This is the second of four stories about my dealing with police while hitchhiking from 1968 to 1971.
Oddly enough, it was not until I wrote these first two stories that I realized the two very first encounters I had on the road were with lawmen.
For the story of my first encounter with a policeman, which happened earlier the same day as this story, see Cops while hitchhiking #1
Advice was abundant when I was about to start hitchhiking—mostly about how bad all cops are to vagrants. But one town’s cops were pointed out to be the worst of the worst. The pit of repression. The hell hole of cops having no place for street people.
This town’s name was Vegas.
Now, perhaps my friends had special warnings about Las Vegas just because they knew my maiden journey was bound to pass through it as I made my way from Twentynine Palms, California, to Boise, Idaho. But their reasoning was persuasive enough—Vegas was about money and spending it. Someone without money was useless. It was the cop’s job to make sure the penniless did not feel welcome.
I had hoped to get a ride through Las Vegas but my ride from the south needed to report to an office near the Strip. I decided it was best to avoid the crowds and cops of that particular slice of humanity so I got out as he turned off U. S. Highway 95.
Highway 95 passed east and north of the Las Vegas Strip on that December afternoon in 1968. At the time it was on the edge of town but still developed enough for sidewalks. I dutifully kept to the walkways, watching the impressive Sands Hotel slowly passing in the distance to the west.
It took a couple of hours, walking past Las Vegas. My WWII-issue cotton sleeping bag was heavy on the rope over my shoulder. My wooden box of paints was heavy in my hand. A bag with food and a toothbrush flopped around my waist. I wasn’t a snappy hitch hiker but but all was well.
Finally I was rounding the long curve Highway 95 took around the north of the Strip. Another mile or so and I’d be far enough on the edge of town to stick out my thumb.
I was half way through the curve, approaching an intersection, when a Las Vegas Police cruiser slowed to take a look. It turned at the intersection and I watched as it made a U-turn and parked on the side road.
So much for avoiding the Las Vegas cops.
I was just entering the intersection as they stopped, so started walking toward the cruiser. I checked to be sure my Boise for Xmas sign was visible.
Two officers got out. The driver did the talking. “Heading to Boise, huh? Don’t you have enough money to get a bus?” I replied I might have enough to make it from Las Vegas but I’d like to save it for Christmas.
A few other questions and the officers seemed content I was not a threat to the community. They wished me the best and agreed that before long I’d be far enough out of town so the traffic would thin enough for hitch hiking. I thanked them and turned to walk the few steps back to the highway.
Then I heard the driver yell out, “Hey, buddy …” My stomach sank.
Both cops were standing behind the open doors of their cruiser. The driver was swinging his arm as he yelled out, “You can probably use this more than I can.”
It was tumbling in a high arc and I instinctively caught the gigantic Hershey bar. No almonds.