Invitation to an Unexpected Road Trip: Conclusion

A clear morning dawned bright, early on the day that we were to begin our trip home.  It is probably a pity that none of us were up to see it.  Our farewell party had gone on late into the evening and nobody felt inclined to roll out of the sack in the manner of those who have somewhere to go.  We had set no alarm, having no alarm to set, and therefore got up and got moving at whatever time that the spirit moved us.  My guess is that it was close to ten in the morning when we began to get serious about leaving.

Getting out of the door was not a great problem for us.  The motorcycle had been stashed in the truck the evening before and all that we had besides that was our sleeping bags, backpacks, my duffle bag, a cooler full of food and a five gallon glass bottle of water for us and Foxy, Dave’s dog, which was pretty much what we had when we arrived.  After a hasty breakfast of I don’t exactly remember what, we took our few belongings downstairs and stowed them in the truck next to the bike.  Then, after one more look through the apartment to make sure that we were not leaving anything behind, although we had so little that I wonder why we bothered, we piled into the truck, fired up the engine, and nosed out onto the streets winding through Bellevue until we gained the Interstate.  Once again we were on the road, this time headed south.

“We” had in fact grown by one.  Kelly, a traveler from the U.K., had been bumming across the U.S.A. and Canada and had somehow attached himself to Marilyn and Sandy.  Kelly seemed to find a kindred spirit with our footloose selves and asked if we would include him in our party.  We agreed to this, finding in Kelly a curiosity with his cool British accent and stories of his travels.  In retrospect I believe that Marilyn and Sandy were eager to be rid of Kelly, as he turned out to be a bit of a moocher.  We were all eager to begin the journey however; Dave and I looking forward to going home and Kelly for a new adventure.

The Interstate on the east side of Lake Washington rolled south and before too long we joined up with I-5, and now we truly felt like we were on our way home.  We decided to take the straightest route possible until we reached the Bay Area, and then we would transition to Highway 101.  The Studebaker truck had never really gotten over its tendency to overheat, and while we wanted the shortest route, the California Central Valley in the summer is as hot as anywhere in the country, and so we planned to take a cooler stretch of road which had more towns where we could find help if disaster struck again.  For the time being however the old Studi was running warm but not hot, and we soon lost our anxiety on that score and began once again to enjoy the road.

Seattle fell behind us, and then Tacoma and Olympia, where some considerable road construction was still under way on I-5.  Now the country opened up before us as the city receded in our rear-view mirror.  I asked Dave to pull out the map that was in the glove box in order to see how far it was to Vancouver, where I intended to take on gas.  As Dave fumbled in the glove box a rolled up half-sheet of pink paper fell out onto the floorboards.  Dave picked up the official-looking sheet and flattened it out on his knee.  “Hey man, you got a ticket” he said.  “The hell I did” I replied.  “What’s the date on that?”

Indeed, it was a ticket for a taillight being out and failure to present registration, the latter of which meant nothing to me.  “It was two weeks ago, and it has Paul’s signature” Dave said. I had let Paul use the truck for some reason earlier and obviously he had been pulled over.  I don’t think that Paul ever told me about it; at least, I don’t remember him doing so.  Paul was a little bit flakier that the rest of us, but we were all so generally flaky that I could not hold that against him, and do not hold it against him to this day.  “Well shit” I said sagely.  “I think we’ll just keep driving until we get out of Washington.”

And that is what we did.  I took on gas in Portland, Oregon, and we kept a steady pace down the highway.  By this time it was early in the afternoon and Oregon’s Willamette Valley was getting warm, which meant that my truck’s engine was getting warm too.  Still, it did not get too hot and we rolled on with brief and infrequent stops towards California.  We fueled up again in Ashland, Oregon, where we once again followed our nature and picked up two hitchhikers.

I don’t recall the names of this two, but it was a young man and a young woman.  Evening was drawing near and they were happy that they would not have to sleep by the side of the road.  “Where are you going?” I asked as we rolled to a stop. “San Francisco was the reply.  The two were total hippies.  Earth muffins.  Granolas.  In the summer of 1970 the glory years of Haight Ashbury, and sitting cross-legged in Golden Gate Park stoned and playing or listening to bad music were fading but the afterglow was still strong, and this pair were out to find enlightenment and better drugs than were available in southern Oregon.

I got into the bed of the truck with our new passengers in order to take a break from driving and give Kelly a turn in the softer seat of the cab.  As we chatted above the road noise I learned that they weren’t really a couple; they were just traveling together.  Even as undiscerning as I was in those days however it was pretty obvious to me that the young woman was feeling a lot more independent than the young man wished that she did.  Her conversation was light and airy; full of vague goals and easy laughter, while he spoke less and seemed to laugh from time to time when it seemed appropriate for him to do so, rather than being truly entertained by the conversation.  I felt for the guy, and believed that I knew him better than anyone else in the truck.

Night descended upon us as we crossed the border into California, and as the temperature cooled down so did the motor, and we pressed on nearly non-stop through the night.  Kelly was driving when dawn began to lighten the inky eastern sky, and Dave had curled up in his bag in the bed with the rest of us.  The “natural air conditioner” that operates in northern California was hard at work, and the rising air from the heat of the north Central Valley had created low pressure which sucked in the cool, moisture-laden marine air through the Golden Gate and eastward, where it spread north and south through the valley.  We were huddled in our sleeping bags and under blankets, but roused as the gray became more pronounced,

After fully waking up we all began to talk again, and once again as usual Dave was soon enjoying the attention of the young woman.  The flirtation was obvious and mutually enjoyed, but the young woman’s traveling companion was, it was equally obvious, suffering and doing his best not to show it.  I clumsily tried to butt into the action, with scant success, and probably let my irritation show more than I wanted it too.  A short while later we both got back into the cab and exiled Kelly to the back of the truck.

“What was your problem back there?” Dave asked, more mystified than angry.  “Dude, the guy is wishing that he was tighter with her” I said.  “It was like you were rubbing it in his face”.  I didn’t mention that Dave’s easy manner with girls was beginning to cut my seriously uptight and tongue-tied self just as much as it was cutting the unrequited lover sitting in the bed of our truck.  “Aw hell, I was just flirting.  They’re getting out in a couple of hours anyway and we’ll never see them again.”  “I know” I said.  “That idiot’s riding a losing streak and doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing.  I just felt sorry for the dumb shit.  Let’s let him have his fantasy for a little while longer”  Dave probably knew that there was something going on at a deeper level but we left it at cutting some slack to the poor sap who was going to get a dose of reality soon enough anyway.  We returned to our usual banter as we approached the Bay Area, and that’s when I saw the red light in the rear-view mirror.

“What is the problem Officer?” I asked as the California Highway Patrolman walked up to my window.  I sat in my seat with my hands in view; a lesson that I had learned on a police stop years earlier.  “You have a taillight out” he said.  “Can I see your license and registration?”  I produced my license but frankly did not know what he meant by registration.  I had never owned a car before, as was the case with most of the kids that I had grown up with, and when I bought the truck from its prior owner I paid the money, got a hand-written receipt on a piece of notebook paper, signed something that he gave me and drove away.  This was, in fact, a repetition of the scenario which had occurred with Paul a couple of weeks earlier somewhere in the Seattle area.

After a few minutes on his car radio the officer returned and asked me if I knew where Spring Valley was.  “Yeah, that’s right next to where I live in San Diego” I replied, wondering why he was asking me that and hoping that it was just friendly chatter.  “That’s where the registered owner of this vehicle lives” said the officer.  I was genuinely confused.  “But I’m the owner.  I have the bill of sale right there in the glove box.”  I began to reach over to extract the bill of sale but remembered the lesson that I had learned long ago about doing such things and pulled up.  “I’m going to get it out of the glove box, if that’s all right” I said.

The officer exhaled a bit and moved his hand slightly away from the handle of the pistol on his hip.  “OK” he said.  “Slowly”.  I did as he said and produced the bill of sale.  The officer looked it over and then returned to his car to continue a conversation on the radio.  Whatever they were talking about ended with a conviction on the part of the officer that I was dumb as a gate post but not criminal.  He admonished me to get the paperwork cleared up as soon as I got to San Diego and I promised him faithfully that I would.  We all breathed a huge sigh of relief as the patrol car sped off down the highway in front of us, and soon we were rolling again and angling towards the ribbon of concrete that runs south along the East Bay.

We let the flower children out in Oakland, close to the bridge that leads to San Francisco.  I do not know to this day if we did them a favor or not, but thats where they wanted to be dropped off and that’s where they were dropped.  In a minute or two we were tooling down the McArthur Freeway heading steadily towards San Jose, where we would reconnect with Highway 101.  This time, however, we would stay on 101 at Salinas and cut inland, away from Highway 1 and Big Sur.

