Nerve-Wracking Ride to the Abortionist

My attempt to procure an illegal abortion was plagued by adventure.

Excerpted from Our Sixties Abortion

August 29, 1968, 6:30 PM

My neighbor Danny’s front yard isn’t that big, maybe a thousand square feet, but every night dozens of kids manage to squeeze onto it. Guitar strummers, recorder tooters, cigarette bummers, portrait-sketchers, frisbee tossers, Screaming Yellow Zonkers eaters, dueling radio owners, horny lover gropers. And arguers. People were always disputing something—the war, the best guitarist, the latest and greatest acid. Tonight is muggy and foggy, but that doesn’t hold back the crowd. People keep arriving and Danny’s right there, supervising like he’s charging admission at a turnstile. He’s lucky, his parents are consistent: they’re either gone out or booze-gone. Right now he’s talking to a new couple who’ve arrived on the back of a mule, which may be a first, but it doesn’t matter. Nobody notices, nobody gives a hoot. He’s always feeling out new people who show up, interviewing them, making sure they aren’t “rabble-rousers.” (They never are.)

I arrive right on time for our connection, but unfortunately, nobody else does. No Damien, no Ritchie, and most importantly, no Candace.

If Ritchie doesn’t show up, we’ll have to hitch in to Denver. We’d eventually get there, I’ve done it before, but there’s no way of knowing when we’d arrive. I’d have to call the number I have for the abortionist and tell him (or whoever answers) we’ll be late. How late? Who the hell knows? That could be bad. Real bad. It could even spook him and scotch the whole deal.

“Okay,” Danny says, “you can stay. That mule craps, you clean it up.”

“Sure,” says one rider, “but he already did.” Ten minutes ago, I later find out and where? Right next to our driveway. My father must be pissed and out there with a push broom.

Somebody gently shoves me on the shoulder blade. “Hey.”

I turn around. It’s Ariadne. She takes me aside.

“Damien’s not coming. He figures too many people for the car. It’s one of those shrimpy Corvairs.”

So Damien did get ahold of Richie, who’s now ten minutes late. I wonder if this is normal for him or if the shrimpy Corvair broke down.

I’ve heard of Corvairs, but never ridden in one. Couple of years ago this Ralph Nader guy wrote a book about them called Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. I read it for school and it’s not exactly a confidence builder right now.

Ariadne pulls something out of her backpack. “I brought this bedspread for Candace. We can share it if it starts to rain while we’re waiting.”

It takes a minute for this to sink in, since I’m concentrating on spotting Candace the instant she walks up the street. “Wait, you coming too? Not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Sorry Paulie, I think it’s an excellent idea. I’ll sit in the back with her. We won’t make any noise.”

“I don’t know.”

“Too bad. She’s my best friend. Sort of, I think. I mean we’re not official best friends, but I always assume. . . anyway, I’m coming.”

Somebody scratches the back of my head. Why’s everybody always sneaking up on me? “Yeah, she can come.”

“Candace! When’d you get here?”

“Few minutes ago. I was patting Barbara’s mule. Did you know they like sugar lumps just like horses?”

“You smell like dope,” I hear Danny say to some newbee. “No smokin’ dope here or away you go. Cops came once for noise, they’d love it if they found a pound of marijuana on you. No way that doesn’t reflect bad on me.”

“So where’s [inaudible]. Supposed to [inaudible].”

I look past the din and see a short kid with a spotty beard and longish curly brown hair. He’s wearing a paisley shirt, unfaded blue jeans and a double brass belt buckle ring. The kind that looks cool but always goes loose and you keep having to yank it.

“You Paulie?”

“Richie?”

“Sorry I’m late, had to get gas. You got a couple of bucks? It wiped me out.” I give it to him and he points to Ariadne. “She the girl?”

“No I’m the girl. Candace.” The two girls get into the back seat.

“Pleased to meet you. And you’re . . .”

“Ariadne.”

“That’s a pretty name.”

“I know. Thanks.”

“I can’t get in,” I say. The front seat’s occupied.

“Gimme a minute,” said Ritchie. He clears off the McDonald’s burger boxes, the jumbo McDonald’s French fries bag, two McDonald’s apple pie boxes, and a huge cup of Coke, ice rattling in it. “Supper.” He puts this trash into a huge bag and wedges it against the transmission tunnel.

The smell of hamburgers mingles with the smell of French fries and catsup, and it sticks to the car like . . . like we’re stuck in McDonald’s parking lot. Maybe they spray the bags with l’eau de hamburger so the smell’ll get everybody all hungried up.

In less than ten minutes we’re on Route 25 heading south to Denver.

“I really appreciate you doing this. We had to hitch in, no telling when we’d get there. We gotta be there by 7:30.”

“No prob. Just got these wheels and they’ve already been broken in. Wanna see something?”

He looks at me when he talks and I feel like warning him “eyes front.” But I don’t. Turns out Ritchie has more notable driving habits to watch out for. He pops the clutch and the car peels out faster than any I’ve ever been in.

