George, Washington 1972

Back in late August 1972 my college friend Ptrov Sinski and I hitchhiked west from Seattle. A rancher left us off at exit 149, serving George, Washington, a small farming community surrounded by endless fields of ripening wheat. The two of us ignored the sign forbidding hitchhiking, but within ten minutes a Highway Patrol car halted on the shoulder. The officer wasn’t that much older than us, but he had an old head.

“You boys can’t read.” The buzz-cut cop pointed to the sign at the bottom of the onramp after checking our IDs.

“We can read, officer.” I played polite.

It was a waste of time.

We hadn’t bathed in days.

To him we were dirty hippies.

“Then go back to read that sign again.” This was an order and the trim trooper stared hard at Ptrov. His hair was longer than mine and his name was foreign. “If I find you anywhere near the highway, I’ll give you a ticket. Do anything else and I’ll arrest you.”

“Yes, officer.”

The uniformed officer drove off in his high-powered Plymouth Grand Fury. We obeyed his edict and held up a sign saying EAST to the cars passing on I90.

For several hours local teenagers gave us the finger and shouted garbled insults. Their hatred of hippies was not a fad. We wanted to get out of there, but we were trapped off the Interstate.

A little before sunset a Chevy van stopped on the shoulder and we ran up the highway.

Before we reached our ride van, the trooper showed up with light flashing.

“What I tell you boys?”

We weren’t hitchhiking on the highway.”

“But a car stopped for you only he highway. Same thing.

He asked for our IDs. We received $50 tickets for hitchhiking and the driver was fined $20 for illegally stopping for hitchhikers.

“But we weren’t on the highway,” Ptrov protested in earnest outrage.

“You saying I don’t know my job?”

“No, officer, we’re not saying that. We just want to get home.”

“Then get in that van and don’t come back through here again.”

We entered the van and the driver pulled away from the exit at less than the legal speed limit.

“Cocksucker.” He looked in the rearview mirror, then tore his ticket into pieces.

“What are you doing?” I had put mine in my wallet.

“I’m from Ohio. I ain’t ever paying that ticket.” The driver pulled out a joint and lit it with the lighter. He introducing himself as Jackson.

“You going to Ohio?” Ptrov asked with high expectations. His girlfriend lived in Milwaukee. It was on the way to Ohio.

“Just as far as the Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. I’m working on the highway building rest stops.” Jackson passed the joint to my disappointed friend. “We can crash there. Don’t look so sad. At least you’re out of George, Washington.”

He was right and the two of us tore up the tickets like anti-war protestors at the Pentagon. I threw the shreds out the window. It was good to be free again.

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