The Spring of 1982 – Part 3

Update – for convenience I have printed parts 1-3 in PDF format, available here, You’ll need a PDF Viewer. I use Foxit – it is free, and fast. (Sorry for all the typos in the initial post of this part – I was watching the Spurs win against the Denver Nuggets, and posted before I edited. Bummer !) This is part 3 of a multi part post. Part one is here. Part two is here. Part 2.5 is here. OK, I want to get the gunplay out of the way now, since it’s kind of a loss-leader -hey – I warned you of that earlier! Anyway, yes, the cops really found over 70 rounds, and yes, the police were involved. Police and State Trooper, in fact. We pulled off a dirt/gravel road in Idaho, looking to get far enough away from the highway that we wouldn’t get kicked out again by the police. We were dead-tired, and were looking for a place we could camp for an entire day. Two nights in the same place is exactly what we all needed. Time to buy ice, and have a cold beer, and have some fun for a change, instead of arguing and getting pushed around. We road about a mile up the road when we saw a huge windmill towering over a dilapidated RV. NOT a mobile home – but one of those little rounded silver travel trailers that were popular back in the 60’s and 70’s. There was the skinniest man I had ever seen sitting in the middle of the “yard” on a folding steel chair. He had a tall boy in his hand, and a dog lying in the shadow his chair caused. When we pulled up he smiled a huge smile, which was proof enough that he had no teeth, or he had left them inside the trailer. He was so tanned that I could not tell at first if he was white, black, Indian, Hispanic, or just dirty. Tiny (who somehow had appointed himself as the Alpha-Biker) was first to turn his bike off, dismount and approach the man. The man was still smiling ear to ear. In the back of my mind I heard banjo music (Deliverance popped into my mind). Tiny and another guy talked to the old man for a few minutes and Tiny came back to us and explained that the old man would let us camp in his “yard” for a couple days in exchange for some bottled water, and a half-dozen Tall Boy’s each day. It seemed like a good deal. As some of us started making our camp, a few others rode back to town to get beer, ice, water, and food. They were going to get some kind of meat we could cook over a campfire. While they were gone, the rest of us put up a circle of pup tents around the spot that would become our campfire – our city center. We were about 200 feet from the trailer, and about 50 feet from where the old guy sat. He didn’t move for the hour or so we spent pitching tents and building a fire pit. We dug a separate hole a dozen feet away or so for the ice, and beer. As we were finally getting comfortable the other guys came back – completely overburdened with supplies. They had bags of ice, a couple dozen bottles of water, and at least six cases of beer. They had stuff tied all over their bikes. They had a bottle of Wild Turkey. That would be a problem later. As we were unloading we finally found a huge slab of butcher-paper wrapped meat. The guys score about 25 pounds of fresh venison steaks – more than enough for all of us. We paid our “rent” to the old man, who sat the ice and water on the ground next to him, downed a Tall Boy in one or two sips, and opened another – in about a minute. We were icing down our beer and gathering firewood – it would be dark in an hour. Someone asked the old man if he had a frying pan (we didn’t) and explained we wanted to cook some food. He walked into an old shed and came out with an old grill screen. We stacked rocks up and balanced the screen. We had a wonderful fire going, and the beer was getting nice and cold. We were relaxing for the first time in days, and the guys all started to laugh and tell jokes – the first in days. The entire time the old man had not moved, except to get the grill screen, and to open another 2 or 3 Tall Boys. When the venison was unwrapped, the old man stood up, and walked closer. We hadn’t even started cooking it yet when he asked what we were eating with it. We didn’t have anything else, and told him that. He said, “taters”, and headed off to the trailer. He came back in about ten minutes with two dozen huge potatoes and a roll of aluminum foil. He pulled a nasty looking pocket knife out of his back pocket, poked a bunch of holes in the potatoes and proceeded to wrap them in foil – with a funnel on the top of them. He motioned to us more than he talked (I assume because with no teeth, he had trouble talking). But he got his point across – he wanted a few beers, and he was pointing at the potatoes. He placed the potatoes on the outer ring of the fire pit and proceeded to open beers and pour them into each funnel until the potatoes were swimming in beer. He motioned for more wood on