Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The All Night Movie Story

                                                     The All Night Movie Story
                                      How I was almost arrested in Columbus Georgia
                                       Written 6/2011, rewritten 07/02/2015 unedited
                                                              Howard Yasgar

        1962 I received notice that I needed to attend my two weeks summer training with the Army Reserves.
       The training was to be at Fort Benning, which is located just outside of the city of Columbus Georgia.
       At the time, I was living in Westville Connecticut so going to Georgia seemed like it was pretty far away, also I had always heard terrible stories about there being a lot of what we called “Red necks,” people that lived in Georgia, that were still fighting the civil war. I also had heard that anyone coming from the more northern part of the United States had better be on guard when going there.
       But all that talk really didn’t concern me too much, as I had never had any personal experience dealing with any real red necks. But all that was all about to change in the summer of 1962.
      When I had signed up with the Army Reserves in New Haven, I was supposed to be a heavy tanker truck driver. It sounded like a pretty good thing to me, driving a big truck and all. But that was before I realized that I was going to be driving a tanker truck with gasoline in it, I felt that during wartime, it would be like driving a big bomb. So when I joined up, I was glad our country was not in a war.  
      In the summer of 1962 I was due to do my two weeks of active duty so I waited for the
Army to send me what was called “Marching papers,” they were the orders telling you where you where you were being sent for two weeks training, those orders also included travel vouchers and everything else you needed to get wherever they were sending you.
      Because I was a truck driver, my training every year was usually with some Army unit that had some kind of heavy military vehicles, so when I read my orders, I was surprised to see I was being attached to the 374th dump truck company, it was a military unit out of some small town in Mississippi, and I was to meet up with them at “Tent City” in Fort Benning Georgia.
      Fort Benning, I had heard, was a large Army base located next to a small town called Columbus Georgia.
      My being attached as a driver to a dump truck Army unit seemed to be fairly normal, even though I had never even driven a military dump truck in my life.
      I double checked my orders and it clearly said the 374th, was a dump truck unit.
      I arrived at Fort Benning Georgia, by bus, carrying my duffle bag over my shoulder, looking just like a real soldier.
      As soon as the bus dropped me off, I headed right to their administration and information building, where they checked my papers over, and instructed to sit outside on a bench and wait for another military bus to take me to what they called “Tent City”. They confirmed that’s where I could find the 374 Dump Truck Company, the unit that I had been attached to.
      As I sat waiting on the bus bench, another soldier came and sat next to me. He was a somewhat fragile looking guy with blond hair, his skin looked too white, like he could have used a little more outdoor sunlight.
      As we got to talking, I found that he was a real nice fellow from Michigan, and he said he was assigned to the same 374th dump truck unit that I was.
      Eventually a military bus came, and we both boarded it, telling the driver to let us off at “Tent City”, which he acknowledged that he would do. Eventually the bus stopped next to what looked like a homemade sign had been put up, and it was pointing to a path leading into a pine forest. So the both of us, carrying our duffle bags on our shoulders walked down the wooded path, and into the heavy Georgia pine forest.
      As we walked, I asked the fellow if he had ever stayed at “Tent City” before, and he said no, he said that he had never even been to Georgia before, and he was very apprehensive about it. It appears he had heard in Michigan, the same rumors that I had heard in Connecticut about Georgia red necks.
      We entered into a wide open clearing in the woods, where there appeared to be a lot of activity going on. We could see there was a table set up, with three black fellows sitting behind it, so we walked up, and one of the fellows pointed to some papers and pens laying on the table, it looked like a roster of some kind, so we both signed it.
      As we were signing, I could see to the right, there was a dirt road going up a hill with two rows of really big army tents set up on both sides. The tents looked enormous, they were so big that I thought at least thirty guys could easily sleep in each one. I also could see that there were a lot of soldiers just hanging around in front of each tent and I could see that they were all black guys.
      We were next directed to a supply trailer parked to on our right. I could see that it was loaded with what looked like military bedding, and in front there was another table set up, where there was another black Staff Sergeant sitting, he quickly looked over our papers and said we were in tent fourteen. Then he instructed another black guy who was already inside the trailer to get our bedding.
      They laid our bedding on the table, the Staff Sergeant pointed to the bedding and then to the dirt road up to the tents, so we started to walk up the hill toward where we thought tent fourteen was located.  
      As we walked, the blond fellow from Michigan, poked my side, and leaned into me, he said very quietly, I think you and I are the only white guys here, and I think he was right, we were, the only white guys there, and it certainly was strange, situation, to say the least.
      I wasn’t particularly concerned about it, because I was from New Haven, Connecticut, and the only black guy I knew was the class clown in my high school class, and he was my friend.
      However I did know that in the South civil rights was a big issue, but I rationalized that none of that stuff had anything to do with me, I was from Connecticut.
     As we walked along, the more I thought about it, and every step, the more concerned I became, soon it looked like everyone there was staring at us, so I knew exactly what the guy from Michigan was concerned about.
