An Autobiographical Novel
RON "NOODLEMAN" CARTER
Hume Ronald Kumpf
Donald Robert Keats
John Ronald Carter
"No, I don't need a gun. If I can't escape from this stinking jail peacefully, I won't
even try. I've got a plan that should work where I don't have to resort to violence", I
told one of my jailmates who had just offered to help me escape by offering me a weapon.
I'd been in the Monroe County Jail for a month. Now, I was planning to escape. Just
about everyone in the cellblock knew, and several were offering to help me.
My cellmate was a convicted murderer and was waiting to be sent to "death row" in another
prison. I was in jail for an alleged marijuana offense.
"I've got to escape", I told him. I was paranoid and half crazy from the treatment I'd
received and was feeling suicidal. "Tonight's the night, man. I'm going to try to escape,
even if they kill me trying."
My name at birth was Hume Ronald Kumpf. Everybody in Key West called me "Matchbox Ron".
I'd been selling matchboxes of pot for about a year. I'd buy an ounce, remove the stems
and seeds, and put the pot in little wooden boxes in which kitchen matches were sold.
The boxes I sold for $5 and usually doubled my money. I could pay the $10 a week rent on
my shanty in Bahama Village and I ate fairly well by suplimenting what food I could buy
with the welfare food given to me by my neighbors in this black community.
In 1969 and 70 it was difficult for a long haired, bearded hippy like me to find a job
or a place to live. The residence of Bahama Village were very tolerant of the few hippies
who had moved into houses which they no longer would live in. My little "conch house" was falling
down, but I had patched the leaking roof and put plastic on the broken windows and was as
happy as a bug in a rug. There was a hand painted sign over the entrance that read,
"PEACE, LOVE, CO-OP", and sported a peace sign. Folks knew that they could come to my
house to get something to eat, pot to smoke, or a place to crash.
In the fall of 1970 I deceided to sell my beat-up old Triumph Spitfire. It didn't run
well and I couldn't afford to buy gas. I sold it for $100 and purchased a pound of
marijuana which I stashed under the house. I continued to sell matchboxes for $5 and
was sure that I'd be able to live off that pound of pot for several months.
I was walking home one night when out of the darkness someone tackled me. As I lay
sprawled in the hedge at the side of the street, my neighbor, a black woman of about 80
years, whispered in my ear, "The cops are in your house". She was gone into the darkness
as quickly as she had appeared.
While laying low for a couple of days in the trailer of a friend on Stock Island, I
learned that the police had searched my house and had taken all my possessions; camera,
stereo, clothes, pot, everything. It was obviously time to get out of town, so, I got my
friend to drive me to my bank, where I drew out the few dollars I had left for the road.
As we drove away from the bank we were pulled over by a policeman in a squad car. I gave
my wallet to my friend and she put it in her purse. Even though I didn't have ID the
policeman said he thought he knew me and insisted taking me to the station for questioning.
I was greeted by a big Cuban cop named, "Santana", who showed me my picture on a wanted
poster. He took me alone into a room to interrogate me. Everything was quite cordial until
I asked him if he had ever smoked pot. When he said that he had, I called him a hypocrite.
In an instant, his fist was square in my face, my nose was broken, and I was sqrawled on
the floor. He grabbed me by my belt with one hand and my long hair with the other, jerked
me up, slammed me into the wall, and doubled me over with his knee as I fell.
As I walked from the interrogation room to my cell, I glanced up to see the Chief of Police
looking sympathetically and rather apologetically at me. Several things went through my mind
as I looked away from him and down at the blood spattered all down the front of my T-shirt.
Just a few weeks earlier I'd had a conversation with him in his office. I truly believed that
marijuana had been placed on earth to help mankind attain mental and spiritual enlightenment.
I'd lent him a copy of the book, The Marijuana Papers, which was one of the earliest
publications explaining the history of, and touting the benefits of pot. I had returned to
his office later to pick up the book and to discuss with him the possibility of laxing his
police officers' zeal for busting Key Westers for pot violations. How damn naive could anyone
be? I'd set myself up for this bust.
During the month that I was held, the jailers had done many things to mess with my mind.
I'd be told that someone had come to bail me out and that I should get my things together.
I'd find out later, after a long wait, it was not true.
When I requested to have a doctor look at my broken nose, they refused.
