Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Sixteen

 

May 1974

The toothless driver left me off by the entrance to route 80. I was still unnerved by the electric fence and the collective stink eye that had been coming my way since I’d arrived in Salt Lake.  Outside of Phil, the health food motorcyclist, nobody had been close to friendly.  I wanted out of Salt Lake City. And then along came Maurianne in a Volkswagen bus.  She stopped said “hop in.” I hopped in.

Maurianne looked California, talked California, and was travelling all the way to San Francisco.   Blonde, blue eyed, friendly, and maybe a year or two older than me.  Jackpot.  Maurianne in her blue jeans, peasant blouse, and easy morning smile was what I needed after having been jolted backwards by an electronic fence.

She had to clear the front seat off for me and did so by tossing assorted junk behind us. I saw that the seats were down in the back of the van. Blankets, pillows, and sleeping mats were there without much order. A guitar case was open and in it was a guitar on one side and what looked like clothes ready for a washing machine in the other. Scattered around, I noticed an opened road map, candy bar wrappers, the board game “Chutes and Ladders” and a few YooHoo bottles that looked like they had been careening off the walls of the van like drunks in an elevator.  

I settled in and we headed toward the Nevada border. We got to talking and I told her where I was going.  She opened up easily like someone who wanted to talk. She had just dropped her kids off with “her old man.”  I wasn’t sure if she was referring to her dad or her husband, but it soon came out that she and her husband had separated. He was from Salt Lake and the kids were going to be spending the summer with him and his family. They had been living together in Pacifica, a suburb of San Francisco.  And it was to Pacifica that she was returning.  Leaving her kids, she told me more than once, was not an easy thing to do.  In an indirect way her burden resulted in my good fortune. She had, in large part, picked me up because she, now without husband or kids, did not want to face the very long 14 hour drive through the desert by herself.  

I did keep her company and think she did not regret her decision to stop for me.  But I disappointed her on at least two fronts. She thought maybe I played the guitar and we could sing together as we drove.  Also, she’d hoped I could share with the driving. Now a committed driver of standard transmissions, then I’d never driven one.   I did drive for a stretch, jerking it into fourth, and then driving for about 60 miles.  It was not a relaxing 60 for her since every time I had to slow down it was an adventure, so she took over the wheel for nearly the entire 14 hour drive.

There was not a whole lot between Salt Lake City and Reno.  It was miles of nothing despite exits appearing now and again that seemed to take drivers nowhere. We were both amused by the signs for exits and then the ramps to them.  Nothing at the end of these ramps. No Texaco, McDonalds, motels, nothing, just ramps that went nowhere.  She and her old man had made this drive before, but still she chuckled as did I when we saw an exit for nowhere and a ramp off the interstate that took you there.

Things had not gone especially well with Maurianne and her husband.  Alternately she described him as a dick and then moments later “basically a nice person.”  She told me he had a mean streak and had hit her—more than once.  This I felt was cause enough to dump the guy, but she was not so sure.  “I’d been messing around.” She told me.  “Not right. Still no reason for him to hit me. He scared me. I didn’t want to be frightened anymore. He sorta was a good dad. But he had this mean streak.”  Maurianne teared up, got a tissue, blew her nose. “It’s hard,” she said. “Hard.”

There is so much nothing on route 80 that we stopped whenever there was a bonafide something. Wendover, Wells, Elko, and Winnemucca—the four somethings on the way to Reno. We hit them all.  Got out, stretched our legs.  

It was around one when we approached Elko.  By that time we were getting along and joking at the same things.  When she decided that I was not a bad guy, Maurianne announced that she had a buddy who lived in Elko and we might stop and visit.

We exited off the interstate.  Maurianne found a pay phone, made a call and soon we had directions and an invite.   I got the back story on Barbara.  She had been wild, “like me” said Maurianne.  A partier and city person in San Francisco doing her share of drugs. Then, and Maurianne relayed this with a degree of incredulity, she met this guy close to twenty years her senior who was visiting kin in San Francisco but lived in Elko. Within no time, Barbara decided to move out with Shel to the middle of the desert and share a life.  Maurianne could not really get it. She said they were apples and oranges, she a hippie, he a redneck. 

