by Tom Hallet
The following is an introduction to a review of SF punk band Crime’s recent compilation package, San Francisco’s STILL Doomed. Inspired by both the band’s name and the criminally-underrated material on the album, I decided to recount my own personal brush with the wrong side of the law—we’ll call this little excursion into my whacked-out past ...
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Experience is not what happens to a man, it is what a man does with what happens to him." —Aldous Huxley
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Nothing is Everything”
This time of year—as summer winds down, the nights grow longer and chillier,
and students around the country prepare for fall classes—always reminds
me of the time I hitched a ride with the infamous Joe College, a late-’80s
highway con man of the highest order. Of course, I had no idea at the time that
my road savior was the mastermind behind a national, one-man crime wave, but
even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have turned down a ride. On the other
hand, had I known the depth of the man’s duplicity, and the effect his
deeds would eventually have on my personal life, I can assure you I’d
have turned and run screaming in the other direction instead of tossing my beat-up
knapsack in his back seat and sliding gratefully into the passenger side.
As for how I ended up on a lonesome Montana highway at dusk on one of the hottest
days of the year, with exactly four dollars in change, six Marlboros, and half
a pack of Zig Zag white and golds as my sole stake in the world, well, that’s
a long story. Let’s just say that I’d recently fought—and
won—a lengthy battle with the same dragon a lot of folks who move out
to the Pacific Northwest do, and was making my way back to the Midwest to both
lick my wounds and escape the madness. Hitch-hiking through Idaho, Montana,
and North Dakota sounded like a wonderful cleansing experience as well as a
bottom-dollar way of traveling for a guy who was almost literally down to his
bottom dollar, but in my haste to leave behind bad memories and worse experiences,
I’d neglected to consider several key factors of such a journey.
First of all, the state of Montana literally goes on forever—and in the
summer, the highways are unending, burning hot, redneck-infested ribbons of
death leading to the very mouth of hell, no matter which direction one heads.
There are no watering holes, no roadside rest areas, no mud puddles shimmering
in the baking sun. If you’re too stoned or stupid to bring a thermos or
a canteen with you out on those highways, it’s a sure bet you’ll
come as close to hallucinating from lack of liquid as I did. Eventually, I remembered
an old cowboy trick from the movies, and found a nice round pebble alongside
the road to suck on. That brought minute amounts of life-affirming saliva to
my dust-encrusted mouth, but also left me with several damaged teeth after I
accidentally bit down on it a couple of times so as to avoid accidentally swallowing
You have to understand—it was at least 125 degrees in the sun, I had a
25-pound backpack full of filthy clothing on my back, and my long hair felt
like a drenched coonskin cap wrapped around my throbbing skull—I was not
thinking clearly. As the toxins from my poisonous stay on the West Coast seeped
and oozed from my pores like venom from a black adder’s fangs, I found
myself weaving and stumbling along the side of the blistering highway, nearly
tumbling into the filthy ditch more than once. Time slowed to an awful crawl,
and a terrible sound—the quiet cacophony of emptiness and slow, painful
death—began to howl in my ears.
I tried to sing, to spit out some familiar words to favorite songs, anything
to break the insane monotony and horrific heat assault, but my lips were too
dry and cracked, my tongue too brittle and twisted. I truly saw the end coming
nearer and nearer, and almost wept (no fluids, tho) when I heard, and then saw,
an old green Caddie barreling towards me—and going the direction I was,
too! I spun around, flung my bag over my shoulder, and stuck my thumb straight
up in the air. They HAD to pick me up—anyone in their right minds could
see I was ready to fatally succumb to the vile atmosphere around me.