I'd been placed in a cell with an admitted murderer who loved to tell the story of how he
shot a man and then watched the man's head bounce off the ground when shot again, in
the head, at close range.
Sometimes, everyone in the whole cellblock was forced to strip naked and then jammed into a
small hallway for extended periods of time.
A man who said he was a lawyer and had been assigned by the public defenders office to
defend me, turned out to be a undercover cop!
My parents, in their frustration, wrote to me explaining that I was where I belonged. At
that time, they felt that marijuana was the devil's own potion and that I was an out of
control addict. They even refused to speak to me on the phone.
The lawyer which my parents sent to talk with me, said, "I know this judge. I've had
dealings with him before. He's a crook. I can get you out by offering him something under the
table, but, it's going to cost your parents a bundle."
Obviously, I was being held for ransom!
This wasn't the first time I'd been locked up, but, it was the worst. This time, I didn't
know how long I was in for. In 1970 a marijuana offense could end you up in prison for
The first time I had been locked up was while I was in the Philippines on a tour of duty
with the US Navy. I'd been stopped at the main gate with too many packs of cigarettes, was
placed behind bars under a stairwell for an hour or so, and released when it was determined
that I could not be charged with black marketing.
Just prior to coming to Key West, in 1969, I was attending the University of Miami in Coral
Gables, Florida. To cover expenses, I sold the Miami Free Press, a local underground newspaper
which was opposed to the Viet Nam War and police brutality. While on the streets of Miami
selling the paper, I was arrested and jailed seven separate times in six weeks!
There was one Miami cop in particular who had it out for me. He would cite me for
"obstructing pedestrian traffic" and other similarly awful offenses.
One bust stands out in my mind: I'd finished selling all my newspapers and was pulling out
of the parking garage in my Triumph Spitfire. This vigilant cop was standing in my path and
proceeded to cite me for having "out of state license plates". In court, I explained to the
Judge that I had every right to have a New Jersey license, since I was a transient student at
the University of Miami.
He agreed, until the arresting officer said, "This is the guy who sells that underground
"Oh", said the judge, hesitating for a moment. "Since you are locally employed, you have
to have a Florida license."
Because I never payed fines, and always refused to,
I was given two days in jail!
Doing the two days each time was getting to be fun. I'd be scheduled to surrender myself at
the jail late in the day. By the time I was processed it would be after dinner. I'd party a
bit with the other hippies, sleep, and then be released before breakfast. In this way, I'd be
credited with two days, but, not have to be fed a meal.
There were so many fellow hippies in the jail that I got this idea. I'd take a joint with me
and smoke it with the guys who needed a good relaxing toke or two.
Usually, the jailers greeted me with, "Hi, Ron, looks like we've got you for another night,
huh?" We'd laugh, I'd be finger printed, photographed, and put in the holding cell with
This time, there were several other people being processed at the same time. We were lined
up against a wall and the first guy was frisked, the second man had to strip, and so on, until
they got to the man standing next to me. He was asked to take off his boots. By then, I
probably looked white as a ghost with beads of sweat on my face, and my sweat soaked shirt
sticking to my shaking body. I had put the joint in my shoe! It had become my turn and I
cowering as the inspector turned to me and said, with a twinkle in his eye, "You, again.
You're making a real habit of this, Ron. Let's go to the lock up." My knees almost went out
from under me as I turned to walk with him to the tank.
I was taken, singly, to a cell I wasn't familiar with. It was very dark, had bunk beds lined
up in rows, and had only a couple of inmates sitting alone in different places. I sat by
myself on the edge of a lower bunk, still getting over what had just happened, when the guard
came to the cell with someone else. This man in plain clothes was let in, came directly over,
sitting down on the bunk directly across from me. The guard closed the gate and walked away.
The man across from me softly said, "Hey, man. You wouldn't happen to have a joint we could
smoke; would you?" At that moment I guess I believed in Frank Zappa's "brain police". Was
it possible that these cops were really reading my mind? "No way. Are you kidding?" He then
stood up, walked to the cell entrance, and the guard let him out. Needless to say, I didn't
speak to a soul the rest of the night.
The next morning, I walked to my car in the parking lot, took the joint from my shoe, lit
it, and drove away with a very welcome, relaxed buzz.
The last of the seven-times-in-six-weeks jail experiences was in connection with the final
issue of the Miami Free Press. The publisher had planned a centerfold which pictured all
of the undercover narcs in Miami. But, before the issues were to be distributed, the police
broke in, ransacked the office, confiscated the centerfold, and announced that anyone who
dared go on the street with the paper would be arrested.