the fire, and we obliged. The old man walked over to the venison, and opened it, looking at it, and then at us. Finally (it is VERY dark at this point) he asked if we had enough food. With the potatoes we had more than enough. He pointed at the trailer and asked, Share? Of course we would feed the old man, so we agreed. Moving more quickly than we had ever seen – he damn near skipped across the yard to the trailer, disappearing in the darkness. In just seconds he returned – but he wasn’t alone. He had a woman and three 6-10 year old kids with him. All of them were as dark and/or dirty as the old man. The woman was extremely shy, and kept her distance. The kids were immediately drinking the bottled water, and whispering off to the side. This lasted for what seemed like a long time – we were all talking to each other, the old man and the woman were talking, and the kids were sitting at the fringes of the fire, whispering quietly among themselves – like a pack of wolves, kind of. It was a pretty surreal scene, but none of it bothered us much – we were drinking beer, and more importantly, relaxing for the first time in days. Finally the old man stands up, pops his knife open again, and stabs it into a potato. Meat now, he said. Someone got the venison steaks and started to unwrap them when the man and woman seemed to get into a small argument. Finally the woman heads off to the trailer, returning just a moment later. She had a tin of salt, and some kind of spice mix. The old man indicated that she would cook. She didn’t seem upset by it at all – and since she had the spices, we were happy to oblige. She placed the steaks on the ground (on the butcher paper) and sprinkled salt and spices on each side. Then she reaches in her pocket and takes out her own knife – and starts making shallow slices, cross-pattern, into the steaks. As she does this, she rubs the spices into the slices. She does this for both sides of the steaks – all but one of the steaks. One steak she leaves untouched by salt, or spice, or the impressively sharp knife. She quickly rolls out enough tin-foil and covers the grill grate, then doubles up on it. Without any notice of the heat of the fire she also pokes several holes in the foil. She did all of this without much motion at all – she has done this before. Finally she places all the steaks, save the unseasoned one, on the grill. Then she grabs another beer, and slowly pours it onto the steaks – from a height of about two feet. The beer hits the steaks, and foams up. The smell is amazing, and instant. I have no idea what the spices were, or if it was just the fact that I was relaxed and hungry, but it is a smell I will never forget. The overwhelming smell of pepper, and other spices, and of beer boiling. The smell of the meat starting to boil a bit in the froth. It was amazing. Now for a short side note – to this day I make baked potatoes on the grill in the same fashion as the old man. Everyone who tastes them loves them. I call them “Beer boiled baked potatoes”. You can vary the taste a lot by changing the beer you use. I also season and prepare my steaks in the same way as the woman (although I don’t know what spices she used). But whatever spices I choose, I make the shallow cuts, and work the spices in. I pour the beer on the steaks from a sufficient height that it foams up (otherwise most of it just runs off). Even a very good cook friend of mine admits I make the best steaks he ever ate. Try it. Back to the story. The steaks cook, and the beer burns off. As soon as the first steaks are taken off the fire the lady puts the last steak in their place. No spices. No beer. This one is being cooked as is. All of this took at least an hour – maybe more. The potatoes themselves probably cooked an hour before the steaks went on. As the lady took each steak off she wrapped it in foil, and threw it back onto the edge of the fire, on top of the potatoes. Finally the naked steak was done, and she nodded to the old man, who told us to eat. We ate the steaks using the foil as a wrapper, and we did the same with the baked potatoes. We were so intent on finally eating that I almost didn’t notice the woman cutting the naked steak in half, and then cutting one half in thirds. Each kid got a third of the half, and a potato. The other half disappeared into the trailer with the woman – who emerged again a minute later and rejoined us, eating her seasoned steak, and her potato. She never took a sip of beer, or indicated an interest in the beer, other than for cooking. The food, the experience, the relaxation – it was amazing. It was honestly one of the most memorable meals I have ever eaten. As we finished eating we also re-stoked the fire, got fresh beers, and invited this somewhat odd family to move closer to the fire. It was getting just a bit chilly, but nothing we couldn’t