When I was young and naive and still living in CT, I routinely picked up hitchhikers because they always had great stories of where they’d been. When I did that once in Florida, stopping for a hitcher on the turnpike, he asked my destination and said that would suit him. It was a 214-mile trip. When he tossed his bag in the back and joined me in the front seat, I noticed a good-sized dagger buckled on his boot. I said I had a no-weapons rule in my car and started to pull over. He shrugged, opened the window, and threw it out. He did have a great story, and I had plenty of time to hear it.
In my early days living in Miami, I worked for a community action board that was created after the original race riots and other unrest in Miami-Dade County. The board was headquartered in the Miami courthouse and presented weekly live forums broadcast on local TV where anyone could come to the mike. I covered the forums because I knew shorthand and became an assistant to three of the social workers, especially Eduardo, who had arrived in Miami from Havana just a few years prior.
Eduardo knew that I submitted stories to the Miami Herald and asked if I wanted to attend a KKK meeting with him that evening since that group was a major component of the current unrest. He said I would have to be in disguise — it turns out if there’s anything more hated than Black people at these shindigs, it’s female people. I tucked my long hair under a hat and due to a slight cold, I had a rough voice. He drove us to a secluded, open meadow where a crowd, disguised as well, was gathered around a large cross. Several of the men were brandishing rifles in the air and it occurred to both of us that this was a very bad idea. We made a speedy exit, stopping in Little Havana for some Cuban food.
One morning on the way to work, I came to the area where the National Republican Convention was being held. I ran into barricaded streets with marching demonstrators, including Black Panthers. (I read in the morning paper there were 3,000 anti-war protesters.) There were also about a dozen people up in banyan trees in the park, so I got out my camera and climbed a tree. A phalanx of policemen in riot gear advanced and tear-gassed everyone in the vicinity. Someone handed me a bandana to cover my face, and I nearly fell through the branches. When I turned around and tried to get a photo of the swat team, I was tear-gassed again. That time I fell out of the tree and began running.
When the community action board was greatly downsized and moved out of the Miami courthouse, I signed on with a temporary employment agency, which wasn’t immediately the best choice.
My first gig was at a high-rise in South Beach. I usually reported to underlings but one afternoon, I was summoned to the top floor office of the CEO, someone who was often featured in the local newspapers with descriptions like “corporate raider,” “tax evasion,” and “SEC securities fraud.” His secretary was out sick and he needed someone to take dictation. While waiting in his outer office, I noticed two guys working on the back wall. I asked if they were changing the wall color, because it seemed pretty drab for the era of Art Deco. One of the workers said, “No, we’re patching up the bullet holes.” I used the phone in the foyer to call my agent to find me a new job.
I’m no longer young and naïve, but still have occasional episodes of risky business — don’t we all?