The cop who had been routinely harassing me on my regular corner, told me, if I went
out on the street with this issue, he'd shoot me!
The only two people in town with guts enough to go out and sell the paper that week were
the publisher and me. We posted ourselves at either end of the "Miracle Mile". Within minutes
we were arrested and taken to jail. We were placed in separate cells. A few minutes later
the publisher started to yell, "Which of you bastards put this piano wire in my cell? Do you
God damned pigs really think that I'm stupid enough to kill myself for selling a newspaper.
You sons of bitches!"
We were released, without being charged, in about an hour. That was the end of the
Miami Free Press and the last time I'd been jailed, until now.
"Tonight's the night, man," I told my cellmate. "I'm going to escape, even if they kill me
trying. Here's the plan. I've got my bed stuffed. I'll be hiding in the shower down by the
entrance. When the guard locks up all the individual cells, opens the gate and comes in to
walk down through the cellblock for the head-count, I'll quietly slip out into the hall and
hide behind a piece of furniture. One of the trustees drew me a map of the jail. By morning,
I'll try to have worked my way downstairs, and, just walk out of this dump before anyone knows
I'm gone. Wish me luck, man. It's almost lock-up time. I'm going down to hide in the shower.
I'm headed for the shower. Alright now, I just sit down here and stretch my legs across.
My feet tight up against the wall. The shower curtain is over here in front of my body. Now,
if the guard just glances over toward the shower, I doubt if he'll be able to see me. If he
does, I'll pretend to be asleep.
Well, I guess I've got about 15 or 20 minutes before lock-up and I know nobody will be
coming down to take a shower because they all know I'm in here. Wow, man, this is crazy.
I hope there's some furniture right outside. I'll just go right out and hide. That will
make it real easy. I don't want to have to walk around to look for something to hide behind.
When the guard leaves, then I'll have the whole upstairs to myself.
Oh yeah! I hear the guard comin'. He's comin' up in the elevator. Oh, wow! Yeah, this
feels right. The shower curtain is in a good position.
He's unlocking right now. He's walking into the cellblock. He should be looking in the
direction of the shower. Oh, damn, I hope he doesn't see me. If he does, I'll just predend
to be asleep. I'm just acting like I'm asleep. Just relax. I hear him. I can hear him.
Alright! He went to the first cell. He's at the first cell. I've got to stay real quiet.
Pretty soon it's going to happen. I'll be free. I'll be free. Oh, wow, yeah, it's about
Get up now. Be real quiet. It seems as though he's down pretty far. I can hear him talking. The moment he stops talking, I'll know he's headed for the next cell, and that's when I'll peek.
Talking. Talking. He's stopped. I'll peek out now. Yeah, yeah, he's walking down to the
next cell. Next time I'll slip out. As soon as he stops talking, I know he's got to walk a
little further. He's down close to the end. He's got to walk a little further. He's gonna
stop to talk to someone down toward the end the way he does.
OK, OK. He's talking. As soon as he stops, I'm out of here. OK. Here I go.
Oh, man, I'm out! Oh God, I'm out'a there. Let me look around here. Look! There's the
control panel. For Gods' sake, look at this. All the keys are in there! Look at all the
lights. All these lights are red. There's one green light at the switch right there. Oh,
my God, that would have to be the control switch for this door. I could lock him
in. I could lock him in! Christ, I could let everyone out! No, no way. There are some
awful people in there. I just want out; just me.
I've got the keys. If I got the keys---Oh, man, think of the map. The map. I could go
out the laundry door to the roof!
Flip the switch. I'll flip the switch. Ohhhh, the door's closing. He's locked in! Pull
the keys out. I got the keys. I've got the keys!
Oh, wow, he's yelling and yelling. This is unreal. He's yelling and stamping on the floor.
Now, I'll grab the clothes I stashed earlier by the door. Put, on my shirt and shorts.
Get my shoes on. Run into the laundry.
Oh, man, the grard is screemin' and yellin', stampin' his feet.
