Road Trip by Bill Tope

Friday, March 18, 2022
In 1970s USA, Bill Tope's character takes a road trip to Washington DC with a drug-fuelled group of activists, where he meets Beth and gets stranded far from home.

That first day we drove for almost ten hours, from Edwardsville, Illinois, a college town just across the Mississippi from St. Louis, bound for Washington DC, to celebrate the Fourth of July, and to do our part for drug reform. We had a modest caravan of older model vehicles; I rode in an ancient VW bus, with its many windows and bench seats. With me was Rod, the driver; his wife Teri; Stevie, Rod's best friend; and little Kay, who subsisted for the whole trip on amphetamines and cigarettes. She weighed about ninety sexy pounds and had propounded a dating philosophy that stipulated, "Never sleep with the same person twice in a row."

It wasn't a gentle ride: the bus jostled over the contraction joints in the highway, frequently tossed us high enough to bonk our heads on the ceiling of the vehicle. As we traversed states we'd never before visited, our joy was lessened somewhat, because in the back of our minds was the question of whether the old VW would successfully make the 1,600 mile round trip without breaking down.

It must have never occurred to us that we might get stopped by the police or the Highway Patrol and be asked to account for the huge amount of marijuana that the vehicle carried. It wasn't for sale, it was for personal use, but try explaining that to a cop. Nor would it have made a difference; we would have been busted for possession, and in the light of the stringent drug laws of the day - the 1970s - we could have spent years behind bars, doing hard time. We were generally buzzed all day long. A joint after breakfast, a reefer at noon, acid or MDA along about suppertime, and a weird assortment of inhalants like amyl nitrate and other chemical oddments throughout the night.

At length we reached Virginia - or was it West Virginia? I could never tell where one left off and the other began. We cruised along the Parkway through the Shenandoah National Forest, just as John Denver began singing "Country Roads, Take Me Home," on the radio. We all smiled. The trees, the painted sky, the pines, and the mountains were spectacular, as was the sunset as we pulled into a camping site.

First thing we did when we arrived was to settle in, which meant, take more drugs. As night fell, everyone sat cross-legged before a campfire and got high on psilocybin, the so-called magic mushrooms. Long and slender, they tasted really awful, like spaghetti made from shit. So we drenched the "shrooms" in honey someone had brought, and they went down much easier. When this sparked our appetites we ate marshmallows and weenies, toasted on sticks. The small talk was, of course, profound. Nobody had thought to bring a tent - we were too busy getting our illegals together - but fortunately it didn't rain on our trip. Everybody settled back in sleeping bags - some alone, some in pairs - and drifted off. About five a.m. I awoke, sensed a presence unfamiliar to our little group. I looked up and there was a huge - or so she seemed to me - white-tail deer, a doe, nuzzling through our supplies. Armed with a bag of dried apple rings, I approached the beast and offered up a snack. She sniffed the bag suspiciously and then advanced and took a ring. I fed her half the bag and felt at one with nature. She drifted back into the underbrush.

Looking round, I spotted a passenger from one of the other cars, an older guy - by about ten years - named Glen. He was yet at the campfire and was quietly burning twenty dollar bills in the flames. Seems his parents had recently died, leaving him twenty-five thousand dollars, and he was "mad at them" for leaving him alone. And so he was systematically incinerating his legacy. I let him be. He was in and out of mental hospitals and most people thought it best to cultivate different friends. How he rated an invitation to this trip I couldn't fathom. Perhaps because he sold LSD for a living.

Next day found us all in Maryland; Georgetown. We got a late start and wound up staying a night with a friend of one of the other drivers. Several of us huddled around a picnic table with a young man of about 14, who lived there with his parents. Where they were nobody knew. In the 70s the drug culture was widespread; seemingly everywhere. Even here in Georgetown, in the very shadow of the nation's capital. His parents, as I recall hearing, worked for the federal government in some clandestine capacity, the CIA maybe. He was very voluble on the subject. So perhaps they were out peeping through keyholes or over transoms, all in dutiful service to their country. In the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, secret agencies were not held in high esteem.

The young man was holding court, a joint in his hand, and was waxing nostalgic about "the drug paraphernalia" back in "the old days." Stevie and I smiled at each other, hearing this high school freshman "reminisce" about days gone by, about a time during which he was almost certainly in a crib. Someone produced a prodigious watermelon and we all devoured it; Glen even ate the seeds, probably in an effort to get back at his parents.