tolerate. The old man finally started to smile again, and laugh. He slapped his knee and yelled, “Music”, which caused all three children to run into the trailer. They returned moments later with a beat up six string guitar with four strings on it, a four string banjo, and something I had never seen before, or since. It looked like a small drum, but it had three strings across it – like a banjo or guitar. It had no neck, or frets, or anything. It was a drum with strings. The taller of the boys kept the banjo he had retrieved, the old man got the guitar, and the woman kept the “banjo-drum” for lack of a real name for it. Now I was really thinking Deliverance, but the young boy started to play first, barely touching the strings. In the still of the night the sound was amazing. He played slowly, and with purpose. He never looked at his hands – he looked at each of us, eye to eye, one by one. Though no smile was apparent on his face, his eyes were laughing. Although the pace started soft and slow it quickly accelerated into a fast moving powerful piece of music that I had never heard. Suddenly the old man chimed in with the guitar and the “banjo-drum” kicked in. It took about 15 seconds to realize they were now playing This Land is Your Land but to a much quicker beat – much more energy. They played 8-10 songs, never singing, just playing. The banjo-drum was played with one hand on the strings and on hand patting the drum. She held the device between her knees, and her eyes never opened while she played. At some point during this, someone opened the bottle of Wild Turkey, and it was being passed around. We did not have cups. Everyone was drinking from the bottle. Although the woman had not touched the beer (except for cooking) she DID drink the Wild Turkey. A LOT of it. Most of us were still drinking beer, so she ended up keeping the bottle most of the time – somehow managing to drink when she had a free hand to not play. Suddenly they began playing Oh Danny Boy, which I had never heard played on a guitar, much less a guitar, banjo and “banjo-drum”. One of the Doctors with us, a surgeon who was a bastard in the Operating Room, suddenly began to sing. In an amazing voice. A voice that seemed to make nature quiet down, and listen. The instruments played on, but they were very soft now. The singing was amazing, even considering that we had all had enough to drink that we could feel it. I had no clue this man could sing. And he damned near brought tears to your eyes. To this day, this is the best rendition of “Oh Danny Boy” I have ever heard – never before or since have I heard so much honest emotion put into the song. I was not the only one moved by it – the old man had tears in his eyes, and the woman had tears on her cheeks. I was looking away from the fire to hide my own tears, but I am pretty sure others in our group were tearing up as well. As the song ended, Tiny asked for them to play an Elvis tune (Hound Dog, I think it was). This big guy stood up and moved as much like Elvis as his body would let him. He sang well. It wasn’t the moving performance of Oh Danny Boy – it was fast, and loud, and his singing was just as fast, and just as loud. We all enjoyed it immensely. Somehow we started karaoke by the fire. Three or four of the guys could sing fairly well. I couldn’t, and didn’t. But I enjoyed watching them, and listening to them, and seeing everyone finally having fun. At some point the lady gave the banjo-drum to one of the other children, and she disappeared into the trailer. The bottle of Wild Turkey, half-empty, went with her. We talked, told stories, sang some more, and drank beer until we were out of music, out of lies, and out of beer. It must have been well past 2am when I finally fell asleep. Some of the guys were still up, which was fine. Tomorrow was an “off day”. I remember thinking as I was drifting off that it would be nice to be able to do this again tomorrow night. I woke up with a start – not knowing where I was, or what woke me. Then I heard it again. It was a gunshot, and it wasn’t far off. I wasn’t the only one that woke – most of us did. I rolled behind the row of bikes while I tried to clear the sleep (and booze) from my head. I needed to know what was happening. Boom! Another shot. This time I heard something hit the shed about 50 feet from us. Boom! Boom! Boom! These were rifle shots. They all seemed to be aimed at the shed, so the fire wasn’t directed at us. Still, we each crawled to our bikes, withdrew our firearms if we had them, and loaded up. I was behind a small swell in the yard – at the farthest point between our bikes and the shed. Boom! A window in the shed shattered. Then a HUGE boom – and flame of fire from the shed window. Someone just fired a shotgun from the shed. I was safe from shots being fired at the shed – but not from shots coming from the