A humorous look back to another time, a long time ago, by my good friend Tommy Joseph
Back in 1965, hitchhiking through Texas from one end to the other starting in El Paso where some guy dropped me and my buddy Ray off in the middle of the night on an off ramp to a huge new highway with no traffic. It was cold and windy.
Turns out they had just put the highway up. I thought when things are new people are supposed to flocked to them. Not in this case. Hardly a car. We spent nearly 24 hours in that spot before finally a big wide car swings over and the doors open up.
It’s two black men The driver is about 50, the passenger is my age, maybe younger. They hardly spoke across all of Texas. I learned they were going to Florida to get jobs cooking. The father was a chef. Good, Ray and I will get off in New Orleans and hitch north to PA. Not only did those guys hardly speak, they hardly ate. We stopped only for gas and an occasional candy bar. I was starving.
All the way across Texas Ray and I were tossing hints such as, “Sure am hungry”, or, “a hotdog sounds good right about now”, but they just kept rolling. Finally, in Louisiana, in a town with a name I will never forget – New Iberia – they decided to pull over at a strip mall restaurant. It’s about time.
We’re all tired. We went in and took a table. The joint was empty. Maybe one person. The waitress comes over and asks what we want. The black guy who had been driving is looking at the menu. He says he’ll take the “Swimp”. That’s the way he pronounced shrimp – “Swimp.” Not laughing at it, it’s just one of those things you can’t forget.
The waitress took our orders and disappeared. I was tired. I don’t think any of us were very observant for that reason. As I said, the joint was empty. But when I looked out the window I noticed a large crowd had gathered. They were staring into the window at us. Some were young. Some were pounding their fists into the palms of the other hand. I didn’t like the looks of this. Some were coming into the restaurant and taking seats, others milling around with menace. Then it hits me, this place is segregated and they think we’re there to make a statement. They thought we were trouble makers.
I never wanted to see a cop so badly. They got there pretty quick. I realized quickly that’s why the food never arrived, the waitress probably called. Two cops ushered me and Ray to the side while two others dealt with the black men. One of the cops looks at me and Ray with a quizzical look on his face and says, “What are you boys doing with them suspects?”
I didn’t even think about it, it just came out. I said, “Well, you see Officer, Ray and I were stuck in El Paso for 24 hours, we were really tired, no sleep for 24 hours, and it was really cold and windy out there and hardly any cars coming by”, then paused briefly before adding, “Officer, under the same conditions, I believe even you would have accept a ride from a couple a niggers.”
He looked amused and shocked at the same time, a wonderful combination. “Ok”, he said, “I want all a you boys to get back in that car and move on now”, as the other cops released ‘the suspects’ and we all piled back into the car, still without a meal, all the way to the drop off point in New Orleans. Except this time it was me and Ray hunkered low in the back to make the seat look empty from outside. We did not want to be seen till we hit the big town, not by anybody.