Isn’t it amazing how the older we get, the smarter our parents get?
There was another episode that took place a few months later, which baffled me at the time, but pleased me no end.
A friend of mine, Mike Semple, and I were both short on cash, and long on plans. We were going to miss out on a great time, if we couldn’t figure out some way to raise $30 each in the next couple of days.
When neither of us was able to tap our dads for a loan, and nobody had $60 worth of lawn that needed mowing, we began exploring every avenue possible. Finally, Mike’s dad came up with what seemed like a perfect solution. It was picking season for the hundreds of acres of watermelons in the valley, and when the trucks came into the shipping yards, an enterprising pair could net $4 for every two-ton truck they could unload into a refrigerated semi-trailer. Some quick arithmetic told us that a forfeited weekend could allow us to salvage our opportunity.
We decided that Mike would run by our ranch and pick me up at 6am on Saturday morning. We would head to El Cento in his ’39 Mercury Coupe, and be waiting when the first trucks came into the yard. Our problem was solved, and we were already counting our money.
I was up at 5:15, that morning, and ready to go by 5:30. At 6:30, with no Mike in sight, I was about ready to risk waking his parents with a phone call, when he finally drove in. It seemed his coupe didn’t feel like starting (as was often the case), so he had to borrow his mother’s car. We promptly headed out to make our fortunes.
There was one important factor we had failed to consider in our plan. I’ll call it the “need factor’. Obviously, we weren’t the only guys in need of money that weekend, so there was a little competition. No problem. Also, the yard was located on the side of the tracks that in those days, was referred to as the “wrong” side. Neither of us had any problem with that, either, as we could get along with anybody. Neither of us had ever done this before, so we weren’t exactly sure who to see, or what was expected of us. But we were adaptable. No problem. The one thing we weren’t prepared to handle was the need factor. The rest of the guys out there, that morning, were there because they needed the money. Their families needed the money, and they were not only experienced at it, they were serious about it. That probably had a lot to do with the dirty looks we got as soon as we arrived.
The fact that we were white might have been enough to cause resentment among some of the workers gathered there. The fact that we were strangers, and simply seen as competition could well have alienated some others. But two white strangers, arriving in a brand new Sedan de Ville, served to effectively put us on the bad-guy list, right from the start.
We pitched melons like it was going out of style – all morning, and half of the afternoon. By our afternoon break, we had unloaded 8 trucks, and while we were tired, we felt good! Sitting on the front bumper of one of the trucks, we were joking around, having a good time, when a 12 or 13 year old black kid walked by, and stopped and offered Mike some of the watermelon he was eating. My neck began to itch, as Mike said, “No thanks, I’m tired of looking at watermelons.” The kid continued on down the row, but I still felt that itch on the back of my neck.
After a couple of minutes, the kid came back by, and this time he offered me some. By now, I was sure we were being set up, but I couldn’t read the script. I said no thanks, and the kid turned to Mike again, and said, “I know you want some watermelon!”, as he shoved the entire slice half-way up Mike’s nose.
Now I knew why I had that familiar itch. Before the remains of the watermelon had hid the ground, two dozen pairs of feet were kicking us under the truck. Against my better judgment, I stuck around to help Mike. No noble intentions, I assure you. He had the car keys.
Somehow, we made it to the caddy, started it, and got it out of the yard without a single rock hitting the car. As we headed home, first shame, then anger, then determination set in. When we got to my house, we went straight to my room, and liberated my .44 magnum and my 12 ga. shotgun. We had money coming to us, and we were determined to be able to claim it.
As we exited the garage, my father was waiting on the patio. Our appearance left little doubt as to what had happened, and our cargo fairly shouted our intentions. Never one to waste time on pointless banter, my Dad quickly said that we were NOT leaving with any guns, and that from the look of us, we’d do well to leave well enough alone, ‘cause no amount of money was worth going to jail or getting killed over. Having little room to argue, I put the guns back in my room, and came back out with two baseball bats.
”How do you feel about these, because we’re going to go get our money?” I asked him.
“Just hope nobody takes them away and sticks ‘em up your ass!” he answered.
“We’ll be back,” I said, with more bravado than I felt.
“One way or another” I heard, as he closed the kitchen door and his way back into the house.
When we arrived, we drove the caddy through the yard, right up to the foreman’s shack. All work stopped immediately, as people started to filter toward us, most simply to watch, some to finish what they had started earlier. Mike had our receipts, and headed for the shack, while I covered his back. Half a watermelon came flying through the air, skittering off the hood of the caddy onto my boots.
I turned and knocked out a headlight of a Monte Carlo parked behind me.
“Hey, Mutha! That’s my fuckin’ car!” someone shouted.
This time a whole watermelon flew over the caddy. I had to duck, and it splattered against the shack wall. I turned and put a very large dent in the center of the Chevy’s hood, and a rock narrowly missed both the Cadillac and my leg.
“Sumbitch!” I heard, as Mike was telling the foreman to hurry the fuck up.
Somebody stepped up and told me to put down the bat. I told him to come a little closer, and I’d put it down… down his throat!
That’s my fuckin’ car, man!” came from somewhere in the crowd.
“All right, let’s get the hell out of here,” Mike shouted as he leaped off the dock.
It dawned on me that that might be more easily said, than done. Mike started the car; I took out the other headlight on the Chevy, and dove onto the hood of the caddy. Suddenly, the crowd broke wildly, clearing us a broad path, which Mike immediately took advantage of. We cleared the yard without a scratch, and Mike stopped at the street to let me get in. As I scrambled into the car, I looked back to see if we were being pursued. But the only thing I could see was my father, standing next to his truck, with a machete in one hand and my .44 in the other.
We sat there while he got into his truck and drove off in the other direction. Nobody threw anything, nobody hollered anything. They all just watched him drive away.
At that time, my dad was about 6’3”, and weighed around 380 lbs. I never even heard the shot he fired (Mike did) to get the crowd’s attention, but once he got it, he kept it.
Between his size, and the look on his face, he gave the impression that he was serious.
I couldn’t figure out at the time why he chose to back us up privately rather than accompany us, but now I suppose he just wanted to give us the satisfaction of doing it ourselves. I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t followed us that day, but I know one thing for sure. We got a hell of a lot of satisfaction out of it.
And I’ve never liked the taste of watermelon since!