Dan and His First Car! – KGUA #67

One sweet ride

For the November 15, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour hosted by Mark Gross and Peggy Berryhill in Gualala, California, we are asked to freewrite to this prompt: Write about a car memory?

My First Car

Nowadays it seems that kids from the suburbs have cars in high school, and certainly when they go off to college.  Back in suburban New Jersey in the 1960s that was not the case for me.  I walked a mile to Fair Lawn High with my guys.  In college, I had no need for a car as I took classes and played on the tennis team at the small, residential College of Wooster in Ohio.

But once I signed a contract to teach social studies, science, and Spanish to fifth and sixth graders in Anaheim, California (I had never taken a course in Spanish!), I needed a car.

The Volkswagen Bug (often referred to as a Beetle) spoke to me.  That summer of 1970, I purchased a used 1968 Bug for $1800 through the newspaper.

It wasn’t a month later that my brother Richard and I headed out for a 3000-mile trek across country for my first teaching job.  Though my Bug was quite a bit less cool than Ford Mustangs of the day, it got me around.  At the time, gas cost 24.9 cents per gallon.  Truly, to go another twenty miles, I once pulled up to the pump with a quarter.

A year later, leaving my VW in Arizona, I drove east with a friend in his car from Tempe to Atlanta, Georgia, then hitchhiked north to pick up Hannah in Ohio.  Along the way I was jailed in Knoxville but eventually arrived to drive with Hannah back to Arizona to see where our four-year on again, off again relationship might go.

We drove west in, get this, Hannah’s Mustang.  Yes, I eventually married someone who was far cooler than I ever was.

Words – 279

If you are semi- or three quarter-intrigued by my time in the Knoxville City Jail in the South in 1971, I wrote a six-part series about the experience.  Click on each part below for the full story.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Dan Has Some Explaining to Do about Being Jailed in Knoxville (Part 6 of 6)

At 6P Sunday in September of 1971, I heard “Rothermel” from the jailer and knew my bail money had arrived.  It had been 30 hours since the Yellins, our family friends, had sent it.  What had taken so long?  No matter, I was now just glad being out of this hellhole.

Knox men's belt

Taken to the booking desk down the hall from the drunk tank where I had spent the afternoon, I was given back my belt and my $7. I was told that an officer would drive me to Western Union to pick up the bail money.  I asked what happened since I was told the money would arrive early Saturday afternoon?

Sheepishly, the booking officer said there was a call early Saturday afternoon for a “Rothermel” from Western Union.  The officer on duty checked the list of inmates and seeing no “Rothermel,” refused the $100.  They money sat at Western Union until Sunday morning.

Knox western union 2

Come Sunday morning, Western Union called the Yellins and said they were returning their money as there was no “Rothermel” at the Knoxville Jail.  Thankfully the Yellins knew better.  They contacted a judge they knew in the eastern part of Tennessee who made some calls, which determined that I was indeed incarcerated in the Knoxville Jail.

Driven to Western Union, I got my $100.  Once back at the police station, I paid the $60 bail for hitchhiking!  I rented a $10 room (It was 1971!) at a five story hotel across the street.  At this point I called Hannah with my story.  I opened with I just got out of jail here in Knoxville, TN (for she had no idea where I was).  And to that (get ready for this) she laughed.  Really? I thought. It did sound unbelievable I know, but I was looking for a little more sympathy.

I told her I didn’t want to take a bus to Ohio and asked if she would drive south to get me.  Immediately she made plans to do so the next morning; she would pick up my brother Richard at Kenyon College, and drive the 500 miles from Ohio through Kentucky to Tennessee.

Knox court room

Having slept soundly in a bed with a mattress, pillows, sheets, and blankets, I arrived at court Monday morning at 8A.  An hour later I was called before the judge.  I explained the situation.  He nodded and said you got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Earlier this year two hitchhikers were killed in Knoxville when a car stopped to pick them up.

The judge cited me  for “Walking on the Interstate” and fined me $25.  I paid the fine, got my $35 back, which was a ton of money for someone who was hitchhiking with $7 from Arizona.

