In the early `70s, Warren, Ohio was a bustling urban center. At least that’s how I perceived it. As Trumbull County’s seat, Warren felt a little bigger than it was. The economy was good, people were proud to live there and thanks to abundant blue-collar jobs, Warren was growing. I was 19 and lived in a second-floor walk-up on one of Warren’s busiest streets, West Market. Across the street was a convenient coin-op laundry and a local icon, The Hot Dog Shoppe (which I described in an earlier post). My apartment was one of two on the 2nd Floor above adjacent warehouse space and a Muffler Shop. We rarely saw our neighbor but since we shared a bathroom, smelled him from time to time.
While I called Warren “home,” I had the misfortune of getting arrested there for interfering with a police officer. That’s another story, for a future time.
The reason I mention it is that due to that arrest, I quickly fell under the scrutiny of the Warren City Police, who were known to be (being kind here), extremely “provincial”. In a subsequent jury trial, I was unanimously acquitted. This sequence of events led to numerous adventures.
Some windows in our building opened to the roofs of two other buildings. One gave us a “bird’s eye” street view and both provided convenient, gravel-covered “patios” of significant size. We enjoyed our roof access. Another benefit was a crevice that ran between the buildings, which allowed quick (albeit irretrievable) disposal of certain “contraband,” should certain uninvited guests (like the police) come to call.
We were quite accustomed to uninvited guests. Our small core of friends had wide exposure among a colorful cadre of characters, many of whom became regulars. Some were minors (hey, we were barely “adults” ourselves) and especially the attractive female visitors passed our extremely loose entrance criteria with ease.
On a given night, friends mingled with friends of a friend (of a friend) and complete strangers, to enjoy indoor/outdoor parties, with music under the stars. It was a great, legendary place to party. But it simply became too popular. Our standards were low and our Joie de vivre immense. We were young, impetuous and naive. We felt we had little to fear, except, of course, authority figures.
Now, back to being arrested for interfering with a police officer. After a disgusting overnight stay in Trumbull County’s decaying, nearly two century old jail, (again, something I’ll explore later), I was arraigned. The judge du jour mentioned that he wanted to quickly dispose of my case, appointing an assistant prosecutor as my attorney, who advised me to plead “no contest”to get probation (even though I felt I’d done nothing wrong). When I told him I was falsely arrested and wanted to plead “innocent,” he told the judge, who became incensed. A trial date was set and I was ROR.
The next day, I got a call from a reporter at Warren’s Tribune Chronicle. I explained my story and a small blurb appeared in the next day’s paper. It said little and I thought nothing of it until a guy from Cleveland’s Plain Dealer phoned. The Plain Dealer was a REAL paper with reasonable street cred. After an interview, this reporter filed a much more prominent report. That afternoon, I got a call from the court-appointed attorney, saying that the case was now too high-profile for him to continue. He urged me to engage other counsel. The Tribune reported his departure as due to a schedule conflict but that’s not what he had told me. He filed for and was granted a continuance. Oddly enough, another barrister called later that day. He claimed to be extremely interested in my case and since I was then unemployed, offered to waive his fee (magic words). He’d take my case “on principle”.
We met and immediately hit it off. He was youngish, somewhat formal but aware of current youth trends and issues I then felt important. We talked music and found we had similar tastes. He seemed smart and sincere. I agreed to his terms and signed some papers. We shook hands. I drove home and parked near a dark sedan.
Instead of going in, I walked up the street for some take-out chicken. When I returned, I noticed the sedan quickly leaving my parking lot. I reached the front door to find it ajar. Upstairs, my apartment door was open as well. The place was a mess. Papers strewn about, a few cupboard doors and kitchen drawers were open.
I immediately called my new attorney but experienced line noise, before being disconnected. I tried again, with the same result. I locked up, ran downstairs, and crossed the street to use a pay phone at the laundromat. It was empty except for an older guy, who sat smoking, reading a magazine. I noticed other papers and magazines on the benches, which I thought odd, because there was usually never anything to read there.