There's the door to the roof just like on the map. Got to get the key into the lock. Oh,
no, it doesn't work! Try the next key---doesn't work. God, I can hear the elevator. Here
come the other guards. Try the next key. Jesus, I'm bending these big brass keys, twisting them
in the lock. Next key. The next key! Oh, my God, The guards are here. That's the key. Damn,
the door's open. Alright, I'm on the roof. Look over the side. There's a gas tank. I've gotta
jump! I gotta jump. I'm jumpin'. Oh, God, I feel like a grasshopper, bounce off the gas
tank, right on my feet. Got to run.
Great, I'm headed down the street. Alright, I'm running down the sidewalk.
I'm running down the sidewalk of Whitehead street. I hear the sirens. They've got the
sirens going now.
Oh, man, I hear more sirens down the street ahead of me. That must be a squad car coming
Damn, I've got to get over this fence. Got to leap up over this fence. A cop car's comin'
from the other direction, now. Alright, I'm leaping way up---grab the wire at the top---catapult
over. Shit, a barb got me in the palm of my hand. Damn! A barb from the barbed wire got
me right in the hand as I was going over the top of the fence!
Alright now, I'm gonna, uh---wait a second. I don't have to run, now. I don't have to
run 'cause I'm on the Navy base. I'm on the Navy base now---remember, remember. I used to be
staioned here. I know this base. I'll just walk toward the water. I'll walk down this
pathway here toward the dock. Oh, yeah, this is great being on the Navy base. The police
won't be coming in here. This is great!
I've got to be real careful. Don't run. Just walk real easy. If I run somebody'll
notice. So, I just walk along easy. Just walk like this.
Oh-oh, I see some people up there. Jesus! They're comin' this way. They couldn't have
seen me. Just climb up into this tree. Be real still. Here they come. I can hear 'em talking.
I'll just be real quiet up here. They're talking. Now they're walking under me. They're
walking right underneath me, man. Alright, now they're walking away. All I gotta do is sit
tight for a moment, 'til they've gone far enough.
OK, now there's nobody else, I can climb down out of the tree and start walking toward the
I remember being here back in 1962. I was stationed here during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
That's the dispensary right over there. I'm not far from the dock now. This is great.
Nothing's changed. Yeah, there's the dock. Now I can climb down, slip into the ocean, and
swim out to Christmas Tree Island.
Climb down and just slip quietly into the water. Oh, this is beautiful. The water is so
warm. I'm free. Really free! This is so fabulous. This is so unreal.
I think I'm gonna take these dark shorts off, put them over my head, and swim real slow.
I'll use a real slow "doggie paddle". Then, if anybody looks down from the dock, they'll just
see what looks like some dark mass. They won't see me here.
All I've got to do is swim real slow. Take my time. 'Cause now I'm free. It's OK now.
What a night. Look at that sky. Wow, a full moon. This is beautiful. I can see real
good. This is a piece of cake.
Damn, I forgot about my hand. Look at that, I'm bleeding like a stuck pig. That barbed
wire really got me good. Shit, that's all I need is to be attracting some hungry sharks in
this tropical water. I've got to squeeze my hand tightly. I'll make a fist, real tight, to
stop the bleeding.
It's so calm tonight. The water is just like glass.
Huh? What's that? Shoot, here comes a boat. I guess I'm out in the channel. If the boat
comes right at me I'll have to dive underneath. Good, it's going to pass by me. Pretty close,
though. I'll just be real still. Keep down real low in the water. Just my eyes out of the
water. They're going by. I'll put my head down real low.
It's just something floatin' in the water, guys. It's no big deal. Just something
floatin' in the water. Good, they're just going right on by.
Mmmmm, man, there's quite a tide here. I'm not makin' it to Christmas Tree Island. Come
on, man. This tide is takin' me out to sea. Well, if I swim real hard toward Christmas Tree,
maybe I'll make it to Tank Island. I better get going. Forget clenching my fist, I've got to
get movin'. I didn't think a mile was gonna be so bad, but, I didn't plan on this damn tide.
Oh well, this is OK. I'm makin' it to Tank Island where there isn't as much tide. Good,
I'm out of the tide now. I don't want to stay here, though, 'cause I'm not familiar with this
island. I know Christmas Tree really well. I've been comin' out here for a couple of years
now. All I have to do is head up this way. This isn't a problem, 'cause there's no current
here between the islands.
I'm about a mile from town now. Look at that. Wow, I can see all the lights reflected on
the water. Key West. Beautiful! This is what I've been dreaming of. This fabulous warm water
and now I'm almost to Christmas Tree Island.
