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Lost in the Ozona

An experience from the mid-1970s
by J R Compton

Ozona, Texas has several fine old houses on the street behind the City Jail, but I didn't see the insides of any of them. Instead, I spent the night sitting on the cold bench inside the town's solid cement echo chamber of a drunk tank. I was arrested for public drunkenness, but as I carefully explained to the officer as he drove me in, I wasn't drunk and there wasn't much of a public involved.

True, I was lying in a ditch and could not stand up hell, I could just barely form my lips into coherent words. But there was nobody for miles around, and I'd had less than a sip from the sipper of Black Velvet I'd bought at a fast pit stop on our racing way through New Mexico.

The cop, a big, burly officer I would not have challenged even if I could have coordinated anything, picked up my scattered belongings and stuffed them and my pack into the back seat of his patrol car. I tottered up the side of the ditch that had been my home for too many nightmarish hours, balanced myself on his fender, and worked my way around to the front of the car to the door.

He had to make another stop on our way back to Ozona, but I couldn't have escaped if I'd wanted to. And I did not want to. I sat, glued to the front seat as some sort of family brawl unfolded in front of my bleary eyes. Unable to follow the action or the plot, I passed out again. My mind evolved slowly back into consciousness as I was escorted into the jail.

I remember weaving back and forth and glancing off the hall to keep balanced. Then I tried to empty my bulging pockets onto the shelf below the wire-mesh window of the front office.

I couldn't tell where my feet stopped and the cement floor began. I was freezing cold, I told myself. My teeth chattered uncontrollably, and my mind raced just to hold still.

Slowly, and with great deliberation I transferred the items of my heritage from my various coat, shirt and pants pockets to the counter in front of me. Two full and one half-opened sugar packet from when Yellow Hair bought me coffee instead of hot chocolate at a Stuckey's stop, two handfuls of change, a pencil, roll of tape, about a quarter of an ounce of cookie crumbs left over from the bag of oatmeal cookies the couple in Palm Beach gave me when I asked if there was a good, cheap restaurant nearby, several cassettes of used and unused film, three kleenexes and a cookie-crumbled handkerchief, five rocks I'd picked up along the side of the road, two buttons I'd accidentally ripped off my jacket, a half-eaten roll of root beer Life-Savers, an empty M&M package and a black magic marker.

I apologized for making a mess on their counter, and pulled out the almost-full miniature bottle of Black Velvet blended Canadian whiskey.

I offered it to my arresting officer as proof I wasn't drunk. "I just hadda little bit of booze," I can still hear my slur, realizing I looked and sounded like I'd had a good deal more than just a sip of the stuff.

Wiping my face with both hands, I stare vacantly through the wire-mesh window at the disjointed, hallucinogenic figures of a second uniformed policemen etching into my video. I vain, I attempt to get organized. I carefully formulated only simple sentence structures. Articulating one word at a time, I told them honestly that "I've never felt like this before in my life."

I waited for the words to have some recognizable effect on the policemen. I guess I'd hoped they'd let me go for being so hones. But they did not.

Slowly and almost ceremoniously, I pulled my Buddha's foot out of my shirt pocket and laid it carefully among the litter on the counter. "What's that?" one officer asked.

"My Buddha's foot, er ... feet," I mumbled, remembering trying to pin it around my neck where it had hung most of the trip, protecting me from harm. It had been daylight, but even then I couldn't coordinate my hands into such a simple manipulation. It was much earlier this same day that I'd decided that my shirt pocket was close enough to my spiritual center to keep me protected.

"Are you a Buddhist?" the policeman's voice shattered my remembering

"No," I replied matter-of-factly, "but do you have to take it?" I hated to let it go at a time like this.

He picked up the small, oriental-looking silver medallion by its brown yarn string, inspected it carefully, then dropped it on top of the pile of my belongings. He slid the whole mess into a brown envelope, then ordered me to take off my coat and my belt.

While he was rifling through my coat pockets, I found my folded pack of Travelers checks, and paged past two twenties. I groped into my wallet pocket, but it was gone. Gone too were my glasses and my notebook.

Somehow, I'd survived whatever ordeal I'd just been through with forty dollars. I asked how much my fine would be, but the officers only told me that I'd have to wait in the drunk tank till the judge got there in the morning.

"But I didn't do anything wrong, I stated too clearly. "I was rolled. Them two hippies musta slipped something into my drink and rolled me. They stole my wallet," I declared with just the proper amount of alarm.

I thought it sounded pretty good then, but it didn't impress the officers of Ozona. One of them told me to roll up my sleeves, which I did immediately, and both of them carefully inspected my arms for tell-tale tracks. But there weren't any.

I told the officer filling out his report my real name and my real social security number and repeatedly reminded them of my two young assailants on their way to Florida through Memphis in the brand-new Ford Colt.*

But my facts didn't seem to phase them. While one patted me down to make sure I hadn't left anything in my pockets, the other went through my pack and the belongings, which were strewn on the floor behind me.

