“Happy Fuck Mississippi Day!” was the text that Ed sent to Tony, Scott, and myself today. I breathed a big sigh. It’s been so long, but what a time…
As I get older, I am less prone to speak ill of a whole community. There are nice people there, but I am scarred, and it’s a state I never hope to set foot in again.
“Happy Fuck Mississippi Day, indeed!” was my response.

1999. My friend’s band, NAR, was planning a US tour and their bass player couldn’t go. I loved that band and was stoked to be asked to join them for the tour. I was working in a mailroom, not making much money at my first job out of college, but it was a great low-stress environment. I told the boss I needed a couple weeks off, but I knew I didn’t have enough vacation time and that I would understand if I didn’t have a job when I got back. She told me to just go and it would get worked out, somehow.

 

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Our friend Tony offered to drive but his current ride was no good, he wanted a new van. The day before we left he bought a new Ford van from a dealership that had previously been a rental. Down to the wire before the trip, but he got a deal.
Our first show was in Portland. Easy. I sold a band tee shirt to a nice guy named Alex from another band on that show. It was nice to be out on tour, away from work, playing music with friends, and interacting with locals. We went up to Bellingham, WA, had a blast, drove way east. We spent the night at a campground, out in the middle of nowhere in Idaho, just west of Coeur D’Alene. Absolutely beautiful, but it had a strange white supremacist vibe.

Driving through Montana, we stopped at a junk shop and bought some bitchin’ reflective Ford stickers for the new van. We were on our way to Missoula to play at the legendary Jay’s Upstairs. We were playing with our friends’ band, Sasshole, so we drove straight to their house. The three girls were on the couch, under a blanket, watching bad TV and nursing a hangover. That afternoon we went swimming in the river nearby with the most breathtaking views of the mountains, got back, BBQed, got to the show, loaded in, played, and then shenanigans ensued until late in the night. I remember hanging out in their living room in the wee hours. One of them asked us to put a record on. Scott was frantically flipping through the records like he knew what he wanted to play. I asked, and he said, “Willie Nelson’s Stardust. Everyone has a thrift store copy and loves it.” Sure enough, he was right, and all the punk kids were blissed out. I slept in the basement, Tony on top of the van, Scott somewhere, Ed on the living room couch. We rallied the next morning and moved on. I have a feeling the girls from Sasshole ended up in the same spot we found them the previous day.

 

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Meanwhile, we stopped in Butte –such a great little city. I was hungover, getting stares from the locals as I tried to find nail polish remover to wash off my bright green fingernail polish. I had vague memories of a white feather boa and getting the nickname of Electric Cowboy. I’m glad I don’t remember the details.

On to Rapid City, SD. Indian Reservation. Strange show, but good experience. After that show Tony drove for ten hours straight to La Crosse, WI. We had a day off and enjoyed the hell out of that town. On our way down to Chicago, Tony realized that a cooler he could power with the cigarette lighter was way more efficient than constantly maintaining ice, so he bought one. At a cheese store in Wisconsin, we stocked up on some tasty local varieties. Once we hit Chicago, Ed opened the cooler and discovered a bad thing – hot cheese. Tony accidentally had the cooler set on heating instead of cooling. We never opened the cooler again. The warm cheese stayed there for the rest of the trip. Nasty.

We had a great time and stayed with the nicest people in Chicago – another fun show. The next day had us in Bloomington Indiana. We bought some more tee shirts and silk screened them with the screen and ink we brought with us. Next, we played a show in Terra Haute (rhymes with “float,” we learned). Good times.

 

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Up to Michigan – another great show, then down to stay at my parents’ house in Ohio. Always nice to see them, but a weird culture clash with my friends from a west coast band there. Ed and Scott were pointing and making fun of a high school photo of me framed on the wall, complete with feathered hair and a turtleneck. Fair enough. My brother gave us a small brown bud as a gift. I didn’t smoke much weed and I knew that it didn’t compare in quality with what California had to offer, but a nice gesture nonetheless. I walked down to the local thrift store and somehow found a copy of a really great Only Ones record. Small town in Ohio. Very strange, but it seemed to sum up the whole experience for me, somehow.

We were back on the road, heading south. By this point we had established routines. Tony drove all the time, like a happy machine. Ed was often in the passenger seat and the music director. We only had a few cassettes. Oasis, What’s the Story Morning Glory, the first Paul Collins Beat record, and a cassingle of the new Supergrass song, Pumping On Your Stereo. They got a lot of play and we never got sick of them. In between, we would test out local radio stations of most genres. The Smash Mouth hit, All Star, got really old, really fast, and it played all of the time, that and some stupid country song about a barbeque stain on a white tee shirt. We analyzed the lyrics and hated it more.