At length, next day, we arrived in the nation's capital. "Yeah," exhorted Bob, another driver, "We're going to Carter's house!" And so we did. We walked the length and breadth of DC, stopping at the Capitol and admiring Statuary Hall. Bob showed us how, if you stand on a certain spot, you can hear everything being said in the room, even whispers: an acoustic phenomenon. The first thing I noticed about Washington DC was the proliferation of cops. At the landmarks they stood about five feet apart, forming a kind of human wall. They were all nice, invariably polite, mostly very young, but there were so many of them! Being the ignorant, Midwestern savages that we were, we offered to get one of the young cops high. What else would a ragtag agglomeration of humanity like us do? He took it all in stride, politely declined. "Okay, man, that's cool," croaked the other Bob, who was a college Sociology Professor and a group leader and so, presumably, should have known better.

We visited the White House, stood outside and grasped the bars of the black metal fence that surrounds the estate, stared in at the grounds and shouted for "Jimmy" to show himself. As we toured some of the other, older edifices, we saw enormous, medieval-looking buttresses reinforcing the walls, as you might find at an old cathedral. Professor Bob shook his head sadly, said what a poor reflection on our country the sight of that was. We were awed by the Lincoln Memorial, but couldn't get within a hundred feet of it. It was barricaded with a rope with little flags on it that were flapping in the breeze. As always, there was an army of police, guarding the Memorial, lest any citizen get too close. In the movies, the actors always get to climb the stairs, to practically touch Lincoln's hand, like in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." "I'll bet that Jimmy Stewart could have gotten in," I heard someone behind me mutter.

One of our group's stated aims and the nominal reason for this trip, was to declare for the legalization of marijuana, and we therefore intended to visit the office of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). There was considerable resistance across America to this effort at the time; this was before states realized they could make billions off the pot industry. Remember, most gambling was illegal back then, too. Today you can buy your lottery tickets at Quick Trip and get your gambling fix on your cell phone.

Someone gave us directions to the "Yippie House," located in some backwater neighborhood in DC, and we thought we should pay our respects, as one group of freaks to the freaks-in-residence. It was reportedly an old, ramshackle, disreputable building, so what could go wrong? After driving circuitously for an hour, we found the place. We stepped in. The first one we met was a yip named Mousie, who had just taken a shower in a bathroom that had no door and no shower curtain. He gave us a tour, wrapped in a blue, threadbare towel, while dripping on the uncarpeted floor. I was getting sort of hungry so just out of curiosity I opened a huge refrigerator, an enormous, upright, coffin-like white box. The only thing inside was a ten gallon stock pot of boiled cabbage. My appetite quickly fled.

The walls of the Yippie House were battered and none too stable. Plaster and other debris littered the floor. Kay, walking as in a daze, lit a cigarette, gobbled more speed. "I don't know," she said, just to be nice, "I kind of like it here." Next she placed a hand on the nearest wall, leaned into it a little and instantly the wall disintegrated, raining plaster, lath, you name it, down onto us. Someone - I don't remember who - reached out and drew Kay clear of the catastrophe. "Gosh," she squeaked, "I think I need another cigarette!"

We were eventually directed to the NORML office, somewhere on one of the alphabet streets: K Street, B Street, whatever. The Director of NORML proved to be an insufferably straight suit who wouldn't allow marijuana in the office. We stood in wonder and blinked at him. He told us about some rallies and demonstrations the organization was sponsoring over the Fourth. Professor Bob, the only one amongst us that had any real money, gave NORML a generous donation. We left, a little baffled, and way too straight.

Sometime later that day, sexy Beth, from one of the other cars, and I wandered off from the group, a harbinger of our undoing. We promptly visited a dimly-lighted bar, replete with lots of walnut trim and plush leather seats. Sitting at the bar on this hot July morning, we ordered up mugs of beer. We drank gratefully, then took turns buying each other rounds. We hadn't eaten, so in seeming no time we were comfortably buzzed. A stocky, very young cop joined us at the bar, began entertaining us. I can't recall what he was talking about, but whenever we disagreed with him, he'd stop talking and then ask us pointedly, "Do you know everything?" We had to admit we did not, and he'd say, "Well, there you go!" winning the argument by default. We drank a lot of beer, but that cop got really snookered, consuming glass after glass after glass. As he drank he began to speak of the "Black underbelly of government." I remember that although we didn't know what the hell he was talking about we nodded earnestly at his remarks. At length we left the bar, leaving the young cop behind, stumbling drunk and ominously pointing his pistol at passersby.

