“Sleeping under a table at a roadside park, A man could wake up dead.” —Song lyrics, “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” recorded by country music artist Charley Pride.
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It could have been the Winfield Truck Stop decades ago. I could have been listening to Charley Pride’s unique voice on the jukebox and waiting for a late-night BLT with onion rings. But it wasn’t. I was sitting at Fancy’s Cafe in Center last Saturday night.
Same food order as the old spot up near Mount Pleasant. Same Charley Pride, this time just loud enough in the back ground somewhere to hear above restaurant chatter. Same good service. Despite being almost closing time, the waitress assured us there was no need to hurry.
Music makes strong memories. The song Saturday night called to mind many aspects of societal change since the late 60s when I was in college and eating often at the Winfield diner. For one thing, I’ve slept on a table at a roadside park, but not under one. It was just things we used to do in 1967, and the chances of waking up dead never crossed my mind.
Life was great for two Mount Pleasant college kids then. Ronnie Lilly and I were on our way home from Southern California following summer jobs. We left Canoga Park late one afternoon in Ronnie’s ’57 Chevy towing a Model A roadster hot rod I had purchased. Yes, school money was the job’s objective, but that’s another story worth telling.
Crossing the desert at night so the Chevy wouldn’t overheat was a good idea, but it failed to account for other issues. Like towing an old straight-axle car on which the front tires wore out and gave up the ghost somewhere near midnight in Desert Center, California. Sweltering 97-degree heat in the middle of the night and many more miles to go made buying a couple of used tires and taking the hot rod back to my uncle’s house the smart move. Never mind that it ended my California hot rod dreaming days.
Sunrise just below the horizon found us somewhere in Southern Arizona. It also found us suffering from sleep deprivation without a motel in sight when we saw the roadside park. Can’t tell you today where we were and probably didn’t know then. But the concrete picnic tables could have been Simmons Beautyrest mattresses for all we cared.
A couple of hours of sleep and another day’s driving got us into the far reaches of West Texas. Maybe it was night driving in the desert, sleeping at a roadside park, or both. But on a lonely stretch of highway just inside the Texas border, Ronnie asked, “Did you notice the mileage when we filled up?” The gauge on Ronnie’s Chevy didn’t work but knowing how many miles we could go worked—until we forgot to check it.
The blank stare on my face pretty well summed up my, “No.” That and the trusty Chevy sputtering to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Ronnie volunteered to hitchhike into town if I stayed with the car. I added the part about opening both car doors and stretching out across the front seat for a nap until he got back.
Again, it could have been night driving in the desert, sleeping at a roadside park, or both. Whatever the cause, my dozing was interrupted by music. “All you need is love, all together now … all you need is love, love.”
“The Beatles,” my hazy brain asked? “Out here? Gotta be dreamin.'” Dreams became reality when I looked up to see a VW microbus adorned in bright colors, flowers, and peace signs rolling up beside the car.
“Hey man,” the bearded driver drawled. “Need a helping hand?” Rubbing my eyes changed nothing. I was still staring a half-dozen flower-child types, all looking my direction.
“No,” I said. “Ran out of gas; my buddy hitchhiked into town for gas; should be back soon. But thanks.”
“Heavy, man, heavy,” he replied. “Peace brother,” he added, guiding the bus back toward the road with one hand and offering the well-known two-fingered peace sign with the other. I watched them fade into the distance with continued chords of “All We Need is Love” drifting on the afternoon air.
Last weekend’s recollections listening to an old song were about a time when we thought nothing about sleeping on a roadside park picnic table or hitchhiking rides 675 miles from home. Looking back, I guess on any other day, I should not even have questioned a VW van load of hippies in the middle of West Texas.
It did remind, however, of another jukebox standard from an earlier era, one by blues singer Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones with a verse that declares, “The things I used to do, Lord, I won’t do no more.”
For me, that’s things like sleeping on picnic tables at roadside parks and hitchhiking.
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