Here’s another one of my hitchin’ stories. This one took place about a year after my encounter with Harry. If you haven’t read about Harry, you can do so here. This adventure is a bit more lighthearted than Harry’s, but I still manage to screw things up.
I’d been travelin’ up and down California for about six months when I thought I’d check out the action on the beaches. You know, Huntington, Redondo, Manhattan Beach … the usual. It wasn’t long before I caught sight of the surfers. Man, to this eighteen-year-old boy, surfin’ looked really cool. I wanted to try it in the worse way, so I got myself a job washin’ dishes at a local hash house. I was sleepin’ in alleyways and under lifeguard stands because I was workin’ for a board and didn’t want to waste money on rent. And before I knew it, I was able to quit that job because I had earned enough for a second-hand surfboard.
This was in 1968, and a short board was anything under ten feet. I got me a Hobie, 9’6″. It was a beauty. I even painted the bottom in an American flag motif. I think I was protesting the Vietnam War or something. Today, I’m not sure why I did it. Maybe the surf was flat that day and I had nothing better to do.
I bought the board from a shop on Hermosa Beach, so naturally I stayed in the neighborhood. How far could one go with a surfboard and no car? It was summertime, and sleeping on the beach was no problem except when it rained. But it didn’t rain that often. I would surf all day, and then seek out dinner by going to the back door of restaurants and asking if I could work for a meal.
One of the most memorable and gratifying of my “back-door” escapades was the time I went to a class joint and gave my usual spiel. The chef lets me in, walks me over to a table in the kitchen, and says, “Don’t worry about nothin’. Just sit here and I’ll feed you.”
Just as I was putting the first succulent morsel of his fine cuisine into my mouth, this woman walks in from the dining room, sees me, and says, “What’s he doing in here? Get him out!”
It turned out she was the owner. Well, my friend the chef said, “When a man comes to my kitchen hungry, I am gonna feed him. Now get the hell outta here!” She went back into the dining room without saying another word. Ya gotta love a guy like that! Anyway, back to my story.
I had it worked out with one of the lifeguards to watch my board on the few occasions I left the beach. Surfin’ does work up one’s appetite. So I’d meander up to the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) every once in a while to see what I could promote—food-wise. On the day in question, I was attracted by loud music blaring out of a pair of speakers placed in front of a waterbed store. It was Canned Heat’s Going Up The Country.
I was standing there, just killing time until the song was over, when this dude walked up and said, “I dig this song too.” He was my age, had blond hair, and was kinda thin. His name was Pete. We got to talking and then he said, “Wanna blow a joint?” Now, did you ever hear of a kid in 1968 who didn’t want to blow a joint? At least that was the case with the people I ran with. Few as they were.
Pete took me to the house that he shared with his sister. It was only a few feet from the beach and it was painted green. That much I remember. I also remember his sister; she was a year or two younger than me, beautiful and unattached, which did me no good whatsoever. I was too shy in those days to open my mouth around girls.
The short of it is, I was invited to move in halfway through the first joint. After a few weeks of living with Pete and his sister, he and I started talking about how we could make real money. We thought that if we went down to Tijuana, copped a pound of primo Mexican Gold, brought it back to Hermosa Beach and sold it by the ounce, we’d be rich. Not to mention all the “free” pot we could have! So guess what we did? If your guess is that we hitchhiked to Tijuana to buy a pound of pot and then walk it across the U.S. border – give yourself a cigar. That’s exactly what we set out to do. But things didn’t work out quite as we had planned.
On the way down, we got picked up by these two guys who were going to Tijuana to cop “Reds” and “Greens.” Downers … not my type of high at all. I was pretty square in those days. Sure, I smoked pot, popped a little acid, shot a little acid, shot a little speed, did some mescaline (both organic and synthetic), and a few other illicit drugs that occasionally came my way (no heroin though). So, I was as pure as the driven snow where drugs were concerned.
Anyway, these guys were hip. They pulled off the road before we got to the border and showed us how they were going to smuggle the shit in once they copped it. They were going to hide the stuff under the carburetor on their car engine. We thought we had met two certified geniuses. They drove us into Mexico, and there we split up. Each pair of guys out to make their own score. The only difference being those guys knew what they were doing.
Pete and I asked around and found a guy who said he could get us a pound of marijuana, no problem. He took us to the seediest whorehouse I’d ever seen. And that’s saying something. As he was bringing us in the back door, who the hell do you think we met coming out of the place? You got it! The two geniuses. They were holding two big, fat, brown bottles of pills. There had to be at least a thousand pills per bottle. They stopped to show us their score. Then one of them said, “Hey, you guys want some Reds?”
“Sure. Why not?”
They opened one of the bottles and gave us each a handful of pills, which we quickly put in our pockets. This scene was keenly observed by our “connection.” And as you’ll see in a moment, that plays a big part in this sordid tale.
