The Mean Streets of Houston

As a boy going up in the small central Texas town of Marble Falls, I dreamed of getting out of high school and finding a vocation without ever needing to go on to college or any other formal education. I grew up in a family where operating equipment and driving trucks came at an early age. I thought a career as a truck driver and maybe even owning a fleet of trucks one day was in my future. I was a high school senior, but not yet eighteen. At that time, you could get your drivers license at 14 and your commercial license at 16. While still in high school and the opportunity arose to make a road trip with one of my older truck driving friends, I could never say no. What better way to make a few bucks and get more big rig experience.

It was a Friday afternoon and school was out for the weekend. My friend, I’ll just call him Wally, usually drove a cattle truck, but he was filling in for another of our friends that wanted the weekend off. He needed someone to go with him to haul a load of granite stone to New Orleans to be used to build the above ground tombs in the swampy ground found there. I remember the excitement I felt. I had heard about what an exciting place New Orleans was and this was my first time to ever go to Louisiana. We headed out just before dark, so most of trip there was made at night. We took turns driving. By early Saturday morning we were at the site waiting for someone to show up to unload us. It was near Jackson Square. I remember walking around in the cool damp morning air. Everything felt and looked so different from Marble Falls.

A few hours later we had unloaded and were headed west out of New Orleans toward home. When we got right outside of Lake Charles we pulled in to a little restaurant-bar to grab something to eat. The legal drinking age was 18 in Louisiana, so it wasn’t hard for a 17 year old to drink beer in that establishment. We ate and drank beer and then started playing pool. After a little while we were challenged to play a couple of the local boys for a few bucks. The longer we played and drank beer the better our pool shooting got. My buddy was an excellent player. I have to admit that even though I played pool a lot as a kid, I never was very good. But for some reason that day we both looked like pros. We played game after game with everyone that walked in and won several hundred dollars. It never occurred to us that someone may try to take back their money when we were leaving.

Well after dark that evening we walked tall out of that place and fired up that old International cab-over truck and headed on down I-10 towards Houston without incident.

It was important to stay awake while driving, so almost any driver took truck driving pills back in those days. While the laws were strict concerning that practice, it was commonly done back then. The pill of choice was a little black capsule that had many names, but we called them RJS’s. That was what was written on them. The practice of taking a pill to stay awake didn’t feel like you were doing drugs, but something necessary to make a trip and get back home on time.

By the time we got to the East side of Houston it was getting late, almost midnight. We were tiring. The buzz from the Louisiana beer was leaving us and we had used up all of our pills. Interstate 10 had not been completed through Houston back in those days, so as you came into the city you were actually traveling on Hwy 90. There was a truck stop right at the old traffic circle where we stopped. It was a rough place. You knew and felt you were not in a good part of Houston, but that came with the territory if you were a truck driver. While filling up with fuel we were approached by a fairly slight middle aged black fellow that wanted to know if we were interested in meeting some girls. We declined the offer, but the conversation between he and Wally got around to the purchase of some of truck driving pills. Oh, yeah, he had a buddy that dealt in those.

A few minutes later the three of us were in the cab of that old truck headed deep into to the bowels of East Houston, headed toward the dealers place. We arrived in a parking lot of a Safeway store that was closed for the night. Our new acquaintance, not having the funds to cover the purchase wanted us to front him the money so he could walk back a couple of blocks behind the store to make the exchange. We were much to smart to hand over our money to a stranger. We knew we would never see him or our money again. So a plan was hatched for me to accompany him to be sure we got the merchandise. Wally thought it was best if he stayed with the truck. Now I wonder how he figured that out. At seventeen I never gave a thought to the dangers at hand. I’m not sure if I was that naive or the beer was still having an effect on me. I think it was a bunch of all of that along with wanting to gain the respect of my much older friend.

Within moments we were walking behind the Safeway, in a parking lot that was very dimly lighted. I heard my new friend say “gives me dhat muney”. He was a step or two behind me. I kept walking and he repeated it again. For whatever reason I reached in my front pocket where I had a full fist of change as my hand came out. Just at that moment I felt a tug on my shirt sleeve. He spun me around. I was facing the scary scene of a black man with a shiny snubbed nose revolver leveling it toward me. All in one swift motion, the hand full of coins came down across the gun. It discharged. I felt heat and saw the flash. The sound was not real loud. It was probably a small caliber, but I’ll never know for sure. The impact of my hitting the gun caused it to fly out across the asphalt and landed underneath a pickup that was parked nearby. He was stunned and I was scared. After a little scuffle he was on the ground, me standing over him. I decided I had better drag him back to the truck, so I would have help getting revenge for what he had just done. I started dragging him, but within a few feet we crossed a small ditch and he slipped from my grasp. Just then it finally occurred to me that if he was robbing me and we were on his turf, perhaps he had accomplices waiting in the shadows. Maybe taking him back to the truck wasn’t what I really needed to do.

He was laying there in the small depression in the ground looking up at me, I found his face was the perfect place for me to plant my boot heal. I stomped and kicked and stomped and kicked some more. His face was a bloody and ugly site. I can’t imagine him ever enjoying the same diet as before that night. At least until a dentist made a new set of teeth. I become a savage for a couple of minutes. Then reality sunk in. I needed to be in the safety of that truck.

As I threw open the door, Wally threw it in gear and we were out of there. He had heard the shot. He was scared. I think he froze, not knowing what to do. I don’t remember anything that happened for the next hour our so. My next memory, we were way out west of Houston. Nothing was being said. We both were in a state of shock I think. My chest ached and I was sweating profusely. That is when I put together that I had been shot. The inside lights of the truck were dim at best. It was black outside. I pulled my shirt off. I couldn’t see or feel an entry wound, but my whole body was tight and my heart beat uncontrollably. We reached the truck stop at Sealy and pulled in. With more light I continued to look to see where the bullet had entered my body. Nothing. I inspected my shirt. No blood. Finally I noticed my right shirt sleeve was torn and powder burned. Then I could tell that I had a very minor flesh wound on the upper part of my arm. The bullet had either just barely grazed my arm or the fire from the discharge had burned me. What ever it was, I knew I was going to live. The hurting in my chest and the rest of my body was probably just the adrenaline rush and the strain I had subjected my body too. My heart had beaten so hard from the shear fright. That was the pain I felt. Yes, this kid was going to be alright.

After washing the blood off of my boots I discovered that the soft leather of my kangaroo boot was torn in several places. All I could figure is that the pearly whites from the pimp/drug dealer had done the damage. At least that was my hope. I don’t remember ever losing sleep worrying about his unfortunate circumstance.

My friend and I continued to drive a cattle truck together off and on over the next year or so after that incident, but I don’t remember us ever having a discussion about it. I think we both just wanted to forget it. A while back at mutual friend’s funeral, more than forty years had passed and surprisingly he remembered it happening just the same as I did.

I have told this story to very few people. Mostly because I have been ashamed to admit that I ever did drugs of any kind during my youth. I can say with no reservations, expect for taking truck driving pills I never did any other kind of drugs during my growing in the 60’s and certainly not since.

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