I watched in horror as he picked up the crushed remains of my black felt hitchhiking hat. I tried to think of something else as he carelessly felt around the inside of what was once a fine-looking cowboy hat. Even in my drugged-out stupid, I realized that if he found the tiny gelatin crystal of LSD I'd taped to the inside of the band, it'd be all over for me. But I didn't say anything, and eventually he stuffed it and the rest of my stuff into my pack.

Finally, without the ceremony of a phone call or the comfort of a blanket, I was escorted into the cold, barren cement cell, and the steel door slammed behind me.

I'd like to have slept it off, but I was too cold and entirely too stoned. I tried to lie down on the sturdy oak benches set against three of the cell's four solid cement walls, but the breeze chilled up through the cracks and deep into me. I rubbed my arms and hugged myself for the barest hint of warmth, but sleep was beyond my scope. So I sat up ont he bench, looked around the empty cell, and tried to put my thoughts in order.

I prayed to God and Buddha to help me get out of this mess. Even as I whispered my monotonous litany, my words echoed off the walls and bounced back into my brain. My head ached and my stomach was briefly queasy, but a quick visit to the combination toilet/sink cured that.

The loud, full flush, however, must have echoed through the building for twenty min tues. Although I managed to stand in front of the commode, I still could not walk without righting myself on the walls and benches.

What the hell happened, anyway? Where was my wallet and my glasses? And how did my pack get from the trunk of that little green Colt to join me in my ditch?

I remembered scribbling madly in my notebook after I'd snorted my second noeseful of what the two guys who'd stopped for me in Tucson had called "T."

I had asked if that was T "as in H and C," and Yellow Hair had nodded yes. The first tirp took me higher than I'd ever been I thought I was the only person in the whole universe. That first time wasn't exactly a good trip, but I did it again, and my lest memories of hurtling across the West Texas desert were of me madly scribbling short, powerful sentences describing our "hermetically-sealed plastic bubble of ear-splitting rock and roll flying through the desert into the redding afterglow of the sun," which had just set behind us.

Noting that my sentences were getting longer and less coherent, I parked the notebook on the already crowded dashboard, stuck my pen into the pad of paper and fell back into my seat to enjoy the fireworks display of clouds on the rocky horizon.

The next thing I knew, I was wallowing uncomfortably in my ditch. Occasional pairs of headlights would blip across my screen like electronic feedback on a video sonar display.

I thanked both God and Buddha that I was not laying in the middle of the road, but there was nothing I could have done about it. I tried to stand up but only fell back over myself into my pack.

I didn't know where I was or how I got there. I could not even figure out how to put on my coat, and I was freezing in the cold night air. Above me, a canopy of blurred light specks stated silently down on me. "If there's an audience out there," I remember crying into the mysterious darkness, please help me."

I clenched my eyes shut and tried unsuccessfully to push them and me back into my recent past. How am I ever going to get to Dallas, I thought, if I don't get back into that little car speeding east.

I could not distinguish between reality if there was any of that left and the fantasy which enclosed me. I blacked out again and again, but I kept coming back to my ditch.

Finally, a set of headlights stopped. A man got our and asked me what the matter was. Thoughts ricocheted around in my head and collided into teach other, but all I could muster was a faint, drawling, "Haaalp."

He promised to send some back, a door slammed, and the car disappeared. Somehow, I knew "help" meant the police. I felt down into my cookie-crumbled pocket, found the last joint of Oregon home-grown weed I was saving to smoke in Dallas, and threw it into the fathoms of darkness over my right shoulder.

Then I shivered and waited. If I'd been a tranquilized horse with a veterinarian sticking needles and into me, I could not have been more uncoordinated or stoned out.

THC is the active ingredient in marijuana. Scientists have successfully extracted it from plants, but tetra-hydra-cannabinol has not been practically synthesized. Real THC was extremely expensive, and to get off on it, you'd have to swallow a large, double-ought (size 00) "horse" capsule of it. And even then you'd just get a very mellow four- to six-hour hasheesh-like stone.

To dopers, THC both real and fake was legendary. And many dealers have and still cashed in on that legend.

Usually, so-called THC analyzed as PCP, a drug used to tranquilize horses. It also immobilized humans and besides doing strange things to the insides of their brains, PCP or "horse transks," as they were widely called, can be "shot up" with a needle, "dropped" or injested in a capsule, smoked on a joint or a tobacco cigarette or snorted like cocaine which is another drug it was ocassionally sold as.

THC, PCP and cocaine are all white powders. And all sold for premium prices. The stones they produced were different, but not so different that they were not often confused.

"Don't take too much at first," Yellow warned me before I sniffed my first grains of the talcum-like white powder. Yellow warned me, saying it would burn my nasal passages and give me a bad case of "the sneezies."

Although I learned a great deal about my two benefactor/assailants during our drug-crazed dawn-to-dusk rampage across the Southwestern desert states, I never learned their names.

They called me, "J. R." and I referred tot hem as "Yellow" and "Black."

Yellow had short, blonde hair that stuck straight out in all directions from his head. It could not have been longer than four inches, and I don't think he ever combed or brushed it while I was aboard.

