Hitchhiking to the Matches??

An old photo out of the past…this is my photo that I call CLASSIC DUTCH. If you don’t know, I’m a huge PHOTOSHOP fan and this photo was originally black and white and I started playing with it and somehow, I ended up with the invention above. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know and most likely couldn’t recreate it again.

Hitchhiking?  What is that some of you may ask?  According to the never wrong WikiPedia,  (sarcasm intended), here’s the definition.

Hitchhiking (also known as thumbing, hitching, or thumbing a ride) is a means of transportation that is gained by signaling people, usually strangers, for a ride in their automobile or other road vehicles to travel a distance that can be short or long.  The latter may require many rides from different people which is usually given as a generosity but some times, a small donation is given but not usually.

Hitchhiking is always less costly than taking public transportation and certainly one’s own vehicle.   If one wished to obtain or request a ride or lift,  they simply stood by the side of a road with their right thumb extended upward in the direction of which they intended to go.   Vehicles passed this person until one of them decides to offer a ride out of generosity and stops to allow the hitchhiker into their vehicle.

Well, that was a rather long definition of hitchhiking but now, you have a sense of what hitchhiking is in case you didn’t before. 

I am the only wrestler, to my knowledge, that has ever hitchhiked to a wrestling show. I should be included in The Guinness Book of World Records  but of course I’m not probably out of pure jealousy. I’m sure somewhere along the line of the wrestling brotherhood/sisterhood, there’ve been other instances but screw it, it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Years ago,  hitchhikers were everywhere.  Back in the earlier more simpler days, it was a very common practice.   In those days,   a lot of hitchhikers were hippies with the long hair and the tie dyed multi-colored shirts on.   You would see them on interstates,  backroads and city streets.   Back in that era,  hitchhiking was legal.  Later on, it was banned for the most part in most US states primarily for safety reasons.  But that was years before the US got so consumer and safety conscious and people started caring about not getting murdered.  Bastages. 

Back to my story,  I was in my first year in the wrestling business working in the old Georgia NWA territory.  Every Saturday night,  the Atlanta promotion ran a town some 60 miles west of Atlanta headed toward Alabama.  The town was called Carrolton, Georgia and it was situated very close to the Alabama state line.   The town wasn’t big but they all watched the Atlanta wrestling show on Saturday afternoons on Channel 17, WTBS which at that time was a very small UVH station with only one tower. Later, thanks to Ted Turner it became known as the SuperStation.

Since the town was so small, the arena was usually jam-packed because the only other place with any entertainment value in town on Saturday nights was Joe’s Bar but you ran a chance of getting the dog shit beat out of you by some drunk ass potato farmer. If you took the asskicking factor out of Joe’s place, it wasn’t too bad. But the wrestling matches were a lot more fun. And safer.

Since the matches started at  8:30PM,  the call time for the show for the talent (we were just called “rasslers” in those days) was one hour prior to match time which meant I had to be in the dressing room at 7:30PM.  Or that was the suggested time.

The drive to Carrollton from Atlanta was approximately 90 minutes. It’s probably a whole lot less now than it was then.  Back then, it was all back road 2 lane driving but not a bad road.  For me,  living in Atlanta, it was an easy drive plus on this particular trip, it was in early fall/late September and the drive was gorgeous.  Fall was in the air and the trees were all changing colors.  It was a beautiful late afternoon and I was looking forward to a great drive and a great match that night.   Or that’s what I thought.

I left Atlanta a little later than normal that day…why?Who knows. Atlanta traffic was already horrendous even back then and the traffic was heavier than usual but I thought I could make it up by driving a little faster than I normally do.  I was about 30 minutes into the drive way out in the country when I  suddenly heard a flapping sound coming from the back.  In those days,  I knew very little about cars and less about car maintenance but I did know what the flapping sound meant.  It meant a flat tire.  Normally, that wouldn’t be such a problem but I remembered that I just had another flat tire a week or so before and the spare tire was now on my car.   I knew that there wasn’t another spare tire in my trunk. This didn’t look good.

Up ahead,   I saw a sign advertising a little mom and pop convenience store a little distance ahead and I planned on making my emergency stop there to check my tire.   Why I had to check it I still don’t know. The tire was flat. Flatter than a pancake. I still had a little bit of time to get to Carrollton and I surmised that I maybe could find a tire store to have the problem fixed.  Maybe.

Folks,  need I tell you this but even today, when you’re out in the country, you could be just “s**t outta luck” even with RoadSide Assistance available.  As I pulled into that old beat up store which Bonnie and Clyde wouldn’t have bothered robbing,   I was in nowhere land.  I was 40 miles from Atlanta, 40 miles from where I needed to be and 40 miles past the crack of my ass. Excuse the terminology. That’s an old Southern axiom.