I have been a gardener for longer than I can remember, and going through Gilroy, the “Garlic Capitol of the Nation and the World”, and Castroville which claims only to be the “Artichoke Capitol of the World” was very pleasing to me.  The smell of the garlic and the endless fields of artichokes exerted a pull on me to pursue some sort of career in agriculture, and when you consider how disinclined I was at that time in my life to pursue a career in anything at all, that is saying something.

As we drove inland, putting the coast range between us and the Pacific Ocean, the overcast quickly burned off, and as the midday and early afternoon came upon us the air temperature ratcheted up dramatically.  Unhappily, so did the temperature of my motor.  At last, the needle was nudging the red line and I was forced to pull over.  It seemed like a good time to get something to eat so we gathered up what we had and took our time eating it.

Kelly noticed that the Salinas River was flowing not too far off of the road and said “Oy, mates.  Wot you say we wok to th’ riv’r and fill the bott’l with wot’r for the truck?” or something like that in his British accent.  It seemed like a reasonable thing to do so we grabbed the nearly empty glass bottle and began to walk over the uneven terrain which stretched for farther than it looked from the road.  We didn’t mind the walk, and talked about everything as Kelly took in the beauty of the Salinas Valley and Foxy chased butterflies and left calling cards at every rock and bush.

We finally reached the river and found that the steep bank made filling a five gallon glass bottle more of a project than we had counted on.  “I’m the lightest” I said to Dave and Kelly, “so you guys hang onto my belt while I lean down and fill the jug”.  they agreed to this plan, but it was still a struggle to fill the bottle, get both it and me back up on the bank, and then transport the heavy, awkward package back to the truck.  After much grunting, stumbling, cursing and changing positions we manhandled the bottle back to the truck with most of the water still in it.

The Studi had actually cooled down quite a bit by the time we returned with the water, so we removed the radiator cap and topped off the radiator with the fresh, cool water.  The rest of the water we poured out, deciding that we would drink other things between there and home and would get something for Foxy at every stop.  We fired up the truck and rolled back onto the highway.  The gauge climbed back up into the “high” range right away, but stayed away from the red line, so we pushed on with our fingers crossed.  The temperature gauge actually dropped when we went uphill, just north of San Luis Obispo, and we all looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.  Why look a gift horse in the mouth?

The remaining seven or eight hours of the trip were mostly uneventful.  The road was yesterday’s news to Dave and I but Kelly was taking in every sight that floated by.  As we went through Los Angeles Kelly asked if we could see Disneyland or the La Brea Tar Pits or a number of other landmarks.  We told him that L.A. is huge, and there is no way that we were getting off of the freeway until we were parked in front of our house.

That wasn’t quite true however.  Late in the evening, as a thick fog descended upon us about thirty miles from home, the needle on the temperature gauge began an inexorable climb and would not be coaxed, begged, or cursed into declining.  At Del Mar we pulled off of the freeway and into a service station.  Being so close to home after fifteen hundred miles of worrying about the reliability of the truck engine and now seeing the temperature spike when we were so close to home, I lost control just a little bit.  Control wasn’t my strong suit anyway, and as the hissing, steaming, struggling old truck rolled to a stop next to the gas pump I gave vent to the frustration that had been building within me regarding the old Studi ever since the first event in Big Sur.  “God **** this piece of ****!  I’m going to leave it here and hitchhike home.  I don’t give a **** if they tow it or sell it for scrap or push the mo**** f***** into the ocean!”  I kicked the bumper and the door and generally melted down.

“It’s OK man.  It’s OK” Dave told me.  “We’ll get it running again.  We only have a few miles to go and it’s gotten us this far, hasn’t it?  Yeah, this is a big, fat, f****** drag, but it’s not like it’s something that we haven’t dealt with before.  Take it easy man, we’ll be OK.”  Kelly just sat in the bed of the truck dumbfounded, watching this exchange.  Anger had been a feature of my life since my return from Vietnam, although I believe that the roots of my anger extended much farther back than that.  Usually I kept it under control, but on occasion it would flare out and show it’s ugly, distorted, and desperate face.  I would go on to have other and much more dangerous and damaging outbreaks of that anger later.  Soon, however, Dave had me settled down before the station attendant called the police, and as Dave had predicted we cooled the old truck down and drove off into the dark and damp southern California night.

Less than an hour later we were home.  I drove onto the gravel driveway and parked my truck behind Dave’s old sedan, which hadn’t moved since the day we left.  Peter came out from a bedroom when Dave inserted the key to let us into the house.  We finished off the beer that we had brought with us and smoked some of Peter’s stash, and then stretched out on beds or sofas or chairs and quickly dropped off to sleep.  One monumental two-month adventure was behind us, and in a few hours we would be arising to begin our next, but that is another tale.

Invitation to an Unexpected Road Trip, Part V

“Jeez, Jerry, you’ve got a Christmas tree growing outside the door” I exclaimed as I wandered into the dinning room and looked through the sliding glass door onto the common area of the apartment complex.  The only time that I had seen Douglas fir trees in San Diego was at Christmastime, and they would be stacked in vacant lots all neatly cut and sorted according to height and quality.  We were far from being a rich family and on some Christmas seasons we would wait until Christmas Eve to buy a tree for one dollar; the lot attendant selling them for almost nothing so that he would not have to haul them away the next day.  But here was a Christmas tree, about five feet tall and growing hale and hearty right up out of the perfectly manicured grass.  By elevating my vision I could see the gigantic parents of this tree ringing the complex, and I merely stared in awe.

Jerry wasn’t sure what I meant.  “What are you talking about man?” he asked, and I pointed to the tree and told him about how odd it was to see it growing as if such a thing was normal.  “Hey, this is where they come from.  We don’t do palm trees up here man, but we do Doug firs.”  I continued to marvel at that tree while Jerry puled boxes of cereal out of a pantry and began to make coffee and toast.  Soon, we had cleaned Jerry’s mother’s kitchen out of anything edible and began to plan our next move.

How, in a story of this type, do I tell the tale which was to stretch out before us for the rest of the summer?  I had no idea on that morning as we ate every crumb in the apartment that we could get our hands on that I would be there for two months.  Maybe I would relocate to Bellevue, the suburb of Seattle in which I awoke that morning, or maybe I would get the itch and be on the road again the next week.  Dave and I liked Bellevue well enough though, as much of it as we had seen out the windows of his mothers’ apartment, and so we decided to search immediately for an apartment.  The rest of this story will recount only two or three stories of the two months that we actually ended up staying in Bellevue, as to tell the whole tale would be lengthy and boring, even for me who is doing the writing.

Jerry helped us to find an apartment, and it turned out that two young women that he and Paul were acquainted with occupied a unit close to our own.  As a result, with Jerry and Paul frequently at our place or at Marilyn and Sandy’s, we were soon part of a network of young people and were made to feel very much at home.  Paul was not on the very best of relations with his family at the time and spent many days and not a few nights at our apartment, and on many of those evenings some or all of us would be at Marilyn and Sandy’s.  We kept the music down as the apartment had some very strict rules, but still managed to have a pretty good time.

Dave also managed to enter into a relationship with Sandy, which had two effects on me.  The up side was that I no longer had to hear about Stacy.  Dave hadn’t dwelled on the topic of his lost love exactly, but I still heard about it more than I cared to on the road north.  I knew little about girlfriends one way or the other, and so had nothing really to offer in any such conversation.  Dave and Sandy’s little fling was a superficial thing; more of a mutual fancy than anything else.  A sharing of the sofa, a holding of the ads at the pool, a kiss goodnight was all it amounted to in what was the age of sex ‘n drugs ‘n rock ‘n roll.  The down side was that my shyness and fear of being turned down by any girl in whom I might show any interest continued to dog my heels, and so while Dave made contact I continued to play my role as the friend who could never get any further than the estate of friend, which was a role that I was becoming heartily sick of.

But since the role of just friend was to be my lot, for the time being anyway, I chose to play it well, and in no time I was friendly with Lisa, who lived in another building of the complex but who was frequently at the pool.  Lisa was a student who worked part-time doing something or other during some of the summer days and had a fair amount of time to lay around the pool or lay in the sun outside of her unit. Lisa had a boyfriend named Carl (of course) and as that took the issue of us developing a relationship off of the table the pressure evaporated, and we just hung out together risk-free.