Barbara hugged Maurianne when we arrived and gave Shel a hug with a little less oomph to it. I was introduced: “This is Alan—he’s riding with me.”  So there I sat with a stranger, Maurianne, in the home of someone stranger still, and her redneck husband Shel.  Barbara made bacon and eggs for us and Shel regaled us with tales of Elko. He said that there were times in Elko that were more fun than “you could shake a stick at. They’re called Indian Days.  Lots of tonto around here.  Sometimes not so much fun with tonto if you know what I mean. But Indian days are great.”  

A teenage kid stopped by.  There was a knock on the door and then the door swung open.  The kid had not waited for anyone to answer the knock. She just came into the foyer holding a handful of mail.  Bathing suit top and cut off shorts.  Big California smile.

“Whoops. You’ve got company.”

“No problem. Come in. Come in.”

“They delivered the mail to the wrong house again. Mom just asked me to bring it over.”

Barbara took the mail. While sifting through the items she absent mindedly introduced Maurianne and me. Referred to Maurianne as “an old friend” and me as “a hiker.”

“Hey,” said the teenager, “I’ve done my share of hitch-hiking. All over.  Great times.”

“They can be.” I say. “Not so much fun in Salt Lake City.”

“They don’t know the meaning of fun in Salt Lake” says Shel.

“Well, off I go. Nice to meet you all.”  And out she went, seeing herself out the door, and bouncing down the steps.

This Shel was nice enough to me, but there seemed something not quite right there.  Like, Maurianne, I could not see the attraction between Barbara and him.  She seemed kind of cool, and he was like the guy you see at the bar who has been sitting there for hours with a sourpuss not saying anything, just pushing his glass toward the barkeep when it was time to reload.  We ate in silence after the teenager left.   

When we got back in the van, Maurianne told me that she did not want to say anything before we got there, but that Shel had spent some time in jail for stealing and assault.  “He’s calmed down now,” she said.  “At least I hope so.

“It was very nice of them to make us lunch, particularly for me”, I said.  

“Yes. Always liked Barbara.  I think she’ll be okay”, she said, but I could tell she was not so sure.  

It would be two and half hours more to Winnemucca. About halfway into this stretch, after speaking disparagingly about her own husband and how he had given her a shiner once, Maurianne paused and said, “Damn, Barbara is out here in the middle of nowhere.  I hope she’s okay.”

“Seemed okay” I said, not that I really felt she was or was not.

“The girl,” she said, “the girl who came in with the mail.  The neighbor.”

“Yeah,”

“Barbara took me aside when we were in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, so.”

“She thinks Shel is doing her.”

“What? Come on. She is a kid.  Probably not 18. He’s got to be pushing 40.”

“She’s 17. Shel’s 43. Barbara thinks he’s doing her.”

“Wow. Come on. I mean, she’s a kid.”

“You see that tattoo?”

“Well, sure, you couldn’t miss it.”   

“I bet you couldn’t miss it.”

Monday, March 1, 2021

Fifteen

2019

The phone rings in my office. I say, hello.

“What is it, Alan?”

“Becca?”

“Rebecca.”

“Rebecca?”

“At work I am called Rebecca."  

“Are you being paid by the syllable?"

“What is it, Alan?”

“’ What is it Alan?’ No hello. No how are you?”

“Alan, we haven’t spoken in years.  The last time I saw you was in Harvard Square and, if you want to know, you were not exactly welcoming.”

“You were with Richard.”

“Yes. I was married to him.  We are allowed to go out together.”

“Was?”

“Am.  I meant that at the time I stopped to say hello to you in Cambridge and you barely acknowledged me, I was married to him.  Look, I feel a little uncomfortable talking to you.  But, the message you left sounded like it might be important.”

“It is.”

“Okay.” She said.

“Okay.  I was in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.”

“Your kind of town.”  Becca had little use for Las Vegas. People throwing their money away, and half-clad women serving free drinks to keep people gambling, sports betting, and late nights.  Nothing about Las Vegas seemed to be attractive.