We next visited Lafayette Park, where multiple rock bands were setting up for their evening performances. Beth glided drunkenly to the Reflecting Pool and peeled off her shoes and socks and soaked her feet in the dirty water. "Ahh, that's cool, man." She sighed. As darkness fell, I began to wonder about our traveling companions: where were they? I hadn't seen them for at least eight hours and hoped they weren't in any trouble. Hoped they hadn't tried to get any more policemen high. Everywhere we went, everywhere we looked, people were getting buzzed. We drifted up to a group of women who were preparing a protest march and they were passing round huge, stainless steel bongs and small, soapstone opium pipes. We greedily accepted them in our turn. At length the women assembled and marched raucously down the avenue, in front of the White House; I looked up and was surprised to find Beth leading the march, arm in arm with the group's leaders, shouting and dancing along. After the march ended, Beth rejoined me, remarked once again, "Man, that was cool!"

At one end of the park, the bands were making final preparations to simultaneously play rock melodies from their respective stages. Though it was fully dark now, Lafayette Park was lit up like a Vegas hotel. Finally the bands began to play. Beth and I were standing before one of the venues, getting mellow to the beat of a Jethro Tull tribute band. They were just launching into yet another rendition of the same song, when I felt a cold frisson of energy run down my spine, a real jolt. I looked over at Beth, who was nodding to the beat and asked her, "Say, did we do any acid tonight?" She looked at me queerly, then shook her head sadly and said, "Yeah, we dropped some, about five hours ago."

"So that's why they've been playing 'Locomotive Breath' for like four hours, huh?"

She grinned and it crinkled her nose. "I think that's the only tune they know," she replied, still smiling. But next they began a cosmic version of "Thick as a Brick," which they seemed to play twenty times, and ended their set with a rollicking version of "Aqualung." Then the guy playing the Ian Anderson part of the songs ceased playing the flute for a moment and grabbed the mic. Sweat was dripping off his face. "I want to announce that Paul McCartney died in a plane crash tonight." He waited a beat and when that got no response, added, "And Van Morrison was killed in a motorcycle accident in Dublin." When that still didn't get a reaction, he said: "John Denver perished tonight at the Checkerdome in St. Louis, Missouri, when the Zamboni he was driving skidded off the ice and overturned and crushed him." And with that, everyone clapped and cheered the purported demise of John Denver.

Finally, at around two a.m., our buzz was wearing off and we sought a place to lay our heads.

The grounds of Lafayette Park were filled with tents and sleeping bags and blankets. One cat even had a small mobile home sheathed in a riveted stainless steel exterior and from the smoke and the aromas, was apparently cooking weenies and burgers. Too tired to eat, we spread our blanket on the ground and quickly fell into an exhausted sleep. In the distance, the bands played on.

But our rest didn't last long. Some guy with long raven hair and a nose ring - rare in those days - shook me awake. "C'mon, man, wake up," he urged. "The pigs are arresting stragglers. Hurry up, get it together, take your chick and go east."

Nodding my head groggily, I roused Beth, pulling her off the ground by her belt loop, and said, "We gotta go!" Mumbling incoherently, she complied. We staggered off in a direction that I hoped was east. As we quit the park, I glanced back and, in the light of dawn, beheld a phalanx of mounted police, with bullhorns and dogs and all the rest. Suddenly an amplified voice bellowed out: "Leave the park now or we'll turn on the hoses." And sure enough, some of the cops had huge fire hoses tucked under their arms.

We spent the next day in a futile search for our companions.

"They left without us, man," opined Beth. I was hugely skeptical.

"They might leave me," I pointed out, but they would never leave you 800 miles from home." After all, Beth lived with both Bobs in a college house back in Edwardsville. It appeared to me that it would be unspeakable to abandon two of your companions - and one a housemate - with no money, no ride home, with dim prospects indeed. But, that's exactly what they did. Beth knew them far better than I.

"So, what do you want to do?" I asked her.

"Right now I want to get some food. I'm hungry!" I could hear her stomach growling. "You got any bread?" she asked me.

