Roosevelt County, New Mexico…where I grew up in the ’50s was a dry county. And here’s something most people don’t realize about dry counties. Bootleggers couldn’t care less if they sell to kids. So… in Portales, if you hadn’t been drunk by the time you were in the eighth grade, you were definitely un-cool. It was just too easy to get booze. All you had to do was go to the nearest phone booth, give a bootlegger a call, and pretty soon he’d bring you a bottle. Another thing that added to the ease of obtaining booze in Portales was that a lot of kids started driving when they were very young. A lot of kids could get early driving permits because they needed to drive a tractor on their dad’s farm. Hell…some kids were driving when they were twelve or thirteen. So… the deal was, you’d find some kid that had a driver’s license, and a bunch of us would chip in and buy a bottle of whiskey and a six-pack of soda pop, and drive the four miles out to the sand dunes.
Once we were safely away from town, we’d sit in a circle, open the bottle, and pass it around. You’d take a swig of whiskey and then chase it with a gulp of coke and you just keep passing it around and around until the bottle was completely gone. And then you jump up and go running around the sandhills screaming “I’m drunk, I’m drunk, I’m drunk!” And then you throw up, and eventually, when someone is sober enough to drive, you go home. I did that once when I was in the eighth grade, and it just seemed so silly… so, even now, I’m basically a non-drinker.
Also in Portales, we didn’t have school-sponsored dances… I think primarily because it was a Baptist, Church of Christ community. So… no Junior-Senior Prom. However, halfway between Clovis, (nineteen miles North of us), and Portales, was the Midway dance hall. You could get booze in the parking lot there pretty easily too. On Saturday nights, when they had the big country barn dance there the place was jumping. (My mom and dad started taking me to dances when I was 10 years old… and to this day, I love it). But in the fifties, a lot of people went for the sole purpose of getting drunk and/or getting in a fight.
A lot of us kids would go out to Midway on Saturday nights and just sit in the parking lot, and watch the fights. The cowboys and farmers hated the guys from Cannon Air Force Base they called “fly jockeys”. The animosity was always bubbling in a way that could explode any minute. So, some of the guys from town would go out and sit in the parking lot and watch the fights. I only ever saw one of those fights, and it was sickening. Extremely violent. It wasn’t like the movies. These weren’t movie fights. These were awful, violent fights.
I remember one night we were at the only 24-hour cafe in Portales. It was on the outskirts of town: “The Truck Stop”. My band had just played a gig and we were getting some breakfast. It was like, one or two o’clock in the morning. Sitting at the counter were two guys, so drunk they could hardly sit up. They were loud and obnoxious and we couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. They were cussing… they had been looking for a fight all night long, and still hadn’t found one. Finally, one of them turned to the other, and said “Well, hell, let’s me and you fight!” And the two of them got up, staggered outside, and had a knockdown drag-out fight in the parking lot.
One last story about the culture in Portales where a whole bunch of guys always seemed to be looking for some kind of macho confrontation. As a way of setting this story up, I need to offer my perceived view of how the people in Portales reacted to my being in movies and tv. In all honesty, they weren’t overly excited that I had been in Deliverance. First of all, you have to remember that in 1972, Deliverance was considered by some people as bordering on pornography. So… my being in a movie didn’t impress them. Starring in a TV series, however, was a very big deal. I still don’t understand that phenomenon. I think it might be because you’re actually in their home and they talk to you and feel like they “know” you. Anyway, I was back in Portales visiting my mom and Rick and Luanne shortly after “Apple’s Way” started airing on CBS. There’s a favorite drive-up burger joint in town. Pat’s Twin Cronies, where you park, go up to the window, order your hamburger and milkshake and then stand around outside for a few minutes waiting for them to call your name. As I was waiting, I noticed a guy sitting in his pickup truck. He was staring at me and after a minute or two, he very pointedly gave me the “finger”. I looked around, wondering if he intended his gesture for someone else. Nope… I was the only one in the vicinity. I didn’t know what else to do, so I walked over… “Can I help you?” as he was getting out of his truck, he stopped and said, “Oh, hell, Ronny,… It’s you.. I thought you was some stranger. I was gonna kick your ass.