 

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Whenever we bought beer, we tried to keep it local and tried things we’ve never seen or heard of. Good and bad experiences. The first thing that happened every time when we started out the day, was Ed would blast the Supergrass song, and we’d all scream along. By late in the afternoon, since Tony was an excellent sober driver, Scott, Ed, and I would end up pouring a can of local beer into a coffee cup and enjoy Paul Collins. We even learned one of those songs as a cover in the back seat and did it at a few shows, that and an old Kinks song. Can’t deny the genius of the Kinks.

We stopped in Chattanooga and spent the afternoon with our friend Vann, we played a couple of other shows, but by this point, though all of the experiences were great, they just kind of started to bleed together. I remember playing a fun show at a punk house (maybe Chattanooga?). I spent the night sleeping on the living room floor, woke up to bad smells and looked across the nasty carpet my head was next to. Punks were jumping up and down on that floor the previous night. This morning a thoroughly crushed empty packet of fast food ketchup was right next to my head. Crusty. The romantic nature of being on tour with a band was waning a bit.

 

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A few days later we were driving through rural Mississippi heading to New Orleans. We had a couple days off with our next show not happening until we got to Denver. Hanging out with a friend for a couple of days in New Orleans was just the therapy we were all looking forward to. We called him and told him we were about an hour away and would see him soon. We gassed up and hit the road. Tony had cruise control set just under the speed limit. A cop car started trailing us, exited on an off-ramp, then swooped back down on us with lights flashing.

We were confused. The van was registered, Tony was driving safely under the speed limit, everything on the van looked legit and worked. The cop asked Tony to step out of the van. Tony politely asked why he was being pulled over. The cop just barked, “Get out of the van.” The next series of events are hard to remember. Another cop was on the other side of the van and the questions got weird, “Y’all have any firearms?” “No.” “Drugs?” “No.”
They found the envelope laying in the front that had the band money in it. They thought they hit the jackpot – $120 cash. We continued to be confused. How was $120 a boon? It wasn’t even going to cover gas. Of course they asked, “so what y’all doing?” We explained that we were in a band, on a US tour and that was show money.
“It says here this van’s a rental. Now how y’all afford to rent a new van with your band money?” Tony tried explaining that it was a recent legitimate purchase but the cop didn’t seem to understand basic logic.

Somehow they got it in their heads that we were running drugs and this was drug money, and that we were lying about touring. In the course of the next several hours, more cop cars and cops were there. They tore the van apart. They were giddy when they found a tiny amount of pot in Tony, Ed, and Scott’s bags. They slapped handcuffs on them and shoved them in a cop car as they continued searching. Soon they went over to the car and asked whose cassettes were in the cassette case. “Everybody’s” was the response. That meant the little tiny brown bud from my brother got me handcuffed and crammed into the car.
Drug sniffing dogs. Many. Different cars with dogs. We were the local big deal, I guess. And besides having a minuscule amount of recreational pot, we hadn’t broken any laws.

I was handcuffed and watching a cop pull my hollow body guitar out of its case. He laid the guitar down and patted the inside of the case to make sure no one had sewn in drugs in the padding. I was shaking my head – if I had the intention of smuggling drugs, I would have put them inside the f-holes of the guitar, not sewn them into the padding of the case, but he never checked that. They didn’t seem like the sharpest cops.

Five of us were crammed in the backseat of a normal cop car, handcuffed behind our backs. After several miles, squirming was inevitable. One of the cops yelled in a pissed off tone, “Stop kicking the back of my seat.”
We showed up at the station. Never been more scared in my life. We heard yelling from the jail cells, “Bring us the white meat.” They chained us all to a bench next to a bonafide redneck being booked. He asked us what we were being brought in for, we said “pot.” We asked what he was doing there and he launched into a story about how “his girl” and he broke up, and he had to leave her place. Started talking about how she hooked up with this guy that “didn’t have a pot to piss in,” and so he broke into her place and was looking through her stuff when she came home. They got into an argument and he threw a book at her, cutting her face. The more he talked, the less we liked and respected him. She broke up with him, he didn’t have a place to live, or a job, but her new boyfriend didn’t have a pot to piss in? Plus, breaking and entering combined with assault? Not a good dude. We were getting more worried about being in that cell. We were all quiet, nervous, and fidgety, not knowing what the future held. The Buddy Holly biopic with Gary Busey was on the TV, and it was a welcome distraction where we could find it.

The guys working in the office didn’t seem much more intellectually sound than the cops who arrested us. I starred at the crusty coffee pot on a table as a cockroach scurried up the wall. They brought each of us into the bathroom for cavity searches, again, convinced we had drugs. Dingy room, bare light bulb, I bent over bracing myself on the broken sink as the Southern accent said, “Bend over, spread yer cheeks.”

The main arrogant, smug, cop came in to the booking room and continued drilling us with questions about how it didn’t make sense that we could afford to rent a van (not true) but only make a small amount of cash at shows, if we were a band on tour. Frustrated, Scott said, “That’s just the way punk houses work.” The cop looked super aggravated, slammed his fist on the desk, said, “Well, I guess y’all better learn how to play country music!” then walked out in a huff.
Then we all had to have the office admin staffer fill out information on the forms. Not much personal information was gathered, but it still seemed to take about twenty minutes for each of us, for things that most people could gather in about five. “Where ya born?” Toledo, Ohio – he spelled it Toleta, on the report.