Lisa and Carl were straight, and I mean really straight!  I don’t know about the role of sex in their lives – that was certainly none of my business – but there was no evidence whatsoever of drugs and  rock and roll.  Carl was doing something with computers, which was very new in those days, and spoke of something  called Cobol, a computer language that I still know nothing about.  I believe that Carl was in business but he could have been in the CIA for all that I knew.  Lisa and Carl did not typically associate with long haired, bearded people who lay idle around the pool all day, rode a motorcycle around wearing only shorts and an old high school football helmet (borrowed from Paul), and spoke of little that involved vision and stability.  Nevertheless, I found them interesting and would listen to them closely as they talked about their visions, plans and goals in life, and simply listening to people will frequently bridge differences and allow for a decent relationship; at least, it has usually worked that way for me.  There were many areas in our lives in which we differed that could be bridged but on one point we could not agree at all, and that was in finding any worth in anyone connected in any way with the Seattle Liberation Front.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kathy and Roy were members of the Seattle Liberation Front, hereafter referred to as the SLF, and they had given me their telephone number when we separated in Big Sur.  Now, happily ensconced in an apartment across Lake Washington from Seattle, I gave them a call and was extended an invitation to visit them, which I accepted at the earliest opportunity. I left one afternoon and drove a very long way around the north end of Lake Washington and finally found the house where they lived.

Kathy and Roy lived with several other people in an older, multiple story house near the University of Washington.  The house was a commune of sorts, with all of the duties of cooking and cleaning and whatever needed to be done divided up among the members.  They were all probably SLF, although I cannot claim to know that as a fact.  It sure sounded that way though.  Over a dinner of crepes the conversation was weighted heavily toward the sins of the bourgeoisie and the war in Vietnam.  “The so-called threat of communism in Vietnam is not a treat in any way against the lives of working people and students in the United States” the argument went.  “The threat of a true leader uniting the people of Vietnam to kick out the imperialists (us) and helping the people to improve their lives through common work and struggle is what scares the shit out of the fascist pigs who run this country.  If the people here learn that they don’t have to lay down and be cannon fodder for impotent generals who get their nut counting bodies, or be economic units for fat cat industrialists who are polluting our land, exploiting their workers and living like kings while the poor scratch to survive, they just might throw off their chains and take control of their own lives.”

The conversation went on like that for a while and I spent most of my time there listening, being unlikely to keep up with these very focused and articulate radicals.  Some of the members of the commune were leery of me at first but after sharing a few joints, one or two of which were my own, I was accepted as being harmless if slightly stupid, and became the focus of several long winded dissertations on the evils of the war, capitalism and a good many other features of American life.  At length, Roy suggested going out for a beer, and that was always the way straight to my heart.

We piled into somebody’s car and made the short drive to the group’s favorite watering hole, where I engaged Roy and others in topics other than politics briefly.  We talked about our separate experiences on our trips to Seattle, I spoke of my favorite burritos (with a few of the Seattle natives asking me “what’s a burrito”), and so on.  A classic American evening of sitting on bar stools and shooting the breeze about nothing in particular was underway when all of a sudden I realized that one of the group, an African American student, was waving Mao Tse Tung’s “Little Red Book” under my nose and explaining how the Chinese leader had provided the best model for non-white oppressed citizens of the United States to conduct an insurgency against the power brokers of this country.  The revolutionary gentleman allowed that white supporters were welcome to assist in this long march to a workers’ and students’ paradise in a secondary role.  I assured my passionate friend that I would be perfectly comfortable in that role, since I was more than a little tipsy and did not assay this to be a good time to engage in a whole lot of critical debate.  On rare occasions I have proven myself capable of exercising good sense, and I believe that this was one of those times.

Eventually we ended our evening and returned to the commune, where I ill-advisedly climbed into my truck at least three sheets to the wind and navigated myself through the still-unfamiliar streets and freeways of Seattle, across Mercer Island (I think) and somehow safely back to our apartment, proving once again Otto Von Bismarck’s reflection that God has “a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.”  I have sometimes wondered what happened to those people with whom I shared that evening.  Probably they ended up as bankers, professors, or dead.

It was this band of friends that I was trying to defend to Carl and Lisa, and they had no intention of buying my line.  “Those people are the lowest people in our entire society.  They attend good schools, enjoy the comfort and protection that America offers them, and then they bite the hand that feeds them.  They think that they are entitled to what I work for and earn while they sit around in their shacks, smoke pot, screw each other like rabbits and clog our streets with their demonstrations while people who want to make something of themselves are trying to get to and from school or work.  I don’t care if the authorities put them all in jail and throw away the key, or give them a one way plane ticket to Russia or Cuba or anywhere they want to go, if they will just go,” and so on in that vein.  I tried to make the point that under it all the SLFers were just people, but especially Carl was not on board with that.  He considered them a danger that should be addressed, and the sooner the better.  Through it all however we managed to maintain a friendly relationship, although I accomplished that by not letting on how much of the SLF program intrigued me.

I have mentioned earlier how I loved to ride my motorcycle around the east side of Lake Washington wearing nothing more than shorts and a football helmet, and on one such ride I saw something that has stuck with me for forty five years.  I was riding on a two lane road towards Issaquah when I passed a sign in front of a church.  On the sign was a picture of Jesus, but it was unlike any picture of Jesus that I had ever seen before or have seen since.  This Jesus had a beard, as any good picture of Jesus should, but it was much more neatly trimmed than I remembered from the days when I attended a Baptist church in San Diego as a teenager.  And His hair!  This Jesus’ hair more nearly resembled the sort of haircut that a clean cut American boy might get in a Kansas barber shop in 1955 than the long hair that we are all so very much familiar with.  Apparently the association of long hair with everything that is unChristian was so intense that the congregation could not bring themselves to allow Jesus to look like a hippy, which I frankly doubt that Jesus did, and so instead He ended up looking more like “The Captain”, the face that appeared on the packs of ZigZag rolling papers that we used to roll our joints with.  Many, many years later I read a quote by Anne Lamotte in which she said “It is a sure sign that you have created God in your own image when he hates the same people that you do.”  In a slight modification of that statement I believe that you could also say “If you worship a god which looks a lot like you, it probably isn’t God.”

There were many other stories that I could write concerning that summer, but that would require that I write a book.  We tried to find work but only half-heartedly.  Boeing, the largest employer in the area, had been denied permission to build a supersonic transport plane that summer, and there was a scramble for such jobs as were to be found, with locals usually winning out over out-of-town long-haired slackers.  The end of our second month was approaching and we gave notice to the manager that we would not renew.  A small party with Jerry and Paul and a few other friends was held at Marilyn and Sandy’s apartment that went on well into the night, heedless of the long and exhausting trip that was to begin the next day.

Invitation to an Unexpected Road Trip, Part IV

Once again, morning dawned early and gray.  I rolled over in my old, olive drab Army surplus mummy bag that I had picked up in a store selling such things in El Cajon, California.  Some of my friends had cool, new lightweight sleeping bags with all of the newest accessories, but I had recently enough been the property of the U.S. Army, and so the older and heavier but much cheaper surplus stuff worked for me just fine.  That bag, plus a thin foam pad which I had rolled out and placed under it the night before, were all I needed for a deep and comfortable sleep.

I lay there for a while, unwilling to give up the luxuriant laziness which I was experiencing at the moment.  I could hear some of my fellow campers rustling about the area, rolling up sleeping bags, arranging backpacks or loading the trunks of cars parked up by the highway, depending upon their mode of transportation.  Somewhere in the camp somebody had made coffee, and the pungent aroma of fresh brewed coffee diffused through the wet, gray air of the camp and sent my mind wandering back a few years to a morning very much like this one, and not all that far away from where I lay at the moment.

In August of 1966 I graduated from high school.  At that time we were in the middle of a war and unwilling young men were being drafted by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to receive a brief period of training and then be thrust into the meat grinder that was Vietnam.  Some people fled to Canada to avoid the draft and others obtained deferments by going to college.  Others still pursued careers in law enforcement and other emergency services, thereby receiving the coveted deferments.

None of this was going to work for me however.  I had no intention of going to college at that time.  In fact, I remember sitting in Mrs. Hamble’s first grade class at Alexander Hamilton Elementary School and thinking “I have eleven years of this stuff left” as I looked wistfully out through a window at the sun-drenched schoolyard and playground outside, where I knew that i really ought to be.  Policeman and fireman held no appeal for me either, and it was perfectly obvious that there was no option for me but to either wait for them to come and take me or just go down to the recruitment office and get it over with.  The latter is what I decided to do.

