It was a fall Friday night like many during my teenage years, with a football game unfolding at Richards Memorial Field in Hillsboro. I had no plans after the game that evening and was looking for something to do, so I when got back to my car and found a note on my windshield telling me to meet someone at the old roadside rest along U.S. Route 62 just north of Hillsboro, I was more than happy to oblige.
The note was not signed, and I had no idea who had left it. But solving the mystery seemed a lot more interesting than heading home, which I probably wouldn’t have done immediately anyway, so I pointed my little Pinto toward the roadside rest.
Had I known what was about to happen, I might have pointed my car in a different direction. But if I had, I would have missed one of the most bizarre episodes I’ve ever watched unfold. It was so bizarre, in fact, that I probably wouldn’t have believed it happened if I hadn’t been there.
Now, it might seem risky meeting a mystery person at a roadside rest. But kids those days communicated anyway they could, so I was certain a bored friend or two left the note. And, it was not unusual to meet just about anywhere. Sometimes we’d sit atop Pea Ridge Road, looking out over Hillsboro and socializing with another carload of kids for long periods at a time. Once, word of a gathering on Selph Road made its rounds amongst the cruisers in uptown Hillsboro. When I arrived on the scene there must have been cars lined up on both sides of the road for like 100 yards. I did not stay real long, but for a while it was quite a sight.
You could do things like that those days. And we did. Regularly. Maybe that was a good thing, maybe it wasn’t. But it sure was a different time.
Once I was parked on the side of a bridge on Clearcreek Road with a female acquaintance when I was surprised by flashing lights behind me. It turned out to be a deputy sheriff. He walked up to my car, asked what we were doing, then after a bit of a lecture said, “Now, don’t you think you could find a safer place, with a lot less traffic, where people like me wouldn’t be bothering you, for you and your friend to visit?”
Yes sir, I said, and he sent us our way.
But this particular Friday night was a little different.
When I arrived at the roadside rest several people were already there. They had found notes on their vehicles, too. After determining who left the notes, we started visiting.
Some people were chatting from inside their cars, others were conversing outside, and four or five of us were gathered between my car and a van, conversing among ourselves and the people in the van. All of a sudden two guys appeared out of nowhere. They showed us law enforcement badges, then told us to turn on our interior lights and show them some ID.
What the crap is up, and where the heck did these guys come from, I wondered as I nervously fumbled for my driver’s license.
Then it happened. As one of our buddies was reaching for his billfold to grab his ID, quicker than you can say your name a gun was pointed directly in his face. Yep, without any explanation, or any apparent reason, one the guys with the badges suddenly whipped out a gun and pointed it in a kid’s face, when the kid was only doing what the badge guy told him to do.
The scene was so mystifying, and my adrenaline was pumping so hard over the next few seconds, that I don’t remember exactly what happened next. But after putting the gun away, checking our vehicles and asking a few more questions, the officers sent us on our way.
One of our buddies that was at the scene had an apartment not too far away and some of us met up there. I think we were all still in shock as we sat around and asked each other what the heck had just happened.
A few days later the guy with the apartment told us that a couple cops had showed up at his door a couple days after the roadside rest incident. He said he had a couple traffic tickets and that the cops told him that if he would tell them what happened at the roadside rest that night, they’d tear up the traffic tickets. He told them, and they tore up the tickets.
Yep, things were a little different back then.
Some of the details are sketchy 35-plus years later, but I believe a couple officers quietly lost their jobs not long thereafter.
All we could ever figure was that the officers, if that’s what they were because we never saw their vehicle, must have seen the notes being placed on our vehicles at the school. And they must have thought they were going to find something going on at the roadside rest other than a few teenagers socializing.
I never could quite get a handle on what all happened that night. And I never could figure why in the world an officer would point a gun in a teenager’s face with three of four others of us within an arm’s reach. But I can tell you I’ve never forgotten it.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.