August 7th, 2008


Road Tales Part 1 - Texas 1984 or Karma is a bitch

"Easin down the highway in a new cadillac,
I had a fine fox in front, I had three more in the back.
They sportin short dresses, wearin spike-heel shoes,
They smokin lucky strikes, and wearing nylons too.
cause we bad, we nationwide.
Yeah we bad, we nationwide."

The summer of 1984 was very good to me. I'd worked all summer in the mountains of NM at Philmont Scout Ranch. I got struck by lightning for the first time that summer. Cut my eyelid off when I accidentally jumped into an air conditioner hanging off the side of a building. Got my ear pierced. Met RC Gorman. Met a lot of really cool people. Had a bunch of drinking buddies known as the Dawn Patrol. Here are 3 of us, Cy, Little Red and me, Big Red. Got so drunk in Trinidad, CO one night that I fell off a parked school bus onto a gravel parking lot on my face. Got lost in the mountains and was chased by a bear and nearly struck by lightning for a second time. Had my Dad talking me out of doing something that could have gotten me arrested for transporting a minor across state lines. And in general had a kick ass time.

As the last few days of summer rolled around, people were arranging for rides back home. I'd driven out with a friend from Maryland but he'd hooked up with some chick and was driving back East with her. So I put my name up on the ride board saying I had a full size pickup with a camper shell and could take as many people who wanted to be dropped off between Northern NM and Northern VA. As luck would have it, 2 female members of the Dawn Patrol and 2 other girls wanted a ride. They all agreed to pay me $75 each for gas and food. Me and 4 very attractive women off on a road trip. Was I going to bitch?

All 4 were going to various parts of Texas. Not exactly on a straight route but I wasn't complaining. Terri was going to Lubbock, Lynn was going to Dallas, Little Red (Betsy) was going to Houston and Tiger was going to Texarkana. I couldn't have chosen a more indirect route through Texas if I'd tried.

We all tied one on the night before we left so we were in wonderful shape for a long drive the next day. Coffee and Neil Young in the cassette player kept us going. I had a couch in the back of the truck so at any one time, it was 2 girls in the back and two up front with me. We made Lubbock by mid-day and dropped off Terri with hugs and kisses all around.

Late afternoon saw us taking a backroad shortcut at Sweetwater that we were assured would save us some time. The truck (74 Chevy C10) didn't have air conditioning so to get a little air flow, I was driving about 85 mph with the windows down. The Texas Highway Patrol is exceptionally lenient when it comes to speeders. I really don't think they want to be out in the hot sun writing a ticket anymore than you want to be sitting there sweating your ass off while they write one. Not so with the small town cops.

On the outskirts of Coleman, TX, the speed limit drops suddenly from 60 mph to 35 mph without warning. The speed limit sign, I was to find out only after turning around to search for it, was right after the Dairy Queen, partially concealed by the leaves of a cottonwood tree. Deputy Sheriff Thomas had been sitting in his Plymouth Fury all day in the Dairy Queen parking lot with a busted AC unit. He was fat, sweaty and looking very much like Sheriff Buford T. Justice. I'm sure they were related. He had been taking his first bites of a double bacon cheeseburger when my unlucky ass rolled into town doing 80 mph. He wasn't at all happy to have to put down his burger and go chasing me, but at least it was some excitement in his dull life of serving warrants out in the county.

Imagine his delight to pull over a truck with out of state plates, a driver with long hair and earrings, a British Flag muscle shirt and ripped jeans and 3 more or less scantily clad women. I think he viewed it as a rolling whore house complete with pimp. I did the whole yessir-nossir routine for awhile but when he started telling me how stupid I was to be driving that fast, I got a little full of myself. This is when I found out that dumb, fat Texas cops don't like being told they are dumb and fat by skinny-assed know-it-all college kids.

This was the point where he reminded me he could pull my license, impound my vehicle and throw the lot of us in jail for giving him attitude. I figured it was bullshit but didn't want to chance it so I got control of myself and asked him what I needed to do. He ordered all of us out of the truck while he walked around noting a bent bumper and a broken tail light with clip board in hand. All the while, the residents of Coleman are cruising by slowly, ogling the women and enjoying the show. Occasionally we'd be greeted by honking horns and loud whooping from the kids out cruising. Finally Deputy Thomas comes back over to me and tells me that with the speeding and the various defective parts on the truck, he could easily take my license, but as he's a good Christian sort, he will let me off the hook for $200 and we can forget about the whole thing. He had this big grin because he knew he had me over a barrel but damn it was hard to part with that $200 as it was a large part of our traveling money. I handed it over and he smiled and told us to "Slow it down and drive safe y'all!" Then he sauntered back to his cruiser and went back to the Dairy Queen.

I was pretty blue about the whole thing. I was all set to travel in style when I left Texas. This setback meant meals of beef jerky, Pringles and Mt. Dew for the rest of the trip. In just-robbed silence, we headed out of Coleman, TX. We'd traveled over 500 miles that day and still had almost 200 to go so we decided to stop in the village of Brady. At least it had a little Mom n Pop motel. The girls said they would kick in a little more for a room and we all could use a shower. We didn't have enough for more than one room though. The marquee out front proclaimed "Jesus Saves" so I knew Ma and Pa Kettle that ran the place were never going to stand for a bunch of heathen college kids getting a single room together. I was actually Catholic back then and had a decent pair of jeans, a button down shirt and a tie for Sunday Mass rolled up in my back pack. So we went over to the town park and I put on my Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes and combed my hair, grabbed my Bible and removed the earring. The girls tidied themselves up as well. Then we headed back over to the Brady Motel.