As I pulled my car to a stop, I got out.  And yes, my fears were realized as I saw my back right tire flatter than 4 o’clock. I walked into the convenience store and asked an old guy who looked like he was a cast member left-over from the movie Deliverance if there was a garage or a tire store nearby. The old bastard just looked at me like I had two heads but what the look purveyed was, NOT NO BUT HELL NO.

I asked if there were taxis around which also generated the old proverbial eye roll from the punchy little guy behind the counter. Have you ever just been talking to someone when you’re overcome with a desire to just slap the taste out of someone’s mouth? I thought it best to just leave.

I guess I should have thought about calling the arena but I never did know the name of the little place.

I had several dilemmas on my hands.  Getting to the show was the most pressing one, getting there in time for my match was a bigger one and getting another tire was another one.   What would be easier?   I knew that it would probably be Sunday before I could get another tire on my car especially since it was a weekend.  Things in those days didn’t operate on the 24-hour around the clock schedule as they do today. 

First things first I always was told.  Who told me this?

FIRST THINGS FIRST!!

Hell, I don’t know but probably it was some snooty 2nd grade teacher who told me that at one time. My first priority was to make the show but without transportation,   how could I do that?  Keep in mind there were no cell phones in those days.  I had all the other wrestler’s numbers but those were all land lines.  I thought that maybe one of the other wrestlers would pass by me and I could catch a ride but since I had left Atlanta late as it was,  they would all be ahead of me.

That left me with 2 alternatives.  To hitchhike into Carrollton OR…ALTERNATIVE NUMBER 2…TO WALK.   Wrestlers are notoriously lazy ass bastards to begin with so I immediately discarded alternative number 2. Screw that.

Once I got to Carrollton, I could get one of the other guys to help me get back to my car or to at least get me back to my apartment so I could make arrangements to tend to my car the following day. But back to my original thought, first things first.

Speaking of my apartment, back in those days a dollar went a lot longer than it did later. I had a “fully furnished” apartment, furniture, bedding and dishes supplied along with electricity and water for $150 per month. My apartment was furnished in a way that needed a name. I gave it one. Early American Ghetto. I shouldn’t say that really. I wasn’ that bad if you didn’t mind the gunshots outside at night and the arts. To be honest, I’ve been in jails with better amenities. But it was HOME!!

So, I had to find a way to Carrollton and I knew that I would have to depend on the old Thumb Express. Anyway, I grabbed my bag out of my now stranded car and out on the road I went and assumed the classic hitchhiker pose. Standing on the side of the road like a moron with my thumb out didn’t make me feel like a big time wrestling star as I stood there literally begging for a ride.  Did I mention that the road to Carrollton was a back 2 lane road with not a lot of traffic? A car passed me about every couple minutes or so.

I looked at my watch.  It was getting close to 7:15 PM and with any luck, I might get there about 8:15PM that is if a car stopped right away. Car after car passed me by with some of them honking their horns as if to say, hey kid, we got a car and we’re not stopping for you.  Bastages. One of the guys even yelled out the window, “get a job you idiot” as they passed me. I loved southern hospitality.

Finally…an old beat up pick up truck stopped. Let me reiterate the “old” and “beat up” part. It looked as if it had been taken directly from a real working junkyard. But as long as it had wheels and could roll, I couldn’t be choosy. It was getting a bit dark by this time and I ran up to the truck and the guy said in a very strong southern twang, “where ye headed”?  I said Carrollton. He said me too. Hop in. 

I got in and thanked him for the ride. The old man was in his mid-60s I suspect with gray hair and a gray beard and looked like he’d been rode hard and put up wet as they say in the Old South. That phrase was to describe horses when they’ve been ridden a long distance and then put up for the night without being dried off and taken care of.  I guess. Come to think of it, I’d never seen a horse rode hard and put up wet myself.

The old pickup the old guy had was a old one, rusty with a broken windshield and some tools laying in the floorboard on the passenger side. Plus it reeked of a strong smell of gasoline. The old  truck resembled the driver. Both of them looked like they’d seen their better days.   

After a mile or so, he asked me what I was headed to Carrollton for?  I said I had an event to attend to that night. He said he was going to an event as well. Then he said,  “I think I know who ye are”.  I said you do?

He said…”you’re one of dem rasslers, ain’t ye”? 

I said, “Yes sir. That would be me”.  He laughed and said, “I jist knew it. I seent ye on TV before. Ain’t you dat Wayne Cowan feller”? I replied, “got me again. You’re right”.

