Several years ago, when I was in college, I went on the road trip to end all road trips. My friends and I barely escaped with our lives, and all of it was due to our own stupidity, not to mention all the drugs we were on. Here then, in a seriously condensed version, is our story.
It was me and my roommate Raj, plus our friends Glenn, Ernie and Gabe. It was spring break, and in two cars we left cold, snowy Worcester, Mass behind and headed for the sunshine state. Our plan was to first stop in Ft. Lauderdale, and then to continue on down, all the way to Key West. At one point, while traveling through Virginia, we needed to get gas, so we pulled over at the next exit. The exit didn't lead into a town, however, but onto a military base. We told the guard at the gate that we needed to get gas, and he waved us right in. Having just smoked a joint, we were all super-stoned and scared, everyone hiding their stashes in various crevices of their bodies.
When we reached the gas station, the woman in the office said we couldn't get gas because we were civilians, and the gas was only for military personnel because it was tax free. I told her that we would gladly pay the additional tax, and that the guard at the entrance had said to come in and fill up without mentioning any of this. But she was adamant, and so we drove back to the gates. Then all hell broke loose.
Suddenly, we were surrounded by all kinds of military vehicles - jeeps, trucks, even these things that looked like tanks. They had literally appeared so quickly and unexpectedly that I thought they couldn't possibly be real, that the pot was making me imagine things. Maybe it was laced? But then, over a loudspeaker, an all-too-real voice commanded us to stop driving and get out of our cars. After doing so, we were encircled by maybe ten or twenty marines, many of whom held guns, actual guns, which they looked more than ready to use.
A tall, red-faced man in full uniform, asked to see our drivers licenses. After examining them briefly, he ordered us to get back in our cars and follow him to the stockade. I swear to God that's what he said. We drove for only a few minutes before we reached our destination, a long, one-story building, where we were separated into two groups. My group, which consisted of myself, Gabe and Raj, was taken into what looked like a classroom, with a number of chairs lined up in rows, and a large wooden desk at the front. We were ordered to sit down, while three marines stood guard just inside the door.
"What now?" I asked, but no one answered me. After a few minutes I asked again, but still no answer. When I asked a third time, I was told to shut the fuck up.
About an hour later, a call came in on one of the marine's radios, and I could just make out what was being said on the other end. It had something to do with our behavior at the gas station, how we had supposedly harassed the woman.
Gabe heard it too and piped in: "But that's not true! We didn't do anything to her!"
"Shut your mouth," commanded one of the marines.
The voice at the other end of the radio then proceeded to report that, in addition to berating the woman, we had taken the gas pumps and thrown them on the ground in anger.
"Now come on," said Gabe again, exhibiting more balls than I knew he had. "That never happened."
I couldn't let him do this alone, so I added: "He's right. That's a complete lie. And I think you know it, too."
"Oh really?" said the marine. "You think we're holding you here for no reason? Think we're keeping you just for kicks? Think we've got nothing better to do?"
He then went off on a long tirade about how people like us, spoiled, weak people couldn't possibly know what it was like being a marine, about the responsibility that comes with it and the honor involved. In a note-perfect impersonation of Hollywood's version of an enlisted man - think Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: "You can't handle the truth!" - he continued, calling us pathetic, small-minded and insignificant. He called us ungrateful. He concluded by saying that we couldn't even begin to comprehend what one day in his shoes would be like.
And this last part, at least, was correct. I couldn't for one second imagine what it would be like to be a complete and total asshole, merely a grade school bully with a uniform, spouting some jargon he himself didn't even seem to believe.
A few hours later, two of the marines left, and two new ones came in. A changing of the guard. They talked in hushed tones in the front of the room, occasionally looking over at us and laughing. I needed to go to the bathroom, had actually had to go for quite some time, and finally could not wait any longer. I raised my hand and told them I had to take a piss.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" one of the marines said sarcastically. "'Fraid I'm not used to hearing that kind of language around here. Why don't you try asking again, using proper respect?"
"May I please use the bathroom?" I said, crossing and uncrossing my legs.
"There you go," he said, grinning. "That wasn't so hard now, was it?" He motioned to a marine who stood by the door, and then back to me. "See that gentleman over there, the one with the long hair?" The marine nodded. "He needs to pee-pee. See to it that he doesn't make a mess of the latrine, will you?"
When we got to the bathroom, I walked up to a urinal and unzipped my pants, but I couldn't go. The guy was literally inches away from me, staring at me, apparently trying to intimidate me. And it worked. Nothing was happening. I wanted to yell at him to back off: "What are you gay? Like it? Want to play with it you fucking fuck?" but I didn't say anything. Instead, I shook myself a little, as if I had actually gone, and approached the door.