All I've got to do now is swim up to the beach here. Alright, this is it. It's like a
dream. Here I am on the beach looking back at Key West. Not a care in the world. I'm free.
I'll just take off my clothes and walk around naked. That's real freedom.
I'll walk around over this way, on the side away from Key West, there's a beach I love.
Just make it through these bushes and past these trees. This is a great beach. This is
where there's a wonderful wreck just off shore where I've done some snorkling. It's a neat
boat and there are lots of beautiful tropical fish there.
Now, I'll head up the beach. There's a nice place there I've been before that should be
a fine spot for a campsite. It should be just up past this thicket. Yeah, this is perfect.
I'm gonna build a lean-to, and hang out here. There's lots of good building material lying
around. I got this wood that I'll place these palm fronds across like this. Good, this will
give me a little bit of shelter. I'll just leave my clothes here and go for a walk.
I think I'll start walking back around the island the way I came. Across this beach and
around the end of the island here. Past these trees. I'm able to see Key West again. Guess
this is the place where I swam up to the island.
Now I got the whole night to wander around and check things out. I got a full moon. It's
nice and bright. I can walk all the way around the island. I might find something to eat or
drink. I'll need water. Maybe I'll find some bottles. Later, if I have to, I can swim back
to Key West at night and get some fresh water. I could tie several plastic bottles together
and tow them. That might work. That way, I could have enough water to last me, while I hide
out here for a few days.
Oh, good, there's lots of stuff washed up on this side of the island. Look at that, some
plastic bottles. I bet I could even find some food, beach-combing like this. I remember
finding things like apples and oranges that floated onto shore. I know people come out here
to camp, and maybe they left something behind.
I must have come about a third of the way around the island. Over here, I might find a
better place to camp. No, not such a good idea. It's best on the other side away from Key
What the hell is that blinking red light? Damn, it's a police boat. Oh, no it's comin'
this way with the siren blasting. Oh, shit, they must be comin' out after me!
I got to get my clothes, cause if they find them they'll know I'm out here. As fast as
they're comin' I don't have time to go back the way I came. I'll have to run straight across
the island. I gotta run. God, its dark in these woods. Gotta run, though, Damn, I can't
see, I have to run fast and get my clothes and tear down the lean-to. Owwww!---Ran smack
into a tree! Damn shit! Got to get up. Get a breath. Got to get up and keep going. Didn't
even see that tree in the shadows. Can't stop now, though. Almost there.
Where is the campsite? OK! This is it. Tear the lean-to up and throw the pieces around.
Grab my clothes. I got to hide. If I hide here on the island they will find me for sure. Got
to get into the water. I'll hide in the old wreck. I'll run down the beach toward the wreck.
Damn, here comes the police boat speeding around the end of the island!
There're the ribs of the wreck sticking up out of the water.
Christ, they got a search light---flashed right on me!
Dive into the water, now, right here. Need to swim real quite, right up to the wreck.
I'll just hold onto this rib that's sticking up out of the water. I'll put my dark shorts
over my head and put my face right up against this rib. God, I think they must have seen
me. That light was right on me.
Damn, they're searching around with the light. Jees, the light's right on me, again. Got
to be real still. Don't move, I'm not even going to move a little to look. I'm not even going to
I can hear 'em. I can hear 'em. They're getting out onto the beach. I hear 'em talking.
They're searching into the woods. I gusss they didn't see me.
What? I can't believe what I'm hearing. That sounds like Santana yelling. Oh, God,
he's yellin' to the other cops, "If you see that bastard, just kill him. Just shoot him!
We ain't takin' him back alive. We'll just kill that son of a bitch and say that he
attacked us. There's nobody out here but him and us. Nobody'll know. Ya hear me? If
you find him, just kill that bastard!"
The police searched the island for hours, yelling back and forth to one another. Lucky
for me, they never looked into the wreckage of that old boat. I held on to the rib of the
wreck, motionless the whole time, submerged up to my nose, with my shorts over my head.
I guess it was just luck that the police boat beached where I had walked in the sand.
Their own foot prints and maybe those of earlier beach visitors made my foot prints
undecernable. Or, maybe, they just never looked.
When the police boat first came around the end of the island and flashed the search light
on me, I can only guess, no one was looking in the direction of the beam.
In any case, still free, I swam back to the shore after the cops left and began to look
for a more appropriate place to rest in hiding.