Yes, way back, way before Dirty Dutch and Zeb Colter became my ring handles, I worked under my real name or at least the way it’s pronounced.

This wasn’t the truck but it’s a close second except it’s too clean and has better tires than the one I ended up in. Is this the type of vehicle big wrestling stars need to be seen in?

No matter where this guy could’ve gone in the United States…his accent screamed dead center Alabama. I’m from the South and I have an accent too but this was way deeper than I could ever imagine having. 

He then said he’d be glad to take me to the matches in Carrollton as that as where he was headed too.  To make his point, he said, “well boy, you got lucky tonight because dat’s exactly whur I’s headed. To da matches in Carrollton. I”ll take you right up to da front door”. 

As we traveled further,  he asked me where I was from.  To make conversation, I said Atlanta even though I wasn’t really from there.  It’s funny the things you can find out about people in a short amount of time but he damn sure filled me in pretty fast on his history.

The trip was about 45 minutes and I found out the guy’s life story on the way.  His name was Preston Jones and why I still remember his name I don’t know.  He was from Alabama originally, fought in WW2, came back home, met a Georgia girl, married her and had 4 kids, all boys with 5 grandkids and another on the way. He worked in an cotton mill most of his life and then retired.  His wife had passed away a couple years earlier.  All his sons had moved away from home and lived in various places so he didn’t see them very often.  And he said that I reminded him of his youngest son and that was the reason he had stopped for me in the first place…AND because he said I looked like that “rassler feller”.   Yep, telling me their life’s story was one of the things Southern people did. Ole Preston talked to me like he’d known me all his life.

Then quite naturally, the topic came back to pro wrestling. How did I know that was where this conversation was headed? Plus I’ve learned that wrestling fans can talk all day about wrestling and how it used to be.  Ol Preston said he had loved pro wrestling since he was a little boy.    He even told me he liked wrestling back ‘when it was real and not all this fake stuff’.

WRITER’S THOUGHT: While I was composing this a few days ago, I had a thought of what old Preston would think of today’s wrestling landscape? What would he think of a guy’s dick spot or a female wrestler pulling out her tampon and cramming it down her opponent’s throat? Or a guy with his hands in his pockets moving in slow motion? Wow I guess we’ve really evolved this business as some people have tried to convince me. I didn’t say anything to him then. Nothing to say. And if he asked today…same answer again. Nothing to say.

Then he looked at me and said, “kin I ast jou a question” and implored me to tell him the God earnest truth as opposed to a bald faced lie. I told ole Preston, “I’ll do my best”. He wore those old fashioned gold rimmed glasses and he peered over them as if to make a serious point.

“Lissen…dem damn ole masked boys….dem Assassins…who are dey really?” he asked.

He was talking about Tom Renesto and Jody Hamilton who were probably one of the greatest heel tag teams I’ve ever seen even to this day. I knew if I’d really told him who they were, he wouldn’t have known them from Adam’s house cat because they had never worked under their own faces. So I just loaded him up with the craziest crap I could come up with at the time.  Most people would just call it BULLSHIT but I refer to it as “situational information”. I mean, I wasn’t going to pay Ole Preston a penny for this ride so at least it could be entertaining.

I looked at him and said in my most serious tone, “OK look. I’m gonna tell you something but this is just between you and me, OK Preston? You can’t tell nobody. Got it? Nobody”.  

The world famous Assassins set box office records in the Mid-Atlantic territory before moving on the the Atlanta NWA office in the early’s 70’s. Great team, great technical skills but most importantly, they possessed great timing. Jodi Hamilton is on the left and Tom Renesto is on the right.

I used his name, Preston because people down South do that all the time when they’re saying something serious. He understood what I was saying and he replied, “I understand ye man. I ain’t gonna tell nobody nuttin” in his most serious tone.

I paused for a second for dramatic purposes and I said “they’re both brothers from California. They had to come down south to Georgia to work because they’re wanted by the police in Los Angeles for attempted murder and bank robbery.  They used to wrestle out on the West Coast but once they got into trouble, they had to leave.  Nobody really knows their real names so as to not tip anybody off.  Even the other wrestlers don’t know their names” I told him.

Granted Ol Preston wasn’t a Rhodes Scholar but I could see the gears in his brain debating whether what I’d said could be true. He’d heard BULLSHIT before but I knew what he was thinking. Why would I BULLSHIT him, he thought. But to make sure, Ol Preston looked at me over those gold rimmed glasses and in a very serious tone, said, “you’re not bullshitting me are ye”?  Dat’s the truth”? 

