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Mel Packer: Hots and a Cot

Payphone only cost a dime
in 1963 Wickenburg Arizona

where I had bedded down
courtesy of the local police

willing to let an 18-year-old hitchhiker
looking for work
sleep the night 

"But we'll have to lock you in...
Regulations, ok?" 

Beat the street sleeping
on my last dime

Waitress at the diner sent me 
after she apologetically told me 
“I gotta close up now”
after feeding me for free
But go see the cops 
up the street
tell them I sent you

So sure, lock the door
I need a place to sleep tonight

‘Cuz I gotta call that dude ranch
advertising in the paper
for a dishwasher
first thing in the morning

My last dime went into that payphone
at the diner
old style
even had a door folded me in

Didn't need privacy 
I needed a job
place to sleep
maybe guaranteed meals

And it all matched up
apparently job qualification
was minimal
ability to operate a pay phone
answer questions in English

"Slim" drove into town 
and picked me up at the diner
I was hired. 

Three hots and a cot 

In exchange for 
60+ hours a week
for the next few months
me, Eddie, and Slim
up to our elbows in hot water and steam

But I ate
And I slept
And I even got drunk
Once in awhile

(c) 2023 Mel Packer

Mel Packer is a long-time peace, justice, and environmental activist in Pittsburgh.


4 comments on “Mel Packer: Hots and a Cot

  1. Kathy Jones
    March 15, 2023


    I was born in 1963 in Wickenburg, Arizona. I remember the first time I saw a payphone. It cost a dime to use it. The police let me sleep on the street for a night to get a job. I was so lucky. I got a job at the diner. The waitress told me she had to close up now. I was so grateful. I went to see the police up the street. They told me I sent you. They were sure I could sleep at the ranch. I hope I can get a job there. Maybe they will give me a job with a minimum qualification. I need a place to sleep tonight. I was born in 1963 in Wickenburg, Arizona. I remember the first time I saw a payphone. It cost a dime to use it. The police let me sleep on the street for a night to get a job. I was so lucky. I got a job at the diner. The waitress told me she


  2. Sean Sexton
    March 11, 2023

    I’ll soon click that link the story further. As I was finishing a response, the damn thing just took off and I wasn’t sure it got sent, but am grateful to hear your reply and will follow up!


  3. Sean Sexton
    March 11, 2023

    Love it!
    There was special knowledge and special love functioning in the woodwork, and, (at least if you were white, perhaps male), so much less danger abroad. Have we made all this go away or is it a natural progression [regression] in the parcel of who we are?
    I’d lend you a dime if you could call and tell me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • melpacker
      March 11, 2023

      Thanks Sean, I like your comment. And yes, I am both male and white, 77yo, and have benefited from the first two my entire life and am well aware of that privilege. This is a true account of the time I wound up in Wickenburg AZ with just a dine in my pocket after quitting high school (second time) halfway thru my senior year simply because I was bored and failing (again). This was prior to the years of college age folks wandering in a backpack and I met no other people on the road except those willing to pick up a clean-cut white hitchhiker with a sign on the suitcase that probably said “West”. I had some influences from reading the Beats, and somehow thought I could “ship out” from a port in CA. I made CA, but how I then left and hit AZ is another story and not that interesting, nor were the grifters who persuaded me to head that way. Thanks for the offer of a dime, and if I needed one, I’d call you, if I had your number, and if I could find a payphone that now probably takes half a buck and also probably doesn’t work. Have we regressed or progressed? A loaded question that requires long discussion over lots of coffee or maybe an occasional beer. I should stop now before I grab another morning coffee and allow it to delude me into thinking that anything I’m writing here is of value…. If you’re still reading (a glutton for punishment perhaps) and want to hear more about my hitchhiking thru the South and having a life-changing event, click on this link to our Pittsburgh StoryCorps. https://www.wesa.fm/storycorps/2017-06-04/storycorps-pittsburgh-mel-packer


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