“I was there for a conference.”

“Bet they had to drag you there.  What happened in Las Vegas?”

“I was sitting in the airport waiting for my flight and I saw a newspaper article about some parents who have been looking for their daughter for 40 years.”

“Ok. Yeah, So.? Get to it. Richard is nearby and he doesn’t like me talking to men”

“Any man?”

“Look what is it?

“Any man? That limits networking some.”

She snorts even though she did not want to. “What is it?

“Do you remember when I came back to Buffalo after hitch-hiking across the country”.

“Yes. I remember how you left me for the month we would have had together, before you went to work in Pennsylvania for the rest of the summer.  I remember that you came back for a week for sex and then left.  Is that the time to which you refer?”

This was not getting off to the start I’d hoped, but it was not far from what I thought would happen when I called.

“We were not exactly getting along before I left for California.”

“We never got along except for when we were having sex or about to have sex or had not seen each other for a while and therefore had forgotten how we do not get along.”

She was not off target with any of this.  But still. “There was a there, there.”

She paused. “Yes, Alan. There was a there, there.”

“Can we meet somewhere?”

“Not sure that is a great idea.”

“I need to talk with you about this.”

“What? What is this about?  So, you read an article and it reminded you about your hitch-hiking trip. And what?”

“Do you remember what I told you about the trip?”

“Some.”

Then I asked her about a few events that I had relayed when I returned.  And then I described the article I read in the newspaper.  It took her a while to get the connection.  When she did, she asked the same questions I’d had that prompted my computer searching.  When I told her what I had discovered there was silence for a spell.

There was a joke that had circulated when we were together that we both had gotten a kick out of and repeated now and again when apt.  The joke was about newlyweds. The woman was shy and inexperienced. She did not want to talk about sex and was totally frightened about failing at intimacy. She asked her husband not to initiate sex by speaking openly, but by asking in code.  

“If you want to, you know do it, say something else, say ‘you want to do the wash.”  So, on their wedding night, the husband asked if the wife wanted to do the wash. She said that she was too nervous, another night. The second night he again asked if she wanted to do the wash, again she asked if it could be postponed.  This happened for an entire week until such time that the husband just gave up.  But by the end of the week the newlywed wife was getting frisky herself, so when the husband failed to speak the code words, she asked slyly, “don’t you want to do the wash?”  His response: “No, I already did it by hand.”

We had gotten a charge out of that joke.  And Becca apparently remembered it. When I asked her again after the silence if she would meet me for coffee, she said she would. But then added quickly, “I’ll meet you for coffee, okay, but no doing the wash.”  We both laughed at that, agreed on a place and hung up. Damn if I didn’t feel a buzz after the call.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Fourteen

14

May 1974

When he told me how to get to I-80 from his home, Phil, the motorcyclist godsend, had drawn a map.  I’d been turned around, the way he explained it.  I was now closer to the highway than I’d been when I was floundering near the Truckstop.  Once I found my way to the interstate it would be a straight shot out of Utah, across the state of Nevada, and into California.  It looked like I was going to make it across the country in four days.

It is early Sunday morning in Salt Lake City.  I begin to follow the map, walking toward the interstate. I have my thumb out.  Initially the only reactions to my thumb are unfriendly stares from those driving by in their Sunday duds en route, it seems, to church.   My hair is long; my clothes suggest college student leaning to the left and my thumb is out. I must be a heathen.

Eventually, a middle-aged fellow stops and tells me he will take me to the best entrance to 80 West.  Very good. However, it turns out that he is not quite sure about where to go. He is lost, he says eventually. He has taken me to a place that is nowhere. He apologizes, tells me he can try to find the way to the highway and, with his nose wrinkled up, points in the direction where he now thinks I-80 is. I decide to get out and find my own way.

Again, I stick my thumb out, now disoriented.  It’s been an hour at least since I left Phil’s and I’m not sure if I am closer to the Interstate than I’d been when I left his house.  I can’t follow his map anymore since I got the ride to the wrong place. A police officer stops.  He wants to know where I am going. I tell him California and I hope he will give me a lift to the Interstate. Not a chance.  He is not interested in me much and tells me to get the hell out of town.  No hitchhiking is permitted in this municipality he said. Am I no longer in Salt Lake City? 