I found a garbage dump in the woods away from the beach, where I wrapped myself in a large
piece of plastic. It was very difficult to fall asleep, even as tired as I was, because of
the clatter of land crabs searching for bits of food in discarded tin cans, but, I finally
In the morning when I awoke, my body was cramped and aching from the super-human strain
of adrenalin powered jumping, leaping, climbing, and the collision with the tree, not to
mention the hours-long, motionless soaking in the ocean from the previous night.
Immediately, though, I began an exploration of the island in search of badly needed water
to drink. I found a tamarind tree and ate some fruit, but it just made me even more thirsty.
At the north end of Christmas Tree I found a stand of sea grape, still wet with early
morning dew on its leaves. I tapped the large shiny leaf on the side, while holding my
opened mouth under the pointed tip, and a few drops of water dripped off. After several
minutes of this process, my thirst was quenched and I realized that drinking water was not
going to be a problem. There was no need to chance swimming back to Key West for a supply.
Near the sea grapes, I located a very fine campsite nestled in the wood. There was a
hammock stretched between two trees where I was to spend a week of nights, sleeping
comfortably. I was especially thankful for the hammock when I saw, to my amazement, that
the ground at night was a swarm of black and white rats!
Food and water was scarce, but, thanks to some campers who'd left some items, I ate rather
well. An unopened can of brown bread, a jar of peanut butter and some honey, left behind
because it had been invaded and permeated with ants, was my main sustenance. A plastic
picnic jug of water, even though it tasted like lipstick, lasted a week through careful
Although I'd been to the island numerous times for snorkling, picnics, and private sex
au naturel with girl friends, I'd never guessed that I could spend an entire week there,
without ever seeing another person. That's how it was, until one afternoon, after a week of
solitude, a single man came out in a small boat and caught me off guard.
"Hey, man, how you doing?" he asked cordially as he approached me.
"OK. What's happening?" I asked back.
He seemed a very nice fellow and was unmenacing, so I spoke with him for a while.
"I don't see a boat anywhere," he said. "How did you get out here?"
"Oh, a friend bought me out and is coming back for me."
"I'll take you back, if you want."
"No, thanks anyway. My friend would worry if he came out to get me and I wasn't here."
"Bye the way, did you hear about the guy that escaped from the jail? Everybody's talking
It was obvious that he suspected I was the notorious, escaped, "Matchbox Ron".
I didn't know, at the time, that I was
front page news. That my picture had been seen, even by people who didn't know me before.
"Yeah. How about that?"
"Well, I for one, hope he's OK. And so do most folks in Key West, I understand. You sure
you don't want a ride back to town?"
"I'm alright, thanks. I expect my friend to be coming out for me pretty soon."
I felt this guy was sincere, and I guess I wanted to go with him. But, it was daytime and
too many people could see me. I wouldn't want to outright tell him who I was, hide in his
boat, and take a chance of getting him in trouble for helping me.
"Thanks for the offer, brother. See ya."
After he left, I got paranoid, and started to look for places to hide in case another
search party was sent out in daylight. I found some concrete slabs, half submerged on the
beach facing Key West, where there was a hole just large enough for me to climb in underneath.
I then lay in wait, nearby, in the safety of the woods, watching in the direction of any
Luckily, there was none. And, in the late evening, I decided it was dark enough to swim
back to town in relative safety.
As I climbed over the coral rock into the warm water and kicked my first kick for swimming
away, the top of my right foot smacked into a sea urchin, stabbing me painfully with dozens of
I carefully climbed back out of the water and inspected my foot. Spines were sticking up
in all directions. I gingerly pulled several of the longest spines out as the pain and
swelling increased. Many of the spines had broken off under the skin and
several were too short for me to remove with my fingers. I knew I was in
for serious trouble.
I remembered a single sea urchin spine penetration of my finger while snorkeling in the
waters of the South China Sea while stationed in the Philippines. In that
instance, my finger got so swolen, that, in desperation, I went to the
ships' store and bought a snake bite kit. I put the rubber suction cup over the hole where
the spine had entered and was amazed when, after several minutes, long strings of what looked
like angle hair pasta were drawn out.
Now, I had numerous places all over the top of my foot which were going to fester and
probably make my foot useless for several days. Obviously, staying on the island was now
absolutely impossible. I had to swim back to Key West to get medicine, or whatever, before
my foot got any worse.