OB5 on trail to OP preview pic of Han

By early afternoon Hannah, who was not laughing, and my brother Richard arrived to whisk me back to civilization in Ohio.

While in jail, I never felt threatened or in danger.  I was just so scared of the unknown.  I had less faith and was less trusting than I am now.

I never hitchhiked again.

Was it worth it?

Please, it was Hannah!

Dan Has Some Explaining to Do about Being Jailed in Knoxville (Part 5 of 6)

As the dinner hour approached in the Knoxville City Jail this September of 1971, I soon learned that no dinner was coming.  I wasn’t hungry, but eating would at least have helped pass the time.  Always hoping my name would be called with news that my bail money had arrived, I wondered about my night in jail ahead.

Knox jail bars

With no windows and the ceiling lights always on, the cell block in the South scared the beejeezus out of this sheltered Yankee boy this Saturday evening.  I was soon to learn what Saturday nights were like in city jails in the South; the drunks were picked up and deposited in our cell block.  Loudly protesting their innocence, they filtered in all night long.

Trying to fall asleep to pass the time in my 8’x14’ cell, I crumpled up my jacket to use as a pillow on my metal lower bunk.  Fortunately, since I had not slept the night before while hitchhiking in the dark of Georgia and hanging out at the diner in Cartersville, I finally fell asleep exhausted.  I slept soundly til what I guessed was 8A the next morning.  A blessing indeed.

knox pb sandwich

Awakened, I immediately thought of the $100 of bail money that the Yellins said that they would send.  I tried to get the attention of the skewed eye, toothless jailer to no avail.  At 10A, the jailer did bring us all “breakfast.”  As he approached with the same greasy can of oily peanut butter, my appetite disappeared.   Though I had eaten but two pieces of white bread in the last 30 hours, I again just peeled apart the two peanut butter sandwiches that he made right in front of me and ate the plain white bread.  The black coffee went down the combination sink/toilet.

At what must have been near noon this Sunday, with 40 others I was moved to a drunk tank.  This 30’x 30’ barred enclosure offered no privacy, though no one was paying attention to me anyway.  There I met Saint John and Creeping Jesus, two 17 year olds who had come from Florida to set up a church in Knoxville.  When the police found them, they were sleeping on the steps of a downtown church.  Get this!  The police awakened them and charged them with prowling.  The kids were hardly bothered as they renewed old acquaintances and sang with the drunks.

knox bail monopoly

Throughout the afternoon other inmates had their names called and were being bailed out.  I never heard the sweet words “Rothermel” from the jailer all afternoon.  My trial was set for Monday morning and I figured I’d be spending another night on the concrete floor of the drunk tank or be returned to the metal bunk in my cell.

And then I heard “Rothermel.”

The final mini-blog will be posted Saturday as I go to court for my version of Southern justice.

Dan Has Some Explaining to Do about Being Jailed in Knoxville (Part 4 of 6)

Still surprised that I am being booked for hitchhiking on the Interstate here in eastern Tennessee this September of 1971, I have no smile for my mug shot; the clerk then asks for my belt and all my money ($7).  My first thought was Really? You think I am going to hang myself because I was brought in for hitchhiking?   Later I understand that a belt could be a weapon and the $ could be a source of tension between inmates if it were stolen.  My bail was set at $60.  Can you believe it!

Knox dial phone

I then asked to make my one phone call.  Reluctantly the clerk gave me the phone and I dialed my parents in New Jersey.  No one answered, for I later learned that they were in Gambier, Ohio visiting my younger brother Richard at Kenyon College, some 100 miles southwest of where I was going to meet Hannah.

When I got no answer, the clerk said unsmilingly, That’s your one call.  I said, I didn’t get through, can I make another call?  Peeved, he agreed, but then I had to ask him for a phone book to look up the number of my parents’ friends, the Yellins, who lived in Memphis at the opposite end of the state.  Connecting with the Yellins, I was thrilled that they would send me $100 by Western Union for bail and a bus ticket out of town.

