Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mardis Gras Adventures

Right before I got out of the military at the end of February 1993, I took a trip to Mardis Gras with some other people I knew in an informal runner's club (which involved running, and also lots of drinking after the run.) Although my current physique bears no indication of this fact, I was into running for a couple of years, and even completed a marathon while I was stationed in Okinawa in late 1991. However, running has nothing to do with the rest of this story so let's get back to it.

The person I chose to take a ride with (let's call him Mr. X just so I have a name) was, to put it mildly, really strange. I didn't realize this much at the start of trip but he did seem to be acting kind of odd even on the drive over there. We were sharing a room in New Orleans with a lot of other people, including some runners from the local area that other people knew. One of them was black, and Mr. X didn't trust him at all when he showed up, thinking he was there to rob us. (We finally convinced Mr. X that his wallet was safe.) Anyway, stuff like that went on all weekend with this guy. I wasn't wild about driving back to Florida with him, but I figured I'd survived the trip over, so what was the worst that could happen driving home? I was about to find out.

There ended up being three of us driving back in Mr. X's pickup...with him driving, one passenger up front, and one in the back of the pickup, which had a camper shell and an air mattress in it. (There were still no mandatory seat belt laws back then.) At the time of our drive home, gambling was still illegal in New Orleans, but it was legal in Mississippi. Mr. X wanted to check out a couple of the casinos to see what the slot payout was. I've never really been into slots but he gave me and the other guy driving back with us (let's call him Joe) each $20 to play the slots with. I forget how I did...I think I ended up making a little money back and cashed it out. Mr. X opted to leave the casino with a big bucket of quarters because he was convinced casino security would follow us if they saw he'd won too much money by cashing it out for bills there.

We went to McDonald's next, and while we were having our food, he started accusing me of being more careful with my money than his money. I forget how the argument got started exactly. I'm not one to lose my temper quickly, but I was rather fed up after a weekend of dealing with this guy, so I pulled $20 out of my wallet and threw it at him. He put it in his wallet and we went back to his truck soon afterward.

For the next portion of the trip, we'd decided that I would ride in the back of the truck on the air mattress and Joe would ride up front. Before we left town, though, Mr. X somehow had become convinced that Joe was a gangster and decided to run call the cops from a pay phone at a local 7-11 (since cell phones were still uncommon back then) so that the cops could come and arrest Joe (for what, I don't know.)

Joe and I had no idea what was going on until the cops showed up at 7-11. Mr. X yelled that he wanted them to check Joe out and they were asking, Why? I couldn't hear the whole conversation since I was still in the back of the pickup lying on the air mattress. At some point Mr. X became convinced that the cops were in on the gangster conspiracy (perhaps when they didn't handcuff Joe right away) and tried to drive off (with me still in the back of the pickup.) The cops blocked the pickup since they now wanted to find out what the hell was up with this guy who'd called them for no apparent reason. I could feel the pickup turning sharply and then stopping, and when I looked up again, I saw a cop with his gun trained at the passenger compartment of the pickup...which I was right behind, so any gunfire could likely have hit me as well.

Well, I remember thinking, I always kind of wondered what it would feel like to have a gun pointed at me. While the other cops deflated the air in the pickup's tires, the cop who had stopped the pickup by pointing a gun at Mr. X finally realized someone was in the back of the pickup when I started yelling, "Let me out of here! This guy's crazy!" He had a key that opened the camper shell, and as soon as he did, I got out of there as fast as humanly possible. He then tried to see if he could get into the pickup through its back window, climbing in where I'd just been, but Mr. X sprayed pepper spray at him (which I didn't even know he was carrying.) As you can imagine, the officer wasn't too happy about that. He climbed back out of the truck and walked around to the passenger side, pointing at Mr. X and yelling, "Well, buddy, you've definitely pissed me off now!"

The next thirty minutes or so consisted of me and Joe watching the cops finally get Mr. X out of the pickup (I think they used a slim jim to open up one of the doors) and drag him off kicking and screaming. He really did seem to think the cops were going to kill him. They towed off the pickup truck after Joe and I got our stuff out of it. I remember quarters spilling all over the place as it was towed away. One of the cops gave us a ride to the local bus station. This all happened in Gulfport, Mississippi, and suffice it to say I will never forget that town. We caught a bus back to Pensacola and called some friends to come pick us up there and drive us back to Ft. Walton, which is where the journey to Mardis Gras had started.

I had taken the housekeys for Mr. X so that I could get my truck out of his garage. I'd parked it inside there for extra safety since I was gone for three or four days and didn't want to leave it parked outside. I forget what I did with the housekeys...I think I gave them to someone else in my club that worked with Mr. X since I really didn't want to see the guy again.

As a footnote to all of this, Mr. X hired a private detective to investigate what happened, still convinced that Joe was a gangster and that the cops were in on it. He'd evidently gotten some bruises from where the cops dragged him away and claimed he was the next Rodney King (even though he was white.) I wasn't wild about meeting this detective guy but he was actually quite rational. He said that Mr. X had hired him before and was often delusional about these kinds of events. I told him I thought the police officers in Gulfport had acted with incredible restraint.

I was leaving the area permanently in a few days since I was getting out of the military, so I don't know what ultimately became of Mr. X and his legal battle with the Gulfport P.D...but I really didn't care much, either. I hope the court mandated the guy get some therapy, anyhow, as he certainly could have used it.


Suldog said...

Holy sh*t, Chuck! That is some strange weird trip!

Heather Meadows said...

Wow, what a wild story! I had no idea you had something like this waiting in the wings :D

Chuck said...

Suldog - Yes, it was like a drug trip but without taking any drugs.

Heather - Oh, I'm sure I've got another wild tale or two up my sleeves. :) But this probably is the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me, I have to admit.

alpharat said...

Wow. That's just one of those stories that, while pretty off-the-wall at the time, you end up feeling happy to be able to pull out of your sleeve at parties years later.

Chuck said...

alpharat - Yeah, it was kind of like being in a real life episode of Cops. Not so fun at the time but fun to look back on.