The car slowed perceptibly as it got closer, and I could make out four or five
faces in the cab. Young people, cool! Maybe they had a cold soda or even a wet
rag I could suck on. If not, a ride to somewhere civilized—an Indian trading
post, a cracker truck stop, I didn’t care—would sure have beat the
hell outta the sitch I was in at the time. The car passed me going around 25
mph, then pulled over a few feet down the road. I ran with all my might, closing
in on the rear bumper in seconds flat. As I reached gratefully for the rear
door handle, I caught a close-up glimpse of the faces looking out at me from
the vehicle’s interior. And I knew. Five high school kids—all guys—big,
stupid grins on their flat, bovine faces, and they were about to peal out like
I stepped back just as the Caddie surged forward in a scream of tires and a
spray of hot, eye-gouging gravel. The rear tire missed my foot (I was wearing
duct-taped army boots, and might as well have been barefoot) by barely an inch,
and then they were gone in a cloud, hoots of derision and howls of mean-spirited
laughter filling the dead air where the Caddie had briefly idled. Funny thing
was, I wasn’t so much mad at the little pricks for burning me as I was
really, honestly, and sincerely fucking BUMMED that I was still standing on
Cursing and muttering to myself, I staggered along. The sun seemed to grow larger
and more threatening as the afternoon wore on, and eventually the gravel alongside
the road turned to some kind of scrub grass. My pebble supply was running low.
It looked as if I’d probably end up buzzard bait after all. Truckers roared
by me without so much as a sideways glance, families in station wagons and Chevy
vans either stared in amazement at the spectacle of this mad-eyed, rapidly dehydrating
dope casualty in rags furiously stabbing his thumb in the air or turned their
heads and sniffed in disgust. As the afternoon shadows grew longer, traffic
eventually dried up altogether, leaving me alone with my misery and a growing
suspicion that I’d never get off that road alive.
When Adam pulled up in front of me and flung open the passenger side door of
his late-model two-door Ford sedan, I swear I thought I was seeing a mirage.
I hadn't even had my thumb out, had been just weaving and bobbing along the
weed-choked side of the highway, literally dragging my bag behind me. In retrospect,
I guess I should've thought it a little on the weird side that this clean-cut,
all-American college kid would pull over in the middle of nowhere without any
coaxing on my part and offer a scraggly, psychedelically-damaged bum not only
a ride, but basically an all-expense paid trip the rest of the way home.
I should've—but considering the circumstances I found myself in, I rather
foolishly decided to go with the flow and just accept that my fortunes had taken
a turn for the better. Adam (he introduced himself immediately, and I did likewise)
was dressed neatly, in what we'd have called preppie clothing back in high school.
He had short blonde hair, wide, piercing blue eyes, and an aw-shucks delivery
that screamed naive small-town boy. The back seat of his car was packed with
text books (law, theology, several volumes on math and science) and casually
tossed-about new clothing—shirts, slacks, jackets—not cheap shit,
but middle-of-the-road, yuppie-type clothes.
I thought I was in heaven when Adam reached under the seat and pulled out a
sweating six-pack of beer. "Have one!" he urged. "Wanna smoke?"
"There's weed in the glove box—help yourself!" If he'd been
a day older than the 23 he said he was (and really looked), I'd have thought
he was a cruising highway killer queen looking for some desperate action, but
as it was, the guy was like a poster child for Reagan's "Morning In America"
campaign, bag of homegrown aside. He was well-spoken, intelligent, sincere,
and described his family and upbringing (all very humdrum and ordinary) in great
detail. I held back, not wanting to terrify the young feller with my tales of
subversion, self-abuse, and addiction before we'd put too many miles behind
us. Little did I know that my story was as G-rated as “The Sound Of Music”
compared to my mobile host's own monstrous reality.
As the miles flew by under those ever-spinning wheels and the flat lands of
Montana gave way to the flat lands of North Dakota, a weakly lit, tired-looking
moon began to rise. Adam suggested we stop in a small town up ahead, where he
needed to pick up a few items, and then we'd try to find a campground somewhere
along the way. At this point, it was understood that, since he was headed for
Duluth, he'd swing a few miles out of his way to drop me in northern Minnesota
at some friend's home I'd planned to visit. In return, I promised him a home-cooked
meal and the chance to meet some cool people.
