Okay, I warned you. This is the first of several completely non-comics related posts. Read at your own risk.
In 1981, when I was 18, my friend Lenny and I hitchhiked to New Orleans from New York City to attend the Mardi Gras. It was a cold January and we decided we needed to enjoy some warmer climes. Most of the journey was courtesy of a long-haul trucker that stopped for us near Newark Airport. In between dozing off at the wheel he would regale us with stories of sex-crazed college girls he supposedly had brief affairs with when he’d pick them up hitchhiking. I remember he offered to let us crash in the back of his cab but neither Lenny nor I wanted to risk falling asleep for fear he would as well. More than once we had to grab the wheel as he drifted off to dreamland.
He dropped us off on the outskirts of New Orleans and our thumbs went out one more time, searching for that home stretch ride. It came in the form of a 1949 red Chevy pickup truck. I’m not a car guy but this was a thing of beauty. We climbed into the back and started off towards downtown. On the way, our benefactor asked where we were from. When I told him we’d hitched down from New York for the Mardi Gras he asked if we had a place to stay. We told him no and, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, he offered us a place to stay, which we happily accepted. Lenny and I enjoyed the company of our new friends (whose names sadly escape me after all this time) for the better part of a week. They were nice people, not very well off, who freely opened their home to us and shared what they had.
At some point I wound up in the middle of the French Quarter, a day or two before Fat Tuesday, with Mr. 49 Chevy. We were enjoying ourselves, just driving around, until his truck developed engine trouble. We stalled out in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, so we get out to push it off to the side. As we maneuver the vehicle towards the curb, three cops standing in front of a hotel on the corner start calling out for us to “get that piece of shit” out of the road.
Now, I’m from New York, I’ve seen my share of incidents involving the police. My instincts generally tell me to keep a civil tone when speaking to law enforcement types, and never to yell at them. Unfortunately my friend wasn’t quite as discreet. His reaction to their verbal abuse was to yell back, in an equally obnoxious manner. Oh, did I mention both of us had hair below our shoulders? I guess it was guilt by proximity because the next thing I know we are being handcuffed and arrested.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Rather than take us to the patrol car parked next to them, the three members of New Orleans finest bring us into the hotel. We get hauled along to the elevator and taken down to the garage. Okay, I think, their car is parked there. Except they walk us over to the attendants office and knock on the door. When it opens three pairs of eyes look out, taking in the motley crew before them. Then, without a word, the three vacate the office and the five of us go in.
To say I was scared wouldn’t quite describe it. There was a sense of dread that only deepened as I was shoved into a chair off to the corner and my none-too-bright chum once again started to mouth off to the cops. He got about three words out before the first nightstick hit him in the head. The beating must have gone on for a minute or two but it felt much longer. At one point one of the boys in blue poked me in the back of the head with a pen and asked if I wanted some of this. “No, officer” I replied.
Several minutes later I was escorted out of the room, followed by my friend who was dragged. We were tossed into the patrol car that we passed earlier and taken to central booking. I had never been arrested before so I had no idea what to expect. When we arrived we were split up; I was placed in a line that reminded me of a ticketron, one of those places where you buy concert tickets. There were more than a dozen windows with long queues stemming from each. In the front of each line was a payphone; I was told I could make a call. I had the 50 bucks in my pocket so I could make bail; I didn’t need to call anyone to get me out. But when faced with such a surreal situation I needed to share the moment with someone. I called my friend Sonja and had a short but funny chat with her. I then paid my bail and was given information on when and where I should report to court, in three days time. I was being charged with being drunk and disorderly. Which, given the situation, seemed appropriate; I hadn’t had a drink all day. Mr. 49 Chevy, I was told, was being held on $5,000 bail; His charges were longer than mine, it seems he broke three of his ribs while resisting arrest.
When I was finally released it was close to midnight. I got on a bus and started back to my friend’s house.
Part two goes up tomorrow.