My training covered four months at Fort Ord, about twenty miles from where I lay at that moment.  The first two months were basic training, which included a lot of running, crawling, doing push-ups, and a host of other equally unpleasant endeavors in the same sort of nasty, wet, cold and gray mornings.  There was one morning however when I beat the system.  In the Army you are always trying to beat the system; the smart ones are anyway.  My training company was going on bivouac, which consisted of a hike of considerable milage with a full pack carrying everything that you need except food, at the end of which you must set up your tent and square away your camp in total darkness before eating a meal and then spending the rest of the night on training exercises.  I was not at all keen to participate in this utter madness.

My solution to this problem was to trade Kitchen Police duty, or KP, with another trainee.  Most soldiers hate KP because what free time they might otherwise have in the busy training schedule to engage in laying around the barracks playing cards, smoking or telling other trainees BS stories about their physical and sexual prowess back home, wherever that might be, is instead spent peeling potatoes and cleaning pots and pans.  I, on the other hand, enjoyed working in the kitchen almost as much as I enjoyed smoking, playing cards and telling BS stories about my physical and sexual prowess back home (which virtually nobody, in an instance of rare insight, believed).  I still enjoy working in the kitchen, although my BS stories have moved a little higher on the food chain.  I was particularly desirous of working KP this particular day because our schedule required that we get up early to provide breakfast for the troops before they began their great trek, and then stay behind to clean up the mess and load our mess tent and field kitchen into trucks which would then transport it and us our to where our companions in training would be straggling in tired as dogs many hours later.  We rolled out of our company area about 10:00 in the morning and were in our bivouac area before noon, setting up the huge mess tent and carrying very heavy ovens and gas ranges and a host of other kitchen appurtenances into the kitchen tent.  It really was hard work, but it was a lot easier than trudging down the road for a gazillion miles with most of what you owned strapped to your back.  Once we got the kitchen and mess tent set up it was then a matter of waiting in our ease until we got word that the boys were a couple of miles down the road, at which time we swung into high gear and got a meal ready for those exhausted and hungry GI’s.  At the end of the day I figured that I saved myself a walk/run of probably 20 miles, and that was certainly worth peeling a few (hundred) potatoes and scouring a couple (dozen) pots.

The next morning I completed my KP duty by helping to prepare for breakfast.  We got started early and were ready for the rush by about forty five minutes before the tent flap would be thrown back to allow the ‘Croots’, or recruits as we said in our military shorthand, to file in bleary-eyed and hungry.  Before the Croots got there we KP’s would eat the very best of the creamed beef on toast, or “shit on a shingle” as every soldier and, I’m told, marine and sailor too calls it (I’m not sure about the Airmen; they were always a little different), that the mess sergeant could cook, and drink hot, strong coffee out of thick ceramic mugs.  The mess sergeant would tell us stories that would go all the way back to World War II and before while we drank that rich, black wonderful nectar of some very wired gods, and it was there that my memories wandered as I lay on the damp ground in my own private Army sleeping bag four years later and twenty miles down the road smelling somebody else’ coffee.

After a while lying there in my reverie one of the other guys began to stir, I don’t remember which one, and soon we were all up and beginning to feel the call of the road.  We had nothing to eat and did not feel like bumming anything from the other travelers, so we packed our gear and, after answering the call of nature, we got into my truck and nosed it back onto the road.  We intended to press on and chew up a big piece of the remaining journey to Seattle that day so breakfast and lunch would have to be purchased when we stopped for gas or bathroom breaks, which were usually at the same time.

In short order we rolled through Carmel and Monterey, at which point we reconnected with Highway 101 and then began to shoot along at a sixty mile per hour clip north with only San Francisco as a speed bump.  There was no freeway through that city then, as I believe that there is no such freeway there today.  Real estate there is just too expensive for that sort of thing, so we picked our way through the city until we sat in a lane waiting our turn to pay a toll in order to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.  That hurdle behind us, we proceeded to fly north across Marin County and beyond that into Sonoma County where I had been before briefly and where I would spend some of my best and worst days a few years hence.

I had travelled before from Fort Ord to Petaluma in Sonoma County to visit Clarice and Marcia when I was in the last two months of my training at the fort.  I had met Clarice and Marcia while camping with my father in the mountains east of San Diego one summer.  I was about 16 years old or so and shy, but managed to make friends with the two very pretty young ladies who were camped at the site next to us.  I asked for and received their address and Clarice and I wrote to each other for a couple of years.  Then, in November and December of 1966, I finally had the chance to take a bus north and visit with them.  Both Clarice and Marcia had friends in whom they were a great deal more interested than they were in me, but their parents took pity on the bedraggled young soldier who was undoubtedly headed off to war and would quite possibly not come home vertical, and made my two visits to their home very pleasant experiences.  I do wish that I could thank them for that, but I doubt that they are alive today.  I think that those two people are an example of the exhortation by Jesus that “if you do these things unto the least of these, you do it unto Me”.

We passed through Santa Rosa, driving right past a store over which I would live when my first marriage dissolved six hears later, and then passed into country which I had seen once, years before, when my father and I had travelled through.  I could barely remember what I had seen then, and so it was all new to me. Through the orchards we rolled, then up through broken hills on a highway paralleling the Russian River.  Beyond that we passed through forests thick with fir and redwoods and valleys covered with tall grasses and wild flowers, stopping periodically to relieve ourselves and to allow Foxy to do the same among the trees and ferns of the redwood forest.  Early in the afternoon we squirted out of the redwood forest and into the coastal town of Eureka, California.

There, in Eureka, was the first time that I ever felt a sense of fear of the ocean.  I grew up in the ocean.  I swam in it, surfed in it, practically lived in it.  My father said that I must be part fish.  On that stretch of Highway 101 that runs nearly at the high tide mark I felt suddenly vulnerable and small next to that vast, restless body of water which extended limitlessly to the west to the horizon, and beyond that to infinity.  I felt vulnerable to the raw power of the ocean, knowing that at any moment a rogue wave could rise up out of that seemingly pacific infinity of blue and sweep me to a resting place  in the dark places of a watery grave.  The thought of that gave me chills, and I was happy to leave that low part of the road as we tooled along to the north.  A short while later we passed through Arcata, California, and now I was truly in country new to me.

The road was long and had the twists and turns one would expect from a coastal route, but we made excellent time by changing drivers and stopping infrequently and briefly.  I was sitting in the back with Jerry when Dave drove us over the state line from California into Oregon  “Yeahhhh!!!!!” shouted Jerry and Paul in unison.  “Wow, so you really want out of California that bad?”  I asked Jerry sort of jokingly.  “No, it’s not like that, although I don’t really care if I ever see Cambria again as long as I live.  It’s just that this is more like home.  The Northwest is its own place, and people who are born up here think it’s the best place in the world.”  “Yeah, I know what you mean,” I replied.  “Those of us who were born in San Diego feel the same way, and wish that the rest of the world would visit, but then go home.”  “That’s it exactly” said Jerry.  I then thought about some of the unfriendly receptions that out-of-state visitors sometimes experienced in San Diego, and how soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas were frequently the objects of unwelcome attention.  “How do you think we’ll be received in Seattle?” I asked.  “No problem.  You’re not staying, are you?”

I allowed that I was probably not, and we chatted on in this manner for a couple of hours until we arrived in the beach town of Gold Beach, Oregon.  “Be careful here” Paul and Jerry warned us.  “This is redneck heaven and people with long hair aren’t always welcomed with open arms.  Or open hands either.”  Oh great, I thought.  Another Cambria.  We were hungry though, and needed gas and a bathroom, and as we pulled into a gas station we saw nearby a pizza place that sold their pizzas to go.  This fit our needs perfectly and after filling the tank we bought the largest pizza that they made and continued our journey north.

“We getting close to Seattle?”  I asked Paul, who had replaced Jerry in the back.  “Nope” he said around a large mouthful of crust, cheese and pepperoni.  “We’ve got a long way to go.”  “Are you sure?” I asked.  Opening the map in the wind of the open pickup bed would have been a very bad idea, so I had to take Paul’a word for it.  “Yeah,” Paul said.  “Oregon and Washington are not as long as California, but they are pretty big states and we have a long way to go before we hit the freeway.  Unless we go all night we won’t get there until tomorrow”.  I hadn’t thought about it that much, but I had assumed that we would get there that evening.  Now it looked like that was not going to be the case.

A while later, as we were getting into the middle of afternoon, we turned off of Highway 101 to begin our meandering trek eastward to join up with Interstate 5 and put the slower, winding Highway 101 behind us.  Along the way the road crossed over a bridge over the South Yamhill River.  The river was not very large at all but it was in the most exquisitely beautiful setting imaginable.  Dave pulled over and parked at the east end of the bridge and we picked our way down the embankment to the edge of the river.  This stretch of road was very rural and there was little traffic, so we peeled off our clothes and waded into the cool, slowly flowing stream.  I felt like I was in heaven.  The day was unseasonably warm for a June day in the Northwest and even in the late afternoon it was still very comfortable.  The sunlight was filtering down through the leaves of the many varieties of trees which grew along the banks of the stream and it seemed like this piece of ground had been transported from the war, the riot, and strife of life in the U.S. and the world in 1970 and removed to some incarnation of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Well, a Norman Rockwell painting with four stoned, naked hippies and an Australian shepherd  cavorting in the river, but who’s quibbling over details?

