Jimmy Carter Debating Gerald Ford, Philadelphia 1976.
I was in law school at Temple in 1976 attending evening classes. It was a late September Friday night, and after classes I was to catch the last train out of Reading Terminal to meet my parents in Yardley and join the whole family for a camping trip to Vermont.
It was around 10 p.m. when I got off the subway from Temple and there was still an hour before the train left. I thought maybe I could catch the last part of Jimmy Carter’s debate with Gerald Ford that was happening at the Walnut Street Theatre right by the train station. When I got there the debate was over but the Carter campaign was having a post-debate reception at the hotel next door, and seeing as I was a law school student, they let me in. After a couple beers (me, not him) Jimmy Carter even showed-up and I stood on a table to ask a question I thought sure was a softball he’d knock out-of-the-park. I forget exactly how I said it, but it had something to do with choosing Mondale for his running mate to ensure the civil rights vote. Gov. Carter, however, misunderstood my question, taking umbrage that I would question his civil rights record, and my table-top clamoring for a mulligan only got me escorted from the room.
Off to the station, but the last train had left, so I started hitchhiking at the entrance to I-95, only to draw the attention of one of Philadelphia’s finest. Growing up the Dawkins kids all brushed our teeth with baking soda, not tooth paste, and I had a vial of baking soda in my backpack for the camping trip. The cop was eager to be nasty and started going through my backpack despite my law school protestations that he had “no probable cause.” Not having any contraband I stood strong for my rights.
Well, the cop mistook the baking soda for a large quantity of cocaine and hauled me off to jail, a holding cell with maybe 8, 9, 10 others – mostly drunks, no one interesting – and I spent a miserable night pacing the floor waiting for “Saturday morning court.” The test results came back negative, the Judge apologized for the cop’s error, wished me success in law school, and I got the next train to Yardley for a late start on the family vacation.