He pulled into some corny outlet mall, told me to wait in the car, and after
grabbing several pairs of pants and a couple shirts out of the back seat, headed
into a Penny's or a Sears. I thought nothing of it, assuming he was exchanging
some shit he'd bought along his trip because the size or style was wrong. When
he got back to the car, he was sporting a fistful of cash, grinning like a jackal,
and those all-American eyes had a crazy glint in 'em that I couldn't pinpoint,
but didn't like all the same. He flung a couple of twenties my way, insisting
that I take a little extra cash to make my homecoming a bit easier. I put up
a half-hearted argument, but gave in pretty easily when I thought about how
broke I was.
"They paid me a little more than they should've when I returned those clothes,"
he cackled, as we pulled back out onto the now-pitch-black highway and headed
north. Tired, fix-sick, and just happy to have a cold beer in hand, I ignored
the potential implications of his admission, and leaned my aching head back
against the seat rest. I must've dozed, because when I awoke, we were pulling
into a small campsite along the highway somewhere not too far across the North
Dakota line. "Hey, man!" he hollered excitedly, "Come on, we're
gonna camp here tonight! I've got a sleeping bag you can use, just curl up beside
the car!" Exhausted, I did as he suggested, immediately slipping into a
half-real/half-nightmare state of pseudo-rest.
When I awoke, Adam was gone. How he'd gotten packed up (he'd had a small pup
tent, sleeping bag, and other gear), into the car, and driven away without my
hearing it when I was laying but four feet from the vehicle, I hadn't a clue.
But the fact remained, the cat was gones-ville, man. I shrugged, figuring I
was better off (by at least $40 and a good night's rest) than I'd been before
the wacko picked me up, anyhow. Not sure what to do, I rolled up the sleeping
bag he'd loaned me, tied it up with a length of frayed yellow rope I found next
to the BBQ pit, and limped off down the dusty trail towards the highway.
Just as I reached the already-steaming blacktop, I heard the furious blast of
an auto horn and there he was. Adam came tearing down the double-lane highway
towards me going at least 75 or 80 mph, his metallic, purple sedan howling like
a hound of hell. I was a bit taken aback, but figured he must just be full of
energy and ready to cruise. As he pulled up beside me, the door swung open with
a sproing and he hollered, "Hey! Where the fuck are you going? I thought
we were travelin' together!" I hesitated before getting in, only a split
second, but long enough to wonder where this spew-age of violent verbiage had
come from, then shake off a feeling of trepidation.
As I settled into the passenger's seat, I saw the shadow of barely-controlled
rage virtually slide off of his face and down into his shirt collar. Underneath
it was his open, innocent, Casper-The-Friendly-Ghost mask—all cheery and
morning fresh. "Hey, sorry if I worried you, man. I ran into town to get
us some breakfast and supplies." He nodded towards a brown grocery bag
on the floor. "Go ahead—have some donuts and milk. There's a couple
cartons of smokes and some other shit in there, too." He was right, there
was a couple of cartons—six to be exact—of Marlboro reds and a grab
bag's worth of candy, jerky, chips, chewing tobacco, rubbers, pens, key-rings,
and, oh, yeah—CASH. About four or five hundred dollars worth of small
bills and change, all mingled with the bright wrappers of beef jerky sticks,
Mounds and Clark bars, and day-glo condom packets.
"Oh, hey," he said softly, as he watched me paw aside the cash to
get at the donuts, "I went to the bank and forgot to stuff that cash in
my wallet. Can you gather it up and hand it to me, please?" Now, I know
what you're thinking. You're thinking, how could Hallett have not been just
a little suspicious, after all that had happened up to that point, at finding
such a wad of stray lettuce in a shopping bag? Well, it was easy. Like I said,
he looked like Casper The Friendly fucking Ghost. Not only that, the kid made
it sound like the most natural thing in the world that he'd forgotten to put
his bank withdrawal in his wallet. He made it sound absolutely normal that he
had nothing better to do than give some opiate-scarred piece of human waste
a lift for hundreds of miles right to home's doorstep. And he made a guy feel
stupid for even suspecting such a fine, upstanding young student of anything
less than honorable.
So I went along for the ride ...(Tune in next week for the conclusion of My
Unwitting Crime Spree and a review of classic SF punk outfit Crime's Still Doomed
compilation disc.) Until we meet again—make yer own damn news.
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