My rides with Earl played out pretty quick, when he left A&M. My remaining option for getting home from time to time was hitchhiking. Amazingly, that worked really well, in those days. People had not yet learned that two out of three hitchhikers were serial killers. With my clean cut looks, (I'm not really sure what that is, but smarter people than I usually say it in a positive context, so I'll run with it. I think it meant I was wearing a flat top, which I did, until I lost most of my hair on top) and with a A&M bag in my hand, it was a snap. It was a four hour drive, and I could usually make it in five hours, even though it usually took a dozen or so rides to do it. I soon learned to stick to major roads, not try to go through Aly or somewhere like that, which gets about one or two cars a day. I sat on a roadside in downtown Aly one day, waiting for the next car, for nearly half a day.
I only felt uneasy with one ride. A semi-drunk guy picked me up one day in South Little Rock. He started hitting me up real quick for gas money, said his car was about empty. I saw his gauge was on full, he said the gauge was broken. I didn't offer any money, mostly because I didn't have any, but I also didn't like the way this was going. He stopped, right in the middle of the bridge right in front of the state fair grounds, said “Get out,” and I was happy to oblige.
I wanted to go out for basketball, as a walk on, but I couldn't do that and keep my job in the cafeteria, against the rules. I had to have that job, at $30 a month, to stay there. Track had no such rules, so I figured distance running was my best bet, because a person could not use a pine pole off the hen roost to pole vault with in college, and my technique, going over on the wrong side, did not lend itself to those limber fiber glass poles. I decided I was going to work really hard at it, but I was over-anxious. I started running so early in the winter, that I was about to reach my peak when the rest of the team was just beginning workouts. Those first few weeks of track workouts actually turned out to be my most glorious moments of my track career that year, 1962. Didn't make me popular with the real track guys, though. They kept griping at me to ease up, I was making them look bad. But Larry Lacewell and Red Parker, our track coaches, helped my ego along by bragging on me. But the coaches liked me less, and the other guys liked me more, as we approached the first meet and they were passing me up. I actually ran my best time, in the mile, a week before the first meet, around 4:40. It was all down hill from there.
I made a little discovery one day. Being truly warmed up makes all the difference. I was in a swimming class right before track practice one day, and being in that very warm water for an hour right before I ran made all the difference. All us distance runners, which included a top guy or two, had to run a timed quarter right after we got to the field. I won. One of the high points in my track career. I never beat those guys again, except in running to Monticello and back, 7 miles or so. But there was no 7 mile event on the track schedule.
Coach Parker stuck me in the two mile, in the first meet, at Louisiana Tech. I had never ran that before. I stuck with the pack for the first mile. Those skinny little boys leading the pack just amazed me, just running easily along, carrying on conversations like they were out for a stroll, joking and laughing, lap after lap. When we passed the mile mark, I was shocked to see it was only five seconds or so slower than my best mile time, so as you might have guessed, I was about done. I dropped off the pace quite a bit the second mile, and only finished ahead of one guy, but I was tickled later when I learned that he was one of the big hotshot runners last year in high school in Little Rock, a guy I had constantly read about in the paper. One of the guys I wanted to be like. A guy can always find a way to find something to be pleased about in his performance, if he looks hard enough.
High points for me during the season were on the rare occasion that I could get a third or forth, contribute a point or two. But there were several low points. We traveled in station wagons with the back seat in reverse, looking back over where we had just been. We were going from Monticello to Arkadelphia, for a meet at OBU. Just quite naturally, I was in the back seat. Years later, my children always called that road “Throw up” road, for good reason. I had to jump out of the car and throw up before I had ever ran a lick, then go run the mile. A big low point.
At Mississippi College, I was scheduled for the half mile, mile, and two mile. A big low point, right on the surface of that idea.
One high point comes to mind, though I was not involved at all. Larry Lacewell was up in front of all of us, about to give a big pep speech. A hurdler, Blackburn I believe it was, stepped up right behind him, reached around, and kissed him on the lips. You wouldn't believe how red a man on the way to becoming a coaching legend can get....