     Before we got to tent number fourteen, all I could think of was that the last thing I needed was to be in the middle of some kind of race war in Georgia. I was becoming paranoid, all I could see, was that every tent we passed had bunches of black guys, all hanging around in front just watching us.
       At that moment I spotted a white army officer, he was a Captain, and he was walking down the hill towards us. As he approached we saluted him and he reached out to shake our hands. “Welcome to the 374th Dump Truck Company he said.”
     He was the Company Commander, and he told us, that the tent for all of us temporary duty guys and reservists was number fourteen. I was sure he knew that we were concerned regarding the race issue, probably just as much as he and all his guys were.
       Tent Number fourteen eventually ended up with about a dozen guys, all coming in from around the U.S., and all of them turned out to be white Army Reservists, just like us.
       After we got situated, and set up our beds, we saw there was a mess tent, attached to a mobile kitchen, it was set up a short distance from where the tents were. The big mess tent had open sides and a dozen long picnic style tables set up for us to eat on.
       Late in the afternoon, we walked down to the mess tent. I wasn’t particularly concerned about where I was going to sit, but I saw that most of the white guys were sitting together, and so where all the black guys. Other than that everything looked pretty normal, the picnic style tables had napkins and salt and pepper shakers on them. The only thing different was that each table had a giant bottle of red Louisiana hot sauce on it. I had never seen hot sauce before in the Army.
      That first evening, as I stood in line with my mess tray, standing in front of me was this big huge black guy that must have weighed over three hundred pounds. As we stood there, he turned around and looked at me, he studied me up and down with a big menacing grin on his face. All of a sudden everyone in the mess tent got real quiet.
      I had my name tag sewn on my uniform and I saw his eyes reading it. He said loudly, “Hey Yasgar, how much cotton can you chop?”  
      I didn’t know if the guy was serious or what, so I smiled and told him jokingly, I’m from Connecticut I said, and I ain’t never chopped no cotton, nor have I ever even seen any cotton in my whole life.
      “You ain’t never seen no cotton” he replied, in a shrill high pitched voice, and that’s when the whole mess area broke out laughing, including the cooks in the kitchen.
      It had broken the ice, I knew this guy was just having fun at my expense but it was really funny, he said, “Where I came from in Mississippi, everyone picks cotton, I do seventy pounds.”   
      That night the supper was fried chicken, and it was the best fried chicken I had ever eaten, it was also the first time I had ever used Louisiana hot sauce.
      After everyone had eaten, the head chef, who was another big three hundred pound black guy, came over to our table with a tray of extra fried chicken and asked did anyone want a second helping, it started to appear that everyone in that 374th dump truck company, was trying to be as hospitable and friendly as they could to us northern white boys.
      What I found strange was that over the next few days, we had fried chicken every night, and I started to wonder where all hell all the chicken came from. I knew that the army usually had something different for every meal, so I asked the cook, and I found out that they had swapped all our steaks with other units to get more chicken. I think, if they could, these guys would have eaten fried chicken every night.
     In the evenings, all the black guys would gather in one of the tents, and shoot craps, so I went into the tent to see what was going on, but the heat was horrible, it was way over 100 degrees and the stink of everyone sweating made it impossible stay there, but for some reason the heat and the sweating didn’t seem to bother the guys that were gambling, but I couldn’t stay.
      As I left the gambling tent, I noticed that most of the white guys had already disappeared, and I learned that they all had left for the bars in Columbus Georgia.
      I asked around and everyone said that if you walked out of the pine forest, you could catch a taxi cab that would take you to Columbus.
      So, the first evening that I was free, I decided to see what the town of Columbus, Georgia was all about, so I took a cab to the main street which looked like the town’s only place that had any activity.
      As I got out of the cab, there were lots of bright lights and all I could see were rows of taverns and drinking joints that were all within walking distance of each other.
      It looked pretty good, and I thought that some of the bars might actually have some live entertainment, so I entered the closest one.
      The first flashy bar I went in to was bright outside but looked pretty dark inside, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see the place was absolutely empty, so I sat at the bar and ordered a beer.
      I drank my beer, and as nothing was going on, I got up and walked out onto the street, and walked to the next bar, which was also another dark and dingy joint, so I again sat at the bar and ordered a beer.
      I felt kind of conspicuous sitting there in the dark alone, then, all of a sudden, a very gaunt looking girl who  appeared to be about thirty years old, came up and sat down next to me, she asked if I would buy her a beer, which I did.
      I turned to look at her. She was extremely homely and very bony in appearance, she had several of her front teeth missing, and her chin sort of jutted out like the mountain people from the Ozarks.
      After we made a little small talk, like her asking me where I was from, she said she said she was a prostitute, just trying her luck in the big city. She told me that she usually worked in taverns on the rural highways in Georgia, where there were lots of truck drivers hauling hogs. After listening to her story, I was happy to pay for her beer, and get out of the place.
      So now here I was looking for something to do in Columbus Georgia.