“What municipality?” I ask.  He does not respond.  He snorts, and shakes his head either to mean there is no answer forthcoming or I am subhuman. There is no offer to drive me to the interstate ramp. No offer to drive me anywhere.  It is before 9 a.m. and I am unnerved.

I think I see a way to get to the interstate without walking on the roads where, apparently, in this municipality--wherever the hell I am--I’m forbidden to be. If I have my bearings right I can walk through a long field, probably 300 yards, and over a fence I see way in the distance, and then that would get me to the I-80 ramp.  

I trek through the high grass and eventually get to the fence.  There is barbed wire at the top of the fence, but I do see a ramp on the other side.  I have hopped over barbed wire since I was 8. A Brooklyn boy and then a suburban New Yorker, hopping over fences to retrieve baseballs that went off course was a regular occurrence. When I worked in the Catskills I hopped over a barbed wire fence every day for two months.  

When you confront a fence with barbed wire, you get to the top, put your foot on the top rung of the barbed wire, make sure it is on there securely and vault over.  Not hard. Hardest part is landing on the other side without spraining an ankle or splitting your head open.

I can see the ramp, so the barbed wire fence is almost welcome.  I want to hop that fence and get to that ramp as fast as I can and then flee from what seems like the most unfriendly place on planet Earth.  I toss my bag over the fence and begin to climb. I get to the top rung of the iron and then put my left hand on an un-barbed part of the barbed wire.  I’d then swing my right leg to the top of the three strings of barbed wire. Once I have that foothold, I’d launch myself over the fence, grab my bag, scram to the ramp, and get out of Dodge.  But I don’t do that. I don’t do that because as soon as I place my left hand on the un-barbed part of the wire I am flung backwards onto the tall grass and weeds of the field from whence I came.

The damn wire is charged.  Not charged enough to electrocute anyone, but charged to discourage people like me, I am thinking, from coming or going. Maybe to discourage animals, but I do not see any strolling livestock.  I am flustered and frazzled.  It doesn’t matter if the barbed wire is charged for animals, humans, or sub-humans.  I have to get over this fence. All my stuff is on the other side—my wallet, map, change of clothes, everything. Who knows if I could figure out how to get to my bag by going around the field.  And even if I could find the spot after circling around, who knows if the knapsack would still be there by the time I got all the way around.  I am panicky.

I have sneakers on.  I figure if I can get to the top of the iron portion of the fence, and then carefully not touch the barbed wire with anything other than my insulated foot, I will be able to vault upward and over the barrier. So, I try that-- but I am trembling.  I get to the top of the fence, see my bag on the other side, put my sneakered right foot on the barbed wire and, bracing myself for the charge that might come through even my sneakered foot, vault up in the air, clear the wire with the rest of my body, and fall clumsily to the ground.  I am unhurt and safe, but am  buzzing internally like I have had a dozen cups of coffee. I don’t stay on the ground long.  I grab my bag and start to run, just run away from this scary place.

I arrive at the ramp and then, to my horror, see that this is not the ramp to I-80 but to a secondary road.  This morning is like one of those bad dreams where you cannot get to your destination because something or someone keeps getting in the way.  I grab my Rand-McNally and see that this road will connect me to I-80 but not for a while.  I have no choice but to stick my thumb out. Almost instantly, a car stops.  It is a long hair and that is comforting until he starts to speak.  The guy has no teeth.

He says “howdy’” and looks like maybe he was an extra in "Deliverance.”  Another bizarro character in this bizarro morning. I tell the toothless guy that I’m frazzled. He laughs and mumbles something like I bet you are, being down here in redneck country. Then, he half chuckles while he drives me the few miles to the ramp for I-80.  I am still shaking a half hour later as I stand on that ramp trying to get a lift through Utah to the desert in Nevada en route to California.  Before I get out, no teeth gives me his card.  He is a rock band promoter, and he knows a band that will be bigger than the Beatles.  He’s always looking for new talent, he said to me.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Thirteen

Ever since I returned from Las Vegas I’ve come to recognize that I need to lose some weight.  Not in the conventional sense. I don’t have problems with that kind of weight. What I need to purge is the weight I’ve accrued by justifying behavior that I knew was not right at the time I behaved as I did. That sort of thing, even when it is minor, can create an unhealthy foundation.  One extra jelly doughnut, okay not such a problem. But there is a cumulative effect. After a while you stop noticing that you are knocking back the jelly doughnuts. And it becomes difficult to maneuver around this life with the extra pounds.

