Dennis and I walked through the South Side of Chicago on our mission to reach an interstate highway where we could hitchhike to San Francisco. But we didn’t make it very far.
We probably couldn’t have picked a more conspicuous place to be walking along the street during a school day. And we probably couldn’t have picked a worse year to be walking through Chicago, not long after the Democratic National Convention, when the Chicago “fuzz” let fly indiscriminately on hippies, yippies, journalists like Dan Rather (while within the convention hall), and even a female British MP from the Labor Party who was visiting.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not a foe of the folks in uniform who protect us from crime. I have been the beneficiary of their actions a few times. But in the fall of 1968, everyone’s emotions were inflamed after the overheated actions of the Chicago police and the widespread condemnation they received.
We were in the territory of Mayor Richard J. Daley.
So we had gotten rid of all of our ID. But as we walked along, a cop car pulled up next to us, two cops got out, and they asked us why we weren’t in school. We said we were 18 and traveling across the country. Well, maybe Dennis could have passed as 18, but I have always looked younger than my age, and I had only recently turned 16.
They asked for our parents’ phone numbers so that they could check on our story. Dennis gave his real phone number, knowing that his mother was at work and no one would answer. I gave a number that I knew no one would answer.
They kept us waiting for a while as they radioed to associates who could make the calls. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that after a while, they determined we were runaways.
A paddy wagon came to pick us up and take us to a juvenile detention center.
Once we arrived at the juvenile place, Dennis and I were separated into the boys’ and girls’ facilities. I had to change out of my clothes into a institutional smock. I went into a big room where around twenty other girls were sitting around a table. There were certain periods when we were allowed to talk to each other and certain periods when we were not. I managed to strike up a conversation with another girl in which I discoursed (pompously, I’m sure) about my ideas of “freedom,” “imagination,” and so on. We hit it off, which made the long hours go by faster. A meal was served that reminded me of the school lunch program—meatloaf, I think.
In the meantime, the wheels had been turning. Dennis’s mom and my parents had wired money for us to be flown back to Washington, DC. Late that evening, we were ushered into another paddy wagon and taken to O’Hare airport. We got on the plane. The stewardesses had been informed that we were runaways and that they should keep a close eye on us.
When we arrived at what was then called National Airport, the stewardesses kept us waiting while everyone else deboarded. We then walked down the big metal steps onto the tarmac, where our parents were waiting.
(To be continued)