      I saw that across the street there were the bright lights of a movie theater.  It was about two blocks down the street and to my right, and as I got closer, I could see a big bright marquee that said “All Night Movie”, seventy five cents, starts at twelve PM sharp.
      I looked at the billboards, and I realized that I had already seen the movie they were showing, however, the two movies that were coming on for the “All Night Show,” I had never seen before.
     My watch said it was just ten thirty in the evening, so I realized that I would have to sit in the theater for an hour and a half, watching the end of the movie that I had already seen, in order to wait for the “All Night Movie” to begin.
      Well as I had nothing better to do, I crossed the street, went to the ticket booth, and told the girl I wanted a ticket for the all night movie.
     She charged me seventy five cents, and I got the ticket, so I walked into the almost empty theater lobby, gave my ticket to the usher, received my stub, and then I proceeded up the red carpeted lobby until I saw stairs leading to the balcony, and I walked upstairs.
      When I got to the balcony, there were perhaps six other people sitting there, so I sat down to wait for the all night movie to start.
      At exactly twelve PM, the lights came on and everyone got up and left the theater. I stayed seated waiting for the all night movie to start. I sat there a long time and eventually an usher came up to me and said I would have to leave. I simply told him that I had just bought a ticket for the all night movie, but the usher became insistent that I leave. Pretty soon, I became irritated with him, and I told him to get lost.  
       I sat there for a few more minutes and when the theaters interior lights didn’t go off, I realized that something was very wrong, so I got up, and walked out of the balcony seating area, to where I could look down into the lower lobby. That’s when I saw two big fat Columbus Georgia cops talking to the usher. I also saw another fellow with them who appeared to be the theater manager, and they were all talking to the ticket girl, who didn’t appear to be the same one that I had gotten my ticket from.
     The two cops looked up and saw me, and they came up the stairs to the balcony. I didn’t exactly know what to do, so I told them the story about my buying the all night movie, and showed them my ticket stub.
     They both grabbed me by the arms and forcefully dragged me down the carpeted stairs to the lobby. They were big guys and carried me down with my feet dragging and bouncing on the carpeted stairs.
     The two cops had such heavy southern Georgia accents, that I could hardly understand them, but I could see they were both very agitated, and I began to be afraid of what they would do to me. I listened very carefully as one cop said to the other, “We can arrest him for vagrancy”. I understood that, so I took out my wallet and showed them that I had three hundred dollars, I was no vagrant.
      All I could think of was all of the bad stories I had heard about Georgia cops beating up and sometimes killing people who came from the North, especially, guys that they considered troublemaker.
     Now as they held me, I could see the cops were getting very agitated. I knew for sure that they were going to arrest me, or worse.
      As I saw one of the officers reaching for his handcuffs, I said, loudly. It’s easy to see why the whole world knows about you guys and everyone looks down on you small town hick red necks. That’s when everything suddenly got real quiet, and I knew I was in for big trouble, so I braced myself for the worst.
     Just then, while we were standing there in the theater lobby, I looked out the front glass theater doors and I saw a Military Police Jeep pull up in front of the theater.
     There were two soldiers in the Jeep, One was a tall lanky guy who was driving, and both fellows had “MP” armbands on.
     They came right in the theater twirling their night sticks, and asked what was going on?
     At the time, I didn’t realize it, but someone walking by the theater, had called Fort Benning Military Police, and told them there was a problem at the theater, with a soldier.
      I could see these two big fat Columbus cops were not happy with the MP’s pushy intervention, but I proceeded to tell the two MP’s about my buying the ticket to the all night movie.
      I could immediately tell the tall lanky MP had already sized up the situation and knew what was going on. I also detected he had a slight New York Brooklyn accent. He looked at the two big Georgia cops, and said, “Because this guy is a soldier from Fort Benning, we will handle the situation. He said, “We can lock him up on base for a few days and that will teach him a lesson.” As the tall MP said this, he motioned to his partner who grabbed me forcefully by my arm and pulled me away from the two cops and ushered me out the theaters doors, and into the back seat of the Jeep.
      That tall lanky MP acted so fast by yanking me out of there, that the two Columbus Cops, didn’t have time to react. They just stood there with their mouths open, but I could see they were not happy.
     Then the tall lanky MP, then came out of the theater and got in the drivers seat, started the jeep and we drove off towards the front gate of Fort Benning, leaving the cops and everyone standing in the theater lobby.
      I really thought they were going to take me to the jail, like they had said, but instead, the Jeep headed into the Georgia pine woods towards where my unit was in tent city.
      When we were about a hundred yards into the pine forest, the driver stopped the Jeep and said, “Get out here, and don’t you go ever back into the town of Columbus” he said, those two cops won’t fool around with you next time, they would like nothing better than to beat your New England ass.  
      I shook his hand and said thank you, then I walked the rest of the way back to tent city.
      I never went back to the town of Columbus Georgia again, and I never found out what the hell the all night movie was all about.


No comments:

Post a Comment