I climbed back into the water, much more carefully, and began to swim. The force of water
rushing over the exposed spines caused them to vibrate as I kicked. The excruciating pain I
experienced forced me to kick only with my left foot and just drag my right leg motionless.
Even though I'm a good swimmer, this handicap made progress across the mile between Christmas
Tree Island and Key West quite laborious.
When I was about half way across the channel, a tropical squall hit suddenly with little
warning. There was a downpour, lightning and thunder, and a wind that whipped up waves that
rushed over my head. All I could do was tread water feebly and keep my head out of the waves
enough to get an occasional gasping breath of air.
The storm ended as abruptly as it had begun. Now that I could once again see, it was
apparent that I had been washed by the tide, northward, and was being swept into the Gulf of
Immediately, I began to swim at an angle toward land, going against the tide. I coughed
up water, which I had swallowed during the storm, as I slowly swam my way out of the pull of
It was rather late when I reached the docks and clambered out of the water. I found a
walking stick to help me get around on my now, very swollen and painful foot. I put the
make-shift patch I'd created for myself over one eye as a disquise and spoke out loud in the
English accent I'd earlier practiced for the occasion. Since I had no ID, if the police were
to see me, I'd have to be very convincing.
A good friend lived just a couple of blocks from where I swam ashore. He lived in a
trailer park near "Lands End". I met no one as I hobbled to his trailer and knocked quietly.
The door opened.
"Ron, is that you?"
"Yes, can I come in?"
We never spoke again during that week I stayed there in hiding, but instead, wrote each
other notes. We kept all the windows closed and covered. I didn't even fluch the toilet
when he was at work.
I performed some minor surgery on my foot, and, with medications brought to me, my foot
began to heal.
Every day, my friend would bring me books to read from his used book store. One,
A Crabs' Claw, impressed me. It was about a man who was washed from a boat in the middle of
the Atlantic Ocean. He managed to get hold of an uncharted rock which was only barely above
the surface at high tide. At low tide it was rather large and to pass the time he named all
the nooks and crannies, bumps and holes as though they were city streets. He ate crustaceans,
fished, and experimented with sea weed as food when other things weren't available. As he
began to starve and get poisoned by the things he had to eat, he hallucinated and began to
speak, in his mind, in what, although you understood him, seemed like gibberish. If you tried
to read the book from the last page, you would have thought it was in another language
(it was). After the week I'd spent alone on Christmas Tree, talking to myself with a fake
English accent, I could relate.
One day my friend brought a car home with him. That night we drove up the keys toward
Miami. As we drove, he told me he had borrowed the car from an old lady friend who, he said,
had mentioned to him that she hoped I was OK.
When we were part way, still in Monroe County, we almost collided with another car. My
friend didn't know how to drive very well. The other car was a Monroe County Sheriffs'
vehicle. We were pulled over!
The deputy walked up to the drivers side and trained his flash light into the car, first
on my friend, and then directly into my face. He studied me for a moment as he asked a few
questions of my friend, told him to be more carful, and then said we could go.
I wondered to myself, how many chances does one guy get?
When we arrived at the University of Miami, I told my friend how very grateful I was for
his invaluable help, and he drove away.
Now that I was back at the University of Miami, I was in a safe haven that I was very
familiar with. I looked up some student friends and told them what had happened in Key West.
Telling the story, made me a minor celebrity among my dope smoking buddies. I told the story
over and over. Also, we reminisced about the times when dozens of us would sit up in the
limbs of the huge ficus trees by the campus lake and trip on LSD.
While in the apartment of one friend, I was introduced to a coed who said she had heard
that I'd been in jail and hadn't had any sex in a few weeks. We were offered the bedroom and
privacy. I made love with that lovely young woman whom I'd never met before, knowing I'd
never see her again. The 60s and early 70s were, for some, an unusually free and wonderful
period in time.
I bid farewell to my campus friends that evening and walked out to US Route 1 and began
the long hitch-hiking trip north. I started walking backward with my thumb out and stepped
on something. Under my foot was a wallet with $3 and a couple of pieces of ID!
I rationalized that the man who had lost the wallet didn't need it as much as I, and
maybe, would have been pleased if he knew I'd found it. Now, I was no longer broke, and
although the ID was not very good, and was for someone with an Hispanic name, I no longer
needed to worry about being rousted by the police. Temporarily, I was Carlos Hernandez,
and was on the road, absolutely free!
This way to
Part Two - ON THE LAMB
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