I don’t know why I went. I had never been there. It was not my kind of town. Not my kind of people, bunch of loud mouth rednecks. Not likely to buy any life insurance from me. I suppose, like most of the country, I was fascinated by them. They were drawing crowds everywhere, especially since that Paris trip. That day was no different. I suppose, it was because he was young, handsome, had that self-effacing humor. And that wife.
I was surprised by the lack of traffic but then I realized most everybody in town was watching them. I drove around a while, kind of aimlessly, not sure what to do. I stopped at some diner for lunch and they were all talking about them. I was bored. I didn’t finish my sandwich, didn’t leave a tip, just left.
I started driving again, nowhere in particular, still wondering why I was even there. The traffic kept getting thinner. Surprising it was a Friday, holiday coming up, you would expect a lot of people to be moving around. But no, hardly anybody. Odd.
I turned on the radio but all I got was static. Radios did that a lot back in those days. I turned it off. I saw a sign for the airport. Why am I here, I’m not flying anywhere? Then I hit a roadblock.
Cops had a big van across the road, their guns drawn, looking at every car. One came up to me. “Don’t move, boy. Stay in the car. Keep your hands on the wheel.”
I sat there, watching them as they searched every car. When they finished with a car they’d turned it around send it away from the airport. Then another would move up. Finally, they came up to me one on each side, pointing guns.
The one on my side said, “Get out! Hands on the hood! Spread ‘um.”
The other one said, “That’s not him. He’s black. The guy that did it is white.”
“They told us to check everybody. There could be others involved besides that little white guy. Where’s your license, boy?”
I was scared, nervous, confused, I said, “In my back pocket. Where do you think?”
The one behind me put his gun to my head. “Go ahead boy, reach for it, give me an excuse.” I knew better. I didn’t move.
Sirens were blaring, helicopter overhead, I hadn’t done a damn thing. The cop was clumsy, almost tearing my pocket open before he got my license.
“I got it. Here, run it.”
I was confused. “What the hell is going on?”
“Yeah right, like you don’t know.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t do anything. I was just driving around.”
One of them says, “He probably doesn’t know. He’s just some ignorant cotton picker, that’s all his kind can do.”
I stood there for what seemed like hours. In the hot sun, my hands on that hood, getting hotter all the time, no idea why they were holding me. They searched my car, including the trunk, pulled up the back seat. Finally, one of them said, “Where you been, boy?”
“Nowhere really. I was just driving around.”
“Stop anywhere? Anybody see you?”
“I had lunch at a diner.”
“What diner? Where?”
“I don’t remember. It was back up the road, not too far, be on the right going back.”
A guy in plainclothes came up. “Sargent, I’ll take that ID, please. When you searched the trunk did you check the spare tire well?”
The cop looked a little sheepish, “No sir. I’ll do that right now.” He did and said, “Nothing there, not even a spare tire. Figures.”
“Where are the car keys, Sargent?”
“There still in the ignition, I guess.”
“Could I have them please?”
“Yes sir, right away.” When he got the keys he turned to me, showed his badge, “I’m Special Agent Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation. That diner you stopped at; was it called Lucy’s?”
“Yeah maybe, like I said, I don’t remember. I just stopped there for a sandwich.”
“I’m not sure. Not too long ago an hour, maybe less. What’s this about?”
“For the moment Mister,” he glanced at my ID, “Hargraves, I’d rather not discuss that. Did you speak to anybody at that diner?”
“No, not really. But they might remember me. I was the only black guy there.”
He nodded, “If you would like to get out of the sun you may wait in your car while I check on that diner.”
I did as he offered. Glad to. It was hot out there. As I watched he talked into his radio, probably reading my license number to somebody. Then he went around to the back of my car, still talking over his radio. Probably giving my tag number to whoever he was talking to. Finally, he came over to me, “How big a tip did you leave at that diner?”
“I didn’t leave a tip.”
He half smiled, “I know the feeling. Where are you headed Mr. Hargraves?”
“I don’t really know. Guess I’ll try to find somebody to sell life insurance to. Why?”
“This address on your license, is it correct?”
He gave me back my license. “You’re free to go, Mr. Hargraves. But turn around; southbound traffic is still blocked.”
I did what he said; glad to be away from there. Whatever was going on it had to be something big. I tried the radio, more static. I decided to go back to that diner. They would know what all this was about. When I got there the place was closed. I kept going north. Found a Cracker Barrel. It was closed. There was a sign on the door.
Our apologies, but our employees didn’t feel like working. We are sure you can understand.
What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times. And I was there. Dallas, Texas Friday, 22 November 1963.