Our connection was holding the door of the whorehouse wide open, smiling and beckoning us to enter, as the spider did the fly. Right then and there I should have smelled a rat. He was practically grinning. He had one gold tooth in the front of his mouth, shining brightly in the Mexican sun. It made him look like that bandit in the Humphrey Bogart movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. That’s the one where a bunch of bandits are pretending to be the police and Bogie asks to see their badges. The head bandit says, “Badges? We don’t need no steekin’ badges!” Our guy looked just like that bandit. Except he wore no sombrero.
Once inside the whorehouse, we were escorted down a long, poorly lit corridor with rooms on both sides. Because it was the middle of the afternoon and there were no customers, every door to every room was wide open. I’m being generous when I call them rooms. They were just big enough to hold a single bed. And on each bed sat a roll of toilet paper.
This is where the fun really begins. It’s all been peaches and cream up to now. We got about halfway down the corridor when our connection stopped in his tracks and asked to see our money. You know, just to make sure we were legit. And being the complete dumb asses we were, we showed him the money.
That’s when a door off to the side flew open and three guys rushed us. Before either Pete or I knew what was happening, we found ourselves pressed up against a wall with knives at our throats. These new guys were talkin’ Spanish about a mile a minute. I couldn’t understand a damn word they said. But I kinda got the feelin’ they wanted our money.
So, we obligingly gave up the cash. We couldn’t do it fast enough.
While we were being robbed, our seedy connection kept on smiling, showing off his one gold tooth – the son-of-a-bitch! Then he said something in Spanish. The next thing we knew, the thieves were rooting around in our pockets. It’s kind of hard to hold a knife to someone’s throat and simultaneously go through their pockets. Try it some time, and you’ll see what I mean. But those guys were good at it. They probably had had a lot of practice.
My personal bandit, and by that I mean the one holding the knife to my throat, as opposed to Pete’s personal bandit who was holding a knife to his throat, pulled out my reds. He then showed his find to our supposed connection, who intoned, “Sí, sí.”
What the hell am I doing in a whorehouse in Tijuana in the middle of the afternoon, being robbed by a character out of a Humphrey Bogart movie? is what I desperately wanted to know.
Did I say that the fun started when those guys put knives to our throats? Well, if I did, I was mistaken. Now the real fun began. Pete had gone through everything I had gone through. His bandit was now holding his reds.
Before I go any further – for all you non-junkies out there – two of those reds would have put you to sleep for at least twelve hours; three, and you could kiss an entire twenty-four hours good-bye. Four . . . you’re talking about a trip to the emergency room. You get my drift? I don’t know how many Pete had shoved down his throat, but I got six! Then they threw us out onto the street. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on but, over the years, my feeble mind has kind of pieced things together.
I believe their thinking was: 1) We would OD on the streets of Tijuana and they’d be rid of us, or 2) We would be picked up by the police on a public whatever-you-call-it-when-you’re-really-stoned-on-reds charge. They had little fear we would go to the police on our own volition. What the hell were we going to say? “Excuse me, sir, but I tried to buy drugs in your country, and I was robbed.” I don’t think so, and our bandit friends knew so. Anyway, they probably had the police in their hip pockets. Mexico is one of the most corrupt countries in the world when it comes to the police. And Tijuana was—and probably still is—the most corrupt city in all of Mexico.
Well, whatever their plan was, we fooled ’em. We didn’t pass out until we were back in the good old U S of A … barely. This is no exaggeration. We were only two steps across the border and into this country with its wonderful jails, as opposed to Mexico’s shitty jails, when I keeled over, flat on my face. Don’t ask me about Pete, I was out for the count.
Can you imagine the police of today finding a comatose eighteen-year-old boy on the street and taking him to jail? I mean, really! But that is what the San Diego County Deputy Sheriffs did. I probably wasn’t actually comatose, but I have no recollection of being arrested. I was in their goddamn jail for two days before I fully regained consciousness. The only saving grace as far as I was concerned was that when I woke up, I found Pete in the same cell with me. He told me he had awakened about an hour before I did.
There we were, two would-be drug kingpins, on the second tier of the cellblock, down the row, in the last cell, against the far wall. The coppers wanted to get us for being under the influence of dangerous drugs. But to do so, they needed a urine sample. I was escorted downstairs, handed a cup, and told to go into the open cell in front of me and pee into said cup.
This next part, I swear, is the God’s honest truth. When I walked into the cell, there was a puddle of piss on the floor. I knew what it was because of its fragrant aroma. I don’t know about most of you, but when I first come out of a coma, I just can’t piss. Maybe it’s because my body was in the process of shutting down. You know, some people call it dying. Well, whatever the cause, I just could not pee that night. And believe me, I tried!
When the copper came to take my sample, I told him I just couldn’t go. At about that time, he saw the puddle on the floor and accused me of being the culprit. Who me? I’ve never peed on a floor in my life. Well, at least not recently.
