We had made up our mind’s earlier in the day after we found out we’d be suspended for ditching class. The thing is all ten of us said that we’d go to New Orleans but it was only Carol and I that showed up that evening. To be honest I hoped she wouldn’t show either but she did and so I was not about to back out.
Carol and I had just met that morning as I had just met most of the other kids ditching class that day. They knew one another because of attending the same junior high, whereas I had gone to a different one. I recognized some of them but we had never hung around together because we were from opposite sides of town but were now meshed together at this high school. I was more than accepted by them and treated with a respect because of my undeserved reputation of being a tough, cool, dude…well okay, maybe cool and I did knock a tall guy out with one punch for dancing with my girl…at a high school dance.
One of the girls’ was babysitting at this house and it served as a gathering place for us all. Anne just put the baby in the crib for it’s nap upstairs. Hearing her steps down the stairway she told us, “Be quiet,” before entering the room. Most of the noise being was laughter as we lazily passed, the doobie around again.
Another kid from school walked through the front door; I’m sure he was told to come in but I didn’t hear anything. He told us all that he had been here earlier and that he just walked back to school to see if anybody noticed that he was gone and he said, “Hey man, we’re all suspended so there’s no since in going back.”
All of us began making mystifying plans. We decided that we wouldn’t tell our parents and instead we’d all meet that evening and begin hitchhiking to New Orleans where I would join up with some jazz band, (are you kidding me)?
Carol got off work, came to me, and whispered as I stood in the entryway of the Prom Center that she had to say goodbye to her mom but she asked me to hold the paper bag just handed me. I took it and only had to wait a matter of minutes for her to say her goodbyes and collect her tips.
Carol and I grabbed a city bus down at the corner and took it to the Greyhound Depot in downtown Minneapolis. We bought tickets to Mason City, Iowa. I had my blue Holten trumpet case with trumpet and clothes packed in…she had her bag with clothes.
Just outside of the Mason City Bus Depot was the main highway that would take us all the way down south, highway 65. We began hitchhiking in the cold, misty morning. We were both wet and freezing so I told her to keep walking and we’ll stay a little warmer that way. We didn’t get a ride until we reached the outskirts of that city but what a ride it was. The guy drove us all the way to their capital city and then to his home there. During our ride the driver and I made a deal because he was pretty much enamored with my four-track, portable tape player… I traded that player for a ’59 Ford wagon, it ran.
He asked, “Do you wanna’ test it out, drive it around a little?”
I replied, “It runs, right?”
“Well that’s all I care about,” I said and we shook on it. I gave him the tape player and he gave me the keys, we put our few belongings in the rumbling wagon, said our goodbyes and drove off.
We drove south on 65 and I think we both felt relief, especially to be dry and warm, though we didn’t have to have the heater on much and that was a good thing because after running a while it began to smell like something was burning as smoke slowly pouted from the vents. We lowered the rear window, but could only have that open for a short time because it sucked the exhaust into the car and made me kind of dizzy and nauseaus. The weather soon cleared and sunshine was the order of the day for the remainder of the trip.
The highway was only a narrow two lane back then, but the speed limit through most parts was seventy miles per hour. I had my driver’s license, if we should get pulled over. We both relaxed a little when we reached, Lineville, Ia and South Lineville in MO.
We went through the towns of Chillicothe, Sedalia, and others that I guess were to small to put on a map and of course I didn’t need any directions because I remembered traveling this same highway with Mom on summer vacations. I knew 65 went all the way to Louisiana, I’d probably get directions then.
We got a motel in Springfield, Missouri and spent the night. We only had to turn off highway 65 into the driveway of the Stardust Motel, with a large swimming pool in front . The motel’s glamorous days of the late fifties and early sixties had passed, some of the lightbulbs of their shooting star sign were burnt out; it was now just an aging, place to sleep.
Springfield wasn’t far from Harrison, Arkansas about seventy miles…This trip, so far was like reliving my youth when I traveled this highway with family. We were both tired and needed a shower, something to eat and a good night’s sleep. I’d been told that I looked old for my age (just as, now I am told I look young for my age) so I had her wait in the car. I signed their ledger as Mr. and Mrs. Richie. I paid the twelve bucks and got the key to the room two doors from the office.