As I did so he yelled out: "Wash your hands! What the hell's wrong with you? Where do you think you are?"
"In hell," I thought.
When we got back to the room, everything had changed. It was now filled with marines, maybe nine or ten of them. Gabe and Raj were standing by the door, and when I entered the room we were all ordered to walk outside single file, where we met our friends in the parking lot. No word was said about why we were let go, about the charges, about anything. The only other thing that happened before we were allowed to leave was that they brought out some sniffer dogs, who tore through our cars, searching for drugs. We were all glad we had hid our various stashes on ourselves.
Once we got back on the highway, everyone, simultaneously and spontaneously, screamed. It was a good, long scream, heartfelt and true but significantly ironic and over-the-top, so as not to appear too feminine or weak. We were men after all, at least boys playing at being men, and men did not scream. Afterwards we felt better. A little better anyway.
At the next exit we stopped to get gas. Gabe went into the station and bought a local newspaper, then called the editor to report what happened. He ended up talking to a reporter, who explained that what happened to us was nothing new, that the cadets at Quantico did this kind of thing all the time, preyed on unsuspecting tourists, simply for their own amusement. The reporter apologized to us, but said that, they being who they were, there was really nothing to be done about it. If it was the cops, he said, then maybe, but these were marines, and this was the top marine base in the country. They answered to no one but themselves.
So they were just bored. Being surrounded by barbed wire and fences, testosterone and firearms, shaved heads and shitty food, must do something to a person I guess. They needed some kind of amusement, were desperate for it apparently, and a bunch of stoned college kids was a Godsend for them. Gabe wanted to press charges, to have the newspaper print a front-page story about our experience, to call his lawyer. And even though we were just as mad, we convinced him to let it go, to move on. We had lost a ton of time already, and didn't have the luxury to waste any more. And so, we drove straight through to Ft. Lauderdale without stopping.
We arrived very early the next morning, where we found the hotel our friends were staying at and woke them up. They were furious as to be pulled out of bed so early, but once we told them what happened they were immediately sympathetic. They even bought us a case of beer, and all of us went to the beach, which was practically empty at that hour, where we sat, commiserating. Then laughing. Then howling. Somehow, it had become funny. It was a good sign, that we couldn't be deterred so easily, better than any of us could imagine at the time. For the worst was yet to come.
Within a few hours, the beach was crowded with the most obnoxious kind of people - rowdy, drunken college students, many from cold, northern universities who had been waiting for months for just this occasion. Of course, this was pretty much who we were as well, but somehow we felt different. We were not jocks or frat boys, not the kind of people who did keg stands and wore baseball caps and listened to classic rock. And even if we did these things occasionally, we did them with style. Also, the thought of being featured on MTV's Beach House or whatever the fuck it was, the reason most of these people were here in the first place, did not appeal to us whatsoever. Add to this our recent experience with the marines, and we felt even more superior, having suffered at the hands of the country's finest and lived to tell about it. No, we were different. And so we couldn't stay. At least most of us couldn't.
We lost Gabe. He'd had enough driving, enough excitement, and wasn't planning on going anywhere else. Ft. Lauderdale suited him fine. So we bid him and our other friends goodbye, and Raj, Ernie, Glenn and I headed to our next destination: Key West. It took us all day and half the night to get to there. When we arrived, we went to a campsite that we'd heard about, this massive, sprawling thing, situated right on the ocean. While a hotel would have of course been easier and nicer, we didn't really have the money for one, having spent most of ours on pot, and the little that was left was for gas and beer. Whatever was left after that would go to food.
As soon as we finished setting up our tent, we hightailed it to the main strip. On a single road that must have stretched for miles was an infinite line of bars, restaurants and strip clubs. Jackpot! We cruised that mother like we were pimps, like we owned the place. Girls would pass us and we'd smile, Glenn winking at them, Ernie saying something like: "Hel-lo ladies." But the only reaction we'd get would be some laughs, if at all. Most of the time they just ignored us.
"This sucks," said Ernie after a while. "We need to his some bars."
So we did, but the problem was that we were underage, and they were really strict about carding. All of us were barely twenty, and only Glenn and Ernie had fake I.D.'s. And Ernie's was so bad that it rarely worked. It was the license of a light haired, light eyed, six-foot tall, thirty-five year old. Ernie was five foot-nine and Hispanic. So we resumed our cruising. We went up and down the street, up and down, up and down, for an eternity, none of us getting anywhere. By now it was getting late, and it wasn't half as crowded as before. Most of the remaining people were men, many of them middle-aged and desperate looking, or frat boys, walking together in large, loud groups. Just before we were about to give up and go home, I met a girl named Heather who was staying at our campsite. She invited us to a party she was having the next night, which was fine by us, as none of us wanted to go back to the strip.
