In 1967, when I was 16, I told my mother that I was going to Los Angeles. Great things were happening on the Sunset Strip at the time, I really want to be part of it all, and for some reason she said okay, when are you leaving. I’ve wondered about this last part quite a bit over the years.
So with almost no money and a bag of sandwiches, I sat in a seat on a train from Orillia to Vancouver and then caught a bus to the border where the customs guy accused me of running away.
I told him to phone collect to my mother in Orillia and she would confirm that I was simply on my way to LA and not running away, which he did, and shortly after I was on the side of the highway in northern Washington with my thumb stuck out, heading south.
All it took to get to LA was a handful of nights sleeping in ditches and a bunch of rides, including a long and sleepy one with a farmer bringing potatoes from Idaho to either Watsonville or Salinas. We hardly talked the whole time, which was good. I was tired, and I wasn’t all that interested in potatoes.
Closer to LA I got on a bus and sat beside a nice female college student who felt sorry for me, and at some point when the bus stopped at a restaurant, she called her folks in the city to see if I could stay there for a few days. They said no.
From the downtown L.A. bus station I went directly to the Strip which was the scene of not only young people everywhere milling about, but also bands like the Doors and the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield playing at Pandora’s Box and all the other cool clubs. None of these bands I saw, but whatever.
But one night I went to Whisky A Go Go (it’s still there), and saw not only the Youngbloods but also the Paupers, a great Toronto band who would play at the dance hall in my hometown Orillia from time to time. I also thought that maybe I’d meet a nice California girl at the Whisky and possibly get laid, but again, whatever.
I was on the Strip for about a week, staying in various dumps far from the good parts of West Hollywood, and being careful not to be out and about after 11 pm because Sunset was under curfew to those under 18 after huge riots had taken place there less than a year before. They made some sort of movie about this riot, called, aptly enough, “Riots on Sunset Strip”.
But one night, I think after the Youngbloods/Paupers show, I got sloppy, and while walking down the street around midnight, a cop pulled up and asked for ID. He saw that I was only 16, and the next thing I knew, I was in handcuffs that were way too tight, and hauled off to the cop shop.
At the station I asked the cops if they would phone Orillia, just like at the border, and have my folks take care of business. One of them phoned my mother, collect of course, and told her that I was arrested for breaking curfew and would be sent to a juvenile hall the following morning.
At juvenile hall, with big and impressive penitentiary-style walls, I turned over my clothes and wallet, which was all I had, and put on my new prison clothes. Then I was taken to a dormitory, given a bed and blankets, told the rules, and settled in.
It all kind of sucked of course, because I didn’t know how long I’d be there. Myself and a bunch of guys who were there for better reasons than breaking curfew, played cards and baseball, and I even had to take classes in a school room where I learned almost nothing about American history.
Then one morning, after about seven days, I was eating breakfast in the big hall when I heard my name called, and an official told me my parents had sent a plane ticket and I was leaving right away. So I left breakfast, got my clothes and wallet back, and was escorted to not only the airport, but right to my seat on the plane. They took curfew breakers seriously back then.
I got to Toronto, grabbed a bus up to Orillia, and the first thing my mother said to me was “we’re not mad”, although they probably weren’t thrilled about having to buy a plane ticket because they were pretty broke I think.
That’s the end of the story. I told a friend of mine who’s an LA cop about this a few years ago and he said that nowadays there’s no way they’d put a kid in juvenile for such a minor thing as curfew breaking. There’s way too many real criminals, and I’d just be taking up space.