the only way to win was to have more nerve than he did—so I flew through a swarm of cops parked at the Tri-County Mall in Cincinnati on the wrong side of the road at well over a 100 MPH—against the traffic.  When the police got the radar gun on me they caught my speed at 85 MPH in a 35 zone.  They would have taken me to jail for reckless operation but one call to the Sharonville police station told them to just issue me the ticket.  I was under the protection of the senior judge in that district and literally had a get out of jail free pass given to me by him—because I did work on the side for him which was related to a mob outfit in Chicago—and they wanted me free to do it.

The way that Kevin Spacey’s character is portrayed in Baby Driver reminds me precisely of one of my first “bosses.”  This guy ran a car dealership that I worked for and from that I had to do more than just sell new and used cars.  I did repo work and they liked me because I had no reservations about danger—as people obviously didn’t like having their cars taken back when they failed to make payments. I was always very eager to sneak up to someone’s house and take their car without being shot, and people did shoot at me while doing this kind of thing.  It was very exciting and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  These days repo guys aren’t allowed to do some of the things we did to get our cars back so for me it was a unique opportunity to live very dangerously and get away with it legally—and make great money doing it.  But then again, the car dealership was a front at the time for cocaine dealing—as a way to launder the money and all these repo jobs were ways that this Kevin Spacey style “boss” could check to make sure I wouldn’t be a rat—because they needed a driver to help deliver regionally.

I had my limits of course.  I didn’t mind the danger or the drama of court appearances and the continuous threat of jail—but I did not like drugs.  So when the dealership sent me with another senior car salesman down to Over-the-Rhine to deliver cocaine to a distributer operating across from Union Terminal it was in my precious car which had survived many high-speed encounters and for which I was particularly attached to.  Of course they didn’t tell me what we were doing—they let me believe that the whole operation was going to be a unique repo job, so I didn’t ask what was in the suitcase in my back seat. But I did think it was strange that we didn’t take a company car on this effort—as we typically did.  This was my car and the salesman smoked—and because we were not in a company car I had a little sign on my dashboard telling passengers that there was no smoking allowed. In fact, people who knew me also knew my very strict policy against drug use. So this forty something drug dealer who was very rich I might add, was very upset with  my rules and promised that I’d have a hard time when we got back to the office.  So things weren’t getting off to a good start. When we arrived to the destination he left the suitcase in my back seat and told me he’d be right back as he went to the door of the townhouse where the target lived. While he was in there I took a peek at what was in the suitcase and I saw that it was cocaine.

Over the years up to that point I had a reputation of not flinching at anything.  I knew some of these people I was working with were serious criminals and some were very powerful politicians and sports stars.  I was with them as a body-guard at times even though I was very young, and as an assurance that no matter what happened I was their ticket out of it.  They had never asked me to directly commit a crime—but rather used me as a lifeline back to freedom—and I was very dependable.  But, I had just met my future wife and I was thinking of living a normal life that we could build a family with—and once you’ve been invited to those types of circles—they don’t want you out flapping your mouth about every little thing you’ve seen.  They’d prefer you to be dead or with them—there really isn’t any middle ground.  So with drugs in my backseat I left that guy down there and headed back to the sales office where the mission started and reported back to my Kevin Spacey looking boss that his partner at the dealership was selling drugs.  He looked at me exasperated.  “You left him there?”  Of course I had to tell him yes and there was about a half hour of excessive panic because this Over-the-Rhine distributer had a ruthless reputation and now he had to call in for help while he was in hostile territory.  I was commanded to go back and get him for which I refused.  They had to send someone else.

Maybe I’ll write about the details sometime about what happened next but needless to say the Baby Driver plot reminds me of the two weeks that followed. I can really sympathize with the Baby character especially at that time in my life.  I wanted to be married to this wonderful new girl and I wanted away from those types of people—and it wasn’t easy.  A lot of people got into a lot of trouble and I had to drive very fast a lot to stay out of both jail and this side of the dirt—because these people did play for keeps. It seemed like a long time then, because at only 19 years of age, time moves more slowly, but in reality it was all over in just a few months.  Things worked out for me the way I needed them to.  It was a tough adjustment to live without the level of money I was used to.  Just out of high school I made twice as much money as my dad did at the prime of his career, but my country club wife assured me that she wanted to do everything clean and that holds true to this very day.  It took a while, but eventually I was able to climb out of that hole in my lifestyle—and it was all worth it—especially being able to live and tell about it.

It doesn’t happen often but just watching the previews for this new Baby Driver movie set to “Radar Love” took my mind instantly to this very turbulent time and I won’t even pretend that it was all bad. I loved living like that. It was fun to live beyond the rules and to be so good at things that people would literally do anything to make it so you could keep doing it.  For the first seven years of my marriage I didn’t have a driver’s license because once I stepped away from that life the courts crashed down on me and it wasn’t easy—the penalties were severe.  That past kept clawing away at me trying to either pull me back in, or destroy me in the process—it took about an entire decade to finally outpace that lifestyle I had before my marriage.  People had to die off and the fast life caught up to many of them who did manage to live for the next decade.  They either destroyed themselves or they ended up in jail.  There wasn’t really any middle ground.

Needless to say, I feel a connection to Baby Driver and I really hope it does good business during its run.  Speaking from experience I think what’s worse than a life of crime is a life not lived.  The spontaneity of life is a magical thing and you often don’t really see it until you are pushed well beyond your comfort levels.  And even though he is villainous in this movie Kevy Spacey’s character is right—people do love a good heist—they do need something to talk about over their “lattés” Thinking of “Radar Love” and the way the scenes played out for the preview of Baby Driver, I feel quite a lot of satisfaction knowing that I gave plenty of stories that have been talked about over a great many lattés.  And in the great theater of living, that’s not a bad thing.  I can’t wait to see Baby Driver.

Rich Hoffman

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4 Comments

  1. Did you give your mother a heart attack? I guess it can be is a good thing that most mothers don’t have a clue as to what their children are involved in. I thought I knew what mine were doing, but probably I was in the dark too. I do know they were
    never arrested (at least the police didn’t call us), but as far as tickets etc.I’m willing to bet they had their share. I’m so glad
    you found a wonderful wife to love. When you have children it forces most people to be more “responsible.”

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    1. My mom never got used to it. Usually a teaching method is to use fear to keep kids from doing things. But I was never afraid of anything, so it was hard for her. You know when you are at that age and dealing with other males they try to use fear to put you in your place. Of course that just fed me–it had the opposite effect. I grew up really fast and beyond that parental control rapidly. So yeah, that preview was very reflective for me.

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  2. so someone thought they would bully you into silence. Oh boy, anyone who knows you knows that quite the opposite will happen!!

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