“Pretty cool pickup, huh? Guy owned it before me souped it up some, sure of it. I took a look at the carburetor and it’s different, you know… all silvery looking.”

In about ten seconds, we’ re going seventy miles an hour in a fifty-five mile an hour zone. Funny thing is, we’re not the only ones. He’s riding right behind somebody going slightly faster. I’m holding on to the front dashboard with both hands. I force myself to let go, because I don’t want to insult the guy or imply I don’t trust his driving. Which I don’t. He sees me doing it anyway.

“Calm down. The trick to not getting stopped,” he says, “is follow somebody else going faster. Cops’ll catch him first. I know, seen it happen ohhh, least three times.”

The road makes a sharp bend and Ritchie handles it like a stock-car driver.

“So, Candace. Hear you’re getting an abortion,” he says like he’d say “hey, hear you’re getting your hair cut.”

“Yeah, lucky me,” she says. “Real fun.”

“Heard it’s not so bad. My cousin Angie had one last December. Didn’t even have to pay for it. Like somebody gave it to her as a Christmas present? Sorry, bad joke.”

“What’d she say?” asked Candace.

“Ran into her at a holiday party and we’re out for a walk. I ask her about it, she goes, ‘I’m here, aren’t I?’ So I go, ‘Angie, that tells me nothing. What was it like?’ So she goes, ‘Better than throwing myself downstairs. Which I also considered.’ That’s all I could get out of her.”

“That’s real comforting,” said Ariadne. “You’re a regular Dr. Kildare.”

“Hey, if it was bad, she woulda said.”

“How come your steering wheel’s all fuzzy?” says Candace. “It’s got brown fur all over it.”

“It’s not fur, it’s called shag. Keeps it cool. Looks cool too, don’t cha think?”

No response, so Ritchie shuts up for five minutes. When Route 25 expands into three lanes, he suddenly adjusts his driving. He speeds up and passes three cars on the right. The windows are closed and the blower’s on, but so’s the heat. In August. Ritchie probably thinks the blower’s just blowing fresh Colorado air. I almost tell him to flick off the heat switch, but I don’t. I don’t know him well enough. It’s his car. Maybe he likes it that way. Plus he could get pissed off.

Great. We’re zipping down Route 25 with a guy who has yet to figure out his car’s heating system.

“You like jokes?” Before anyone can answer, he says, “How come hurricanes are named after women?” Nobody says “I dunno, why?” but he spills the punchline anyway. “Ever heard of a ‘himmicane’?”

Nobody reacts, either because they don’t get it, or they’re too keyed up, or, like me, they think it’s pretty much the lamest joke they ever heard. But in the tradition of Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield, he ignores his bomb and presses on.

“How about elephant jokes? You like elephant jokes? How do you get down from an elephant?”

One of the girls says “We don’t know. Tell us.”

“You don’t! You get down from ducks.”

A lone chuckle from the back seat, and I say “Geese.”

“Come again?” he says.

“You get down from geese. They’re bigger. You can’t get enough down from a duck to make it worth it.”

“Gee thanks, I’ll remember that at my next club appearance.”

A quarter of a mile ahead there’s a flashing police light. Somebody’s just gotten pulled over and I tense up like I’m about to get a booster shot in the ass.

“Watch out Ritchie, cops ahead.”

He giggles and pushes the pedal to seventy-five. “No prob.”

I know I shouldn’t complain, but I do anyway. “Whatdya mean ‘no prob?’ Why’d you just speed up? We coulda gotten nabbed. Great, that’s all we need.”

“Cool it! This the best time to take on a little speed. They’re pulled over, they already nabbed someone. They’re not going to let ‘em go to chase me down. Plus you know there ain’t no more fuzz-mobiles around. Because why, you say? They’re stuck in their own territories.”

We speed along for another five minutes and he says, “Okay, ‘nother elephant joke. What’s red and white on the outside and gray on the inside?”

“No idea,” I say.

“Campbell’s cream of elephant soup.” That gets a guffaw from the backseat.

“Okay, so that one’s funny,” I say.

We go over some toll bridge whose name I forget, I toss in the quarter and in five minutes we’re cruising near Denver City Park. I can’t believe we made it in less than a half hour.

Ritchie scans the wide expanse of the park. It’s still not quite dark out. “Hey, what happened to all the freaks?”

Doesn’t anybody read newspapers anymore? “They’ve been hassling people lately,” I say. “The cops and the cowboys. No more hanging out. Nobody smart hangs out here. You look hard you’ll see some still do, the stragglers. But they’re not smart. Over there’s the bunch I saw two nights ago.”

“Them?” said Ritchie.

“Yeah, right over there.”

“Okay,” he says, “meet you back here in . . . Whenever.” He gets out and we change seats, then he disappears into the tiny crowd. They welcome him like old friends and we’re off to meet our man.

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Author: Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog The Bodega Project.

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