I riffled through my jeans and turned up seven dollars and a spent book of Food Stamps. "All I got's a pocket full of change," Beth disclosed. "Man, we're so screwed." In the meantime I had finally gotten my head wrapped round the notion that the bastards had really left us; they didn't know if we were lost, hurt, sick, or even in jail! What a bunch of pigs, I thought. But I tried to paint a brighter picture for my traveling partner. "Let's get some food," I said, and we repaired to some nameless and forgettable burger shack and downed nearly six dollars worth of shakes, sodas, fries and of course, hamburgers. You could buy quite a lot of fast food with six dollars back in 1977.

Our bellies filled and our ablutions performed, we went out to the highway heading west. The cars just flew past us, giving us not a second look. Some of the drivers even laughed at our predicament or flipped us the bird. After a half hour in the torrid July sun, Beth groaned, "We aren't going to get no ride, man." I looked at her, at her pretty blue eyes, her tight jeans, her gorgeous face and radiant blond hair. "You get in front and face the traffic," I said. "They'll stop for you!" And sure enough, five minutes after reconfiguring our hitchhiking arrangement, a large, heavy car typical of those manufactured in the seventies, stopped for us. It was blue and emblazoned upon the hood was the word, "Continental." So we'd bagged a Lincoln.

"Where you kids headed?" asked a paunchy, balding man in his mid-fifties.

"St. Louis," chirped Beth, relieved by the respite.

"I'm going as far as Dayton; that help you kids out?"

"Yes, thank you so much," said Beth. "That'll be a good start." We settled back in the Lincoln - luxury at our fingertips - and reveled in our posh surroundings. Whereas we may have preferred to sleep after our ordeal, the driver - who introduced himself as Charlie Bridger - conducted a monologue that lasted the whole 350 miles. We learned all about his four kids and his law practice - Real Estate, "None of that nasty divorce business" - and his private jet. Just outside Dayton, on the Interstate, Charlie stopped at an upscale restaurant and invited us inside. "Thanks, Charlie, but we're not hungry," Beth lied, not wanting to impose further on his generosity. "Baloney," returned Charlie. "You kids are broke, now ain't ya?" We said nothing. "Come on, it's on me. I hate to eat alone," he added persuasively.

Feeling rather conspicuous in our dusty travel garb, we repaired to the restrooms and worked to regain some semblance of respectability. "Order anything you like," enjoined Charlie, back at the table. We both modestly chose cheeseburgers, but he wouldn't hear of it. "Balls!" he exclaimed. "Order something expensive," he went on. "You afraid you gonna put ol' Charlie in the poorhouse? Well, don't worry. Some sum'bitch real estate tycoon in Akron is coverin' this tab." We looked at him questioningly. "Same one who paid for that Caddy out in the parking lot," he added smugly, forgetting for the moment that we arrived, not in a Cadillac, but a Lincoln. He had, during his monologue, told us her owned a specimen of each car.

We ordered up and ate our fill. Drank our fill, too. Charlie ordered no less than three bottles of Champagne, all on the real estate tycoon from Ohio. At length, we parted company, but not before Charlie foisted fifty bucks on each of us. Afraid for Charlie because of his questionable sobriety, we convinced him to spend the night in a nearby motel.

By now it was nearly eight o'clock and the sun was plummeting in the west. We stood with our thumbs out and, in the gloom, even with Beth in front, garnered not an offer of a ride. Finally, a heavily-laden white van drew to a stop and the door slid open. Standing in the opening was a man I would in later years come to recognize as Vice President Dan Quayle. Or his identical twin. We hopped in without a word, we were that tired. "Where you children from?" asked Dan, who continued to stand, even after the van began moving again. We told him. "SIU - in Edwardsville?" he repeated after us. "I hear that's a heathen school." He tsk-tsked softly. Beth and I exchanged a glance.

"Heathen?" said Beth.

"Yes, but I love you children all the same," conceded the man, who introduced himself not as Dan Quayle but as Ty Gardiner, itinerant preacher. At last I glanced around the van, which was filled with fresh, pink, uplifted faces, a radiant smile upon every visage.

"Are these..." I began and Ty nodded and smiled.

"Disciples of the Blessed Father, Mother, and Holy Spirit, Amen!"

"Amen!" chorused the masses.

"How close are you coming to Missouri?" Beth finally thought to ask.

"'Bout four hours from St. Louis," replied the preacher. "We hail from Indiana," he added. We arrived, but only after three and one half hours of arduous proselytizing. "We'll give you a place to sleep tonight," offered Ty. We gratefully accepted his hospitality, eating a late supper at one of the flock's homes and then sleeping on the carpeted floor of his wonderfully air-conditioned living room. Next morning we slipped away, leaving behind a thank you note on their fridge. By six a.m. we were on the road again. We parked ourselves on I-70, some 280 miles from Missouri.