To prepare for the party, we bought a ton of beer. Four cases, one for each of us. We slept all day, the first rest we got since we left Massachusetts, and when we woke up we were ready for anything. And, just to make sure we had an especially good time, right before the party we all dropped a hit of acid. We had also started in on the beers, and by the time we got there we were toasted.
The party itself was pretty lame, just Heather, some of her friends and a random assortment of campers. Everyone else was at the strip. Not that this mattered, for once the acid started kicking in, the four of us were laughing and carrying on like madmen, everyone staring at us like the freaks we were. We could have cared less, although there was one person at the party who I certainly did care about, namely Heather. And so, when it looked like we were going to get out of hand, I asked her if she wanted to take a little walk. We ended up at the edge of the campsite, where there was a makeshift beach. We sat down in the sand and stared out at the ocean.
"I'm going to kiss you now," I said, and did. I was never normally so bold. It must have been the acid.
We made out for a while, and then I convinced her to come with me back to my tent. We weren't in there for ten minutes, the first of our clothes coming off, before there was some sort of commotion outside. I peeked my head out and saw a cop car, slinking down one of the roads that lined the campsite, shining its spotlight in every direction. One of the officers was talking over a loudspeaker, and when I heard what he was saying I nearly pissed myself.
"Russ Josephs, this is the police. Show yourself. I repeat, Russ Josephs, this is the Key West police department. Show yourself immediately."
This couldn't be happening, I thought. The acid must have been bad. I asked Heather if she heard it too, and she did. It was for real. The two of us inched out of the tent and crawled through the sand on our bellies, trying to escape. But one of the spotlights soon hit us, and we were caught. When I made my way over to the car, I noticed all of my friends in the backseat. I couldn't wait to hear what they had done.
It was Glenn, really, who had done it. Raj and Ernie were totally innocent, and simply had the misfortune of being there when it happened. What happened, to the best of my knowledge, was as follows:
Right after I left the party, some frat boys had come over, and asked if it was okay if they could hang out. Glenn told them that would be fine, provided they name the school they went to. One of them said that he went to so-and-so school, and Glenn said that was funny, because his brother went to such-and-such school, so-and-so's rival. The frat guy didn't know what Glenn was getting at, so Glenn spelled it out for him. He said that the school he went to sucked, and that his brother's school was much better. He also that his brother could kick his ass. He added that he himself could, and wanted to, kick his ass. The guy got really nervous and said he was going to come back with a bunch of his frat buddies.
"You do that," said Glenn. "I'll be waiting."
When the frat boy returned, it was not with just a few of his brothers, but his entire fraternity. All thirty of them. Now, the smart thing to do, of course, was for Glenn to apologize, to say that he was sorry for mouthing off, that he was tripping, that he was drunk, and offer them some beers. But he did none of these things. Instead, he pulled out a knife, a knife none of us knew he had, and charged the whole lot of them. The frat boys panicked and opened up into a circle, in the middle of which stood Glenn, brandishing the knife and yelling how he was going to kill all of them.
Raj and Ernie tried to calm him down and apologize to the angry mob, but it didn't work. Glenn got even more aggressive, pacing inside the circle like a caged animal, every so often jerking out the arm with the knife like he really was going to kill someone. The frat boys, guessing that a lunatic was in their mist (and guessing right), called the cops. On Glenn. One guy versus thirty, and the thirty guys call the cops. Now, by no means do I condone my friend's behavior. But that's pretty fucking ballsy when you think about it, standing up to so many people, and having them puss out and call the cops.
So the cops showed up, and the frat boys started telling them about this psycho with the knife. But before they took Glenn and put him in the car, he ditched it. A good move on his part, to appear innocent at least, but bad for defense, because just before he got in the car, one of the brothers landed a good solid punch in his face. Not that Glenn felt it. He probably wouldn't have felt thirty fists, he was so hammered. So hammered that he tried to tell the cops that he was blameless, that he was the victim here. He also told them where he was from, repeatedly, as if this meant he couldn't possibly have done anything wrong, as if it made him some kind of saint.
"I'm from Massachusetts occifer," he said, over and over. "I'm a good boy occifer. You gotta believe me. I'm a good boy from Massachusetts."