shed! One of us panicked (it wasn’t me – I hadn’t fired) and shot a few wild rounds into the darkness, in the direction of the initial shots. Boom! The rifle adjusts closer to the bikes. We still don’t really know where it is coming from, or what is happening. This is exactly what they mean by ‘the fog of war’. We had three shooters at this point. One we knew was with us. We had no idea who the other two were. The rifle shot didn’t come close to us, but there was no doubt it was closer to us than to the shed. Someone must have calmed “our” shooter down – we didn’t shoot again for almost 20 minutes – although there were occasional shots fired to and from the shed. Now there are a lot of things we might have done differently – get on the bikes? Not really an option. Starting them would not be unnoticed. Running? Where? We didn’t really know what was 50 feet away from us. We stayed behind the bikes, and me behind my little hill. Dawn was approaching, slowly. We could see it was coming though. I wasn’t feeling very good about that because a dozen pistols are no match for a single rifle – not at range. Boom! The rifle fires again. Suddenly we hear another shot – from a different direction – almost behind us, but more to the right rear. Not a rifle. Confusion, and some panic is now kicking in. About half of us are Military – but we are Military Medicine – Doctors and such. We are not trained for combat. Someone in our group fires a lot of shots quickly – in the general direction of whatever was behind us. Enough shots that I am sure they pulled the trigger until they had no more bullets. Boom! The rifle, again trained to us, goes off. BOOM goes the shotgun from the shed. Bang, Bang, Bang, go shots from whatever is behind us. Suddenly everyone in our group with a weapon is shooting somewhere – at the shed, towards the shotgun, or at whatever is behind us. It is absolutely insane as round after round are fired in a very short amount of time. You can smell the gunshots in the air. The sheer magnitude of the volley seems to shock everyone – there are no more shots for minutes – at least three, maybe as many as ten. Maybe someone killed someone, I think. Bullets were flying blindly in every direction. We hear one more rifle shot, which didn’t seem aimed at us, or the shed. It seemed to be aimed in yet another direction. People were scrambling to reload – trying to get shells out of saddle bags, trying to scrape a deeper hole. It was surreal. It was also dawn. We could see a few hundred yard now. We couldn’t see anything interesting, yet, but we could see more. Just about this time a huge cloud of dust rises in the distance, and sirens can be heard. The Calvary is coming! Now just to set the stage here – a ton of ammo was just used from at least four firing positions. With the exception of the initial rifle and shotgun shots, 80% of these shots came from where we were (it seemed to me at the time). Some were aimed behind us, but most back towards the rifle shooter. Nothing from us was aimed directly (or effectively) at the shed (which is good, because it’s the only thing our pistols could have reached). Finally we hear a voice over a PA system telling everyone to”drop your weapons and come out with your hands up”. None of us moved. First, we had no idea which way to go – certainly not to the shed, or toward the rifle. Behind us seemed like a bad option as well. We were all scared shitless – we woke up and didn’t even have time to take a proper piss yet. Disoriented would be an understatement. Finally we hear the voice again, this time announcing that they are police, and that, “God-dammit, Jerry, this isn’t funny anymore – we got your ma”. None of us move, but the shed door opens. The old man walks out, without a shotgun, and walks straight out towards the street (which we can’t see). He never says a word. He just walks out of our line of sight. It’s quiet for another minute or two, then the PA comes back on: “OK, you biker boys – I want you to come out one at a time, and walk over here to the street. No weapons, hands in the air”. After a brief and frantic discussion Tiny’s brother says he’ll go first. He had not had a weapon. He slowly walks out of site, then shortly he comes on the PA and says, “OK, guys, come on out – leave your guns where they are – it’s ok”. We all walk out – with our hands up – even though that command hadn’t been given this time. When we got around the corner to the street we saw four police cars. Three were some kind of local cop, and the fourth was a state trooper. They all had weapons drawn, but Tiny’s brother was standing with his hands on a car, and not in cuffs. It looked pretty safe. The old man was not immediately in sight. As we got close, we could see he was handcuffed and in a car. And he wasn’t alone. There was an even older woman (who we had never seen) in