We were firmly on Paul and Jerry’s turf now and so Dave and I took positions in the bed of the pickup and allowed the local boys to guide us as we pressed onward while the sun set behind us.  I really don’t believe that we were awake when we joined Interstate 5 somewhere south of Portland, Oregon, and it is a certainty that we slept much if not all of the way through the state of Washington.  Dave and I were awakened when the Studi lurched to a stop in the parking lot of an apartment building.  “Bring in your sleeping bags and stow the rest of your gear in the cab” said Jerry, “and leave Foxy out here too.  Mom’s not to crazy about dogs in the house.

“We did as Jerry suggested and then trooped into the apartment.  Jerry’s mother and sister lived there and Jerry had obtained permission for the two guys who had brought her son most of the way back home to crash that night on her living room floor.  Mom stayed hidden however, and I do not believe that I ever laid eyes upon her.  I probably saw his sister once or twice: she was curious about the hippies from California ( I later learned that nearly everybody in Seattle believed that nearly everybody from California under the age of 25 was a hippie), but I don’t really remember her.

We accepted the limited hospitality and appreciated a place to sleep that was not moving.  We unrolled our bags on the living room rug and, with little ceremony, crawled into them and passed into a deep and much needed sleep.

Invitation to an Unexpected Road Trip, Part III

We awoke early on the second day of our journey.  It was funny how much had changed in that twenty four hours.  Dave no longer had a girlfriend and neither of us had a job, but we now had a destination.  Kathy and Roy were going to Seattle and now we were too.  Before we could get started there was breakfast to be eaten, which looked a lot like the dinner that we had enjoyed the night before minus the beer, a dog to be fed and walked, sleeping bags to be rolled up and stowed under backpacks in Kathy and Roy’s case, and a little general personal clean-up to be performed.  Having somewhere to go now gave us a push, and in a small amount of time all of this was accomplished.

The fog was thick over Pismo Beach when we emerged from the motel, and it seemed to deaden almost all sound in a cool, wet blanket of silence; all sound except a low crackle and hiss that seemed to be coming from somewhere close to the exit from the parking lot.  I paid no attention to it and we climbed back into the spots in the truck that we had occupied on the previous day.  Kathy and Roy were huddled together with their jackets closed up to their necks.  I had a blanket which I had been using as a seat cover on the bench seat in the truck and I gave it to them.  It wasn’t much but anything would help to protect them from the cold, wet, swirling air in the back of the pickup.

As we neared the exit of the parking lot the source of that sound became apparent to us.  Smoke was billowing out of the roof of the second unit from the end and flames could be seen licking up into the gray air from behind the pitch of the roof.  There were no cars parked in front of that unit so I stopped the truck, got out and walked back to the motel office.  The door was locked at that early hour so I pushed the button that was fixed to the wall next to the door and faintly heard a bell go off somewhere in the interior.  I didn’t wait long before Old Smiley opened the door, still in his pajamas but with an old, brown terrycloth robe over it all.  He wasn’t any more friendly this morning than he had been the evening before

“What do you want?” he grumbled.  “I just want to tell you that your motel is on fire” I said.  The old boy looked at me for a moment, wondering if I was playing a joke on him or giving him the real deal.  Caution got the better of him.  “Where is it?”  he asked.  I stepped back and pointed to the place where the flames were now visible from where I was standing.  “There,” I said, pointing to the flames.  “You can see them from here if you come out where I am.”  The man was buying into it at this point and walked out in his socks across the damp asphalt and looked towards where I was pointing.  “Oh, shit!” he exclaimed, as he ran back into the office with the bottom half of his robe fluttering behind him.  I presume that he went to telephone the fire department but I felt no inclination to stay around and watch what would happen next.  I had done my good deed for the day and the road awaited.  In a moment we were all rolling north up Highway 1 toward Big Sur and, eventually, Seattle.

We drove on for a while, I can’t really remember now how long, but the fog had burned off and a bright sun was blessing our journey as the miles flowed behind us.  The town of Morro Bay fell behind us, as did in their turns Cayucos, Harmony, Cambria, and San Simeon.  Kathy and Roy had shucked off the blanket I had lent them and we were wondering where to stop for lunch.  That question was answered when the temperature gauge on my dashboard began to climb.  There was no place good to stop but occasional wide spots in the road did open up, and it was into one of these that I steered my steaming truck and brought it to a stop.  There was nowhere that we could see where a tow truck might be called but we were not deterred by that absence.  In the bed of my truck, tied down and locked, was my Suzuki motorcycle, and Roy helped Dave and I to guide it down two two by eight planks which we had stored in the bed of the truck just in case.  Kathy and Roy elected at that point to push on with the next driver who would stop and pick them up while I fired up the Suzuki and prepared to return to Cambria, which appeared to be the closest town big enough to even hold out the hope of having parts for a model of truck which had not been built for the last seven years (Studebaker went out of business in 1963) or a mechanic qualified to work on it.

The trip back to Cambria was beautiful and seemed too short, gliding along the curvy road between green mountainside and rugged coast.  I was able to forget that I had a friend with his dog stranded in my dead truck behind me and just enjoyed the ride.  All good things must end however and soon I found myself in Cambria.  I located a pay telephone and secured the services of a tow truck operator and he recommended a garage where he thought that repairs might be made on my “Studi”.  The operator found me and I led him back to where the truck and Dave and Foxy sat waiting for me alongside the road.  The operator had my truck on the hook in practically no time and it only seemed fair to let Dave ride the bike back into Cambria this time.  We placed Foxy in the cab of the truck with the windows rolled partly down and I climbed into the cab of the tow truck to accompany the driver back to town.  It turned out that this was a very bad move.

When I was young I suffered terribly from car sickness.  I have written about this elsewhere.  It was so bad that when we would leave early in the morning to go camping or merely spending the day with friends in the mountains or in the desert,  my father and some of his friends would place bets on how far I would get before Dad would have to stop the car so that I could throw up.  It was anybody’s guess whether I could go a few miles or sometimes almost to our destination, but nobody ever would bet that I would make it.  I rarely disappointed.  I hadn’t suffered from that disadvantage in many years but on this day, winding along that tortured ribbon of road that is Highway 1 along the California coast, I became as carsick as I have ever been in my life.  When we pulled into the garage in Cambria I was nearly incapacitated.  I held my act together though while the mechanic disappeared under the hood and began to poke and prod at things under there, grunting something under his breath every now and then.

Finally the mechanic straightened up and announced the good news:  It was only a water pump and some belts that needed to be replaced.  Then he gave us the bad news.  The water pump was in San Luis Obispo, over thirty winding miles behind us, and the parts truck wouldn’t deliver the part for another two or three hours.  I suddenly felt even more sick to my stomach and stretched out on the seat of the truck.  I told him to do the repair – what else could I do?  Dave went off with Foxy to find some lunch while I just lay on the bench seat thinking how I would have to get better in order to die.

The wait seemed to be an infinity.  It was after noon when the parts truck arrived and all of his deliveries were checked in, and then another long wait while the mechanic buttoned up the job he was working on when I pulled in, which was probably the car of a local customer, before he came over to begin puttering around on my rig.  “It’s only a water pump” the mechanic had told me.  So why did it take so long to fix it, I wondered.  I was beginning to worry about getting my truck up and running before closing time when finally his head appeared from under the hood and he lowered that hood into place.  “That should do it” he said, wiping his greasy hands on a well-used towel.  “At last” I thought.  I paid the agreed-upon price and we fired the Studi up, then eased back onto the road, ready to put some miles behind us before night set in.  I had chafed all day between feeling like death warmed over and wanting to continue our journey.  I also hoped to see Kathy and Roy if they had not yet secured a ride, although I knew that they probably had done just that very thing.  I drove even though I was still a little green around the gills and soon approached the edge of Cambria.