This time we had luck - if you can call it that - straight away, flagging down a bronze colored Mustang. He stopped his car about 100 feet away and that should have given us some inkling as to the driver's character. But we jogged to the car and he beckoned us in.

"We're on our way to St. Louis," said Beth. Silence. We settled back in the seats and looked expectantly at him. But he sat stiff as a board, saying nothing. Another hint. Another inkling. He simply floored the accelerator and down the highway we sped. I glanced out the window and saw that we were nearing a state park: recreation areas, camp grounds and the like. He stopped at the entrance to the park. I looked at him in his rearview mirror. He had a dark scowl and jowly cheeks, but I could tell little else about him. Suddenly he barked out,

"Cash, grass or ass!" apparently setting the parameters for our continued journey. Beth and I exchanged a glance; she frowned, then piped up:

"We've got some pot, man..."

"Not the option I would have chosen," he remarked in an oily voice.

"Hey, we don't have any bread," she protested.

"Not my problem," he said matter-of-factly. In the mirror I could tell he was grinning malevolently. Menacingly.

"Then I guess we're all out of luck, then," said Beth. I heard a dry chuckle from the man.

"I was hoping to get to know you a little better, Honey."

"I'm not your honey," she snapped, "and you're not getting any ass!" He smirked into the mirror.

"Let's get out of here," she muttered, and grabbed the handle of the door. But at that precise moment, he floored the gas pedal, throwing us back in our seats. He turned into the park and sped down the tree-lined path, the pines just a blur as we flew by. "What are you doing, man?" Beth demanded to know. He said not a word, but drove steadily forward till at last he took a sharp right into a dense copse of conifers. There, hidden beneath a canopy of foliage, stood a small rustic cabin, constructed of logs. He stomped on the brake, propelling us forward, into the backs of the front seats. While we were recovering from the shock of apparently being abducted, he exited the car and swept open Beth's door.

"Get out!" he ordered. "Both of you." He had somehow magically turned up a gun, a heavy, ugly black revolver. And he was aiming it at point blank rage, at Beth's pretty head. "This way," he muttered, waving the gun carelessly. We fell in line, preceded him up a short flight of stairs and into the cabin. It was already unlocked. He told us to get against the far wall. When we had complied, he turned and locked the door. He pocketed the keys and turned to regard us, his prisoners. "Okay, you," he growled. "Take off your clothes, all of them!" Again he waved his pistol in a menacing fashion. He was a tiny man, no more than five feet in height, weighed perhaps 115 pounds. He looked remarkably like an emaciated version of Richard Nixon. There was something a little surreal about all of this, as if we'd gotten caught up a cartoon or a comic strip. A Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic book. I was just unfastening a button on my shirt when Beth said, forcefully,

"No!" We both blinked at her in surprise.

"Whadda ya mean, no?" demanded the man. "I've got a gun," he reminded her.

"I don't give a shit," Beth retorted. "You got a gun: freakin' use it!" His mouth fell open but no words came out. Clearly he hadn't expected any such resistance; this was not in his script. "You probably can't even get it up!" smirked Beth acidly.

"I can so..." he began, thoroughly flustered and waving the gun at the floor now. Acting on pure instinct, Beth stepped forward and kicked him solidly in the crotch with her size 6 Keds. He gasped, curled up into a fetal position on the floor, and the gun discharged, leaving a crease in the pine planks. I rushed forward and seized the pistol, handed it to Beth. I hated all firearms.

"Ooh," he groaned plaintively. "I think you really hurt me!" He held his hand over his privates. Beth didn't deign to even comment on that remark, other than to note that it must be a "small injury." We stood and stared down at the writhing figure.

"What should we do with him?" I asked rhetorically.

"I think we should just shoot him," Beth suggested. The man's eyes grew wide as he seemed suddenly to appreciate the position he was in. The gun in Beth's hand seemed to have grown larger.

"But," he protested, "I never touched you. Never."

"No, but you were going to," Beth pointed out.

"Well, he's right, in a way," I chimed in. "You can't execute a man for bad intent." It was a bit of a specious argument, but I didn't want blood on my hands; things were rapidly lurching out of control.