the car with him. OK – jump ahead about 9 hours. I’ll give you the short story of what we learned, and what happened to us in that time. The exciting part was above; it’s not in the details So here’s what happened that night. We all were pretty buzzed, but I don’t think any of us were really drunk. I certainly wasn’t. I went to sleep first, and woke up first. I fired one shot (but do not remember doing it). Everyone else emptied their weapons at least once. It was chaotic – when you think you are being attacked from three sides, you return covering fire. What we didn’t know was that the old man wasn’t that old – he was in his early 40’s (I am 45 now, and don’t feel old). The woman was his wife – although she looked like his daughter (but not attractive). The kids were theirs. The other person in the car was the “old” guy’s mother. And she was fucking crazy. And very drunk. She drank the rest of the Wild Turkey (about half the bottle). She had the other half of the steak. She was a mean damn drunk. She had shot the place up before – many times. The “old man” slept in the shed I guess – either because he was drunk, or he wanted to get away from the women. When the crazy old lady got drunk, she took a rifle and for whatever reason (“They do this all the time – to damned often” – according to the State Trooper) she decided to start shooting at her son in the shed. It was dark, and she was a long way away, and drunk. Lucky she didn’t get a lucky shot and kill someone). She shot at the shed, and the “old man” blindly shot back with his shotgun. We weren’t involved until one of our guys suddenly freaked and emptied his weapon. We were never sure who it was (it was dark, we were scared, and nobody ever admitted to it). The gunshots from behind us was a local cop. He didn’t even know we were there. He was on the other side of a hill from us – just shooting to get these crazy jackass’s attention. But he DID realize something was different this time when he suddenly heard a half dozen weapons firing at the same time – some shot seemingly in his direction. He ‘called 911’. Every available cop showed up. Somehow they caught the old lady. The “old man” gave himself up. We “surrendered”. We took a ride to the local town, which didn’t have a local jail. The local cops wanted to handcuff us – the Trooper wouldn’t let them. The local cops wanted to transport us to a jail. The Trooper wouldn’t let them. The local cops wanted to charge us with “Å“reckless discharge of a firearm”. The Trooper wouldn’t let them. The Trooper was NOT a friend of the local cops. It was very clear though that he was our friend. At least the best friend we had in that town. All of our ID’s were pulled. While we were “in custody” all of our bikes were searched. All of our weapons were confiscated – even knives from the bags on our bikes. None of us came up with a record, except Tiny – for possession some ten years earlier. He paid his fine/did his time (whichever) for that and it wasn’t a big deal. One of the guns came back registered to someone else. That was eventually cleared up. In the end the police collected over 70 rounds of spent ammunition. They could attribute about 20 of it to our group (which seems right – most of our guys had revolvers). We were probably responsible for more. Who knows? This is “pre-CSI” days. I the end, we received citations ranging from failure to obey a law enforcement officer (dismissed via mail) to improperly registered firearm (I think he was fined for it). We also did not spend our second night as we had planned. The Trooper made a deal with the local cops – we would sign over our guns (and knives) and leave the county that day. So that’s about the whole story. One cop kinda shot at us. Some of us definitely shot back at him. I fired a shot that I do not remember firing (the scariest part of this story as far as I am concerned). A window was broken. As far as I know that is all the damage that was done. I have no idea what happened to the crazy old lady, but apparently the cops had been out to this trailer many times for gunfire. Odd that such a wonderfully gifted (musically) family was so screwed up. We learned they had no income. They were squatting on the property. The kids were supposedly “home-schooled”. They had no power and no water. We chipped in over $200 to the Trooper for the family. He and a local cop “escorted” us out of the county. We were all equally happy that we were gone. In part four, in a couple days, we’ll finally meet our trucker friend. And we’ll find out why biker’s shouldn’t use the showers at a truck stop. And why we really wish we still had our guns. But I am glad we didn’t. This time, someone might really have gotten hurt. People in my own group wanted to chase this guy down and beat the shit out of him. I was really starting to wonder what I had gotten into.