Knox jail bunkbeds

Led to a corridor of 12 cells each with one inch bars spaced inches apart, I found that my cell had four bunkbeds made of one quarter inch metal with symmetrical one inch holes spaced throughout.  There were no mattresses, no pillows, no blankets.  We had a combination sink/toilet which was as disgusting as you might imagine.

With no windows in this cell block, individual light bulbs hung from the only ceiling were the source of illumination.  I was scared, here in the South and no one knew where I was save the Yellins.  I was a mess.  I had led a pretty sheltered life and felt so alone.

Knox western union

After two hours with nothing to do (there were no books, please), I still hadn’t received any word from Western Union.  “Lunch time” arrived about 2P.   A man with a metal can two feet deep and 15 inches across filled with the oiliest peanut butter known to man came down the cell block making peanut butter sandwiches for us all.  His eyes weren’t right, he had few teeth and they were askew and yellow.

Oozing with oil, the peanut butter sandwiches grossed me out such that all I could do was pull the two pieces of bread apart.  All the peanut butter stuck to one side and I ate the other slice.  Raunchy black coffee was our lunchtime beverage.  And still there was no word about my bail money.

Learn tomorrow about my stay in jail and a drunk tank!

Dan Has Some Explaining to Do about Being Jailed in Knoxville (Part 3 of 6)

It was two in the morning in Cartersville, GA some forty miles north of Atlanta this September of 1971.  I had come from Phoenix with a friend and was now hitchhiking north to Ohio to meet up with Hannah.  I had been dropped off at a diner as the rain continued to fall, which made the dark even darker for me so far from home.  With no chance of getting a ride til morning, I sat down on a stool and talked with the all-night counter guy.

Knox two eggs

After chatting awhile, I looked for something to do while he worked in the kitchen.  Seeing a broom, I began slow sweeping to kill some time.  Once I sat back down at the counter, he set a plate with two eggs over easy, hash browns, and white toast in front of me.  I looked up and said that I couldn’t afford it (I had $7 now, but needed to conserve my money for I was still 650 miles from Ohio).  He said, it’s on the house.

Most grateful and very hungry, I ate and we talked through the night.  By 7A the morning crowd was shuffling in, I thanked him for his generosity, and walked out into a light mist looking for my first ride north.

I-75 north from Atlanta to Knoxville and then on to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, which is near Akron

I-75 north from Atlanta to Knoxville and then on to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, which is near Akron

In minutes I was picked up by a rangy young man in blue jeans who was driving to Knoxville, Tennessee four hours away.  He said he could use the company to stay awake.  On this early Saturday morning, I learned he was one of 25 kids from the Tennessee mountains; a likeable guy, he at the age of 24 already had four girls himself.  He drove to Atlanta each Monday evening to work in a steel mill and returned home after his shift ended early Saturday morning.

Things were looking up as I had a free breakfast and a sweet four hour ride to Knoxville.  He dropped me off at his exit and as I walked on the grassy embankment on I-75, I proceeded to stick out my thumb.  Ahead, there was an intersection with traffic lights where it would be easier to get a ride.  Back in 1971, the Interstate system in Tennessee, as in much of the country, was spotty, a little here and a little there.

Knox cop

And then more good fortune: a cop pulled over to give me a ride to better a place to hitchhike.  That had happened before during my hitchhiking years with my brother Richard in Ohio and two years before when I hitchhiked from Idaho Falls to Tempe, AZ.

And then all of a sudden he made a U-turn and headed back into town.  He said, I’m taking you to the Knoxville City Jail.  Hitchhiking is illegal on the Interstate.

Stunned, I wondered what the Knoxville City Jail would be like for this Jersey boy?  Find out Wednesday in part 4.

Dan Has Some Explaining to Do about Being Jailed in Knoxville (Part 2 of 6)

When I said to Hannah that I was done with our long distance relationship and wanted her to move to Arizona with me, she was all in.  She had already quit her teaching job, for in her mind she knew she was not cut out to be a teacher.  I drove West for Tempe in August of 1971 and she planned to drive out in September.

Knox carwash

When I returned to Arizona that August, under the cloud of being drafted to fight in the Viet Nam War, I took a position at Dan’s Car Wash on Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe.  My parents must have been so proud that their son with a college degree was making $1.25 per hour vacuuming the floors at a car wash.

