The year 1976 saw my last encounter of a negative nature with any law enforcement agency. Four and one half years had passed since my case of mistaken identity had occurred in El Cajon, California. Clarice and I were married a year and a half later and three years after that were divorced. During that time I gave up my quest to earn a bachelor’s degree and formed a construction company with a friend in northern California, and poured half of my time and almost all of my energy into making it a success. The plan was working but my wife grew tired and bored with lying around at home waiting for a hungry, tired, and frankly self-centered husband to come home late nearly every day and ignore her for the period of time between dinner and bed.
The separation and divorce were amicable but nevertheless painful in an extreme, and over the stretch of the next seven months my previous dedication to a plan was now traded for a new dedication to forgetting my problems. My self-centeredness continued unabated and, if anything, grew. Those seven months were filled with parties and childish antics and pranks and two dangerous episodes in which I could well have gotten myself shot. One of my lapses in judgement was when I lent my drivers license to my twenty year old roommate Ralph so that he could go to a bar one night, and forgot to retrieve it before one morning when I woke up disgusted with my life, threw a few necessary items into my truck, and headed towards Albuquerque where I proposed to start over.
The new plan was that I should stay at my brothers house until my friend Wes could join me a day or two later, at which time we would run off to a seaport in Mexico, board any freighter going to Saudi Arabia, and get rich working in the oil fields. The story of that fool’s errand may be read in my earlier tale entitled “Do You Know The Way To Veracruz, Parts I-III”. Wes duly arrived and we both camped out on my brother’s living room floor while we made our plans for our getaway.
Before we boarded any Polish freighter to Saudi Arabia however, my brother Brad was determined to show us some of the New Mexico that he loved. The first part of that New Mexico was the package store at the Piggly Wiggly Market on Isleta and Rio Bravo where we purchased and made considerable damage to a couple of cases of Budweiser Beer. All three of us considered ourselves to be accomplished drinkers who could “hold our liquor”, whatever that means, but the next morning I had one of the more monumental hangovers of my adult life. Brad proposed a trip about an hour north to the spectacular city of Santa Fe. Wes was up for it and I, with head pounding and stomach doing cartwheels, agreed to come along.
We saddled up in Brad’s little Japanese sedan, I do not remember which model, loaded up a cooler with the remaining beer, and headed east on Rio Bravo towards the Interstate leading north to Santa Fe. Brad and Wes already had two of the Budweisers open by the time we got to the freeway and several more downed by the time we got to Santa Fe. Brad and Wes enjoyed what must have been a wonderful meal – most meals in Santa Fe and indeed all of New Mexico are wonderful – but my head and stomach were still locked in mortal combat and I only ate some chips and drank some water or iced tea or something like that.
We turned the car south after their meal and took a two lane road behind the Sandia Mountains, through quaint mining villages and high desert valleys and finally joined up with the Interstate highway that had replaced Route 66. Just before merging onto that highway Brad pulled the car over and announced that he was to inebriated to safely continue driving (an understatement, probably). Wes was equally soused so the lot fell to me, being the only sober body in the car, to drive the rest of the way home.
Things began successfully enough with me putting the car into gear and nosing it into traffic. Soon we were speeding west through Tijeras Canyon and onto Central Avenue in Albuquerque. I don’t remember how we came to be stopped behind a line of traffic at a street light with Brad deciding that we should be going in the opposite direction. I assume that a tankful of Budweiser might have had something to do with it. There we were however with a couple of double yellow lines between where we were and where we wanted to go.
“Make a U-turn” said Brad. “I can’t do that here” I replied. “That’s not just a double yellow line, it’e two double yellow lines”. “They don’t care about that stuff here” said Brad. “There’s a lot bigger fish to fry here in Albuquerque than people making U-turns. Go ahead. They don’t really care.”
I was not at all convinced but Brad knew Albuquerque and I did not, so when the first break in the traffic came I punched the gas pedal and spun the steering wheel and flew across the multitude of yellow lines painted on the asphalt of that Albuquerque street; right in front of a patrol car of the Albuquerque Police Department. It didn’t take long at all for me to learn that the Albuquerque Police Department really did, in fact, care.
The lights went on and the utterly idiotic first impulse of Brad and Wes was that I should somehow outrace or loose the cop. The probability of this being successfully accomplished hovered somewhere between the Pope not being Catholic and pigs flying. I turned down a side street and traveled maybe half a block before I announced “screw it, I’m stopping”. I rolled up next to the curb, shut down the engine, placed my hands on the steering wheel and waited for the policeman to walk up to the driver’s side window.