Because the cops thought me a wise-ass, I was unceremoniously thrown back into our cell. By the way, we were not given a phone call, or arraigned within the time limit prescribed by the Constitution. Of course, at eighteen years of age, I was not yet the constitutional scholar that I am today, so I kept my big yap shut.
To pass the time while awaiting our day in court, Pete and I made a chess set out of torn paper bits. We were lucky; somehow, we came into possession of a pencil, which meant we could identify the pieces. You know, “P” for pawn, “Q” for queen, etc. But we didn’t have a board, so we had to imagine the squares. Three days of that shit, and I haven’t been right since.
We were finally brought before a judge. Looking down at us, I guess he saw a couple of stupid kids. After all, the charge was only a misdemeanor, so he gave us OR. Which meant your Own Recognizance, which meant no bail need be posted. They’d trust you to come back for your day in court.
Without further ado, Pete and I found ourselves out on the street once again.
Pete said to me, “So, what now?”
I said to Pete: “It was a pleasure meeting you, but I’m taking off. When you get home, tell your sister that I was secretly in love with her. Then sell my board and keep the money. I’m heading as far away from here as I can get. I’m thinkin’ of dropping by and seeing my folks back in Miami. I’ve been gone almost two years now, and even though I call on occasion, I haven’t seen them in all that time. I want to thank you for putting me up. And you take care of yourself.” We shook hands and walked off in opposite directions. That was the last time I ever saw ol’ Pete.
I wanted out of California. But I had a court date and was not supposed to leave the state. 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 highly unlikely that I’d have had any trouble, given the charge was only a misdemeanor. About six months later, I was back in California, hitchin’ and a cop ran my ID. It came back clean. So, I guess I wasn’t wanted anywhere, including San Diego.
Sorry, I seemed to have digressed. Back to the story:
I didn’t want my mother to know of my criminal behavior, so I called an uncle who wired me money for a bus ticket to Miami.
In a few hours, I had collected the money, bought my ticket, and was on a 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.
I got off 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.
The first ride I got was from a nice old man in his 50s. He was going all the way to Miami. I had it made. But then he took out his 8-track tape collection of country and western music. After an hour of that, I made an excuse and got out of the car, telling him I was going to stay over in Phoenix, or some such crap. But what’s funny is that soon thereafter (a year or two), I found myself going to the free concerts George Jones and Tammy Wynette held at their farm/ranch outside of Tampa, Florida. By then, I had learned to appreciate that type of music.
Twelve hours after leaving the nice old man, I was outside a small town in the Texas panhandle. It was one o’clock in the morning and I was wearing a shit-eatin’ grin, hoping my pearly whites would show in the glare of oncoming headlights. I was tired, but because I had left California straight from jail, I didn’t have my bedroll. And I was not about to lie down in the wet grass on the side of the highway no matter how tired I was. I would just have to cadge my sleep in the cars that picked me up. That is, if the driver wasn’t looking for conversation. If that were the case, then I’d be nodding in agreement with whatever he was saying, instead of nodding off to sleep. When they picked you up for conversation, you better damn well talk or you’d soon find yourself out on the side of the road once again.
As I stood there in the chilly desert air, shivering in my light California attire, a car approached. It was 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 I had expected. Instead, there were five people: two men in the front seat with a woman between them, and a man and a woman in the back seat.
The right back door flew open, which in hitchhiking parlance means, “Get your ass in here.” 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. Without a word from any of the occupants, 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, the male passenger in the front seat turned to me and said, “Where ya headed?”
I answered as the honest person I was back in those days. “Miami.” It was at that point I was informed that I was riding in a stolen car.
A minute later, we entered the town proper and the driver swung a wicked hard right onto a side street, then proceeded down every back alleyway that the town afforded. I should have demanded to be let out the moment I learned I was riding in a stolen car. But I instinctively knew that wasn’t going to happen. 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 being taken on a tour of what seemed like the entire town, the driver got back on the main road, but this time he was going in the opposite direction, back to where we had come from. It was time to speak up and let my desires be known.
“How about letting me off here? I’m going the other way.”
This time it was the driver who spoke up. “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. The car made it only a few feet into the field 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 running 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 few words of comfort, she slid over toward the open door and abandoned the sinking ship, disappearing into the corn. It took me about one second to decide my course of action. I did my own fade into the corn.
Being a bit smarter than the average idiot, I didn’t go in too far, just a few feet. Then 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 precious car. Then he would search the corn for the miscreants who 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 after the car thieves.
That’s when I left the safety of the cornfield, crossed the road, and stuck out my thumb. Surprisingly enough, I got a ride within minutes. A day and a half later, I was in Miami. The time was 6:30 on Monday night. After all that, I had beaten the bus by twelve and a half hours.