A Man of the Cloth…..by Tom Newbill
The time was 1964 and the place was Huntington Beach, California. We were cruisin’ in Bob Curley’s car, a mint old 1950 Hudson Commodore four door. Bob was older than us by about 10 years and we were just turning 21. He was a transplant from a very tiny little town in the Midwest and one of those beautiful souls who was a great listener, had a relaxed smile, a gentle laugh, never in a hurry, never angry…you know…strange. His employment portfolio was a thick as a bible and at the time he made a living as a bartender, a beat poet, an astrologer and a man of the cloth, you know…a minister. His relationship with the “Big Fellah” seemed to give him a divine provenance or so it seemed and we always felt safe with him, especially when he wore that little white collar thingy around his neck and a black sport coat, even when he bar-tended…I mean come on, who’s gonna mess with a pastor, right?
To put things in perspective, this was the early 60’s and pot was considered a hard drug and one could get a year in the Orange Co. jail for an ounce of pot. That said, the five of us, after a gallon of wine, at 3 am, decided we had to smoke some. Bob had the only readily available pad but he lived in an apartment building. The thought of us all gowed up, smoking pot late at night in an apartment building, although a plausible concept to a wino, was abandoned in favor of us all piling into Bob’s Hudson and driving around so as not to attract attention. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we were as high as the moon when Bob noticed he was almost out of gas. We drove down the Pacific Coast High-way [no pun intended] until we found an all night gas station, all by itself, a light in the dark out near the edge of town, by the oil fields.
We pulled in and the attendant came out. Bob cracked the window and said fill’r up and handed him a $5 bill. Apparently the fact that it looked like we had just put out a fire in the back seat went completely unnoticed by us but not the attendant, nor the telltale sweet pungent odor. He started the gas pump and left to go inside at which time he promptly called the police. He brought us the change just about the time a patrol car roared up from the side street, skipped the curb, wobbled over and screeched to a stop, blocking the front of the Hudson. An angry cop jumped out of the car and raced over to the drivers side, ripped the door open and screamed…WHAT’S YOUR NAME????
As smoke poured out of the car like a fog machine at a rock concert, Bob stammered…B…B…Bob….Bob Curley and then… out of the clear blue…he said…and I’m from Rosebud, South Dakota. Time seemed to stand still…the cops shoulders relaxed a little and his pursed lips parted slightly, his squinty eyes slowly opened wide. He then squatted a little and softly said….”I’m from Rosebud South Dakota!” The two of them were temporarily mesmerized as they stared at each other with that “can you recognize me in my 6th grade class picture” kind of look.
Meanwhile, in the back seat, I started getting dizzy. All I remembered was that we had enough pot to get life without parole. My whole life began flashing before my eyes like a deck of cards being shuffled and my heart was pounding like a Harley Davidson motorcycle at a stop light. I thought, well, there goes my dream of being a bank teller….Everything was moving slowly…words sounded like when you slowed down a 78 record player to 331/3….I was starting to black out when suddenly I realized … we were moving… WE’RE MOVING?…What the??? Who the???
The Hudson slipped out onto the highway, turned right and slowly purred its way north, not a car in sight. I looked back over my shoulder as if in a dream, the station slowly disappearing in the night fog. The cop was leaning up against his car…he waved.