“Can I see your license and registration” he asked. “I can show you the registration” I said as Brad was pulling it out of the glove box. “But I don’t have my license”. “And where might your license be?” asked the officer. I saw no advantage to be gained by telling him the truth and instead said “I just moved here from California and I lost it somewhere between there and here.” I suppose that there was a grain of truth in that story. I really had just move from California and I really did lose it in the “there” part of that equation. I went on to tell him my sob story of the last year (not the last time I would use that strategy, and sometimes to good effect) and told him that I intended to get a New Mexico license at my earliest opportunity.
The patrolman was impressed with my tale of woe but decided that he did after all have to take me downtown. It had been obvious that my first impulse had been to evade him and the officer felt the need to check and see if I was wanted anywhere for anything. This was before the era of the computer, and such background checking took time.
“Can we work this thing out right here?” asked Wes as he was extracting his wallet and thumbing through some bills in it. “Looks like I have eighty dollars here. Maybe we can just clear up our misunderstanding without going to all this trouble?” The patrolman put the stink eye on Wes and said “I am going to pretend that I misunderstand you, and I advise you not to try to clarify your previous statement. Why don’t you put that wallet back into your pocket and drive home. Mr. Durden here and I are going to take a drive downtown.”
And downtown we went. As with my other encounters with policemen, this young officer was polite and as we proceeded towards headquarters we spoke of my sad story and other things. He listened sincerely, and I believe that by the time we arrived at our destination he was convinced that I was neither a bank robber nor a serial killer. Still, rules are rules and form had to be followed. I was fingerprinted, photographed while holding a tray full of numbers below my chin, and placed in a cell to wait for the necessary phone calls to be made and for Brad to come and bail me out. Knowing how Brad’s wife Ginny would receive the news of the day”s activities I wondered if I would be bailed out at all.
The cell was pretty much what you see in the movies; metal benches bolted into concrete walls behind gray steel bars. The clang of that steel door closing and the clunk of the lock was the stuff of nightmares. Inches away was the world where you can live your life in freedom, to one degree or another. On my side of the bars freedom was just a cruel memory. You were captive, you had no freedom in any degree. Your very life depended upon somebody else’s pleasure. I was in hell.
I sat down on the bench and leaned back against the concrete wall trying to look bored, as if I had done this a dozen times before. Being a rookie in the slammer does not always guarantee a good time. Not for the rookie anyway. Without looking obvious I scanned the other occupants with whom I shared the cell. It was a scurvy lot of about a dozen who looked like life had not been especially kind to them. With my long hair, beard, and overall scruffy construction worker look I fit in with the crowd to some degree. There was however one fellow who did not seem to belong there at all. He was white, middle age, dressed in a sort of tacky used car salesman sort of way (with apologies to any used car salesmen reading this story) who was running his mouth about how people in America should speak English, and if they don’t know how they should learn it. I suspect that the only reason he survived his evening in the pokey, assuming that he DID survive his evening there, is because half of the guys in that cell had no idea what he was saying and the other half weren’t listening and just wanted him to shut up. He was still alive when my stay at the Graybar Hilton came to an end, but I would hesitate to wager on how the rest of his evening went.
The end of my ordeal came about two hours after it began. The police in the northern California city where I had previously lived had no outstanding warrants for me and Brad arrived to pay the ridiculously low $20 fee to spring me loose. My wallet and belt were returned to me and quickly I was breathing free air once again. I knew however that one battle had been won but another remained to be fought.
“I know that Ginny is going to be pissed” I said. “I think that Wes and I should get a motel room”. “No, not at all” Brad lied. “Ginny wants you to come back to our place. She understands that it was just a mistake”. I knew that Ginny would not be mad about the license thing. For me to be driving when everyone else was alcoholically impaired was the smartest thing that I could have been doing under the circumstances, which makes one wonder how we ever would have thought of doing it in the first place. What drove Ginny crazy was the way that Brad became somebody different when we were together, and how the tenuous hold that either of us had on good sense when we were apart evaporated instantly once we were together. This made Ginny furious and always there was this thing which separated her and I, and we were never really able to close that gap.
I slept on Brad’s living room floor that night, but within a couple of days Wes and I had done a little construction work, made a payday, and departed for Veracruz to find that freighter that would float us away to find our fortune in the Arabian sands. I never heard from the Albuquerque Police Department again. Apparently my brother’s $20 was adequate to whatever administrative needs were generated by my brief incarceration, or maybe the clerk just pocketed the Ben Franklins and called it square. I don’t know. There is one thing that I do know with crystal clarity however. The police in Albuquerque really DO care.