1960s, Border guards, California, Casino, Cherokee, Dunes Hotel, Flower Children, Flower Chnildren, Frank Sinatra, Gambling, Glen Campbell, Hippies, Hitchiking, Hollywood, Juarez, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Marijuana, Mexico, Panhandling, Poverty, Rat Pack, Sands Hotel, Tropicana Hotel, U.S. Mexico border, Uncategorized


© PJ Hayward, New York 2008
First Published 2008 by Hold On Publications
Revised © PJ Hayward New York 2013

After a short time on the road we caught a ride with a kind of middle aged guy who called himself Joe.  He claimed he was headed to Hollywood to sing on the Glen Campbell show, which was a big hit on TV at the time.  Mack and I were very impressed by everything Joe was telling us and I guess that must have appealed to his ego because he immediately took a liking to us and took us under his wing.  In fact as long as he was headed that way anyway, Joe said he would take us the whole way to L.A.  This was not only a great stroke of good luck but the beginning of a whole new adventure – all paid in full by Joe.

Looking back now, I think he might have been using someone else’s stolen credit card, because after we got to L.A. we tried to look him up and no one at the Glen Campbell show or anywhere else had ever heard of him.

Anyway, we began to have a blast.  It turned out that Joe loved his weed and hash and had a huge supply of it, which he chain smoked the whole time as we drove.  The up-side of that was that he was continually cheerful.  So as we drove we just laughed, talked, joked and generally had a great time traveling together.  Joe was totally cool and wanted to stop everywhere and see everything, so while we were with him every day was like a holiday!

We started to see this rolling sagebrush that you see in those old westerns – and cactus everywhere.  The only thing on our mind was that if we could figure out which ones were the Peyote cactus we could make a fortune once we got to L.A.  We didn’t know what to look for though, so it turned out to be just one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

When we got to El Paso, Joe decided we should take a detour to Juarez so that we could experience Mexico.  I was willing to go any which way the wind blew and Mack – well he was just happy to be travelling West, far from the Florida shrimping and fishing boats where he had made his living for years.  We figured, “Why not???”  So off to Juarez we drove with Joe.

As we approached the Mexican border, total panic set in between me and Mack when we saw a huge check point full of Mexican Border Guards – because Joe had that big stash of weed and hash.  My mind immediately flashed to all the horrifying tales I had heard about dark Mexican dungeons where young American wrong-doers were held for years, probably only being fed rat droppings and possibly a moldy tortilla once every few weeks.  Joe, on the other hand, seemed blithely unconcerned as he cheerfully chatted with the searching officers – who by the way turned out to be very polite and friendly.  How, I have no idea, but although they searched Joe’s car from stem to stern they didn’t find any of his stuff and waved us through with a cordial “Adios!”.  Did he slip them a bribe?  Sure can’t ask him now!

Juarez was a tourist town.  The streets were overflowing with dangling multicolored serapes and hats, maracas and wooden instruments of various sorts and all kinds of carved souvenirs.  Everywhere you looked there was silver jewelry for sale, especially squash blossoms and other silver pieces made with turquoise.

To my eye though, it seemed a very incongruous juxtaposition of all these shiny tourist goods compared with the local Mexican people we saw in the street.  Everywhere you looked there were mothers with tiny, very thin, barefoot children begging for spare change.  It was very unsettling to see this against the backdrop of American tourists who were well dressed, laughing, smiling and totally oblivious to the poverty surrounding them there in Juarez.

So we wandered the streets of Juarez, took chances with our digestive systems by eating all kinds of strange looking fruits and fried things from street vendors and never got to go into those bars you always hear about where women do unspeakable things with animals.  Joe stayed away from those places out of some kind of misguided respect for me or something – but I am pretty sure both he and Mack would have preferred to find out first hand.  To tell you the truth, I was pretty curious myself but anyway, THAT never happened.

We stayed in Juarez all day and most of one night.  Then we turned and headed back toward Texas and wonders unknown.

As we travelled with our new companion, I guess you could say he did keep driving in the general direction of California but he wanted to stop everywhere along the way and sightsee.  Since we were just hitchhiking passengers getting free food along with the ride, we stuck with Joe and tried to enjoy the show.

I will skip over Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon and all the other sights we visited along the next several legs of our journey and get to the point of this story.  Joe now announced we should see Las Vegas.

Well alright! NOW HE WAS TALKING!!  I was really excited because I had always heard so much about Las Vegas:  the lights, the thrill, the shows, the gambling tables!  This was a huge thing for me, since I had never experienced anything like it.

We arrived there late at night.  O my God – what a sight!  The whole place was just ablaze with thousands of lights!!  Flashing, twirling, twisting, curling lights, dazzling lights that chased each other like snakes running all around signs.  It was as bright as any brilliant Florida day – to my 24 year old eyes – almost beyond description.

We drove around and drove around and bathed ourselves in the awe of all those legendary hotels that today I think have all been demolished.  But then – it was the famous Sands where Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack supposedly held court every night; the celebrated Dunes, the renowned Tropicana, the Circus-Circus, the Frontier, the Sahara, the Silver Slipper!!!!  Every Hollywood romance or gangster movie ever set in Las Vegas rushed through my mind.  Once again I saw visions of languid screen queens lounging in the pages of Photoplay, Silver Screen and other movie magazines.  They would hold court draped in Silver Fox while sitting in Las Vegas clubs or at gambling tables, long cigarette holders dangling from their bejeweled fingers, followed by armfuls of glittering gems in every shade and hue.

What a startling contrast WE were to those memories!!  Giant Mack in his raveling, faded jeans, old t-shirt and enormous red afro that looked so strange against his dark Cherokee features.  Me with my long, long crazy hair spraying out wildly in every direction and my little round John Lennon glasses – plus my short, short, home-made dress with these long, angel-wing sleeves I used to wear.

Joe, however wore more socially acceptable clothes, so he went and got us 2 hotel rooms and it was a whole new adventure again!

We quickly discovered that girls in Las Vegas barely needed money as long as they are gambling.  If you are a half-way decent looking girl – even a fat one in a strange looking home-made dress – gambling men will give you chips or cash just to roll the dice for them.  Then again, as long as you are gambling (or so it was back then) Casino Girls would constantly come around with free packs of cigarettes and free drinks.  Also you would get these vouchers for free meals – and since Joe had paid for our rooms, what more could we ask for?!!

We only stayed in Las Vegas that one night but something happened there that I think was the cause of a problem for Mack and me later on in our journey.  I will tell you about that in a future chapter.

All through our travels Joe had been hinting here and there that he and I (or maybe it was all three of us) should get to know each other better.  I wasn’t the slightest bit interested and I doubt that Mack even got the hint in the first place.  But that night I noticed Joe became really annoyed when Mack and I said goodnight and closed the door to our room, leaving Joe standing alone in the hallway.

Whatever it was, the next day all seemed to have been forgiven because we gambled a bit more, ate and drank a bit more and then at last, we set off in the direction of L.A.

I was so excited I could hardly wait – after all these months on the road we would finally get to the see L.A.  To Mack and me – Enlightenment Mecca!!

4 thoughts on “ON TO LAS VEGAS – BY WAY OF JUAREZ”

  1. You most certainly was an adventurer second to none. I do not know how you managed to be so confident..I was the opposite.


    1. lol A!!! 🙂 I’m not sure I would have been so confident to travel like that if I had not had my boyfriend with me. I do think though that in my youth I was pretty reckless in that I always acted first and thought later. Only now that I am old have I finally learned just a tiny shred of restraint!


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