Remember the Hermosa Beach story when I got arrested in San Diego? Well, this is what happened right after Pete and I split up.
I wanted out of California. But I had a court date and was not supposed to leave the state. Also, I was afraid that if I got stopped while hitchin’ on my way out, I’d be hauled back as a “flight risk.” Cops were always checking me out in those days and running my ID to see if I was wanted anywhere. I now realize it was unlikely that I’d have had any trouble, given the charge was only a misdemeanor. However, I was young and it was my first arrest, but unfortunately not my last.
So, I called my uncle who wired me money for a bus ticket to Miami. And in a few hours, I had the money, bought my ticket, and was on the bus heading for home sweet home. When we pulled out of San Diego, the bus driver announced that we would arrive in Miami at approximately 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, which meant that the trip would take three and a half days.
After two hours on the damn bus, I was ready to climb the walls, if indeed buses have walls.
To make this more palatable, which means shorter, I’ll get to the point.
I got off the bus at the first stop after we crossed into Arizona. The hell with the ticket, the hell with a refund; just let me off this damn torture machine. I then walked a block from the bus depot and stuck out my thumb.
On this particular journey, I had only one minor adventure, but it was still better than being a prisoner on that friggin’ bus! It happened outside a small town located in the panhandle of Texas at one o’clock in the morning.
I was in my usual position, which meant I was standing by the side of the road, thumb extended, with a shit-eatin’ grin on my puss. Even though it was dark, I was hoping my pearly whites would show in the glare of the oncoming headlights, which, at that time of night, were few in number.
I had left California straight from jail; I did not have my bedroll, or anything else for that matter. And I was not about to lie down in the wet grass on the side of the highway no matter how tired I was. No, I would sleep in the cars as they sped across this big country of ours. That is, if the driver hadn’t picked me up for the express purpose of conversation. If that were the case, then I’d be nodding in agreement with whatever he said, instead of nodding off. Because when they picked you up for talk, then you better damn well talk or you’d soon find yourself on the side of the road once again.
As I stood there in the cold desert air, shivering in my light California attire, a car approached. It had come out of nowhere. I could see headlights coming at me from miles away and this guy wasn’t there a minute ago. I learned later that he had been driving with his lights off.
It turned out to be a station wagon. (I know some of you younger cats are sayin’, “What the hell is a station wagon?” Ask your grandparents.) The car stopped and within it was not the solitary, lonely traveler that I had expected. Instead there were five people, three men and two women. I say men and women because I was only eighteen. They were all, in reality, about twenty-five years of age. The girls may have been a little younger. But to me, on that night, they seemed much older. There were two men in the front seat with a woman between them, and a man and a woman in the back seat.
Without any one of them saying a word, the left back door flew open, which in hitchhiking parlance means, “Get your ass in here.” And as I happened to have been fluent in Hitchhikese, I jumped in as the girl by the door slid over to make room for me. And without a word, but with many giggles and sideway glances at Yours Truly, we were off in a cloud of dust and a squeal of tires.
After a moment or two to let the female members of the troupe get over their giggles, the male passenger in the front seat turned to me and said, “Where ya headed?”
I answered as the honest person I was back then. “Miami.” At that point, I was informed that I was riding in a stolen car.
About that time, we entered the town proper. That’s when the driver swung a wicked right onto a side street. He went down every back alleyway and small side street that the town afforded. It was then that I started to think maybe they were a bunch of crazy loons, and, as I soon learned, I was right.
I should have asked to be let out the moment I was told I was riding in a stolen car, but instinctively, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. So, instead, I practiced in my mind what I would say to the local law when we were stopped. “Sir, I am only a poor hitchhiker who is trying to get home to his dying mother. These criminals picked me up back there outside of town. You can see by my ID that I don’t live in these parts.” I thought, “Yeah, that oughta work.” But as it turned out, I never had the chance to use my spiel.
After going down what seemed every street in that little town, the driver got back on the main highway, but this time he’s going in the opposite direction that I want to go. So, I figure now is the time to speak up and let my desires be known.
“How about,” I said, “letting me off here? I’m going the other way.”
This time it was the driver who spoke: “Sorry, kid, but you see them lights coming up fast behind us? Well, they belong to the sheriff. But don’t you worry none, I kin outrun him.”
As it turned out the idiot who was driving—a product of inbreeding, no doubt—could not outrun the sheriff. He could only run the car off the road and into a cornfield of ripe corn. Now, I’m no farmer, and I had no way of telling if the corn was ripe or not short of eating it, but the damn stalks were ten feet high.
By the way, when I said earlier that the occupants of the car were crazy, the reason I knew so was that the entire time we were being pursued by the sheriff, the whole bunch of them were laughing uproariously. Now back to my tale of woe.
The car left the road and plowed into the corn stalks. It made it only about four feet in when it got stuck in the dirt. Three of the four doors swung open and everyone but me and the woman sitting next to me bailed. I mean they took off for the hills, fast!
The woman asked, “Ain’t you runnin’?”
“No,” said I, “I’ll just explain to the cop how I came to be here.”
“Ain’t gonna do you no good. This here’s the sheriff’s car, and he ain’t gonna take kindly to anyone he finds sitting in it.”
With those words of comfort, she slid over toward the open door, abandoned the sinking ship, and disappeared into the corn. It took me about one second to decide my course of action, which was to run and run fast. I opened the door, exited the car, and did my own fade into the corn.
Being a bit smarter than the average idiot, I didn’t go far into the corn, just a few feet. Then I ran parallel to the road, in the direction the sheriff was coming from. My plan was to get behind him. I figured he’d roll onto the field close to his car. And then he would search the corn for the miscreants that had had the audacity to steal his beautiful 1964 Dodge Valiant station wagon. And for one of the few times in my life, I was right. He drove right up to the Valiant, got out of his cruiser, and with a quick glance at his baby to make sure she was undamaged, he took off into the corn.
That’s when I exited the cornfield, crossed the road, and started walking in the direction of home. Now if I was seen or apprehended, I could say with a straight face, “Car? What car?” However, it did not play out that way. I got a ride within a few minutes and was long gone by the time the sheriff or the crazies ever made it out of the cornfield.
A minor adventure, I admit. But hey, I didn’t go looking for adventures of any kind during my hitching days. They just seemed to find me.
I made it back to Miami about 6:30 Monday night, which meant I beat the bus by twelve and a half hours.