When I told my lawyer what had just occurred, he said that he had just learned that my apartment was under surveillance. He also warned me that the noises I heard on my phone were from a tap. Whatever ANYONE said on our phone was being listened to–we should be extremely cautious on the phone, he warned. Also, we should warn friends who call, come and go. We were being watched. Hard to believe but true.
We complied. We “cleaned house”. The crevice was fed well as we took appropriate precautions. We later regretted throwing certain items into the crevice, but at that moment we were VERY nervous. Soon, we’d see others stationed at the laundromat. Eventually we’d watch them change shifts. We’d put on a show as we came and went just to liven up their assignment. Like I said, we were young and impetuous. At first, it was kind of fun. Occasionally we’d prank them, providing absurd false information on the phone, hoping to lead them on wild goose chases.
Over time, though, it became a real nuisance. Friends of ours were getting hassled. Phone calls kept getting disconnected. We’d get “carded” on the street before we could go into our own apartment. It turned outright annoying. Ultimately, we decided to leave Warren, moving to a house in McDonald, a quiet little steel town nearby. The harassment stopped. Eventually I left Ohio altogether to attend college.
Another morsel of the period’s West Market Street lore involves Richard Nixon. Coming through Warren in his re-election bid, he was scheduled to speak in the vicinity. Having hated Richard Nixon from before my birth, I didn’t plan to attend but fate forced my hand. You see, being one of the city’s main thoroughfares, West Market was on Nixon’s parade route.
We found out one morning when an extremely loud knock shocked me from a deep drool of sleep. Opening the door revealed several clean-cut, muscular men in dark suits and sunglasses, shoulder to shoulder in a tight triangle. They looked almost like clones and were, frankly, quite intimidating. One flashed ID.
He explained that they were part of an advance Secret Service detail, making sure that Nixon’s parade route was secure. Since our apartment’s roof access would be ideal for snipers, they demanded to search our entire apartment. We could stay as they did so, but on the day of Nixon’s event, we’d need to vacate the premises until his motorcade was safely out of range. More agents arrived. We signed some paperwork and they went through our place (quite methodically, I might add). I picked up behind them.
Luckily, this transpired while we were still under surveillance, so anything remotely questionable had been “creviced”. The agents were economical with words. It was strictly business. I was truly impressed by how well they worked together. I worried that they might come across something we’d missed but eventually got the impression that unless they turned up weapons, a hostage or a body, we probably would be safe.
On “Nixon Day,” Market Street was abuzz. Swarms of people, banners, protesters, chants and all manner of organized chaos lined both sides of my street. I noticed that Secret Service had replaced the plain-clothed city cops in my Laundromat. Since we had to leave, we participated in the protest.
The Secret Service posted their own snipers on our roofs. Others occupied our neighbor’s apartment (which faced the street). Seeing big men bearing automatic weapons perched where we typically partied is a sight I’ll never forget. When all was done, they would leave as quickly and with as little fanfare as they had come.
Two close friends of mine, both of whom enjoyed life on the edge, sporting wild tangles of hair, full beards and requisite counterculture attire–and as usual, in an altered state of consciousness–ran clamoring through the crowd, a massive “4 More Years” banner rippling between them as they screamed pro-Nixon chants to rev up all those present. At the time, I was pissed at them. They explained that looking as they did, it was a perfect ruse…that such incongruous behavior would create confusion, chaos and angst among the GOP faithful. Reverse psychology, as they saw it… It was indeed a spectacle and a statement, one of many I witnessed with them in a very short time that seemed like it would never end. One of them died too young of MS and the other matured into a staunch GOP supporter. Go figure…
Once I left Warren, I filed a lawsuit against both the City and the arresting officer for false arrest, defamation and punitive damages. We sought $23,000 .
To sue the city, one needed the city’s permission, so they were immediately dropped from the suit. The cop had all his assets listed in his wife’s name, so they couldn’t be touched. Ultimately, we settled for a mere $400, which my attorney, the one who had taken the case pro-bono, allegedly “on principle,” pocketed. I never saw him, the arresting officer or most of the kids who frequented our apartment on West Market Street again.