Officer Moonbeam And The Duh Dah Parade
Sam, Danny, Chuck and Wade
|The Big House on Central|
|Wade mixing at Beautiful Sounds Studios.|
The link is to Freedom Street's, "Ride on Mother"
made from a copy about 6 generations removed from the lost original.
|Wade and Chuck|
|Wade's Dad gets married in Fargo|
( Hey, jot that down. It’s not a bad closing line for a chorus:
When you’re hitchin’ on the highway
You can take another road
But there really is no wrong way to go)
In college I enjoyed hitchhiking and traveled that way many times between Memphis and Chicago. I thought it was safe and certainly economical. Being short of funds as usual we planned to hitchhike the whole way to California and back until I saw an ad in the classifieds. A U-Drive-It company wanted a vehicle delivered to a location in New Mexico. We had to pay for the gas but we could take several days and vary, somewhat, off a straight-line course to the delivery point. It sounded like a plan but some simple math dictated a third traveler would be needed to share expenses. Wade and I were a little concerned about finding someone with money enough to split the gas, as well as having room for them on the long ride, but we needn’t have worried. The vehicle turned out to be quite roomy and we had several offers when potential fellow travelers saw what a unique ride it was.
An old friend Fred, only a few weeks out of Uncle Sam’s service, joined up with us. I’d known Fred from a college fraternity we’d both been associated with. We were each into Memphis music and early into the hip scene on Highland Avenue when Fred was drafted into the Army. He was back now and said he went through his entire Viet Nam experience with the words “Thank You Chuck” written in his helmet because he’d first smoked weed with me in the Magic Truck; a 1946 Chevy panel truck I’d bought from “Magic Cleaners” and lived in my last full year of college in 1968. He said smoking weed was the only thing that got him through the war. I wondered how much of himself he’d left over there. I had other friends that came back a little different. It was too early yet to tell with Fred. However he had the interest and more important the money to make the journey with us and that’s what counted at the time.
The vehicle, as it turned out, was a beautiful dark shade of blue with that wonderful new-car scent plus something else. Perhaps it was the glint from the stainless steel gurney in the back, that made her so special. And of course there was that magical red flashing gum ball on top we dared ignite for only a few seconds at a time, and even then, well off the main road, way back in the desert.
Big Blue was the real thing all right. She was freshly customized and just off the detailing line; an official UNITED STATES AIR FORCE AMBULANCE, siren, insignias and all.
That’s, of course, why every lawman who laid eyes on us wanted to know why three hippies were driving her. And there were 3 very good reasons:
1) The US government needed that ambulance delivered to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
2) We were the ordained facilitators of that delivery.
Big Blue rolled south out of Memphis Tennessee in early October with me behind the wheel, because my name was on the paper work and the thought of anyone else driving her scared the hell out of me. Besides I had a fresh supply of LA Turn-a-rounds from Dr Nic and was up, so to speak, for a drive anywhere.
Wade had us doing the family thing in Fargo with his Dad, so it seemed only fair to swing by Shreveport Louisiana for a quick visit with my folks as well. Fred, laying on the gurney in back and playing his guitar, had already said his goodbyes to family in Memphis so that had taken care of one stop on the list. We headed south on I-55 through the kudzu covered Mississippi countryside turning right at the Capitol, Jackson, onto Interstate 20. We crossed the Big Muddy at Vicksburg and continued west passing through Monroe Louisiana. In the previous six years I’d played in towns all along these roads with The Regents, The Crescents, Me and the Rest, Freedom Street, Bill Black’s Combo, Joe Davis and the Guilloteens or varieties and combinations of other bands and musicians. So, up until Texas, the territory was very familiar to me and I still felt pretty close to home. We made good time on the interstate in the big ambulance, making it all the way to my parents house in Shreveport on the first day. I hadn’t seen them since I graduated from Memphis State two summers earlier. My parents and I hadn’t always agreed on music’s place in my life but they were always glad to see me because they thought God might have intervened, since whenever our last meeting was, and made me come to my senses. One look at my companions and it was obvious they were in need of prayer too so that kept Mom and Dad pretty busy during the short visit. My parents' house was interesting too. I’d never seen it before. It had been a funeral home at some time before it was remodeled and they moved in. The overly large living room was actually kind of nice. It would be great for parties and social functions but the very large bathroom, with the oversized slightly sloping drain in the middle of the room, was kind of creepy. One night was enough and the next morning after a big southern breakfast I hugged my folks goodbye and the boys and I made the short drive into Texas and on to Dallas. We could see the skyline ahead for miles as we approached Big D from the east. Without ever being there before we were drawn to what we thought of when the city’s name was mentioned. The first thing we did was find Dealey Plaza where Kennedy had been shot. Very strange feelings. It had only been six years since he’d been killed. It was still very fresh to us all. We were so young. The downtown was empty and quiet. Maybe it was a weekend. Maybe I just didn’t notice if there were others around us. We soon left. It looked just like the pictures in my memories, before and after.
With Big Blue we never had a problem finding anything. People were eager to offer directions and advice and it was always reliable. We had to be careful about leaving her unattended as she always drew attention but we were never broken into, probably because we didn't stay anywhere very long.
|Fred and Wade|
|By this stop we had the routine down pretty good.|
(Now, I’ve changed his name here to protect his identity, in case his relatives now know him as Officer Moonbeam or something.)
Officer Pain didn’t know what he had on his hands but he wasn’t about to let anything slip through his fingers either. He was probably only a few years older than us and certainly not long out of the military. Eyeing the US Army dress hat I was wearing, he carefully looked over the US Air Force papers Wade handed him then asked us to follow him back to the station saying he wanted to check out a few things. I was kind enough not to salute as he turned away. He said it would only take a few minutes. That few minutes lasted for over five hours as he had taken a keen interest in Fred’s military accessories. He wanted to know more about Fred’s Army issued coat and hat, the one I’d been wearing, and where Fred had served and been stationed when discharged. There was no law saying Fred had to keep his discharge papers with him but I guess neither was there anything saying Officer Pain couldn’t hold him until he made sure Fred wasn’t a deserter either. As for Wade and me, well we were with Fred. Right? “And as long as you boys are gonna be here at the station for a while, we’re gonna take a better look at that ambulance of yours,”
Now Officer Pain struck me as a fair man and I told him so. I said we’d be fools to carry any contraband in a vehicle so sure to be stopped, and he agreed, but I wasn’t sure to what part he was agreeing. I told him I had nothing to fear and I was sure he’d conduct a fair search, which we’d like, very much, to observe. He thought about it for a moment then gave the ok, probably so he could watch our reaction during the procedure.
|The big search at the Snyder, TX Police Department|
“Am I going to find anything in here?” he asked me. “Not unless someone plants it in there, and we both seem like honorable men.” I replied sincerely. “Any smoking that’s been done, was done well outside of the vehicle.” And that was pretty much true.
|Just 5 more hours and we're out of here.|
For the remainder of the trip I sent post cards, from where ever we were, back to Officer Jim Pain of the Snyder Texas Police Department. It was my intention to keep him abreast of our adventures and to leave a trail of encouragement for him should he ever decide to leave it all behind someday, change his name to, oh say, Officer Moonbeam and follow our doo dah parade into the west.