The darkness was almost complete. The car’s headlights seemed to make no difference, they were just swallowed up in the deep darkness of west Texas night…we hurtled east, along interstate 10 stoned out of our minds when suddenly there were lights, signs, a detour and then, immediately, a road block.
Mike, the driver, handed me his beer which I slid between my feet. In less than a second I went from laughing and silly and giddy to sober, serious and scared. I immediately started to think of who I could call to bail me out of the slammer as I grabbed the bag of pot from the dash board and stuffed it under the seat.
We were so busted…
The trip had started back in Pennsylvania more than a year ago, a friend found a copy of National Geographic magazine with an article about the Pacific Crest Trail. Some guy had just through-hiked the trail and his story and pictures were captivating. Two of my friends were just as excited as I was, we planned our trip, packed the food, and hitchhiked (those two together, me alone) out to Cascade Locks on the Columbia River where we met up and hiked south. The backpacking trip visited Mt Hood, Mt Jefferson and the Three Sisters, ending at Crater Lake and from there we split up, I headed to Marin County to visit my friend, Dan and my two backpacking companions, Eric and Greg, hitched back to Pa.
From Novato I headed south on I-5 to LA and somehow made it through the interchange of interstates and onto I-10 headed east. I decided that I would go visit my Dad and little brother in Augusta, Ga. I hadn’t seen them since I had runaway, at 16, three years before.
The ride through west Texas and encounter with the Texas rangers started outside of El Paso. My last ride had dropped me off just before the city. Trying to hitchhike in the middle of a city is a bad idea. Most people driving in a city are only going one or two exits and are in a hurry. If you’re hitchhiking and the driver is going to the city, you always get out well before town and only take a ride from someone going clear through…
So my ride pulls off and as we reach the top of the ramp I see that there are 6 or 7 people already hitchhiking there. That’s not good! I figured I’d be here for a while and set off farther down the ramp, taking my place at the end of the line…
After an hour standing there cooking in the hot sun I decided to be brave and to head down to the highway proper and give it a shot. I stood on the side of the interstate, in the shadow of the overpass and tried my luck.
The deal with hitchhiking on the interstate is you usually don’t stand down on the highway. You’re supposed to stand at the beginning of the on-ramp. Of course the people already driving on the road cannot see you or stop if you’re up there, and if you get unlucky enough to be dropped off at a ramp where there are very few cars entering the highway, then you are basically screwed. Often I would walk down the ramp to the spot where it merges with the highway and stand there, that way the travelers on the highway can see you and stop, and you can plausibly argue to the cops that you are in fact “on the ramp”.
I wasn’t down there more than half an hour when the cops came to check on me. I figured that being in Texas and looking so raggedly as I did that they’d bust me for sure, but no, they simply checked my ID, told me to be careful, politely wished me a good day and left me there…
About 5 minutes later I see the same cops up at the ramp talking to one of the other hitchhikers. I could see the cops grabbing the guy’s duffel bag and empty its contents on the asphalt, then kicking his stuff around…
After another hour or two I can see that there are less people up on the ramp and decide to head back up there. Now there are 3 people left, one pair of guys headed to Dallas and one lone guy. I ask what were the cops doing, why were they kicking that guys shit all over? Well, it turned out the lone guy was the one the cops were hassling. He was a very well dressed Hispanic guy named Julio. Listening to his story, as near as I could tell, his only crime was being from Mexico.
The two guys finally got a ride and that left just me and Julio there. We started to talk more and hitting it off decided to try our luck hitchhiking together. After just a little while we got lucky, a young guy complete in his army uniform stops to give us a ride. He is driving an old Ford Falcon; the back seat is full of his stuff so we pile in the front.
Mike is his name and he is a very excited and happy dude…He has a cooler of beer, which he offers to share with us and off we go already having a great time.
We each tell our story, Julio is heading to Dallas to visit his Mom and sister whom he hasn’t seen in a while, he was over in New Mexico working for a few months and plans to stay in the Dallas area for a while.
Mike has been in the army for about a year and just got orders to report to Fort Hood. So, he packed up real quick and hit the road, planning to drive straight through and get there asap…the only problem is that he’s not sure where Ft. Hood is exactly…he can’t recall if its up near Dallas, or down south near Houston…
The Interstate were on, I-10, forks into two interstates up ahead…I-10 veers south towards Houston (that’s the direction I’m headed in) and I-20 continues through the northern part of Texas to Dallas (this is the route that Julio needs) …and so Mike is hoping that one of us will know where Ft. Hood is…but neither of us have a clue.