Right at the sign which announced our leaving that town there stood two more hitchhikers, Paul and Jerry.  I didn’t even ask what Dave thought; i didn’t have to.  Of course we would pick them up.  We rolled to a stop and the two travelers came running up to us.  “Oh, man.  Thank you.  Thank you for stopping.  You guys are life savers,” they were saying, with more of the same words tumbling out of their mouths like the waters of a stream rolling and splashing down a rapids.  “Whoa, what’s up with this?” Dave asked.  “It’s cool.  Just hop in.  What’s the big deal?”  Jerry proceeded to explain.  “We’ve been standing next to this damned sign for two days and nobody would even look at us.  Now there’s two big rednecks across the street who just told us that they were going to get liquored up and then come over here and kick our asses.”  Dave and I looked across the road and there was indeed a rank looking little “Dew Drop Inn” with a preponderance of pickup trucks with gun racks in the rear windows parked in front.  Dave and I looked at each other for a moment and then said in unison “Well get the hell in the truck and let’s get the f**k out of here before they come back and bring their friends with them.”

Paul and Jerry did as they were told and with a spray of gravel from spinning wheels we were soon hurtling up Highway 1, away from the Dew Drop and Cambria, California.  We only got a mile or two down the road however before we saw that the heat indicator was once again rising.  Dave pulled over to the side of the road and we got out to see if anything stood out that we could do.  None of us wanted to go back to Cambria.  I raised the hood and quickly noticed that a belt was askew and was not adequately turning the pump.  I fixed that little problem and we were soon ready to go again.  This brief break did however give us a chance to talk with our new companions who confessed that they thought “Oh, great.  Now these guys are going to kick our asses” when we first pulled over.  We all had a laugh at that one and finally I remembered to ask where they were headed.  “Seattle” they replied.  Dave and I figured that this was all of the signs that we needed.  We climbed back into the truck and resumed our trip north.

Bit Sur is a stunningly beautiful stretch of the Central California coastline and I would have loved to see it in its entirety in the midday sun.  We could see steep, forested hills falling directly to the crashing ocean, with only the scar of the roadbed breaking up the pristine landscape.  Graceful arched bridges spanned steep valleys with mountain streams gurgling down in the bottoms, racing to a rocky reunion with the ocean from which that water had originally sprung or spreading out over short, sandy stretches of beach.  I was still pretty queasy but managed to enjoy the scenery as long as it lasted.

I don’t remember what time we stopped for the night, but it was well after sundown, and only gray traces of the day’s light remained in the last quarter of the western sky.  We were approaching the northern end of Big Sur and the landscape was losing some of its verticality.  Around a curve we saw a flat area on the west side of the road with several cars parked there and no people to be seen.  We decided to investigate this, slowed down and pulled up to a stop next to the last car in line.  We exited the car and walked along the edge of the parking area until, in the fading light, we saw a path leading to a clearing of sorts several yards into the woods.  There, a large group of young people were encamped, more than could be accounted for by the number of cars up by the road.

Clearly this was an impromptu camp set up by travelers and vagabonds just like ourselves.  There was an area near the edge of the camp where four more people could roll out their sleeping bags, and I staked that area while the others returned to get our supplies and locked everything else up in the cab.  We rolled out our bags when Dave and Paul and Jerry returned and set up our own camp.  There was light from scattered lanterns and a few small fires, and there was a good deal of visiting and sharing of food and marijuana among that young and footloose crowd.  Foxy quickly found some other dogs to play with and we met and chatted with the owners of those dogs and traded stories, food, and destinations with them.  This was less than one year after Woodstock and there was still a free spirit which existed among the co-travelers; a sort of brotherhood of the road.

Exhausted from the day, the nausea which I had wrestled with for hours, and the emotional release from the threat of a severe beating on Paul and Jerry’s part, we crawled into our bags.  We spoke in low tones for a few moments about plans for the next day, but within a very short time were sound asleep on that soft forested ground.  I knew very little about the highway north of San Francisco, and therefore knew that the discovery portion of my journey would begin on the morrow.

Invitation to an Unexpected Road Trip, Part II

The unexpected journey which Dave and I had just embarked upon began in the usual manner for anyone at the outset of a long trip from San Diego to anywhere else.  The early June sky was overcast, with the low clouds or high fog of the layer of marine air which every year treated us to what we less-than-lovingly called the ‘June Gloom’, hanging low over the city.  We navigated across town to Interstate 15, which was an actual freeway only to the edge of the city.  Just at the northern border of San Diego, which was not a very far drive in the summer of 1970, the road dwindled back to two lanes and returned to its original designation; U.S. Highway 395.

Driving north we passed first through the town of Escondido, which has always been a place of mystery to me.  Growing up in San Diego as I did, I had some connection with nearly all of the neighborhoods and suburbs of that city.  Either by riding my bicycle to the beach, the zoo or the municipal swimming pool, or taking the bus downtown to fool around in the department stores or go to the cheap movies in run-down theaters, or attending high school football games and other similar events, I touched upon nearly all of the town.  Additionally, my father would drive to the more rural suburbs to buy garden produce and dairy products and our trips to the mountains for hiking and camping  brought us through most of the towns in the county.

Escondido was a different story.  Located only thirty miles north of San Diego it was still completely outside of San Diego’s orbit and slightly off the beaten path.  Other county towns in San Diego, such as Ramona, Julian, Campo, Pine Valley, and even tiny Santa Ysabel, were visited regularly by me and I knew their layout and each one’s raison d’être very well.  Escondido marched to a different drummer however.  I can’t say if Escondido was a large town or a small city, but it was considerably more substantial than any of the other county communities that I mentioned.  Escondido had its own economy, which leaned heavily on groves of avocado, citrus, olive and walnut trees and other agricultural and ranching pursuits, and enjoyed infusions of cash from passing visitors from San Diego and elsewhere but was by no means dependent on that source of revenue.  In fact, Escondido means “hidden” in the Spanish language, and Spanish was the primary language spoken there for the first decades of that settlement’s existence.

Rising up over a low ridge one would see the valley in which Escondido lie tucked under all manner of trees, but you would not see the city itself.  A sign by a large boulder announced that you had arrived in Escondido, and beautiful grove of cottonwood trees on the west edge of the road announced the presence of a creek or spring, evoking in me thoughts of Vanamee, a character in Frank Norris’ novel “The Octopus: A Story of California” who decades after the fact is still haunted by the murder of his lover, and returns from time to time to the tree-shaded mission garden where he waited for her one night but she never came.  By the time I could think much about that book and its greater impact upon me, a detail to which we will return below, we had touched the western edge of that town and skipped off of it like a flat rock off of a smooth body of water.

We hurtled north another half hour or so until we came to the tiny settlement of Temecula, where we pulled off of the road in order to get one of the greasy but delicious hamburgers that they sold in the little restaurant which was one of the six or seven buildings in that ‘town’.  I had eaten there many times before when my father would take us on drives out into the country, and the service had always been just fine.  On this occasion however I was a gangling young man with long curly hair held in place by a leather headband and possessing a bushy, kinky red beard.

That hair and beard are meat for many other stories about those times, one of which I will share here.  I had always hated my curly hair which my military father would never let me grow to any length at all.  Then, in the mid 1960’s, surfing exploded onto the cultural scene and instantly a young man’s status could be improved simply by a mop of straight, long (for then) blond hair combed over mostly to one side.  I had longed for long hair, and my discharge from the Army had brought the liberation of being able to grown out my hair for the first time, which I promptly did.  At about the same time I read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and learned that in his early life straight hair was frequently obtained by Black people by a process which Malcolm called ‘conking’, or ‘getting a conk’.  After reading that and growing enough hair to make it worth my while I decided that it was my turn to get a conk.

I promptly made my appointment at a styling salon and emerged an hour or so later with a glorious mop of flaccid, straight hair brushed straight back over my head and streaming down towards my shoulders.  I gloried in the picture of masculine hippie perfection that I presented to myself when I gazed into the mirror!  That night I went to shoot some pool with a friend and offer my new coolness to all ladies who might be in the vicinity, and as I leaned over to sight up my shot, ‘FWOOMP!”  Down fell an avalanche of my newly straightened hair in front of my eyes, obscuring my shot.  Annoyed, I straightened up and brushed my hair back into place with my fingers and leaned forward once again to take my shot.  “FWOOMP!”  Once again down came the furry avalanche.  This went on for the entire game.  By the end of the evening I was cursing my straight hair and after outgrowing the effects of my conk never considered doing it again to this day.

So in we tromp in our jeans, huarache sandals, tee shirts and hair and plop down at the counter.  It was reminiscent of a scene from “Easy Rider”, where the two heroes and Jack Nicholson in a supporting role sat down at a table and got ignored by the staff while the locals growled disparaging and threatening remarks.  It was not that bad, but the wait for service was loooonnnnnnggggg, and when our orders arrived the meat was barely cooked.  We chugged it down anyway and were glad to pay up and take our leave of that place.

