Two or three times in my teens I ran away from home. Briefly, I mean. My friends and I wanted to see the world by way of hitchhiking adventures during spring vacation or summer holiday.
I never asked for my parents’ permission as it was understood they’d never approve. Everything was always “no, no, too dangerous, too late, too reckless, too rowdy,” etc. Not to mention “you need to buckle down and study harder or your life will be ruined.” My 16 year-old view was “how could my life be any worse?”
I would be grounded when I returned, of course, but at least my friends and I got to be Jack Kerouac and Neal Casady for a few days. Kings of the road.
Anyway it was this impulse that led to a brief episode when I sat in a rural South Carolina jail for a day and a half on suspicion of murder. In the mid ’60s.
A friend and I were hitching in some off-the-highway area west of Charleston. The cops, we later learned, were on the lookout for some guy with longish hair who had killed a middle-aged woman, or something like that. Beatle-length hair was a semi-exotic thing in the rural south back then. My hair was John Lennon-on-the-cover-of-Rubber Soul-styled, and that was all the local fuzz needed. They pulled over, asked where we were headed. One of the cops, adorned in a jacket and tie and a pair of reflector shades, smiled and said he needed to take us in and check our stories out. He called me “Ringo.”
We were booked on a vagrancy charge and put into a two-bunk cell. It was one of those mid-sized jails with eight cells, four on either side of a middle walkway. The lighting was on the darkish side. There was a young African American dude in the cell across from ours, and he, too, was impressed by my Lennon hair. He was staring and grinning as his hands gripped the bars of his cell. The light was such that his white eyeballs and white teeth stood out as he smiled and sang “she loves you, yeah yeah yeah…she loves you, yeah yeah yeah.”
After 36 hours I somehow managed to get myself verified as non-dangerous and law-abiding without giving the cops my parents’ phone number. Maybe my friend’s father vouched for me. Or a cousin or someone. I forget.