By Joe Nunes
The summer of 1972 was a season of adventure for me. At 18 years old, I had just finished my first year of college at Brigham Young University. Instead of heading back home to San Diego, I accepted an opportunity to go east to work for the summer. A few days of training in Nashville, TN and then I found myself in Owensboro, KY to do door-to-door sales.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was way out of my comfort zone, so I decided to return home for the rest of the summer. The problem was how I would travel 2,000 miles across country I had just seen for the first time just two weeks earlier. I had ridden out with friends in their car, and I hadn’t made any money. My mother didn’t have money to send for a ticket on conventional transportation options such as a plane, train, or bus.
I decided I would put my fate in the hands of strangers by hitchhiking all the way to San Diego. I would never recommend doing so today! However, things were a lot different 50 years ago. It felt much safer. One of my roommates loaned me $5, and I headed out with a large suitcase filled with all my belongings. Thus began a week-long journey that I still remember with fondness all these years later.
Somehow during the trip, I ate three meals every day and arrived home with more than $10 in my pocket. People fed me, gave me money, and helped me in many other ways. I also met a lot of very interesting people but those are stories for another day. This story is about my overnight stop in Steamboat Springs, CO.
Steamboat Springs is a tourist town—a year-round resort town boasting winter skiing and summer hiking as well as any other outdoor adventures you can imagine in Rocky Mountain country. The city’s geothermal hot springs are said to have therapeutic properties. But I didn’t know any of that. I was dropped off well after dark and I was more concerned about being hungry than in anything the town had to offer for entertainment, culture, or adventure.
While I was standing on the street in the middle of town, everything looked closed. A young man walked by and asked me what I was doing, so I told him about my cross-country trek. He asked if I was hungry and, upon my confirmation, he invited me to his small apartment for a meal. After eating, I returned to the street well after midnight. There was almost no traffic except the occasional vehicle passing through town. As each car passed, I stuck out my thumb, but there were no takers.
It didn’t take long before a local police officer passed. He stopped and came back around. He asked me what I was doing, so I told him about my destination and how I came to be there. After listening to my tale, he explained that hitchhiking was against the law in Colorado. He told me to get in the car and he drove me to the station.
When we arrived at the station, he sat me in a chair and then took his seat on the other side of a large desk. He told me he was going to have to charge me with soliciting a ride, but he would work with me to find a way home.
His first approach was to ask me if I had any money for a bus ticket to San Diego, or at least to the Utah border. I had scattered the small amount of money I had, so I wouldn’t lose it all if I got robbed. I had a dollar or two in my pants pocket, a couple of dollars in an inside jacket pocket, a little money in my shoe, and even some hidden in my suitcase. But even if he found all those hiding places, the total was only about $12, nowhere near enough to purchase a greyhound bus ticket home.
His next approach was to ask me if I could call someone to wire money to me. I was not about to ask my mom for money, so I told him there was nobody to call. He tried to pressure me to provide my parents’ names and phone number, but I wasn’t giving him any information at all.
In short, I was stuck in Steamboat Springs, and my only way out was to get back on the road and hitch a ride out of there. He reminded me it was against the law and told me he was going to have to put me in jail until we figured out how to get me a ticket out of there. He walked me back to a cell and put me in it. I was stubborn and exhausted. I decided to let him throw me in jail for as long as he wanted. I just laid down on the cot and fell asleep.
About 7am the next morning, the officer came into the cell and woke me up. He put me in the squad car and drove me to the western edge of town. He reminded me that hitchhiking was against the law. Under no circumstances was I to hitch a ride. He told me to start walking toward Utah and that some Good Samaritan would probably come along and offer me a ride. He then turned his vehicle around and drove back into town. Of course, as soon as he was out of sight, I stuck out my thumb and the second car to come by picked me up.
Looking back on it now, I realize he never took mugshots, fingerprints, or booked me. He didn’t even close the door to the cell I was in. I’m convinced he knew that I would put out my thumb as soon as he left me. He was one of the kindest police officers I have ever met.
Thus ended my criminal career. My one night sleeping in a cell in Steamboat Springs gave me a memorable experience that still brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. Less than three months later, I was completely reformed and serving a mission for my church. I’ve never had any similar legal problems again.
The Compass, August 2022
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Always nice to hear when a hardened criminal is reformed.
Good going, Joe