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Do You Want To Go To Hell, Boy? …Continued


“Nothin’,” I said.  “Were you going to leave without me?” I asked with a tinge of panic in my voice.

“Hell, I thought you were right behind me,” Murph said matter-of-factly.

I wondered what both of us would have done if the bus doors had slammed shut and I wasn’t out of the grasp of the holy roller still standing in the middle of the street preaching fire and brimstone to the oncoming cars.  He was still there.  I saw him clearly through the window as the bus pulled out.

It was now after one in the morning, and we rode the bus for about 15 minutes.  Murph got up after the bus stopped for the sixth or seventh time and said, “This is our stop, I think.”

When I excited the bus, the preacher from before was standing on the corner waiting for the light to change.  I know it was the same guy.  The one who grabbed me in the cross walk.  We had come several miles on the bus and he hadn’t gotten on the bus, so I was totally mystified how the tall, thin man in the black tail coat with the tattered bible had gotten there, at the same time as we did.

As soon as he saw me he started in again.  “Do you want to go to HELL, boy?  If you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your savior, this minute, boy, you’re surely going to HELL.  As surely as I’m a standin’ here.”  He pounded his palm on the bible he was holding.

I was so shocked to see him there I had nothing.  “Sure, whatever.”  Murph grabbed my arm and we hurried across the street.  I never saw him again, but I still, to this day, wonder how he got there and why he was at that particular bus stop telling me I was going to go to hell.

We spent what was left of the night in a Holiday Inn within walking distance of the Trailways bus station.  After a shower and some breakfast, we headed off, refreshed, for the bus station, purchased two round trip tickets to Canyon.  The bus was already loading.

The bus, with final destination of Dallas/Fort Worth flashing on the sign over the windshield, was almost full.  There were no seats left together, so Murph jumped into an empty seat, and I grabbed the next one in the row.  The man I was sitting next to was dressed in a black suit, the coat over his lap, and the sleeves on his white shirt were rolled up.  The shirt was so wrinkled, either he had slept in it, or he didn’t own an iron.  He didn’t say anything when I sat down.  Just looked up and I kind of nodded.

As the bus rolled on down the highway, the man next to me finally said something.  “Where you headed?”

“Going to Canyon to check out the university,” I replied. 

“You a student?” he asked. 

“No,” I thought, “I’m just going to the university for something to do over Spring Break (which was partially true),” but I said, “Yes.  Going to New Mexico Highlands University right now.  Thinking about transferring.”

“Oh. Where’s New Mexico Highlands University?”  I was no longer finding  it surprising that no one knows where Highlands University is located.

“It’s in Las Vegas.  New Mexico that is.  If you ever win a trip to Las Vegas, make sure you know what state it’s in,” I added.  I always find that funnier than anyone else ever does whom I tell it to.  “What do you do?

“I collect for charity for a living,” he said.  “I’m currently collecting for ‘basket cases.'”

A basket case usually means someone who is hopelessly off their rocker, but what my bus companion was referring to, as he explained in detail, was an offensive slang term that was coined by the British Army during World War I to describe a soldier that had lost all four of their limbs through amputation.  Known medically as a quadruple amputee.  He described that these basket cases were so-called because they put them in a sort of hanging basket so they could be held upright.  I’m pretty sure that’s not true, but what did I know.  I couldn’t believe there could be too many of these that needed his charitable work.  The mental picture that was developing in my head was shocking.

“Doesn’t matter how many there are,” he explained. “I don’t even know.  The point is it’s a pretty sad condition, don’t you think, and people will donate money for them.”

He vigorously described his “sales pitch” for my benefit.  He would go into bars, order a beer and start talking to a customer at the bar.  The conversation would inevitably get around to what he did for a living.  He would tell them horror stories about the basket cases he had seen from the Viet Nam War and that he had found it his life’s calling to collect donations for their treatment and hope for some kind of life.  He even invented a name for his charity.  I don’t remember what it was, because after he said this, “Hell, I even give them a receipt for tax purposes if they ask for it,” I right away understood what “I collect for charity for a living” meant.

“How much do you make collecting for these basket cases?” I asked. 

“I make a living,” he said.  “Do you want me to help you practice a sales pitch?”

“Uh, no,” I answered and tapped Murph on the shoulder who was seated in front of me.  “How much farther we got?”

“Not long,” he said.  The man turned away and watched the passing scenery, or lack of.  Not much to see in this part of Texas, although you can literally see for miles.  Flat.

