The Incident at Luling

                                                              “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.”–Yogi Berra

Traveling has always been a hassle.  At least one hundred fifty years ago settlers traveled with a purpose other than recreation but they had to worry about floods, finding clean drinkable water, avoiding Indians and the like.  They never knew exactly how long it would take to get from one place to another.  Motoring from one place to another today has its own time schedule unpredictability— rain and occasional flooding, bathroom stops, police playing their game with speeders by radar (especially in Martindale) and especially getting through the traffic in towns, be they smallish burgs like San Marcos or megapolises like Houston.  We spent many weekends at our hill country abode, usually leaving early Friday afternoon.  Predicting our arrival time to the hills was no more accurate than the settlers’ expected travel time, though we now measure any disparity in minutes rather than days.

The unpredictability of it all was especially true during the Incident at Luling.  Typically as the weekend drew near I was on some sort of business trip, but my wife was determined to get to our hill country retreat so early on Friday packed up and headed west.  Arriving without incident a short three hours later, she unpacked and relaxed.  Trouble was our third child, who then was 16.  He loves the ranch between Wimberley and Blanco, and his plan that day was to hop into his ragged out Chevy Blazer after high school, pick up his friend Pat, and join us in the hills.  I was to come the next day after returning to Texas from New York.

Around 9 in the evening, though, the phone rang at the ranch; it was a Luling policeman who (swear to God) said his name was J.R. Duke….  To this day I’ve never believed that the policeman was telling us his true name, since it was the same as the principal character on the “Dukes of Hazzard”, a then popular TV show.  Anyway, Officer Duke shared with my wife that he had our son and his buddy John in custody.  Seems that on the way out of Luling on the way to the ranch my son passed a pickup truck with a big goose-neck trailer, lawfully, in a passing zone.  The problem was that the truck driver failed to look in his mirror and decided to turn left as my son was passing.  Fortunately they avoided crashing into each other but the truck went into a ditch and called the police to complain.  My son (for reasons that will become obvious in a while) chose to drive on rather than stop.

Unbeknownst to my son and his friend, the Luling police had called the San Marcos police, the next town toward the safe haven of the ranch, after the complaint came in and gave them a description of my son’s errant vehicle.  The San Marcos police had dutifully stopped his car at the outskirts of town and offered them the option of going to jail in San Marcos or returning to Luling to face the music there.  They opted for the latter.  J.R. Duke, upon receiving the miscreants, put John in a jail cell (I think to scare him) but since my son was under 18, Duke had to leave him sitting in a chair in the reception area.  My son gave Officer Duke our Blanco number, figuring his mother was available and his father not, even though he knew his mother would be less tolerant of the incident than his dad.

“Mrs. Alexander, we have your son here and his friend John.”  He then related the incident, raising a number of fears in the maternal ears of my son’s mother.  When told that five beers were discovered in the car and that on top of everything else, teen age drinking was involved, my wife questioned whether the police knew that in fact they had been drinking.  “Ya know, Mrs. Alexander, beer don’t come in odd lots,” which seemed a rather complete answer.

Brett’s mom then said she’d be willing to come get both boys but had almost no cash with her to post bail.    “I tell ya what, Mrs. Alexander.  I have no place to put your son since he’s a minor, and the closest lockup is Lockhart, 20 miles away.  I don’t want to drive all the way up there tonight since my shift is almost over, so if you get here within an hour I will release them into your custody without any bail and just ticket your son for leaving the scene.”  A feeling of momentary relief came over my wife before she realized that in the late evening because of the Incident she would have to drive an hour to Luling and an hour back, hours that she had planned to spend finishing her dinner and relaxing on the porch.

When she got there, it did seem a bit like the Dukes of Hazzard script writers had visited Luling, since the police station was probably almost a century old.  When she went into the station, there was number two son, sitting on Duke’s desk, with Officer Duke reclined in his office chair, using as a spittoon for his wad of tobacco an old Folger’s coffee can.  The officer was now on his own time so the release and exchange was effected quickly and simply.  The boys were free.

Brett’s explanation of the entire affair, of course, differed from the official version.  He claimed that Frank, a known n’er do well friend, had drunk the beer, not John or him before the trip began.  When the San Marcos police stopped him the cops did not discover the beer, and then he and Pat were in a dilemma following the San Marcos police back to Luling.  Should they pitch the beer out on the way or keep it, hoping that the Luling police were as uninquisitive as the San Macos police?  Wrong choice.

But maybe J.R. Duke was the wise one after all, if the ends of justice were to be served.  While Mom did drive over and get them released, the punishment for my son was to listen to his mother berate him as John drove our son’s car to the ranch.  In fact, the verbal punishment lasted about the exact amount of time it took her to get to Luling to rescue them.  And we never did have any more trouble with incidents on the way to the hill country—unless of course you don’t count a few speeding tickets in Martindale, a reknown speed trap.

Moral:  Don’t ever think that your Mom or Dad really believe the story you tell to avoid criticism or punishment.  Face the music, and if the police are involved, do so politely—especially in small towns.

  • The names have been changed to protect both the guilty and the innocent.

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