I was the only one to go in but the little old lady at the desk could plainly see the 3 girls in the truck. I carefully laid my Bible on the counter and then placed my hands on top of it. "Ma'am, we'd like a room please."

I could see the indignant look start to creep into her eyes already. "I can give you two rooms side by side." she suggested.

"oh no ma'am, one room will be fine."

"I can't let you stay in a room with 3 women. It just wouldn't be right!"

"Ma'am, those three girls are my cousins. We are a gospel quartet from Virginia and we are headed to San Antonio for a gospel signing competition. Really ma'am, we don't have a lot of money and we are used to sharing a room. I can sleep on the floor while they take the bed. We'll make out just fine."

I'm not at all sure she bought it totally. But she wasn't about to question the sincerity of a good Christian boy like myself and a gospel singer to boot. Thank the gods she didn't ask us to sing something. She did give us a room with a double bed and a big couch. We settled in, took showers, put on shorts and soon after dark, found the local liquor store and bought a bottle of Jack, a bottle of Peppermint Schnaaps, a 12 pack of Moosehead and a bag of Dorritos. Everything you need for a party.

Want to see how a gospel quartet from Virginia spends their night in Brady, Texas?

Thats me, with Tiger behind me and Little Red to the side. Lynn was taking the photo and sharing the Moosehead with me.

I don't remember a great deal of details about that night. Just your typical night of 19 year old drunken debauchery. We were just as hung over the next morning when I cooked us eggs and coffee on my Coleman hiking stove at the picnic area in the park. But we were good friends so all was right with the world.

3 hours on the road and we were dropping Lynn off in Austin. She kissed me and hugged the others and left us there at the curb. I think she was feeling a little awkward about introducing us to her family after the day and night we'd just had. We drove on to a rest area on the outskirts of town and had a lunch of Underwood Deviled ham spread on Uneeda Bisquits with cherry Kool Aid to wash it down. These items were robbed from the Ranch commissary before we left along with several days worth of dehydrated meals. Then on we drove to Houston, getting to Little Red's house by early evening.

Red was more than happy to have us come meet her family. Her Mom took an instant liking to me because 2 of Red's older bothers had recently moved out to go to college and she was missing having boys in the house. She made sure we were properly fed, took a good nap and then left us to our own devices. Red wanted us to go out cruising the main drag in Houston. So we got in her mom's little red 280 Z and went out. I had left my wallet in my truck since we were not taking it anywhere. This became an important factor later on. We were cruising up and down this long stretch of road with about a thousand other idiots. Lots of them Red knew. They would pull up and chat as we rolled along. Some had coolers full of beer, some had bottles of Jack or Mezcal. Finally some of her friends invited us to pull over and park in a little store parking lot just off the strip. People brought out lawn chairs and alcohol. Pretty soon it was a pretty respectable party going on there on the side of the road. We were yelling at cars going past and people kept stopping to have a drink with us.

Inevitably a cop finally pulled up to roust us out. He started checking ID's. Not sure why because he could have had the whole lot of us for public intoxication, open alcohol, loitering, disturbing the peace and any number of other offenses. It was at this point I remembered my wallet was in the truck with my ID in it. I was legal to drink in my home state of Virginia and legal to drink in Texas at 19 but I couldn't prove it. There were a couple of others at the party who were suffering the same fate. A van was called and we were all hauled away to a temporary holding cell at some police precinct in downtown Houston to await trial the next morning. As they were loading me, Little Red and Tiger were trying to tell the cops that I was 19 but without ID, it wouldn't fly. So I told them to go back and get my wallet and meet me at the police station.

Shortly thereafter it was looking like something from an Arlo Guthrie song. Me and the other drunks in a cell comparing notes of why we were arrested. My two friends quickly got home and found my wallet, But alas, they didn't know what station I was taken to. So they spent most of the night with a page torn out of a phone book that listed all the stations. They went from station to station trying to find me. Problem was, they had hit the station I was taken to before I got there. We were all scheduled to go to court the next morning for various alcohol related offenses. Finally about 6 am, Red decided it was time to get her Mom involved. She called around and was able to find out where I was being held. About 9 am they came to the station where I was and presented my ID. So I was let out with no charges filed while the other poor schmucks boarded a bus bound for the court building. Red's Mom was really cool about it since I hadn't really done anything illegal.

I think I slept for a whole day and could have stayed down there for a week, swimming in the backyard pool and eating the good home cooking. But Tiger needed to get on home. So with tears in our eyes, we drove off into the sunset. But not before Red's mom forced me to take the runt of a litter of puppies their black lab had given birth to a few weeks before. The father had jumped the fence and little Dawn (named for the Dawn Patrol) came out looking more like a red boned hound than a lab. I was glad to have him for a road companion.

It was afternoon when we started out so rather than drive the whole way, Tiger, Dawn and I stopped to camp at a KOA campground near Rusk, TX. I'd had a crush on Tiger all summer so when she suggested we just bed down in the back of my truck for the night, I was all for it. After swimming in the pool and a meal of dehydrated salisbury steaks cooked in a thin metal pot on my hiking stove, we climbed into the back of the truck, spread out our sleeping bags and snuggled together with Dawn the puppy wedged between our ankles. I held her and kissed her and we talked late into the night.

The next morning it was a few short hours drive to Texarkana. I met her family and her Dad took us out to eat at a Waffle House. He thanked me for getting his daughter home safe and gave me a few more dollars for gas. I hugged Tiger and she nuzzled with Dawn for a bit. Then I was on the road and leaving Texas behind me. I'd been there for six days with people I'll never forget. I made it home to Northern VA 3 days later with a head full of memories and a new puppy to remind me of the adventure of Texas. A month later I found out that Deputy Thomas filed the speeding ticket anyway.