When we arrived on the campus of West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M University, after a short walk from the bus station, two things stood out to me.  One, all the men seemed to be wearing ROTC uniforms.  The other, all the girls were in dresses, no pants, no jeans, no shorts.  At Highlands, in 1971, a lot of the girls wore bib overalls, usually with nothing underneath, halter-tops were big, bell-bottomed jeans, short shorts, and we heckled anyone walking around campus with a military uniform of any kind.  Entertainment was 10 cent beer night at La Casita, or sneaking into Joe’s Ringside, the strip joint with the clever girl who could launch ping-pong balls into the crowd, or eating greasy fries at 2 am at The State Cafe.  I was about to be introduced to the Bible Belt.

We found the administration building and, even though we told no one we were coming, the attractive girl…in the a dress… at the information desk was able to get me in to talk with someone in the admissions office.  Murph declined and said he would meet me back here in a couple of hours.  I have no idea what he did during that time, but I got the sales pitch of the century.  Yes, I was still accepted to attend school there, my financial aid package was still good, my program of study was the best on campus and in the state even, (Which was funny because I really didn’t have a “program of study.”  I just made one up, Pre-Law), I would fit in well with the student population (I did not believe that for a minute), we could get all the paperwork done today and be ready to attend classes Spring semester.

I looked out the window and saw an Army ROTC group drilling on the quad.  Two girls walked by in frilly dresses.  I turned back to the task at hand and completed the transfer paperwork.  I shook hands with the admission’s counselor and thanked him for helping me on such short notice, and told him I was looking forward to attending school there starting in two weeks.  As I walked out the door I knew with certainty that there was no way in HELL I was going to be going to West Texas State University.  The first obstacle would be that my parents had no idea I was even thinking about it.  I couldn’t figure out how I was getting back here in two weeks.  I didn’t know anybody.  I had already registered for classes at NMHU.  I was in a fraternity that had no chapter on this campus and fraternities and sororities on this campus probably held Sunday Socials, not the Saturday night kind of which I had become accustomed.

“Your left. Your left. Your left, your right, your left.”  I could hear it coming from the lawn as I met up with Murph who was sitting on a garden wall out front.

“Well, whatta ya think?” he asked. 

“Not a chance in hell,” I said.

“Good,” he said.  “Let’s go home.”

We took the bus back to “Amarilla,” as they say in Texas, and, with our remaining funds, bought some provisions for the trip back to Vegas.  Two more cans of Vienna Sausages.  Although I’ve never developed a taste for them, I ate most of one of the cans during the trip home. We made it back to campus late the next morning.  I was to attend New Mexico Highlands University for only two more semesters.

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Do You Want To Go To Hell, Boy?


Dan Murphy and I decided to take a trip to Canyon, Texas during Spring Break in 1971.  We didn’t have a car, or money (we had $20 between us) and we really didn’t have a reason to go.  I wanted to visit West Texas State University because I had been accepted there and had been approved for financial aid, but had decided, instead, to go to New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM.  Let’s just say Highlands hadn’t turned out to be anything like I expected, so I was contemplating a transfer.  It seemed a logical step to visit the place first so the same thing didn’t happen.  Besides, it was Spring Break, we had to do something.

So I mentioned to Murph that I wanted to go to Canyon over break, and he was immediately on board.  “We can hitch,” he said.  We won’t need much money.”  Now, if my parents had any inkling that I was about to embark on a 260 mile hitchhiking expedition I would’ve been killed or worse. 

“Isn’t that dangerous?” I lamely said. “What if we get stuck somewhere?  What if we don’t get back in time for the start of the semester?”

“I do it all the time,” he said.  “Nothing to worry about.”  I’d say here that these were famous last words, but they weren’t.  There were many more to come.

We started off by walking from the dorms, several miles to the I-25 interchange and stood there for about 15 minutes with our thumbs out before a car stopped.

“Where ya headed, amigos?” the portly Hispanic man said as we approached the open car window.  We told him were we were going and he said he could take us as far as the US84 connection since he was headed to Santa Fé.  We really didn’t know the route, hadn’t bothered to look at or buy a map, funds were tight, so we agreed and jumped in.  We got a lecture about how dangerous it was to hitchhike almost the entire way, a good deal of it in Spanish, which neither of us understood.  He pulled over to the side of the road and let us out at the exit for US84..

We decided we were hungry and stopped in the truck stop there to stock up on some provisions.  Chips, Twinkies, a couple of soft drinks, and two cans of Vienna Sausages.  These would come in really handy later.  I tried one while we waited for the next car to stop after we headed out to the shoulder of the road, and almost gagged.  If you’ve never had a Vienna Sausage, it’s like eating a raw hot dog that’s been soaking in water for months.  Basically, that’s what it is.  My traveling companion loved them.  He ate the rest of the first can.

We had our thumbs out and got a ride pretty quickly, a college student on his way home to Santa Rosa, who had just pulled out of the same truck stop.  He was memorizing his lines for an upcoming play that he was to be in, and we read lines for him all the way to Santa Rosa.  The green Impala streaked down US84 in excess of 90 miles an hour, and from my vantage point in the back seat, he wasn’t paying near close enough attention to the road or the oncoming traffic. 

