For all I knew, I wouldn’t still be alive now in the Nineties; ain’t nobody guaranteed their next breath. And the way the board changes, no telling what the game will be past maybe later today . . . but even then you can be taking a chance. So deciding on a lifestyle change meant a total fresh start: no lamenting over my personal situation, how the world should be, or what I’d planned on twelve or twenty years ago. It’s day one.
Looking around, I have to go “whew”. I feel vindicated for the last twenty-five years I wasted on fun and travel. With every new wave of layoffs and failed pension funds and savings institutions, my knees go weak. I could have worked all those years and then suddenly still been in the same boat I’m in now.
By keeping the overhead down over the years, when I made a buck I got to spend it. (I live like a millionaire every chance I get. Often that’s only for a matter of days, but those days add up.) (Won’t find me living in a flophouse eating canned dog food with thousands of dollars stashed in the mattress for a rainy day.) I’ve got no monthly payments, I know girlfriends aren’t after my money, and my time has pretty much always been my own.
Laguna Canyon, rock ‘n’ roll music festival, Christmas 1970. The announcer on stage introduced somebody in the crowd, “ . . . been On The Road for five years,” and everybody cheered. That same winter I spent bouncing between Long Beach and San Clemente. (Yes, Nixon lived there in San C. Just nobody ventured near that half of town.) Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway back then was like seven months of Saturday nights: beach parties, hippie and surfer girls in every direction, Orange Sunshine, quality backyard garage bands. I carried a jacket with a toothbrush in one pocket and a hair brush in the other, a sleeping bag and a smile. I’d catch a day or two’s work from time to time, fall in love several times a week, got to dance a lot. As a workie I was ruined.
From SoCal to B.C., I learned that my sleeping bag didn’t care where it was. It could be laid out along a river, on a friend’s futon or a rest area picnic table, under the stars or under a bridge . . . simply left rolled up in a corner when a bed presented itself was okay, too. It didn’t know the difference. Just keep it dry, it was happy.
I hitchhiked. You had a friend driving tomorrow to where I wanted to be hundreds of miles away, I’d turn down an offered ride. By the next day your friend might not be in the mood for a rider, be forced to say no to a more preferred passenger or some last-minute cargo because of me, or simply his plans might change. Somebody just pulling over is open for some company right now. (When traveling with a girl, you get a ride quicker, but the quality can go way down.) (I thumbed with a large dog for five years, but got sick of talking about it every ride.)
It’s no fun to hitchhike to work, whole wrong attitude. The idea is to be out there, your bed in hand, even with a destination, no rush, staying open, enjoying being there along the highway. On a slow road I’ve thumbed both ways, whichever way a car passed didn’t really matter, just being high on the possibilities. (Few strangers will come knocking on your door to invite you to play, but On The Road, with the proper attitude, it’s hard to avoid.) (In a city, just up and down a main drag would do.)
I went alone to see Kris Kristofferson in concert in Portland. Three folks took the seats to my left. The girl sitting next to me pulled out a poster with a picture of Kris on it. “I took this off the wall in the lobby. I’m here for that face. Why are you here?”---“I stashed my sleeping bag in a locker at the bus station and I sold blood to buy my ticket. I’m here because he sings songs about me.” She got up and took the seat on the other side of her friends.
On my way south to San Jose one night, I got a short—like three exits—ride with a guy I’d never seen before. He commenced to tell me how long I’d been On The Road, how I packed my suitcase, what people thought of me and how that compared with what I thought of myself. Then when he dropped me off he told me exactly how much money I had in my pocket and drove off.
Standing across from the ranger station in Gasquet, on beautiful Route 199, in pulled a sheriff’s truck, two window-vans full of men wearing camouflage clothing, and an empty dump truck. C.A.M.P. (Campaign Against Marijuana Prices.) (sic) The deputy went inside. One of the paramilitary troopers got out a van, stood rigid behind his dark glasses, hands clasped behind his back, feet apart, giving me the stern stare across the road for a full five minutes. Finally his keeper came out of the office and they all headed north. A while later a local girl pulled up, asked, “You in a real big hurry to get somewhere?” I said, “Nope.” She said, “Hop in.” Later that day she returned me to the same spot with a “See ya later.” Just as she turned back down her street, the sheriff’s truck, vans, and (now loaded with the green) dump truck came driving by. The plant warriors howled and hooted, thought it was pretty darned funny that I was still there.
I took off from my hometown when I was almost twenty-one. I didn’t actually head to California back then, it was just as far as I could get away on a motorcycle. I never left the West Coast after that because I liked the weather and the people. I stayed On The Road because I decided I’d rather be hungry than bored. I found there was a need out there for a person who was available for limited amounts of time and I met people in between jobs who appreciated talking to somebody who didn’t know anyone they knew.
I’ve landed on my feet so many times after bailing out of an unsatisfactory situation that I lost even a healthy amount of fear of the unknown. Stick out my thumb and there’s a new something to do right down the road. (Though sometimes it’s raining in between.) (Rain and my parents being the only challenges in life I haven’t figured out how to deal with.) From playing pool in Bell Gardens to softball in the Emerald Triangle, picking apples in Oyama to volleyball in Molalla, foot-cruising the Haight to planting trees around Vedder Crossing, Laytonville, or Boulder Creek, working Hollywood movie crews to kicking back with a tall one watching the drive-in movie from under the freeway overpass south of Roseburg, the West Coast has always satisfied.
But, alas, I’ve been bouncing up and down from Tijuana to Whistler Mountain so many years now it’s almost like having my own place. I know where to sleep, where not to get let off, places to head when I need a shower, some work, or the use of a car. With AIDS in the world and the carrot of casual sex gone from in front of my nose, and those hearty party people I used to run into On The Road replaced pretty much these days by the hopeless homeless, it’s time to change the channel.
I recently began tying my hair back every day and took an informal live-in job. (It’s strange sleeping indoors every night, so I recorded some traffic sounds to play as I fall asleep.) Time to maneuver into a tolerable situation for the times.
The best security I could think of for the Road was a slingshot and a small magnifying glass. If it came down to it for any reason, I could always shoot something and start a fire to cook it. Now I figure perhaps our only hope for survival would be a law to require all the big shots to relieve themselves outside at night. Maybe by checking out the stars on a regular basis they’d get a little perspective on our situation.
So anyway, whatever happens, I’m just a retired Character now. Off the Road. I put in my years out there making all those appearances for the tourists. “Adding to the reputation of the Left Coast since 1966.” Now where do I apply for my pension?
No, really, I think I’ll become an NFL quarterback. (Hey, they make good money.)
I could get serious again with the clarinet or pool cue.
Or maybe I’ll just marry Madonna.