[I planned to take this story to my grave. However, having been assured the statute of limitations on this particular crime ran out decades ago, I’ve decided to spill my guts.]
In the late 1960’s, America’s small-town police forces began replacing their existing fleet of squad cars with more modern, imposing, higher-tech vehicles. Perhaps the government was giving out grants. — I’m not sure….
The old-fashioned police cars of the mid-sixties, which featured a single red light mounted on the roof and a siren which sounded like a wind-up toy, were suddenly not good enough. The cops had to have cars that could do more. — And be more scary-looking in the process.
Living in Yakima, Washington back in the day, I was eighteen, and a recent high school graduate. I took notice of the fact that our police department finally got into the act, when it came to beefing up the fleet. I remember reading in our local Herald-Republic paper, how the department proudly trotted out their state-of-the-art, high-tech police cruiser, which they, of course, nicknamed “The Batmobile”.
The paper ran a photo showing a very imposing vehicle. — Imposing due to the amount of accessories which had been added on to your standard cop car. Mounted on the car’s roof was a huge chrome rack; it was studded with large, red and blue rotating lights. Next to that was a brand-new, electronic siren. Huge chromed spotlights bookended each side of the front windshield. I think the car had a new paint scheme, too, to go with the new accouterments. Looking at it, you would have thought the vehicle ran on testosterone.
Without a doubt, the thing struck fear into the hearts of our city’s youth, whether they were hippies, hot-rodders, juicers, delinquents, or what-have-you. — I can only imagine the sinking feeling a hapless teen must have had, when lit up by that awesomely scary vehicle. That would be one traffic stop I would never, ever want to be involved in.
I always did my utmost to fly under the Yakima police force radar. I smoked a little weed now and then, I grew my hair, and I dressed funny. — Like any good hippie. But I didn’t search out trouble, and so far, I had found very little. I liked it that way.
In January of 1968, my best friend Lenny and I traveled to the big city across the mountains, Seattle, WA, to visit the now-legendary Eagles Auditorium, to catch a double bill of two great hippie bands: the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. We were entranced by the experience. I’m not sure if it was Lenny’s; but that was my first big hippie concert. And I loved it: the loud, crazy music, the kaleidoscopic light show, the exotic scent of incense in the air, the beautiful hippie girls I danced with under the flashing strobe lights…. Having enjoyed that trip so much, I was anxious to make a return trip over the mountains, to catch another show, as soon as possible.
Well, almost immediately, I found a copy of the Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper in the employee lunch room of the Chinook Hotel, where I was employed. It contained a section entitled “509”: the entertainment section of the paper.
In the 509, I read that the great jazz tenor sax/flute player, Charles Lloyd, would be appearing at the Eagles that very Saturday night (January 20, 1968), as he was touring behind his new LP, which he recorded as a love letter to the hippies. The LP was called “Love-In”. Well, I had never heard of Charles Lloyd, but I dug catching new music, and I was a dedicated “Love-In” kind of young guy. So I wanted to go. I hit Lenny up, saying, “Hey, let’s go back to Seattle, and see this guy named Charles Lloyd. He’s alternating sets with a sitar group”. Well, Lenny already had plans for that Saturday night. He couldn’t go….
I decided I would go solo. This would be my very first solo trip to Seattle, so I was excited. I decided to just take the train. I was young, and anything was possible. I did check with Mom and Daddy, because being eighteen, I was still living at home. They just told me to be careful, and have a good time. You see, they trusted me.
Lenny, being my best friend, decided it would be cool to at least get me a ride to the train station, since he couldn’t go on the trip. He talked to his friend, Adam, who I didn’t know so well, asking him if he wouldn’t mind picking us up early Saturday morning, so they could take me to the station and see me off. Adam said, “Sure”. – I don’t know why: I would never, ever get up at 4 AM to take anyone to the train station or anywhere else. I love my sleep…. But I guess he thought it would be fun.
That Saturday, with Adam at the wheel of his fairly nice ride, and Lenny in the front passenger seat, the car pulled up at my house at 6 AM. I got in, and we proceeded to make the four or five mile ride from our Cascade Vista area, to the train station, which was located near downtown Yakima.
On our way there, while we drove through a fairly deserted neighborhood, Adam suddenly brought the car to a halt. He stopped right by another vehicle. And, it wasn’t just any vehicle. It was the Yakima Police Department Batmobile! He said, “OK, boys, let’s strip it’. Lenny was ready to jump right out and get busy. But I said, “No, guys. What if we get caught? They’ll lock us up forever!” But Adam and Lenny were bound and determined to strip every single thing off of that car that they could, and that’s just what they did. As I cowered on the floor of Adam’s car, sweating blood, waiting to be busted at any moment, he and Lenny worked to remove every possible part from the cop car. I heard all their clanking and banging, and I wondered who else could hear it. I saw nothing, since I was down on the floor. Grovelling.
A few minutes later, into Adam’s trunk went the big chrome light bar with the blue and red rotating lights, one electronic siren, two chrome spotlights, and the car’s front and back license plates. And whatever else they stole. ‘Cause I didn’t look….
Yes, what I witnessed, on my way to see Charles Lloyd play songs from “Love-In”, was a brazen act of vandalism which didn’t symbolize the peace and love philosophy I was trying to live by. And, while I was trying to keep a low profile in the town, my two companions couldn’t have cared less! They were caught up in the thrill. And I realized I was caught up in something which could have landed me in a really bad spot.
Luckily, Adam and Lenny were not discovered. They jumped in the car, and soon they had me at the train station. I got my ticket, hopped on the train, and tried to forget what had just happened. I was nervous, pretty much all the way. I tried to concentrate on how great the music was going to be. I just knew I was going to love it.
Arriving in Seattle, I made it to the auditorium, bought my ticket (back then, you just showed up at a concert – you didn’t buy your ticket on-line, two months prior to the event). I walked up the Eagles’ magical ramps to the stately old ballroom, and found myself, once again, in Neverland.
Charles Lloyd’s band was made up of two-thirds of the Keith Jarrett Trio: Keith Jarrett played piano (at one point he even played the strings of the piano with a little hammer). The great Jack DeJohnette was enthroned behind the drums. And, bassist Ron McClure completed the outfit.
First, I heard a great set by a sitar group which was said to be composed of students of the Master, Ravi Shankar. I had never heard live sitar music; but I loved it right off the bat. Next, Mr. Lloyd and his bunch took the stage. And, you know what? I didn’t understand, or “get’, the music at all! The music of Love-In was an amalgam of bop, cool and modal jazz (forms of jazz I was totally unfamiliar with) and Eastern raga. It just didn’t make sense to me, or move me. At all. I thought, “Wow, I went to a lot of trouble to get here….”
However, during the set break, I found a guy who was selling joints for a dollar, out on the ramp. So, I bought one and smoked it before Lloyd’s second set. Back inside, Mr. Lloyd started up again; and yes, his music made perfect sense.
A day or two later, back in Yakima, I read about the Batmobile incident in the Herald-Republic paper. That made for a surreal moment….
Adam and Lenny were never caught. I learned from them that The Batmobile’s accessories wound up being mounted on the wall of a University of Puget Sound frat house, where they remained for years.
It’s time this story was told. Whew….
On October 17, I’m going to Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Festival (without marijuana, which I grew tired of in the 90’s), to Town Hall, to hear the Charles Lloyd Quartet celebrate Charles’ seventh decade in jazz. — It will be the first time I’ve seen him since that night in 1968. It’ll be a love-in.