I’ve done some rationalizing in my day. Since Las Vegas events are surfacing.

Sixth grade.  Early months of 1961.  I’m a newcomer to the neighborhood having moved into town less than a year ago.  I’m still learning the ropes of the new hood, making friends, doing okay in that regard, but most of the kids in my class have been at this school since they were in kindergarten.

There is a hot television show which is now in its second season. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.  It features Dobie, his beatnik friend Maynard G. Krebs, Dobie’s mom and dad, and assorted young women that Dobie would like to meet. He has limited success.  

The kids in my sixth-grade class are crazy about Dobie Gillis.  This enthusiasm is encouraged by our teacher who also claims to be a fan of the program.  On the show, Maynard is regularly referring to Dobie as “good buddy” as in “how you doing good buddy”.  Our teacher Mr. Hatfield likes the “good buddy” handle and so do we.  

What happens is that a group of the cool boys in the class form what they call the GBA, the Good Buddy Association.  This is a male only club, and it consists of charter members who regularly refer to each other as Good Buddy Jim or Good Buddy Joe.  About eight fellows in the GBA. It’s all in good fun.  I don’t feel particularly like an outcast because I am not in the GBA and the teacher is not fostering any kind of in crowd out crowd.  

We are often asked to go to the front of the class and solve math problems. Mr. Hatfield will call on four students to go up to the board, stand strides away from each other and, for example, divide 2121 by 11.  Each kid would then write their name on the board and proceed to do the long division.

The GBA group affiliation ratchets up when a really good kid, who went on to be a solid citizen as an adult, goes up to the board and writes his name, Bill, but above it writes GBA.  The teacher gets a charge out of this, so whenever a GBA kid goes up to the board they write GBA Joe or GBA Jack before solving the problem.  Again, all in good fun.

One day I get called to the board and decide to be a wise guy.  I write my name on the board, but next to it write, Anti-GBA.  Hatfield really gets a kick out of this.  I was probably a little ahead of the curve so the teacher has to explain to some of the others what I’d done.  Well, I created a following. Every kid not in the GBA, goes up to the board and writes Anti GBA Charlie or whatever when it is their turn.  There are now two groups in the class. The GBA and the Anti-GBA. The GBA, the cooler group for sure. The anti-GBA is a loose confederacy of newcomers, iconoclasts, pariahs, stinkers, and several fledgling delinquents, one of whom grew up to be a bona fide nogoodnik and has even spent some time in the slammer.

In gym and at recess when we would play games it was the GBA against the Anti-GBA.  We’d come back to class after one of these contests and Mr. Hatfield would ask about the score. There would be a running tally of how the GBA was doing against the anti-GBA on the blackboard.

I caught a break with the jock genes.  Pretty decent all-around athlete. One thing I was particularly good at was catching things. In touch football I was terrific at judging where the ball would come and could catch passes easily and also intercept them. But what I truly excelled at was little kid Dodgeball.  The way we played two sides competed by throwing a ball or several such balls at the opponents. If you hit someone that someone was out.  Or if you caught a pass thrown by an opponent, the person who threw the ball would be out.  Once a team was out of players, the opponent was the victor.  

Well, I was an asset to the Anti-GBA in most athletic contests, but in Dodgeball I was a killer.  Not so much in throwing the ball, but in catching the balls.  My teammates might get eliminated but I had a knack for catching most everything that was thrown my way.  We were playing Dodgeball regularly in gym, and the misfits who were the anti-GBA were dancing through the halls and could not wait to tell Hatfield that we had beaten the GBA again.