I still can’t recall how this happened but they asked if we wanted a bail bondsman. He explained how it worked. “Not that I think anyone would take yer case, though” was how he ended the explanation. One person was called, and he came, put up our bail, saved our asses, and kept us from going into the cell.

He took us to an ATM. My share pretty much drained my account, but I was so happy to be heading to get our van. We got to the impound yard, and the bondsman told us to stay in the car, he’d handle it. Soon we were reunited with our van and the huge mess inside that the cops and dogs left for us. Everything turned upside down. Open suitcases, clothes everywhere, mixed with misc. beer cans, all combined with our band equipment. The person from the impound yard told the bondsman that he had to convince the cops not to remove the tires from the rims. The cop was sure that’s where we supposedly hid the stash he was convinced we had, but couldn’t find.

Shell-shocked, we made it to New Orleans. It was so great to be out of that state and with a friend. He said he was worried. The hour that we said it would take to get there took seven. He took us to the French Quarter, where we proceeded to indulge in more drinks than we normally would have. Late that night we were all drunk as could be, leaning against a wall watching passersby. I saw some younger guy that just didn’t have a look like the others. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but he just looked more West Coast. I mumbled something to him, he stopped, looked long and hard at us, and said, “Nar?

 

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It turned out to be Alex, the guy I sold a tee shirt to at our first show in Portland. He had a great time at that show and when he got back to San Diego, where he’s from, he was hanging out with some friends and they all agreed to go to New Orleans, by bus, that night. They all flaked, but he decided to go solo. It was nearing the end of his week long journey and he’d just been by himself, getting bored and thinking about heading back home. So, obviously, we told him we’d take him back to Sacramento. He decided to come with us, but opted to take a bus from Denver to San Diego. All seemed good. We needed a new traveling companion and a distraction from what just happened. The next morning we got gas as I threw up in the gas station garbage can, and we started heading west. Long and slow. We spent the night in Texas, got up the next morning and drove the whole day, then some. When we went to sleep that night, we were still in Texas. Big and boring, but increasingly looked more like the West and Mexican food increased in quality. It was all going to be okay.

We had many discussions about how we were going to have to go back to Mississippi in a few weeks for a court date. That so disappointed us. We never wanted to go back, and for what? An eighth of an ounce of pot? Ugh…
Alex turned out to be a great traveling companion and friend. Very cordial, smart, and had great taste in music. We discussed the finer points of the Byrds and he told us what the good Dwight Twilly records were to get and which ones to avoid. Conversations that passed a few Texas miles.

Denver was an oasis for me. I had a couple of good friends there and it was comforting to be with them. My friend Kurt still mentions how freaked out and stunned we all seemed when we showed up. Our last show was a good send off. We played at the Lion’s Lair, a good feeling small bar/club with great people. Late into the night, after our show, I asked the bartender for water. She set down and beer and walked away, saying, “We don’t serve water.”

We were all itching to get back, including the driving machine, Tony. After the show, we left, and headed straight to Sacramento. Scott and Ed slept in the back, I rode shotgun for the first time. I thought it would be helpful to keep Tony awake. We were blasting across Nevada at a guzzillion miles an hour with no other vehicles around. An owl hit the windshield on the passenger side, cracked the glass, and kept us awake for the next while. Poor owl.

We stopped to get gas and snacks. I was hungry and looking at the seventy cents I had to my name, just dumbfounded. Tony bought me some snacks. At the end of a seventeen hour drive, we made it back to Sacramento.
A few days later, Ed got to thinking and called the Poplarville, Mississippi police department with a logical question; If we planned to plead guilty, since we were from out of state, and would have to take time off work, pay for flights, rent a car, and hotel room, could we just plead guilty over the phone, avoid court, and pay our fine? The receptionist who answered looked up the charges and asked Ed what exactly happened. He ran through the basics. She said little of what he said was on the report and since he wanted to plead guilty, there would be no sense in lying, making up any aspects of the story. She said she’d look into things and asked if Ed could call back the next day.

Ed called back the next day. The receptionist told Ed that officially we didn’t have to appear in court, that the charges were dropped. Unofficially, she said those cops had previous problems with the force and an investigation was underway. They never told us why they pulled us over, which is against the law, the report lied about the amount of cops and dogs that were there, they never asked us if it was okay to have the dogs search the van, and on and on. She then told Ed to call her back in a week.

Ed called. Both cops were fired. The relief and vindication felt wonderful. December of 1999, we sent a Christmas card to that receptionist. In close to two decades, none of us have set foot in Mississippi. Ed is now a historian and has a knack for dates, including this one. Happy Fuck Mississippi Day!