It’s still a couple of hundred miles until we get to the fork in the road and so we decide to just have a good time and worry about which way to go when we get there.
So, we keep drinking and talking, then Mike pulls out a bag of weed and asks us to roll a few joints, which we do and smoke and just have our selves a grand old time.
Darkness falls and Mike needs a break. He asks if one of us can drive. I reply that though I don’t have a license I can drive. Truthfully I drove my Mom’s 1966 Olds a few times in preparation for taking the drivers test a few years before, before I left home, but my driving experience is less than an hour behind the wheel. To myself I figure what can go wrong, there are no cars, the road is more or less straight and it looks easy as pie.
After a few minutes of me driving Mike asks suspiciously if I have actually driven a car before and I gleefully confess the totality of my driving experience. He thinks this is real funny and both Mike and Julio start laughing and hooting as I drive erratically east along the highway. Feeling empowered I speed up and as we reach 100 mph Mike decides that maybe we’d all be better off if he drove some more.
It’s shortly after Mike takes over the driving duties again that we have our encounter with the giant-sized Texas Ranger.
He approaches the driver side and motions Mike to roll down the window, asking for license and registration. As he scrutinizes the documents, he sizes us all up. Mike has on his full army uniform, and explains that he is headed over to Fort Hood for his new assignment. This sounds good and maybe, I think hopefully, he’ll get off with driving while intoxicated and they won’t find the bag of weed…
The trooper asks next for ID from both me and Julio. Well, mostly from Julio, they don’t seem to be interested in me at all. Praise the lord, Julio’s papers are in order.
All three of us are sure that he has seen or smelled the beer, maybe seen us scrambling to hide the dope, and that the next step will be for him to ask us all to get out of the car, search it, and arrest us.
But instead he asks in a very serious tone: “Do you have any illegal aliens in the car?” I think I am hearing things, and so apparently was Mike, because he didn’t answer, which caused the trooper to ask again in a more threatening voice, “Do you have any illegal aliens?” Mike snaps out of his head and says, “No, officer, we don’t have any aliens with us at all!”
The trooper says, “Okay, please get out of the car and open the trunk.” Mike replies that he can’t open the trunk, that the latch is broke and explains that this is why the back seat is filled with stuff. The Ranger doesn’t like this answer and signals with his hand. Two equally giant-sized Texas Rangers materialize out of no where, both carrying crow bars.
Mike sees where this is headed, and jumps out of the car to see if he can’t figure out how to get the trunk open…
Julio and I sit in the car, scared shitless, still thinking about the inside of a Texas jail…Mike manages to get the trunk open and lo! There are no aliens of any kind in there, not the kind from the movie “Repo Man”, nor any from south of the border.
Now satisfied that we are not part of a human trafficking ring of some sort, we are told that were free to go. The Ranger advises Mike to hold up on the drinking until he gets to the army base and that’s it, were free to go.
We drive away, silent for the first few miles. Unbelieving in our good fortune, shocked that were not all in the slammer. Then we all start laughing hysterically, joking and telling each other what went through each of our minds during the ordeal…
We cracked open some more beers and smoked another joint to celebrate our good fortune and continued east…
Those troopers could have cared less what we were doing, drinking smoking weed, or anything else. I don’t think they would have cared if there were dead bodies in the back, they could have even been dead aliens, just as long as there weren’t any live illegal immigrants in the car, we were good to go.
Every time I see the Men In Black movie I laugh my ass off at the opening scene…tellin’ it like it is!
Unfortunately for Mike, he was so scared when we were stopped he forgot to ask the rangers if Ft. Hood was closer to Dallas or Houston. But he had decided that it must be Dallas.
So, when we came to the fork in the highway, Mike stopped to let me out. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. There was no town, no buildings, just a sign pointing to Interstate 10 to the right and Interstate 20 to the left…
I got my big pack out of the back seat and bid farewell to my two companions. I was sorry to leave them, knowing I would never lay eyes on them again…its does not take long to make fast friends.
It being late at night there was no traffic. No point in hitchhiking, and I was so wasted it probably wasn’t a good idea anyhow…
There were fields surrounding the highway, I walked up a little rise along the side and looked for a place to lay down…it was dark and I started to think about critters and rattle snakes, so I went back to the road…where to lay down…?
I quickly fell fast asleep…in the morning I was woken by the sound of a motor cycle circling me. I had actually bivouacked so close to the road that I was clearly visible, the motorcycle dude was checking out to see if I was alive…and seeing that I was stirring he sped off.
I arose packed my bag and with a big smile on my face continued my trip headed east….