A short way farther up the road we began to enter the orbit of Los Angeles and had to decide which way to go.  Highway 395 continued north through rural country and went all the way to the Canadian border somewhere near Spokane, although We didn’t really know that at the time.  Across the county lay Highway 101, and I was very familiar with that road, at least to a distance of about fifty or sixty miles north of San Francisco, so we decided with little debate to continue our vision quest on that route.

The down side of that plan was that we had forty or fifty miles of Los Angeles County between us and Highway 101 on the west side of the city/county complex, and this was before the age of superhighways or the Siri App on one’s iPhone.  With a fold-up road map, the kind that you would get for free at gas stations like the one that we both had worked at only a day or two before, we threaded our way from one major road to another across town.  It was a lot like following a forty mile strand of spaghetti through a giant bowl filled with hundreds of other strands just like it.  We finally picked up Highway 101 on the northern edge of the City and as we talked non-stop about nearly everything but Stacy we soon left Los Angeles behind us and began to roll through the now brilliant sunshine or the California coast.

An hour or so later our gas tank was empty and our bladders were full so we pulled off of the highway and entered Santa Barbara.  Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful towns on earth in one of the most beautiful geographic locations in the universe, but we paid scant attention to that.  San Diego is no barren wasteland itself, so the beauty of Santa Barbara did not jump right out at us then.  We were interested in gas, beer, sandwich and snacking goods for that evening and getting back on the road.  This we accomplished and soon were preparing to turn right onto the highway, and that’s where we first saw Kathy and Roy.

“Where’re you headed?” Dave hollered out through the window as I pulled over and Kathy and Roy ran up to the truck. “Seattle”  they responded.  “How far are you guys going?”  Dave and I looked at each other and shrugged.  “Seattle, I guess” Dave shouted back to them.  “Climb into the bed”, which is exactly what they did and we wheeled back into traffic and resumed our march north.  We chatted a little through the window with the couple and learned that they were students at the University of California branch in Santa Barbara and were hitching home for the summer break.  Mostly we rode with the window to the back of the truck closed and Dave and I cruised with our own conversation and Kathy and Roy rested with their backs against the back of the cab engaged in their own.

In that manner we rode into what was becoming the Central California coastal area, which for me is even more attractive than Santa Barbara.  We drove past Pea Soup Anderson’s restaurant in Beullton, through farming areas around Santa Maria, and finally turned west at the university town of San Luis Obispo towards Morro Bay and U.S. Highway 1, which would continue north through Big Sur and on towards Monterey and the land of Steinbeck.

Evening was coming on and the fog was starting to roll inland off of Morro Bay when we pulled into the parking lot of a motel in Pismo Beach.  All of us got out of our respective perches and began to stretch our legs, and then I walked up to and through the door into the motel office.  The clerk, who was probably also the owner, did not look especially happy to see me.

“I’d like a room for two” I said.  The man made it obvious as he took a squint out between the blinds in the window facing the parking lot.  “One, two, three, four.  I count four people” he replied to me with a sullen glare.  I thought of leaving then and there, but I was tired and wanted to relax that evening.  “The couple are hitchhikers” I explained.  “They are going to sleep in the bed of the truck in order to keep an eye on our stuff back there in exchange for the ride.  I only need two beds, and twin beds will do just fine.”  Kathy and Roy and I had in fact made no such contract at all.  Fortuitously however they were at that moment fiddling with their packs and sleeping bags, probably rearranging things and tightening them up, and it looked for all the world like they were doing exactly what I had said.  “OK, but I don’t want any funny business.  This is a family establishment and we like to keep things quiet here.”  “That’s exactly what I’m looking for” I told him and signed on the dotted line, paid up for the night, took my key and retreated back to the truck.

“The guy’s a jerk” I told them, “and thinks that we’re all going to sneak into the room.  I told him that you guys were sleeping out here and he was cool with that.  Why don’t you take a walk and come back when it’s dark?”  I had spoken briefly with Kathy and Roy through the sliding window and wanted to get to know them better.  “We’ll break out the food and have some dinner together”  I suggested.  “Sounds good us” they replied, and off they walked down the beach together.

An hour later we were all sitting on the beds or the floor, wolfing down ham and cheese sandwiches and potato chips and washing it all down with a couple of six packs of Coors.  For desert we passed around a few joints and began the real process of making introductions.  This was one of the turning point moments in my young life.

Kathy and Roy turned out to be members of an organization known as the Seattle Liberation Front, a very radical and left wing group made up mostly of students who’s focus was opposition to the war that continued to rage in Vietnam.  “I just got back from Vietnam a year ago” I told them.  “I can tell you that it is one big cluster bang”.  I actually used language a bit more forceful than that.  Kathy and Roy stared at me for a moment, as if deciding whether to stay or not.  Returning veterans from that war were more likely to get spit upon than a handshake in many parts of America then, but I had shared my truck, my food, my motel room and their weed, so they decided to continue with the relationship.  “The war is immoral” they said.  “It’s about a lot of very rich capitalists making blood money with the help of a lot of very paranoid old politicians using the lives and bodies of young men to get off on body counts and killing Reds to massage their fat, corrupt egos and keep their feet on the necks of workers and students here and peasants in Vietnam.  The politicians and the generals are a bunch of obsolete old gasbags who haven’t got the decency to die off and let workers and students build a free and prosperous and equal society.”

I had not met real live left wing radicals before and never heard them expound upon their vision in a coherent manner, but I had been preparing to hear their message for most of my life.  After growing up in a conservative household which was ruled autocratically by my military father I had joined the Army, oddly enough, looking for a measure of freedom, and in fact found freedom of a sort there.  Over the course of three years I met people with a wide diversity of opinions about nearly everything, many of whom had been drafted and whom I would not have otherwise met.  The almost two years that I spent in Vietnam resulted in disillusionment with the leadership of my country, disenchantment with the confident depiction of the American Dream, and no firm belief in anything greater than myself to hold onto as I tried to make sense of the world.

Added to that were two important books which I had read in my teen years which had prepared me for this first transforming revelation in my life.  “The Octopus”, which I have mentioned above, spoke of the corruption, greed and willingness of heartless capitalists to go to murderous lengths to secure profits.  A second book, Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle”, spoke of communist organizers coming into an agricultural workers’ camp in California’s Central Valley and bringing workers together to improve their lives.  The two organizers enjoyed some success until goons working for the capitalist growers came and busted up the camp and arranged for an unhappy end to the organizers’ efforts.  These two books made a deep impression upon me, and my disillusionment upon returning from Vietnam only heightened the conflicted and unfocused feelings that I held concerning the war and my country and society and just about everything else.  Now here Kathy and Roy were articulating many of those disorganized feelings that had been gnawing at me with an organized train of thought, a conviction that “we the people” were traveling down the wrong road and that they knew how to get to the right one.  This intrigued me greatly and I looked forward to discussing it further during our travels on the next day.

For now however it was time to get some sleep.  Dave had been going since early that morning and I had been going since 9 AM, which was early for me.  We were well fed, had a few beers on board and a nice buzz from Kathy and Roy’s weed.  Kathy and Roy brought in their sleeping bags and spread them out on the floor, exactly as the clerk expected that they would do, and Dave and I climbed into our beds.  The lights went out and in no more than a few minutes my lights went out too.  Day one had come to a close and ,in typical fashion, I never gave a second thought to what day two would bring.  As it turned out, it would be an interesting one.

Invitation to an Unexpected Road Trip, Part I

The summer of 1970 was a very restless time for me.  I had been discharged from the Army a little over one year earlier after serving for nearly two years in Vietnam, and had spent most of that time drinking beer and getting stoned with old neighborhood friends.  Initially I was celebrating the fact that I had returned home alive, but as the months wore on it became more of an unthinking habit:  get up, eat breakfast, go find some friend or friends, eat junk food, drink beer, get stoned, go to bed.  The pattern was simple, it was comfortable, and I didn’t have to think very much (although I was convinced that I was thinking like a Greek philosopher).  At long last however a switch somewhere deep in my subconscious was thrown for some reason or other and the vague, non-specific impulse that maybe – just maybe – I ought to begin to entertain the idea of expanding my vision just a little bit was born.

That notion did not burst into my consciousness with neon lights and a brass band.  I really gave little organized thought to where I was at that moment in time or where I wanted to be a year or two hence.  Really, the central point of my big change was no more than the fact that I got my first civilian job, which nevertheless was indeed a big change for me.  My father would not allow me to hold a job when I was young:  “When you can bring home straight A’s on your report card I’ll know that you have time to hold down a job and do it right.”  The truth is that this closed the gate on me ever having job while still in high school, and bolted it tightly with several padlocks.  The truth was that a whole flock of pigs would fly in close formation at mach 3 before I was ever going to get straight A’s, and the Army, where I held jobs, was still the Army, and not like real life, so when I applied for that job paying $1.10 per hour, that subtly marked a new stage in my life.  Finally I was engaged in some form of labor in exchange for what was a small but adequate amount of money, but what was much more important in the development of who I was to become than any first tentative steps towards responsibility was the fact that it was at this job that I met my friend Dave.