The lady looked at the signature and told me, “We also need your license number here,” and she pointed to all the other plate numbers.
I had to go out and get the number and then came back and filled it in. “Is there a restaurant around here,” I asked? She pointed out the large picture window in the front of the office and I said, “Good, we can just walk and I can stretch my legs some.”
A new day…a new adventure! I felt like a modern day, explorer even if the exploring was from the seat of my car, my wonderful wreck of a car. I came out of the shower and my partner in crime was gone…she took a swim in their pool and I went out to meet her. I sat in one of the lounge chairs on the apron of the pool and enjoyed a cigarette while talking with Carol. She went in to take a shower and I loaded up the car. She came out of the shower all beautiful and everything and gathered up her personal items and we were off .
The weather was perfect for traveling, and I was anxious to be on the road again. Our next stop Harrison, Arkansas but Branson, Missouri near the border came first. Today it’s a big entertainment center but in 1970 it was a small, peaceful town in the Ozark Mountains. We wouldn’t bother to stop in their little hamlet because we would have to get off the highway for a ways, no, we’d drive to Harrison, for breakfast because it was less than a hundred miles away, if I remembered right.
Almost the lone car on the highway we cruised at ninety MPH to Bronson, MO, almost to Branson. The mountain hills were great for cruising and one could easily forget the speed limit, I knew what it was but I hadn’t checked my speedometer for a while because we were chatting and munching on some twinkies and before I knew it, a cop appeared out of nowhere lights flashing and siren blaring; I pulled over.
The cop asked for my driver’s license which I readily supplied.
“You’re a long way from home son. How come the car has Iowa plates? “
I told him how I purchased the car in Des Moines and followed that with, “I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?”
“Well, you were doing 90 in a 70 for one thing.”
“I’m sorry but I didn’t even notice.”
“Can I see your registration or title,”
Young and dumb, that’s what I was…I didn’t get a title for the Ford wagon so into the back of the squad we went. We were hauled into the Branson jail with hillbillies who seemed happy to be in there. Carol was on the side for women, with that lady from the hills and I was locked up with the hillbilly man.
The jailer came back to the cell and claimed that he had called my dad, “yor daddy sounds like a good man and say’ed he’d be down ta get ya’ when he finished the job he was a doin’ ’causen he’s self-employed and so has to take care o’ bt’nes. Ya’ll best hope he gets here by tomorrow ’causen ya’ll are juveniles and juvy is filled plum up – we’ll be a transferin’ ya’ll to the state prison for a short time, ifn’ he ain’t here.
I sat on the edge of the bunk and that guy sauntered over and said, Maa’be we’ll be a ridin’ over t’ the pen, t’gether. But if yor daddy does git ya can ya’ll leave me some cigs? “
Carol and I spoke through a vent. She sounded happy and joking with that other female, she was excited because she would be going to juvenile hall for girls. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so worried about myself, but I was told that I’d be going to the state pen if Dad didn’t show and I’d heard stories…
Dad didn’t come to get us in his panel truck or even in Mom’s car. He had got a car from his buddy at the bank and it was a large, sleek, two-door black beauty, a newer Chrysler New Yorker. Maybe the picture of a couple o’ mob-looking guys emerging from a long black car played on the sheriff’s mind. Dad made him an offer, that he could have refused, but didn’t. He allowed us to go with a warning to get the title of any car purchased, no matter what was paid. The sheriff said they hauled us in because they thought the car had been stolen Dad told them to keep the car. Dad told me during the trip home of how he paid off the sheriff of that town to let us go and not press charges.
While we were gone, Carol’s mom had called mine and told her that I kidnapped her daughter and that she was going to press charges, but Mom stuck up for me saying, “Steve doesn’t have to kidnap a girl to go with him! She went because she wanted to!” Thanks Mom for defending me, and Dad for picking us up and wiping out any consequences.