With Hannah’s mid-September departure from New York coming, I quit that job to return East to drive with her to Arizona in her Ford Mustang.  Hannah was even cool back then.  Coincidentally, Dave, a good buddy from high school, was driving from Phoenix to Atlanta at this time and offered to take me the 1800 miles to Georgia.  Though that was not a direct route to Hannah, I then could hitchhike the 700 miles north from Atlanta to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio where Hannah would be staying with her college roommate Sian.

Knox Atlanta map

Arriving in Atlanta about 6P Friday after three days on the road, I found I just couldn’t fall asleep thinking about meeting up with Hannah the next day.  She always had my heart.  Unable to sleep, I thought, What the hell?  Why not just start hitchhiking tonight?

Even though Dave justifiably doubted my sanity, he dropped me off on I-75 north of Atlanta near midnight.  On six lanes of highway in the pitch black with the cars whizzing by at 65 mph, I started walking to an exit for a better chance at a ride.

Knox hitchhiking

Amazingly a car stopped and I jumped into the backseat.  Husband and wife turned and looked at me and he said, We picked you because we thought you were a girl.  My hair was longer, nearly to my shoulders, but not long enough to have a ponytail. Though I disappointed them on my gender, they still drove me some 35 miles north to Cartersville, Georgia.

They were good and decent Southern folk.  At one point, they asked me if I had any money.  Even though I had five dollars at the time, I said I had none.  I had hitchhiked before where drivers expected me to pay for being picked up.  Even though they didn’t seem to have the money, they still gave me $2.50 for breakfast.

Thanking them deeply when they dropped me off, I figured there was no way I was getting a ride in the pouring rain in the middle of the night in this little town.  Spotting an all-night diner, I walked in to wait til dawn.

Tomorrow, learn more about Southern hospitality that came my way.

Dan Has Some Explaining to Do about Being Jailed in Knoxville (Part 1 of 6)

This is a love story.  It’s been running for 48 years.  Recently Hannah and I had a weekend reunion with four women who graduated from the College of Wooster in Ohio in 1970.  Early on in the weekend, Maxine, one of the four, asked how we got together.  And so…

Woo Girls - Maxine, Hannah, Bambi, and Wendy

Woo Girls – Maxine, Hannah, Bambi, and Wendy

Hannah and I met in the classrooms of the College of Wooster in Ohio and on their tennis courts as first year students in 1966.  We had a torrid year together as sophomores and life was beautiful.  Junior year not so much.  Our ideas about our futures differed.  I transferred to Arizona State University our senior year to major in elementary education after finding little meaning as a political science major at Wooster.  While I graduated from ASU in 1970, Hannah graduated with honors from Wooster and headed back to her ancestral home in Fairport, NY to teach.

Knox Anaheim map

That fall of 1970 she took a job as an elementary physical education teacher near her home while I moved to California to teach Science, Social Studies, and Spanish to fifth and sixth graders in Anaheim.  By the way, I had four years of high school French to prepare me to teach Spanish to my students, among them many Spanish-speaking Chicanos.

As we each began teaching in the fall of 1970, I was dueling with the Selective Service about my strong desire not to serve in the Viet Nam War.  I claimed I was a conscientious objector, the government said, No you are not.  Still communicating cross country with Hannah that fall by letter and the occasional phone call, I quit my teaching job at Christmas and returned to hang out with my college roommates in Tempe, AZ.  There I worked as a bus boy at Sahuaro Hall, a girls’ dorm, at Arizona State.

Know US Army

Once the spring semester of 1971 ended, I returned to New Jersey to convince my local draft board in person that drafting me was a bad idea.  They would have none of it.  After a summer at my childhood home in Fair Lawn, I was heading back to Arizona for the fall of 1971 to wait out the government’s pursuit of my body and soul.

Tempe map

In August before I left for Arizona, I told Hannah that I’d like her to come with me to Arizona.  Enough with our long distance relationship.  At this point we had known each other for four years.  I felt it was high noon in our relationship.

Tomorrow part 2 fills you in on her response.