It started out as a fine day on the coast of a small town in California: summoned to appear
by late morning, to explain myself, before a local Appeal Board for the army draft. I went
cleaned-up and shaved; but dressed informally trying to appear authentic but not proud,
honest yet not afraid –
“I’m not a US citizen; but registered for the ‘draft’, because of a job offer promised to me” —
to begin an admission. “So don’t think to qualify for army service – and still hold a British
The man opposite got a bit angry, not really open to mitigating circumstances — “Listen son,
we went over to help your people in WW-2, okay! So now you can help us out, alright! Sounds
fair, yeah. Yes I think so”!
“But the job offered was in state agriculture: working out on the fields with harvesting
sprouts, contracted by the grower – exempt from military service, I was told”.
Three middle-age men were sitting across the table from me; sounding/looking like ‘vets’
from WW-2, or the later war in Korea. They were obviously friends and enjoyed playing with a
very young English man, before coming down hard with a pre-determined decision.
“Have you started this job in the fields”?
“No, still at the gas station”.
“Listen son” – a firm declaration continued again in-line with the tone, the hardened
attitude from all of them – “you got a job down here and a ‘go’ at our gals in town – so now
pay-up and go”! The men went into a huddle for a short time, then sat back comfortably;
assured in their opinions and unassailable position, with a bit of one-sided humour thrown in.
I had no counsel with me, after I heard the cost for this – the same price as a week’s wages
for me. I had to defend myself with my back to the wall, a stacked deck of cards, with a loaded
dice and ‘house rules’ to the fore (like Christians thrown to the lions)…
After clearing his throat a little, the man in the center made the final statements, without
compunction, hesitation, or reservations –
“Well, the way we see it, is you have two choices. Either you arrive at the bus station next
week, for a ride to our Induction center. Or get ready to serve two years detention at San
Quentin state penitentiary. It’s up to you”. They all nodded over to me in firm agreement and
each made a poker face as papers on the table were shuffled infront of us, then signed-an-
dated for their records.
All I could think of was another choice I had; considered for days since the first ‘draft’
papers arrived in my mail-box. Just get into my trusty ole Ford roadster, throw all my
belongings onto the back seats and drive straight north for the border crossing, towards
Canada. But it would be a long drive; a few days on the road and nights parked out-of-sight on
the by-ways. Without ‘good-byes’ to anyone; without job notices, last looks or second
from Santa Cruz, Ca, USA