Ever do a mixer where you write down some obscure personal fact and guests puzzle over which fact matches which person? I always win the “not-being-guessed” prize. My claim? “Spent night in Glasgow jail.”
This story will elicit nothing more than a yawn for a significant portion of the population. One night in jail? Big deal. This however was not a line item I was hoping to add to my resume.
There were of course a couple run-ins with the police along the way. The field fire in the spring of ’68 didn’t look good, seeing that we had a magnifying lens for burning leaves. But I’m telling the truth, we were nowhere near where that fire started. It was some hoodlums from down the hill. Oh, yes, can’t forget October of my senior year in high school. Some of the pellets from one of our shotguns strayed into a private yard when we were pheasant hunting in suburbia. Wow, that cop was mean. (I really didn’t think I’d get my shotgun back.) Won’t happen again, promise.
So, Glasgow. I was coming to the end of a two-month backpack around Europe. The prior week had been glorious, - training, hiking and hitching ‘round the west coast of Scotland with emphasis on the Isles of Mull and Iona. After coming south from the town of Oban, I was hoping to catch an overnight train to London, then cross the Channel with the final destination being Schiphol, Amsterdam’s airport. Unfortunately by the time I made it to Glasgow it was Saturday evening, banks were closed and I had no pound sterling for food or fare. Someone at Central Station told me that a casino down the street would cash a traveler’s check for a price. I was hungry and it sounded like this plan would work.
Given all my backcountry travels I was no rose and my monstrous, red, REI backpack was nastier than I was. I decided to leave it outside the door of the casino while I entered with checks, passport and plane ticket all in a passport purse that hung round my neck. The casinoites were great. Got my cash and headed out the door. Oh, no. My heart sunk down to my boots – no backpack. This is Europe! In Switzerland you could leave your camera in the middle of the road and come back a week later. It would still be there. News flash. This is Glasgow, Scotland, post-industrial home of crime-ridden tenements. I was not in Switzerland anymore.
Anyway, I took off running, hoping to catch sight of the red behemoth and quickly encountered a police car. I waved them down, blurting out my story. They told me to hop in and we sped up and down back alleys around the casino even doing a sliding turn at one point. It was all very exciting, but no backpack and it was getting dark. The London train was gone, I certainly didn’t want to be on the street, I knew of no local hostels (my guidebook was in the backpack) and I couldn’t afford a downtown, urban hotel. I’d heard once or twice from fellow travelers that the police might put you up for a night in jail if you were in a sorry way, I was, so I did the ask.
The street cops thought it was a good idea, but when we got to the station their superior wasn’t so convinced. In the end he must have decided that the stupid Yank kid might not do so well on the streets so I got my own cell and two blankets for the concrete bed with the built-in concrete pillow. They said they would have to lock me in, it being Saturday night and them expecting some rowdy guests as the evening wore on.
I was most appreciative at 0600 Sunday morning when they remembered to let me out. I wandered down deserted, filthy streets, past abandoned buildings back to Glasgow Central Station and headed towards home. All my souvenirs were gone and I had to get 3 more days out of the clothes on my back. Even the lovely sea smells of the Channel crossing couldn’t quench the olfactory event occurring in my axillae. Can’t remember if I bought a new shirt for the jet to New York or just tortured my seatmates on that 747.
Almost forty years later the pack would be history, the souvenirs forgotten, but I still have the story.