He let us out at an I-40 freeway exit, his exit, and told us that we should head west to Amarillo, and then Canyon was a short distance south of there.  He said we were probably about a third of the way there.  This hitchhiking thing might work.  It was approaching twelve o:clock.

We stood on I-40 for three hours alternating holding our thumbs out.  No one stopped.  Our four-hour trip, our plan to be in Canyon by late afternoon, was disintegrating.  It would mean we would need a place to stay.  We didn’t have money for that.  We had planned to stay in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at West Texas State.  We were fraternity brothers, assuming they had an SAE chapter at West Texas State, which we didn’t know, and that they had a house.  We were a new chapter of SAE at Highlands University and only had a rental house that we used for meetings and parties of course.  No one lived there.

“Don’t worry about it,” Murphy said.  “We’ll figure something out.”  Again, more famous last words.

Just before dusk a car stopped.  A beige-colored Lincoln Town Car.  The man behind the wheel appeared to be in his early  forties, maybe, seemed safe enough, so we got in.  Me in the front this time, Murph in the back.  “I can take you all the way to Amarillo,” he said.

“How long you been standing out here?  You boys have a hard time getting a ride?” he asked.

As a matter of fact, we told he we had, and earlier in the day we had gotten rides pretty quickly.

“You know why?” he turned and asked me directly.

“No,” I managed to say.  I didn’t like the way this conversation was headed.

“It’s been on the radio all day,” he continued.  “An older couple, man and his wife, picked up a hitchhiker outside of Albuquerque.  He pulled a gun on them they say, shot them both, and stole their car.  They’re looking for a Lincoln Town Car same color as this the radio says.  So I don’t imagine anyone is picking up boys hitchin’ on I40 today.  But I’m not worried.  You know why?”

I immediately started to believe that 20 was as old as I was going to get.  I couldn’t see Murph in the back seat, but I can’t believe that he wasn’t just a little bit uneasy back there.  But we both got a lot more uneasy in the next few seconds.

“Because I’ve got this,” he said and pulled what I knew as a 357 Magnum, shiny silver, out from the space between the seat and the door with his left hand, while holding the steering wheel with the other.  He held it up so we could both see it and said, “I ain’t worried about any hitchhikers with this gun.”  He looked at it rather proudly and then he put it back in the side pocket of the door.

I wanted to say something but I couldn’t form any words, and then my thoughts were interrupted by a shrill voice in the backseat.  It sounded shrill anyway to the silence that had befallen us as the car continued speeding down the freeway.

“That’s some gun you’ve got there,” Murph screeched.  “I can see why you aren’t afraid to pick up any hitchhikers.”

“Got that right,” the man said.  I don’t remember talking about much else the whole way to Amarillo.  I’ve probably blocked it out over the years.  By the time we got there it was dark.  The man with the gun let us out on a downtown street.  We found a pay phone and Murphy dialed his mother.

Plan B was to have his mother wire us $200 so we could get a room for the night and bus tickets to Canyon in the morning.  I watched Murph talking in the phone booth.  He was making a lot of arm gestures, and banged his fist on the glass a couple of times while he talked.  Finally he slammed open the door of the booth and walked over to me.  He didn’t look happy.

“Well?”

“She’s wiring it to Western Union right now.  We should go find one,” he said.

“Everything okay?”

“No,” was all he said.  On the corner, across the street, I saw the familiar black and yellow sign of a Western Union.  I couldn’t believe it.

“Look over there, Murph.  How’s that for luck?”

We walked over to the Western Union and waited three hours, checking periodically with the guy at the counter, to see if the money had shown up yet.  When it finally did, we asked for directions to the bus station and a hotel nearby that.  Murph got all the directions from the man at the Western Union counter and I just followed along. We headed off to catch the transit bus.  As we crossed the street to get to the bus stop, a very tall man, all in black, wearing a tail coat that hadn’t been to a white-tie affair in decades, was standing in the middle of the street in the cross walk.  He had a well-worn bible in his hand and was apparently preaching to the oncoming traffic.  He was waving that bible around in the air and pointing to the heavens.

As I walked by, he put a gnarled hand on my shoulder, grabbed me and screamed, “DO YOU WANT TO GO TO HELL BOY?”  Murph just kept walking across the street.  I struggled to get out of his grasp, but he had my jacket pretty good.

“Sure I want to go to hell.” I glared at him.  His wrinkled face, with deep worry lines on his forehead, made him look older than he probably was.  He had only a few yellowed teeth poking up from his gums. “All my friends will be there.”  The man let go and I ran across the rest of the street.  Our bus had just pulled up, and Murph was already getting on.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

To Be Continued….

 

 

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