I said yes I’m telling you the truth and faked outrage that he could even question me. I then added, “And please, don’t tell anybody what I told you. Dammit, I knew I shouldn’t have even told you anything”.

Preston replied apologetically, “No it’s OK man. I ain’t gonna tell nobody. I ain’t gonna tell nary a person. Thank ye for telling me. I’d always wondered who dem boys wuz. It’s safe wit me”. 

I replied “really”? He then took an oath that you only hear in court rooms when he pledged his undying allegiance to the truth when he said, “I swear to God, man”!!

I loved that answer. It was safe with him, all right.  I laughed a little to myself because I knew that as soon as he got to the building, that’s the first thing he was to tell his buddies. And I can’t blame him really. He had a first class scoop that nobody in his home town or his orbit had and he was going to tell all he knew and probably add a lot to the story.  Come to think about it, ol Preston was a prehistoric Dave Meltzer and probably just as truthful when he told the story to his buddies but by this time, the Assassins probably killed 5 people, robbed 3 banks and kidnapped a woman for ransom. 

We were nearing Carrollton by this time and old Preston drove right up to the front door and let me out. He saw some of his buddies at the ticket window and he honked his horn and made sure they saw me getting out of the truck. I still remember that night. As I thanked him for the ride, he said ‘now Wayne, eef ye need a ride back to yer kerr, I can help ye out”. I said thank you sir but I think I’ll be fine now. I appreciate the offer. Then I went to work. I looked at my watch. It was 8:10PM. Damn, I couldn’t believe I’d made the show. And on time too.

When ole Preston got inside, I knew he had a lot to tell. That little ole arena in Carrollton looked a lot bigger back then but it would only hold about 300 fans sold out. It was a standing room only crowd that night and hotter than a witch’s tit in the summer.  Even in the fall it would hit 90* after dark and back in those days, smoking was allowed inside arenas. Combine the heat and the smoke and it became a safety and hazard issue to everybody. Wrestlers and fans too. Where was OSHA when you really needed them?

I still remember who I wrestled that night, Ted Oates who was the first guy I ever worked an angle with. We had great matches…or if you want to use the STAR SYSTEM…of course, in my mind, we always had 8 STAR matches on a scale of 5.  By todays standards, Dave Meltzer the match would’ve only have garnered a 5 rating because it wasn’t held in the Tokyo Dome. The match match finished with me doing the job but what else was new?

As I made my way back to the dressing room, I made a point of singling out Preston in the crowd and even calling him over to tell him something.  When he was right up close to me, I leaned into him and said,  “don’t tell your buddies what I told you, OK?”  He said don’t worry,  “I ain’t told dem boys ‘nuttin’.  Ain’t der business”.

I can’t remember how I fixed my car tire but I recall not fixing it that night. I think I went back to Atlanta with my buddy Skandor Akbar and had a friend take me back over there the next day to fix the tire.

Usually, that would be the end of this story but it isn’t. I stayed around Georgia for another year before I left for another territory but several months after Mr. Preston gave me the lift, I noticed that he went missing from the matches for awhile. One night when my match was over, I headed out to my car and a decently dressed guy walked up to me and said, “Wayne, can I talk to you for a minute”.  He wasn’t dressed like an ordinary wrestling fan so I said sure. What can I do for you?

He asked, “Do you remember a man by the name of Preston Jones? Remember, he gave you a ride one night when you had a flat tire”?  I nodded my head and said, “I sure do. How is Mr. Preston doing”? 

“That’s why I’m here tonight” he said. Then his voice dropped and he said, “I’m his son and I just wanted to let you know that my dad passed away a couple weeks ago”. 

Wow…I thought. I had only talked to him one time and he used to say hello to me when I would return to Carrollton every other week or so but the news shocked me.

This news caught me off-guard and I didn’t know what to say. I asked what had happened.  The son said that his dad had missed church services one Sunday morning and his friends went checking on him and found him dead still in his bed.

I replied that I was so sorry and gave my condolences to him and the family for their loss. He thanked me and he said that his dad used to talk about me all the time and about the time he had given me the lift to the matches.

And then he kind of leaned into me and in a low voice said that his dad would like for me to know that “he (Preston) had never repeated the secret about the Assassins and them being wanted by the police in California”. He added at the end that his dad was always very good with secrets.

Then I drove away. But on the way out of the parking lot in Carrollton, I had to laugh a little. Yep, I knew it all along. Never tell anybody down South a secret. It will beat you back to the house. 

Sounds like a bullshit story, doesn’t it? It’s not. TRUE STORY. Or is it?

DISCLAIMER: Margin of error.


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