"But, think of all the women and girls he's raped before. This wasn't the first time: he had a plan, a technique, a method. He had a gun. He had this cabin; it wasn't even locked; he expected to use it. He's a bad dude. He's a freakin' predator, man!"

"I promise I won't do it no more," the man croaked pathetically.

"Damn straight," muttered Beth, narrowing her eyes at him.

"I got money," he said enticingly, and held out his thick wallet. "I got a car. I'll drive you anywhere you want to go. I'll take you all the way to St. Louis," he promised. I perked up a bit at that.

"What do you think?" I asked her.

"I think, Genius, that the first chance he gets he'll drive us to a police station and turn us in to the cops. Or he'll drive off the road and wreck his car, then claim he was hijacked by some looney hippies or rogue criminals And that'll be us! We can't trust him."

"So, then now what?" asked the little man, still lying upon the floor.

"Yeah, now what?" I echoed. I was clueless.

"We will take your bread," she decided, snatching the wallet from his hand. "And you will lend us your car for a while, yes?" she asked him mockingly.

"Sure, sure," he said eagerly, handing over the keys.

Finally, we were set. To forestall any immediate pursuit we took the man's clothing, including his shoes. We looked at him, a small, wimpy, ageless but pathetic figure. There was no one else in the park as far as we could tell, and since the cabin was several miles from the highway we figured we'd get a good head start. Back out in the hot Indiana sunshine, we climbed in the car, motored slowly back down the path and then westward, toward St. Louis.

"This is all right," I said happily, driving carefully, growing accustomed to the unfamilar controls. "Now we got a ride home."
"Wrong," declared Beth. My expression posed a thousand questions. She said, "Eventually that little schmuck is going to contact someone, an official, an authority figure of some kind. Next he's going to explain how he was just being a nice guy, a good Christian fellow, by picking up two kids. They turned out to be carjackers and took all his clothes, his money, and ripped off his car."

"But we can tell them how..."

"Won't matter. We can't tell nobody nothing! He's The Man," she pointed out. "They'll never believe us, two hippies with pot on their breath..." I immediately breathed into my hand, sniffed my palm. "...guy like that's probably got a wife, a couple kids back home in LaGrange, or wherever. No. We'll put a few miles on it, dump it somewhere and then beat it."

"You mean we'll have to keep hitchhiking?" I asked bleakly.

"No, man, we've got like five hundred bucks. That's more than enough for two bus tickets home." I gladly nodded my understanding and she just smiled knowingly. We ditched the Mustang in the parking lot at a Kroger's in a little town named Falso, then repaired to the nearest Greyhound station, only four or five blocks away.

One would think that the bus ride on the last leg of our journey would be the denouement, but no. The unsuspecting riders hadn't anticipated anything as tumultuous as Hurricane Beth.

The first thing that perturbed her was the fact that she couldn't smoke on the bus. "Hey, I'm an American," she cried loudly. "I've got rights." But to no avail. So, getting no solace from tobacco, she proceeded to get her buzz from tiny ecru tablets, called White Cross, a sort of low-grade speed, a poor-man's Black Beauty. She ate them copiously. And, abetted by the delusional power of the White Cross, she became animated, speaking up loudly, and often.

"Hey, man, do you think that asshole ever got free?" she asked giddily. This outburst was followed by admonitions from some of the numerous other riders, most of whom were senior citizens with blue hair.

"Ssh!" they reproved her. "Keep quiet," they said.

"Hey, I'm a citizen," she hissed. "I'll talk as much as i want to!" They met her glare with frozen faces and tight lips of their own.

"Can't you be silent?' an elderly woman implored. At length, this exchange was cut short by the bus rolling into the parking lot of what amounted to yesterday's version of the modern convenience store. More of a general store than anything else, it sold locally-raised honey and pecan pies and peanut rolls and popcorn and, of course, cigarettes. Beth flew from the vehicle and, hurtling through the door, bought no less than three packs; back in those days that cost her maybe two bucks in all. Next, she assumed a position to one side of the little store, out of the wind, and proceeded to light up one after another. Not a user of tobacco myself, I did pause to join Beth and smoke a joint. Finally, her batteries recharged by the infusion of nicotine, Beth calmed down and raised no more alarm.

Arriving in St. Louis in the early morning, we immediately sought out transportation back to Edwardsville. Never before had the promise of home seemed so sweet; I couldn't wait. Unfortunately, we discovered that the first bus to Edwardsville left no sooner than six hours later. Resigned to our fate, we collapsed onto a bench in the small station and ate our hamburgers and fries. I longed for a tooth brush. The sun still hadn't come up when we passed into a dreamless sleep. When we awoke, the bus station was a circus: Hari Krishnas proliferated, handing out books, sticks of incense and pieces of candy. We stepped outside.