Right after they put Glenn in the car, the frat brothers surrounded it, seeking vengeance. The cops eventually dispersed them, and then made Raj and Ernie get in the car as well. They told my friends that, while it appeared several laws had been broken, they didn't want any trouble. They just wanted us to leave, immediately. Our punishment was to be banned from Key West.
That's when they found me. The cops gave us five minutes to get our stuff and get the hell out. As we took down our tent and packed up the car, all of us, myself included, were nearly convulsing with laughter. The entire experience was so unreal, so unimaginable, the fact that we could easily have found ourselves beaten up or in jail - or in my case gotten laid - never registered. Right then, we were being ordered to leave, being banished, and it was hysterical. I remember asking a cop if this meant we were banned only temporarily, if we could ever come back, and he said he'd appreciate it if we never did.
The cops followed us all the way to the end of the island, and then, once we hit the highway, we were left alone. I thought it was strange that they had allowed us to drive, as we were so obviously fucked up. But Ernie, who was behind the wheel, was doing a pretty good job, and the rest of us were surprisingly lucid. Everyone except for Glenn. For the entire ride, all he said was, over and over: "I'm a good boy occifer. A good boy from Massachusetts. You gotta believe me."
We weren't ready yet to go home, and in no way wanted to go back to Ft. Lauderdale, so we ended up going to South Beach, where some other friends of ours were staying. We figured we'd surprise them. As we drove, Raj told me the story I just told you. Then he asked me what happened with Heather, but my story paled in comparison. I hadn't even gotten her shirt off.
We got to South Beach in only a few hours, and soon found our friends' hotel. After checking in, we went over to their room, and what we found there was almost as surreal as getting banned from Key West. The door was unlocked, so we went right in, and there in bed was our friend Andrew. In bed with him was another guy. They were, in fact, getting it on, and we had stumbled right into it. While normally this would have been only a little embarrassing, in this instance it was extraordinarily so, for no one knew that Andrew was gay but myself. It was a very recent revelation for him, and this was actually his very first experience with another guy. And we were there to witness it. Needless to say, he was extremely pissed off by our surprise visit.
The next day he recovered a little, especially after we told him about our traumas, first with the marines, then with the police. Luckily, during our time in South Beach, we encountered nothing of the sort. Mainly we just sat on the beach, which was wall-to-wall gorgeous topless women and B-list celebrities. Our first day there we lay tanning next to Simply Red, the lead singer of which, with his pale, pasty skin and freckles looked like he shouldn't have been in the sun at all. We finally got our vacation, a leisurely, almost boring vacation, which is exactly what we wanted, and I'm happy to report that we left the place without incident.
But the trip couldn't end without at least one more minor disaster. On our way home, once again in Virginia, we ran out of gas. Raj and I decided to walk to the nearest gas station, while Ernie and Glenn stayed behind with the car. When we had been walking for maybe twenty minutes, a cop car approached us, picked us up and gave us a ride the rest of the way. We didn't even have to explain to him what happened, as he had already spotted our parked car and spoken to our friends. He also mentioned that our friends were lucky he was such a nice guy. We didn't know what he meant by that, and frankly didn't want to know, so we didn't ask him about it. After buying one of those little red canisters and filling it up with gas, he drove us back to our car.
"Just remember what a nice guy I am," he repeated, before leaving.
"What the hell did he mean by that?" I asked Glenn and Ernie, who told me what had taken place.
While sitting on the side of the road with nothing to do, the two knuckleheads decided to smoke a joint. A few minutes after lighting it up, they noticed some lights behind them, followed by a figure walking up to the car. The cop. They quickly extinguished the joint and hid it underneath the seat, but when they rolled down the window, a cloud of smoke came out. The cop asked what they were doing and they said nothing, that they were waiting for their friends to come back with gas.
"What else were you doing?" said the officer, and Glenn and Ernie shrugged their shoulders. "Cause it smells like marijuana in here."
They denied it, of course, and the cop said he was pretty sure that's
what it smelled like. But they were adamant, and ultimately he let them
go. And he did so, I can only assume, because, as he kept mentioning,
he was a really nice guy. In all honesty, however, he was. He didn't bust
my idiot friends, and gave us a ride. It was the exact opposite of the
marines, who acted like we had done something wrong when we were innocent.
The "nice guy" cop, much like the officers in Key West, although
they didn't have to, let us go. So thank you boys. I owe you one. While
I wasn't responsible for anything that happened, didn't start a fight
with an entire fraternity or light up a joint on the side of the road,
I still very much appreciate it. And despite everything, I wouldn't have
had it any other way. It was a great trip, a real eye-opener. But, just
to be on the safe side, I haven't been back to Florida since. Or, for
that matter, Virginia.
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | February 2002 | Issue 23
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