By Sonoma Tom

Going to college during the late 1960s was an interesting experience. My high school was an all male Catholic student body of about 250 kids. My local university had about 22,000 students and 12,000 of them were women. Once I got over the culture shock, it was like living in Disneyland. I quickly found out that meeting women was best accomplished at parties. The campus was a great place to scout hot looking women like Barbie Benton but not for meeting them as it took a lot of work compared to a party environment.  (Barbie was Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend at the time in case you didn’t know). Back then, house parties happened all the time. My two old high school stoner pals, Les and Brian, had also enrolled locally and we would check out a string of parties whenever we liked. One of the nice things about large schools like UCLA is the access you have to several parties every day of the week if you wanted. Somebody at school was always throwing one somewhere. 


One Sunday evening, we ended up in West Los Angeles at a small house party. Stoner types generally didn’t drink alcohol at that time so it was a pretty quiet night and everyone had classes the next day. I had brought the only weed to the party and not very much. It was in a 35 millimeter film can because cellphones hadn’t been invented yet. They hold about 5 grams if you stuffed it tight. We all just sat around on the carpet, smoked weed, and listened to my stoner pal, Les, fiddle with his acoustic guitar. None of the women there seemed too impressed with his strumming so Les decides he wants to leave. I am bored to tears by this point and down to a couple of grams so I am glad to go. Les drove and was parked across the narrow residential street. He was driving a pale yellow 1965 Mustang Fastback. 4 barrel V-8 engine. Automatic transmission because it used to be his mom’s car. Black bucket seats. The three of us climbed into the car around midnight. It was cold that night and the carbureted motors back then needed a lengthy warm up period. If you didn’t warm them up enough, they could misfire and easily stall. While we sit there idling, a Los Angeles patrol car slowly cruises by us. The two cops in it gave us some hard looks and we could tell we were about to get rousted. Sure enough, the cops use the next driveway to turn around. Les is watching all this in his rear view mirror, of course, and gives Brian and me a heads up that we’re about to get shook down.



Luckily, I was sitting shotgun and was able to take advantage of a common design feature of 1960s American cars. Cars used to have what were called vent windows. All cars had small triangular shaped pieces of glass in the front windows that could be swung open to let in a small amount of outside air. The vents were both open while we were waiting for the motor to warm up because Les and I were smoking cigarettes. As the cops were executing a 2 point U turn behind us, I fished the film can out of my pocket and dropped it out the vent window into the gutter. Les calmly put the Mustang in gear and carefully starts to enter the roadway. We got about 10 feet into the roadway before the Christmas tree lights came on and Les stopped the car. The two cops could see that we were just college kids from the local university when they first eyeballed us but this was 1968 and it was the Vietnam era of confrontation between cops and students. They didn’t like our long hair or politics and we didn’t like or trust them either. In the 1960s, if you weren’t on the LAPD’s socially approved list, you were going to be jacked around by the cops if you ever had the misfortune to have to deal with them. Astoundingly, it was just an accepted fact of life back then when your rights got trampled by the cops. College students, along with blacks, Latinos, and gays weren’t on the approved list so we were ordered out of the car before any questions were asked. We were then separated, frisked, and interrogated by one cop while the other searched the car. Then one of the cops must have found my film canister because I was handcuffed and placed in the squad car. I hadn’t been asked about weed and for sure nobody else would volunteer anything about it. Then my two white friends were released by the two white cops. Make what you will of that fact. 


I was taken to the lockup in West LA and spent the night in the drunk tank. My cell mate was a guy who had wrapped his Cadillac around a telephone pole. From the cut and fine cloth of his tailored suit, I could tell that he was probably a well to do businessman. He was about my dad’s age and I told him what happened but there was no way I was going to call my parents about this. I had zero experience with being arrested at that point in my young life. My parents knew what it was like to be arrested and sent to prison though. They had to live in a U.S. government concentration camp during World War II but it was something they never talked about to me until the late 1980s. My plan was to just sit tight and go with the flow which isn’t much of a plan. Around 8am after a horrible breakfast, a cop in a rumpled suit who looked like Colombo came looking for me. He acted really upset with me and told me to shut the fuck up and don’t say even one word while he scolded me for smoking weed. The film can was found in the gutter and not in my pocket. I just knew that my pals didn’t rat me out and I certainly never mentioned anything about marijuana. It would have been hard to prove that it was mine and he knew it. After he finished trying to shame me by saying that Asian kids didn’t do these kinds of things, he ordered my release. I stepped onto the sidewalk a free man on a beautiful Southern California winter day. Surviving a huge crisis made me appreciate the brilliant blue sky and cool sea breeze more than usual. The frat house where I was living was about 4 miles away but I walked back because it was so nice outside. My two pals were shocked but elated to see me. Back then, possessing two grams of weed was still a serious crime. They thought I was going up the river and had kept my arrest secret from everyone else. While relating to them what had happened at the cop station, I went to my stash and started rolling some fat ones to take to campus. I had just picked up a brick of some decent stuff from friends down by San Diego the night before this fiasco. I had promised to smoke out some of my classmates on campus and now I was late. At least I had a good excuse.


– Sonoma Tom

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