Dave was a guy who could not have been more programmed to be my friend.  We were the same age but Dave had somehow avoided military service, so while I was engaged in the original “Surviver” reality show Dave was working taking a class or two at the local community college, finding a girlfriend and sharing a rented house with Peter, a Hispanic full-time student.  Dave was very California laid-back, and would drink a few beers and smoke a joint or two with me and daydream like we were brothers.  I didn’t work it out in any coherent way, but the life that Dave was slowly, tentatively knitting together contrasted very favorably as compared with my own.  I was still living with my parents, schlepping my way through a couple of college classes which I would be fortunate to pass, and hanging out with friends who had girlfriends, many of the latter were annoyed with me for distracting the attention of their boyfriends away from them and onto whatever foolishness I was engaged in at the moment.  When I began hanging around with Dave and working for my small check it dawned on me dimly that I should perhaps be aiming a little bit higher.

The next tiny step in this personal upgrade came when I I moved in with Dave, Peter, and Dave’s Australian Shepherd, Foxy.  They rented a small house in a low income area of San Diego and the addition of one more minimum wage tenant to the household was a good deal for Dave and Peter.  Foxy didn’t care one way or the other.  We would go to a nearby church once each week where the government was handing out what was then called “food commodities”.  Pounds of lard and butter, boxes of cheese, powdered eggs and milk, dried potato flakes, beans and rice were some of the many items which were handed out to whomever cared to queue up and carry the boxes away.  I grew up eating beans and such and could scramble a powdered egg and reconstitute dried mashed potatoes as well as anybody, and we ate like bedraggled kings on that good stuff.

And then there was Stacy, Dave’s girlfriend.  I had had one of those for a month or two five years earlier so I enjoyed a rough idea of the concept, but a deep and crippling fear of being turned down by a girl had for the greatest part of my life up to this point denied all but that one person the opportunity of inflicting that wound.  That one girl whom I could legitimately call a girlfriend for that magical month or two in my seventeenth year was in fact very kind and let me down gently – a thing uncommon among teens past and present – but I did not again, from that time to the time under discussion here, make any attempt to attract the attention of a girl again and accept the risk of rejection.

Dave however suffered no such impediment and was as laid back and easy with women as he was with men, and his general good naturedness made him very attractive to the opposite sex.  Stacy was a very attractive girl herself.  Its been a long time, but I remember that she was a little taller than the average and had long, straight, auburn hair that made her seem even taller than she actually was.  Stacy was by nature quiet but she laughed easily when she was with Dave, and although they were not a couple that hung all over each other you could see that there was real feeling in the way that Stacy would put her hand on Dave’s arm for just a moment, or Dave would brush into place a strand of Stacy’s straight hair which had fallen out of place and strayed next to the corner of her mouth.  I thought that Stacy was a very pretty girl, although she seemed a little angular; could have used a couple of pounds.  Dave was with her a lot, driving around the San Diego Bay to take the road which ran atop the thin, sandy strip of land which connected the South Bay communities with Coronado where she lived.

Dave would frequently get up early to go to visit Stacy, and by the time that I rolled off of the sofa which I called home at around 9 AM he would be long gone.  One morning however, not long after that magic hour when I usually began to return to life, Dave came slowly rolling up the gravel driveway and walked glumly across the dry grass of the yard, through the door, and fell back into a big, square easy chair with the bottom nearly sat out of it.  “Shit man, what happened to you?” I asked with my best effort at eloquence and compassion.  “You look like somebody ran over your dog.”  I looked quickly into the corner where Foxy the shepherd made her bed on a pile of cushions to make certain that she was there and safe.  Dave didn’t say anything so I persisted.  I have never had very good filters and would let the world know what I was thinking, whether the world wanted to know this or not.  It irritated me a little for Dave to sit there like an heir who had been written out of a will and not just spill it out all over the floor.  “What’s going on, man?  Why aren’t you with Stacy?”  Dave never once looked like he was going to cry, but if he was ever close to doing so it looked like it would’ve been right then.  “What is this, some kind of damned soap opera?’

Dave flared a little but my poor interpersonal skills had their desired effect and roused him from his funk.  “Stacy broke up with me” he blurted out.  Dave just sat there glaring at me, expecting me to pour out a healing wave of sympathy.  In fact, my experience with breaking up was five foggy years in the past and I frankly had little understanding of the situation or of the comfort that was needed.  Dave was a friend though, and I felt that I should try to help, even if I hadn’t the least clue how to do that.  “Wow, man, that’s the pits.  I mean, that is really a drag.  What’s her trip anyway, like why is she breaking it off?”  Dave mumbled something that I couldn’t hear and I said “Come on man, spit the shit out and try it again.”  I should point out at this time that this was the manner in which many of us spoke to each other in those days.  It sounds now as if we were trying to pick a fight or just insensitive jerks, and some of the latter may indeed have applied, but we all understood each other and Dave knew that I did really want to know what was going on, and was using a gruff approach to try to lighten up the situation.  From a distance it seems weird, but we all understood the system and it worked for us.

“Stacy’s dad told me to hit the road, and if he ever saw me again he would call the cops”.  “Call the cops?” I repeated.  “Screw him.  Let him call the cops.  Stacy can do whatever she wants to, and if he doesn’t like it she can just move out” I opined.  Dave stared at me a minute or two as if he didn’t understand what I was saying.  Then, as it dawned on Dave what was the vital piece of information which was missing from my picture of the problem at hand he proceeded to provide that critical bit of datum.  “Stacy,” he said, “isn’t 18 yet.”

Oh.  That puts a different light on things.  I had no idea that Dave was five years older than Stacy, which was why she had looked just a little bit underdone to me.  I asked Dave for a little more history in order to obtain a better picture of the situation at hand.  Dave told me that Stacy’s father was an officer in the Navy – nearly everybody living in Coronado then was connected in some way to the Navy – and that he had returned from an extended deployment somewhere in the world to find his pride and joy spending a considerable amount of her spare time in the company of a long-haired, minimum wage-earning stoned college student, and Papa was not impressed with that one little bit.  “Good thing that he didn’t meet me!” I thought.

“I’m going to go back to her house and tell Stacy’s dad that I love her” said Dave, channelling his best Romeo.  I knew how Romeo and Juliette ended however and proceeded to point out the folly in that course of action.  “Dude, my dad was a Swabbie for twenty years and I don’t think that you want to go messing around with these Navy guys.  Nobody in my neighborhood would come around our place because they were afraid of my Dad, and people left me alone too.  Either they were afraid that Dad would come after them if they messed with me, or they figured that anybody who got his butt whupped as much as I did at home just naturally must have a nasty attitude and be hard as flint.  Either way, Dad was a legendary bad-ass and I wouldn’t be surprised if Stacy’s father is a bad-ass too.  If I was you I wouldn’t set foot in that town again unless you want your ass kicked, thrown in jail, or both,

Dave chewed on that one for a few minutes and then said “Holy crap, I think you’re right.  This may not be over.”  I agreed, although I didn’t really know one stinking thing about the father or the severity of the situation, and we began to discuss the possible negative consequences for Dave’s future.  At last, Dave said “Maybe I ought to get out of town.”  “You got a place to go to?” I asked.  “Not really.  No” was the reply.  “Maybe I’ll just hitchhike somewhere – anywhere – and start over.”

Dave had no idea how good that idea sounded to me.  I had made several trips across the country with my family on what were vacations for them and hell for me, and I had travelled vast distances when in the Army.  As I have written earlier I had been sitting static in a rut that I had landed in pretty much since my release from the Army, and the thought of a road adventure instantly roiled up my blood.  “Why don’t we just throw a few things into my truck and hit the road?” I asked.  “Where to” asked Dave.  There was Mexico to the south, the desert Southwest to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.  “How about North?” I suggested.  Dave needed no more than a moment to think about that and then, with a shrug of his shoulders, asked “Why not?”  In less than an hour we had rolled my 305cc Suzuki motorcycle into the back of my 1960 Studebaker pickup truck and thrown a few bags of clothes and such into the bed with it, and with a cooler full of beer on the seat between us in the cab of the truck I fired the vehicle up and nosed it out into the traffic of San Diego, onto I-8 westbound, and then turned onto I-15 northbound to we had no idea where.