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.