His partner had beatle-length jet black locks that were smoothed own over his head and forgotten. Black had a thin, shrubby mustache and talked even less than Yellow.

Black wore dark colored shades when he drove, and Yellow's were bright yellow. Both were eighteen years old. I knew that because I bought them a six-pack of Coors when I got my sipper of Black Velvet somewhere in New Mexico.

Using a coke spoon dangling in a set of keys, I fished a slightly heaping spoonful of the while powder out of its small, translucent cylinder. Holding my other nostril with my free hand, I juggled the spoon under my nose and pulled the stuff up into my face. Then while my sinuses drained, I repeated the act for the other side.

The pain shot up through my sinuses, and salty tears gushed down my pain-constricted face. As I forced a sneeze back into my throat, I wondered why anybody would eve want to do this to themselves and pay for the privilege. "If you don't get off, try a little more," Black added from the back seat. But I did not need more.

In the blankness that followed that first snort of what Yellow later described as "very pure it's only been stepped on once," I listened to him recount Black's initial trip on the stuff.

"He got lost for two days," Yellow said dispassionately. "He didn't even know who he was. When he finally came back, he just wanted more." I simply nodded. I didn't really know what I was in for, but I was about to follow suit.

They'd left Los Angeles Sunday evening headed for Florida "through El Paso and Houston." That sounded just fine when Yellow stopped the tiny new ar in Tuscon. I'd been trying to quit Greater Los Angeles since late Saturday when I gave up thumbing and took the intra-city bus to San Bernardino.

San Berdoo didn't improve my luck much, although a kindly counselor at Boys' Town of the Desert did take me and another stranded hitcher in for a good night's sleep at Beaumont, a few more miles down the road.

I'd managed to hitch as far as Palm Beach still many miles short of the never-ending California freeway system, upon which it was illegal to thumb.

The nice couple who gave me the cookies took me to the Palm Beach bus station, and I slept from there to Phoenix, Arizona. I walked from the bus station there to the Interstate that bridged over downtown.

It was just as illegal to hitch there as it had been in California, but I got a ride before any cops passed by. From there, it was a short hop in a Jeep to the Naples cutoff, and from there to Tuscon in a copper miner's dark green Cadillac.

Black was huddled across the back seat in a sleeping bag when Yellow stopped for me near downtown Tuscon. I'd just seen the last of a police car that had just stopped a pickup truck about a hundred yards down the road from where I had been standing until I saw his flashing red lights. Thus forewarned, I retired to the side of the road until just before dawn.

I clambered joyously into the little green Colt with my pack. A could miles later, Yellow realized how tight I was with the pack and everything all huddled into his front seat and stopped the car, and we put my pack into his trunk. It was till pretty dark, so I couldn't see what else was in there. I was so overjoyed at finally getting one of those "long rides" we hitchhikers dream about that I could not have cared less why they were going all the way from L.A. to Florida.

After settling back into the font seat, I took off my coat, unburied one-fourth of the car's newly installed quadraphonic sound system and placed the speaker on top of my coat, which lay in a heap on the floor. The music was, I thought, a little on the loud side, but I was headed homeward and finally making good time.

As we scorched across the barren earth at seventy and eighty miles an hour, I watched the panorama of sky before us. The barest tinges of red crawled up over the tops of distant hills. Slowly and gradually, the entire eastern sky burned red, orange, then yellow as the earth turned into the bright face of the sun. Finally, a huge white-hot disk of solar energy floated into place at the center of the sky.

A voice over the radio into Tuscon had promised that the just-over-freezing 36 degree daybreak temperature would climb to a summer-like sixty this afternoon. Sometime after a sign officially welcomed us into New Mexico, we rolled down the windows and watched the El Pass as in Texas, Yellow assured me mileage markers dropped fast and furiously past 250.

Id breathed my first snoz full of stuff before the New Mexico line, so I was flying inside as fast as we were speeding outside. I felt glued to the front seat, and except for short stops to pee or buy booze, I stayed riveted to that rather comfy bucket seat as the landscape streamed by us.

Drinking the experience in through my eyes was about as much coordinating as I could manage, and I wondered if I would know when to get out. would I be able to recognize Dallas? With what seemed like superhuman effort I scanned the highways signs as they poured by our rock 'n roll bubble bouncing down the blacktop.

Only rarely could I make out their meanings. I still could not sort out the collisions of visions crashing through my think system. Even if I did miss my destination, so what? I was too busy cogitating much more basic questions as they slowly formulated into all-cap headlines across my mind: WHO AM I? ANDY WHY?

I didn't have any answers. I didn't even know if I ever would. I wasn't at all sure I'd ever come down from wherever I'd disappeared into.

Black was driving when we passed the cutoff to Pecos, Texas and the super-duper four-lane divided Interstate petered into a two-lane blacktop separated only by a thin yellow ribbon dotting precariously down the middle. Yellow broke from his sleep long enough to issue a simple reverberation:

"Ten's under construction. Continue."