For Spring Break me and the New Hampshire kid, George was his name, hitchhiked to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Stayed at my parents’ in Chicago, but needed to find a room in St. Louis. In those days only The Rich had credit cards so it was common practice to just sign for a room and pay when you left. Only I used my fake IDs so we could skip-out. Even ordered a bottle of Old Grand Dad on room service that I never paid for. We got a great ride out of St. Louis from a guy towing an RV who told us to make ourselves at home in the RV and help ourselves to the beverages in the fridge. He dropped us in Memphis and I did the fake ID thing again at the Hotel Tennessee. Only this time, unlike the Holiday Inn the night before, the only way out was through the lobby and if we left with our suitcases without paying they’d probably stop us. Since we were trying to save our limited funds for Bourbon Street, we needed a Plan B. Out on the street we ran into a young couple also on the lam. We said we’d buy them a tank of gas if they went to our room, threw our luggage out the window, and gave us a ride to the next town.
Mission accomplished the four of us headed for Louisiana, but one tank wasn’t enough and when we balked at paying for a second tank, they did something that actually crossed the line for me and George. We were OK with ripping off a large corporation like the Holiday Inn, but not stealing someone else’s money. Nevertheless we were eyewitnesses, and probably accomplices in the eyes of the law, to the two of them going into a supermarket, pretending to be filling up a grocery cart, waiting for someone to leave their purse unattended, wheeling that cart to the next aisle, and stealing the cash in the purse to buy a second tank of gas. When we got to the Louisiana border, they asked us to drive because they really were wanted in Louisiana and just wanted to get to her mother’s house in Hammond without risking being pulled over.
Turns out Hammond is too small a town to pull off the fake ID trick for a third night in a row. After we drove to the mother’s house, George and I hoofed it back to the main drag and checked into the Holiday Inn, the only inn in town. Put our suitcases in the room and proceeded to one of the few bars in town, where we found an older women (by 18 year-old standards) who was willing to buy us drinks. When we told her it was time for us to leave, she asked for just one more dance and plunked another quarter in the juke box. I’ll never forget the refrain to the country song she picked: “If heartaches were alcoholic I’d be drunk all the time.”
We walked back to the Holiday Inn and there were two State Trooper cars parked out in front. I told George this looked like trouble to me, and when we found our room was double-locked so we couldn’t get in, suggested we high heel it out of there. But George insisted he needed to get his belongings, and besides there was the bottle of Old Grand Dad we were saving for Bourbon Street,
so I decided to try to bluff our way through. George hid out because we’d checked in as one person only. “Say,” I said to the night clerk, “seems I’ve been locked out of my room.”
“Ehh, why don’t you come with me,” he says, and we walk into an office where the two State Troopers were.
“Seems to be some problem paying for your hotel bills, son,” one of the Troopers says.
“What? No problem at all,” I said, reaching for my wallet and fishing out two of the only $20s I had.
“Well,” one of the coppers says to the clerk, “you got your money,” and they let me in the room. I’m thinking they knew about the other two places and just didn’t want to go through a huge extradition process. As I was leaving the lobby one of them said, “Have a good time at Mardi Gras, son, but be careful with the Old Grand Dad.”
Next day we arrive in New Orleans, almost broke, and nowhere to stay. (I was forever done with staying and not paying.) George said he was bummed and wired home for enough money to buy a plane ticket back to Minnesota. I gave blood, pan-handled and tried every which way I could (except stealing) to raise enough for my plane ticket. Still was $50 short when we headed to the airport. But in the ticket line I caught a break. I was telling anybody who would listen that I was a college student just trying to get back to school but somebody stole my wallet. A guy in a business suit said to me, “Ahh, you’re just pan-handling for booze money.” But when I convinced him I was sincere, he said “Okay, but I’m watching you get on that airplane so you better be wanting to get back to Minnesota.”
Tomorrow: Bye Bye George
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