The load out in Phoenix went smoothly. By 2:00 AM all four trucks were loaded and on their way to Fresno, 600 miles away. I drove the last truck out. With two full days to make the trip, no one felt much pressure.Cleetus ran into trouble on a bypass off Interstate10 around Buckeye, Arizona about 30 miles outside of Phoenix.
The construction detour stretched for miles in the desolate tumbleweed country betwix and between the dusty bo-dunks scattered across western Arizona. Nothing but moonlit desert and the occasional reflection of coyote eyes caught in my headlights as they crossed in front of me. A few miles into the bypass I came across Cleetus’ truck pulled over. Cop cars and their flashing lights were parked at both ends of his rig. Not the typical driving violation scenario.
I explained to the cop that Cleetus was driving one of the tour trucks. The cop seemed unimpressed and remained unwilling to let me pass. I pushed past him anyway and crossed the few yards remaining.
I was fired up. I knew Cleetus going to jail would put yet another crimp in a tour that had already gotten off to a rough start. All I could think about was "the show must go on" attitude that permeated everything in a Rock tour. I yelled, "What the Hell Cleetus? What is going on?" I could feel the vein in my forehead begin to bulge.
The look on cop's face was one of true incredulity. I knew immediately this guy was not used to insolence from anyone. A local Napoleon of some kind I guessed.
Dress Stetson stepped toward me and continued, "Son, we locals don't get the chance to associate with you boys in the big rigs much anymore now that the Interstate is built. The state says we aren't officially allowed on it. So, all we have are our local roads like old US 80 here. But lucky for both of us…….” He hesitated, grinned and continued, "Well it’s lucky for me and the boys there is construction out on Interstate10. The bypass dumped you and your friend here in our jurisdiction. And son, we don't tolerate as much foolishness on our roads as the State boys do on theirs."
I heard what he was saying but could not focus on the words. He was obviously on a different page than I was. I needed to bring us together. I stuck out my hand, introduced myself and stated the reason I stopped. Bowie Tour, need to move on ASAP and what can I do to make that happen? I really was not interested in the why of the stop at that point.
Dress Stetson took my hand. Instead of shaking it, he covered our mutual grip with his other hand and squeezed hard until it hurt and then let go. "Son, I am the sheriff here. You are in my town now and this driver has broken our laws."
My mind was beginng to calm. In a more measured tone now, "Okay. What law did he break?"
"Initially it was a lighting problem with his trailer. No lights. Then it turned into much, much more."
I looked at Cleetus. He shook his head. I was immediately suspicious. Cleetus was always meticulous to a fault regarding his tractor and trailer. This seemed to be an encounter with cops looking to commit some extortion or worse.
"Much, much more? What do you mean?"
"Drugs son, drugs. His brief case is full of drugs. …… Take a look.” He signaled one of his deputies to hand him Cleetus' briefcase.
I looked at the cop and said nothing. He stepped closer to me with the open briefcase in his hands. There in the glare of truck lights I saw neatly packed on top of Cleetus' itinerary, more than a few bags of what I figured were go fast pills. Nestled right next to them was a sizable bag of pot, maybe an ounce or so. I shot Cleetus a hard look.
The sheriff’s eyes stared at me throughout this review of the evidence. When I looked up he said, “A bigger question though is, what are we gonna find if we search your cab? More drugs or what?"
I was no longer anxious. I was pissed. The kind of cold, well controlled pissed I needed to be as it turned out. I looked the local sheriff in the eye and I lied. He didn’t deserve the truth.
"You won't find drugs. Got some Jack Daniels and cigarettes in the sleeper, but no dope."
We looked at each other. The sheriff finally turned to one of his deputies and told him to search my cab.
I asked, "Did I do something wrong?" The sheriff turned back to me.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I did not get pulled over for anything, suspicious or otherwise. I stopped on my own. And I don't remember giving you permission to search my cab."
The sheriff smiled. It was not a friendly smile. But he did stop the deputy he had charged with the search.
"Son, you are making this more difficult than it needs to be. Are you giving us permission or not?"
I looked at him and said, "Go ahead. ..... Though, it would have been nice to be asked first. You won't find anything."
Meanwhile inside my head, my mind crossed its virtual fingers and hoped the deputy would not find my bag of pot hidden in the cassette tape box. The sheriff and I continued to stare at each other for some seconds. He broke our mutual trance and yelled at his deputy just as he opened my cab door. "Nevermind, come on back here. We gotta go. Take the cuffs off. We'll continue this back at the station."
The sheriff looked at me and then at Cleetus. His smile had disappeared. "You two follow us back and we'll figure all this out."
I had a moment with Cleetus before I headed back to my truck. He looked so pitiful I couldn't be mad. He said, “Mike, my trailer lights were fine until after I stopped. They must have pulled the pigtail. And you know I wasn't speeding. They're just breaking my balls. I think this sheriff is looking for a pay day."
I had already considered this. "Yeah, me too Cleetus, me too. Go ahead and follow them back. I'll be there directly."
All the way back to the cop shop, I considered how to approach paying a bribe. I had only done it one other time in Cherry Hill, South Carolina. And in that case, the cop had been right up front. Plead guilty on the ticket and pay him an extra $100 dollars over the fine and I wouldn't have to stay overnight in jail in order to go to court the next day.
Back at the station, I was struck by the sad condition of the adobe covered building. But this was Arizona in 1977. The whole state was run down. The wave of retiree condo constructions and golf courses was still a decade or so in the future.
It was in the sheriff's office with just Cleetus and myself present, the sheriff worked everything out. It only took maybe ten minutes. He made it clear that he had us by the short hairs. If he wished he could really throw a lot of misery into our lives and screw up the tour.
He stopped asking and began telling us what we were going to do. We were going to pay him to turn a blind eye. After which, we were going to leave his town and never darken its streets again. And we were not going to speak of this to anyone else in the law enforcement world in and around Arizona.
Then he asked me how much money I had in my pocket. The cash they took from Cleetus when he was frisked was just enough to whet his appetite. As he explained, he had to have something to share with "the boys".
The sheriff was holding all the chips and I knew it. Rather than arguing, I dug out my wallet and pulled out the $1200 that was in the main dollar sleeve. I conveniently skipped the other $1000 I had folded up hard in one of the credit card pockets. As I handed it over, I asked, “So how much did Cleetus give you?
As he counted my cash, he muttered, "Your boy had $1000 on him. You guys sure travel well loaded, I will say that much. $2200 will do just fine. ............ Now, go out to your trucks and drive away. We are done here." His cat ate the canary smile made me want to punch him.
Cleetus started for the door. I didn't move. "And what about the drugs and the ticket." Is Cleetus free and clear now and in the future?"
The sheriff laughed this time."Son, you really are a pain in my ass. If I say it's over, it's over. You'll just have to trust me. And by the way, the drugs stay here, but he can have his brief case back."
So Cleetus and I continued on to Fresno. Not once did we go over 55MPH.