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Freedom Songs Index
III - Picks N Chooses
Freedom Songs, part IV - Corn Rows
I just got off the phone with my co-conspirator from back then - Jackson. He was in Fort Worth for a few days and we had headed out for Mississippi together and I wanted to check up on details. He reminded me I bought, which means mother bought me, an old Studebaker for a couple hundred dollars and it broke down immediately and wasn't worth fixing. So we grabbed our stuff and started hitching to Houston where we'd hang out for a few days before moving on to New Orleans and then to Mississippi.
We decided to go via Austin where we had some friends and got a ride to Waco, about half way. I had a guitar in case with some clothes in it and a little money. Mother tried to get me to take more money but I had a Sinclair gas card that she'd cover and just took twenty. Things were so easy back then. I can remember leaving home with a nickel and coming back with a dime. As if money grew like weeds compared to now.
In Waco a couple of uncouth guys in jeans and white tee shirts picked us up, maybe in their late twenties. Not part of our sub-culture. They were definite low-life white guys, drinking, cussing, talking tough. Not that Jackson and I didn't drink and cuss some but we didn't talk tough. After a while it became apparent that these guys were wanted by the law and they let out that they'd borrowed the car from someone in a grocery store parking lot. Jackson was sitting behind the driver and he got into an argument with the guy sitting shotgun who'd been egging him on. They were both getting angry and I was nudging Jackson to keep things cool. But the other guy wasn't leaving him much room - one of those "You think I'm an asshole don't you?" "No, not at all.." "You calling me a liar?" sort of exchanges. What scared me was that Jackson wasn't backing down. Meanwhile I was bonding with the driver. I don't remember what I said, but I've always made it a point to get along with toughs. Then the other guy hit Jackson and they started slugging it out. Through the ruckus I called to the driver that they were going to cause an accident, get the cops on us, we'd better part ways and get these hot heads away from each other. That did it. He pulled over, yelled at us to get out, and drove off before his friend had time to get out and continue his disagreement with Jackson. Suddenly we were under a blue sky in a quiet Baptist town.
Spent but two hours in Austin. Jackson called a friend of his from the outskirts who picked us up, took us to a home where a bunch of young people lived - college students and drop outs like us. Bob Dylan played as a blond girl got corn rows braided. I'd never seen that before. They kindly fed us and his friend drove us to 290 on the edge of town where we hitched on to Houston.
Eight pm on the outskirts of Houston Jackson called home from a service station. We were tired and waiting for a local bus that should come by within thirty minutes. Even back then his voice was deep and resonant. I could hear gravity in his tone. His father had gotten a room in a motel in protest to my impending visit. He had never met me but he held me responsible for John dropping out of college and for general corruption of his son. I'd say we had mutually corrupted each other. Jackson said his father and mother had never missed a night together even when his father was in the army. That made me wonder about boot camp but that wasn't the correct time to get into such details. Anyway, it was better for me to go on alone. Jackson would go deal with this family crisis and follow me later. The bus came. He didn't have any money so I gave him half of what I had. He was off and I was there alone at night. Nice weather though down there near the Gulf.
I went back into the service station and got some coffee. There was a guy maybe 25 sitting back talking to the fellow running the place. He said his name was Bill and he offered me a ride. Another sort of tough guy like earlier, slicker than the others in Waco though, a slick hick. He had a hopped up Chevy that he drove frighteningly fast, passing most dangerously on the two lane road.
He got to talking about how he'd been in Las Vegas living off a woman there. Bill said that's the thing to do. Get them loving that dick and supporting you. Then he started talking about cashing bad checks and suggested we do that, go to one place after another. I politely declined.
"Gonna visit a friend over here - you mind?" he said turning off on a side road.
I said I'd just get off there and continue on and he could pick me up later if I hadn't gotten a ride. He didn't answer, just kept on going. That made me a bit nervous. He drove slowly down the dirt road, rows of corn growing high on both side. He pulled to a stop, turned the key off, turned the lights off, reached into his pocket. I heard a snap. Then he put a switchblade at my throat. The moon shone through the window and off the blade, a detail I've never forgotten.
"How much money you got?" he said.
"Ten dollars, and it's all yours."
I carefully handed over my wallet and he took out the ten dollar bill.
He wanted my guitar too. I argued with him about that, said I'd borrowed it from some friends. He didn't care. We talked more. I told him how my father had died in prison. That wasn't true. He told me to get out of the car. As I stood there he came around with the knife in his hand. I was apprehensive.
"I need to piss," he said.
We stood there both pissing together. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, gave me a dollar.
"You tell anybody about this I'll kill you," he said.
"I wouldn't do that," I said as if slightly insulted.
He got back in his car and drove off leaving me there under the moonlight between the corn rows. I walked back toward the highway and started to hitch but when a car finally came I hid in the corn. It was him driving slowly. He made another pass. Shone his lights into the corn rows.
I waited till light to hitch again. Got a ride with a couple of guys in a pickup truck. Told them what had happened. They said that was Wild Bill for sure and told me I was lucky he didn't kill me. They took me to a breakfast place in a little town on the road and bought me breakfast. "There's the sheriff," one of them pointed out. "You can tell him what happened. Of course if you want to press charges you'll have to stay to testify and so forth and then Bill will try to kill you."
"Think I'll move on," I said. "Thanks for breakfast."
I got to New Orleans later that night and went to the French Quarter before going to the Woodward's' where I stayed when I was there. I loved the French Quarter. I loved New Orleans. You could drink there at 18 and party 24 hours. I got to talking to some people and they bought me a Hurricane which is a ridiculously strong drink you could get to-go and walk around with. I was sipping my Hurricane and standing outside a blues place listening to the music when I saw someone I knew, namely the guy who had robbed me the night before. He came walking by with some other guys.
I turned to him and said hi real friendly and he said, "I don't know you," and I said "Sure you do. You borrowed my guitar last night. I'd sure like it back." He again insisted he didn't know me and walked on.
I decided to return to Fort Worth before going to Mississippi, be a little better prepared than broke and with just one set of clothes and with no guitar. And I'd forgotten the Bible Bill Jab had given me. So I hung out and bummed drinks which was easy to do and listened to music and staggered out of the French Quarter at three in the morning.
Cars were driving out of a dockworkers' parking area and I got a ride with a really tough looking black guy, big muscles. He had to let me in on the driver's side because he said the passenger door didn't work. I scooted over and sat there. Old car, upholstery coming apart. He said he'd let me off at a good place to hitch. We didn't make small talk. As he drove he kept fiddling with the radio then pulled over and without saying anything reached over and opened the glove box from which he pulled out a knife that barely fit in it. I reviewed recent events and the fact that I couldn't open my door. Then he stuck the knife into something having to do with the radio and it came on better. He put the knife back into the glove box and drove on.
Standing by the side of the road I could hardly keep my balance. I hadn't slept in two nights and had been drinking all night. I was dying to get a ride and fall asleep. Finally a shiny new Lincoln Continental pulled over. I opened the door and the guy told me to come over to his side. "I gotta get some sleep," he said. "You drive. Go as fast as you can - 90 all the way. I got a morning meeting in Shreveport. Don't worry about getting a ticket. Just give it to me and I'll take care of it."
I asked if I could keep the window down and scream while I drove.
"I don't give a shit. I'll be asleep," he said.
Somehow I made it home before next nightfall.
next - part V - Lynch Street
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