"Here, take a sweetie," said an impossibly tall man with a bald head, a ground-length frock of kaleidoscopic design, and wire rimmed glasses. The candy looked a bit like little lumps of mud-colored Play-Dough; they contained who knew what. We politely declined. "Please," he implored again, "take a sweetie." Once more we begged off. "Take the damn sweetie!" he rasped angrily, actually stamping one sandal-clad foot in the dirt.

"Okay, okay," said Beth, finally relenting. The Hari Krishna smiled benevolently.

"You a good little mama, Miss," he said serenely, then turned away.

Part of the excitement was the imminent rock concert being held at the local arena. "Who's playing?" I asked someone inside the station. Smiling the drug-fueled smile of the 70s teenage rock enthusiast, he replied,

"Jethro Tull!" Beth and I exchanged a glance which said, "This is where we came in," or maybe, "Been there, done that." The time passed like kidney stones, but at last we boarded our bus, bound for home. This phase of our adventure passed without incident; Beth was still heavily into her White Cross dietary supplements. I

could see her hands trembling.

After we arrived at the Edwardsville Greyhound Station we started walking towards Beth's home, less than a mile away. Beth lived in a home known as "Hale House," the name a cheap ripoff of the famed "Hull House" of Chicago, founded by Jane Addams. But there the similarity ended. The house was located on Hale Street, in the tony section of town, hence the name. The home was owned by Professor Bob, the Sociology teacher. Several of his students stayed there, for which they paid rent. Bob, in his turn, used the rent payments to pay off his mortgage, thus accruing all the equity. In light of Bob's Socialistic, citizen-of-the-world, share the wealth persona and affected liberal personal philosophy, this seemed a tad hypocritical. It reeked of a nonconcern for his fellow man. He did in fact boot everyone out later, when he decided to get married. But the kids, being kids, seemed not to mind, and relished getting high there every night on his sofa, watching Saturday Night Live and Monty Python. Bob was their mentor, their teacher, their guru.

Arriving home, Beth fitted her key to the lock and pushed through the front door. We found everyone - all those who had abandoned us - there, looking a little guilty, I thought. "Hey, what happened to you?" asked Professor Bob earnestly. "We were worried about you!"

"Were you?" I asked dryly.

"Sure," said the other Bob, stepping forward. He grinned; his rodent-like eyes bloodshot, his pupils widely dilated. "What did happen to you?' he persisted. Measuring him with my eyes, I replied, loud enough for all to hear, "We got left behind by a bunch of self-involved, selfish, indifferent peckers!" This remark seemed to take all the oxygen out of the room and left everyone standing around, staring at their shoes. But not Beth. She giggled and hugged each one of them in turn, then cried, "Let's get high!" Turning to me, she asked, "You have to leave, right?" I nodded curtly. Clearly, we'd had more of one another's company than we'd ever bargained for. In fact, I never had much more to do with any of the denizens of Hale House or their subsequent acolytes.

Before departing, I rummaged through the returned luggage and found my bag; I riffled through it and discovered that my watch, my pen knife and other artifacts, including all my drugs, were conspicuously missing. Dismayed, but unsurprised, I silently shook my head. I lived more than a mile away but no one offered me a ride. Big surprise. I left without another word.

Clopping down the porch steps, I set off down the tunnel of cottonwoods lining either side of the sidewalk. I got some distance away before I heard the slamming of car doors. Turning back, I observed a cluster of men standing about, clad in windbreakers with the letters FBI and DEA stenciled on the backs. As a unit they approached the house, walked up the steps. I paused for an instant, watching. Then the agents, wielding firearms and bearing a battering ram, pounded with their firsts upon the door. Loudly. Silently, I turned away and just kept walking.


  1. Nice portrait of a time when the so-called ideals of hippiedom were meeting the reality of the world.

  2. The detail in this story was so dimensional and specific it had the quality of a memoir, placing me firmly in the 70's, which I enjoyed. The light-hearted touch of the narrative also captured well the general mood of these students; even when the story took a sinister turn it still resolved with that touch. And I really liked the ending.

  3. Nicely done! Thanks for the memories. I was on the West Coast back then and every word rings true.