One morning we were lining up by what passed for artwork that was taped to the walls of the school. This was a daily drill. Lining up by class before being led to our classroom to begin the day.  I was tall for my age then, so I was at the back of the line when a GBA fellow came to pay a visit.  He wanted to know if I wanted to be in the GBA

This was flattering but startling at the same time. I was the face of the enemy contingent having started the whole Anti-GBA thing. I thought, they must really like me, respect my courage, and leadership. I must no longer be the outsider. The GBA was cool. They had already organized a trip to Yankee Stadium and were going to a game in April. To be sure, the Anti-GBA probably could not organize a trip at lunchtime to the vending machines in the front of the cafeteria.   

Still, would it be right to abandon the anti-GBA? I knew I was the glue to the anti-GBA.  Without me the anti GBA would become not much of anything. I told the kid I would have to think about it.  The emissary said okay and walked back to the front of the line.

I started to consider the offer.    

I was going back and forth in my head, when less than a minute later the GBA kid returned to where I was standing in line.  “Look,” he said, “We need you to make up your mind, now”

“Right now? Why do I have to tell you now?”

“We need you for Dodgeball at recess.”

Oh boy. Well, that was it. Charm was not my ticket.  The GBA had not gotten together and mused that I would be a valuable character to add to the group.  Nothing like that. I was good in Dodgeball.

Maybe this was not a big deal, but I knew they were asking me to join for the wrong reasons. I should have told them to hold on to their GBA invitation.

But they were going to Yankee Stadium. And they were way cooler than the Anti-GBA. One of the girls had come over to the GBA lunch table and dropped off tootsie rolls. There were perks.

By the time we were led into our classroom that morning I was a member of the GBA.

One of my first jelly doughnuts. A small one, but a start.

Have to lose some weight.  If you get really heavy, you're probably capable of justifying anything.

In a few minutes I'm headed to a meeting where we intend to discuss the department's values.  We will be posting a value statement on the college website.  I know this is all for the optics.  I feel like I'm on line waiting to get into the all you can eat buffet.

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

12

May 1974

I fell asleep in the car en route to Salt Lake.  It was probably not what the driver was hoping for when he picked me up.  You rarely get drivers who are looking for silence, because they already had silence. Usually there is a desire for conversation.   A few years later on the way from Ellenville, New York to Buffalo I was picked up consecutively by women who unearthed heart breaking stories about men in their lives. The first told me, after a spell, about her husband who she found out after twenty years of marriage, was more interested in men than women.  The second provided a very long monologue about a rat bastard that she had married who had threatened to kill her.  When she said the part about being threatened with death, she turned and faced me eyeball to eyeball so that I would understand the severity.  I did, but wanted to tell her--without indicating anything less than compassionate understanding--, that if she did not return her gaze to the road we both would be a statistic in a matter of bone crushing seconds.  I lifted a finger and sort of pointed at the road. She nodded and raised her brows as if to say, “I know. I have this under control, but my husband was a menace.” When she looked back at the highway nodding her head again for emphasis, I wheezed a comment about how awful that must have been.  “You have no idea” is what she said, and again felt a need to stare right at me risking both of our lives.  “He was a rat bastard,” she said deliberately. “Rat bastard,” she repeated. One more rat bastard and I figured we both would be through the windshield.

The fellow driving to Salt Lake was actually traveling to Layton, Utah a destination twenty miles further North.  He dropped me at a Truckstop not far from the intersection of I-15 and I-80. By now it was after midnight.  My first two nights finding a place to stay had been easy.  This was different and I did not know what to do.     

I tried to get someone at the all night Truckstop diner to tell me where the University of Utah was, but I could not get a straight answer when I received an answer at all.  I had wild curly hair and looked the part of an anti- war protestor.  Not many sympathetic faces at this diner.  I ordered something to eat and took my time essentially killing time.  The vibes emanating from the twenty or so others in the joint ranged from apathy to antipathy when I was able to sense any reaction to my presence. I left the diner about 1.

I started walking around to find a spot that felt safe where I could put down my sleeping bag for the night. There just did not seem anywhere suitable that would be off the beat of someone who might be a ne’er do well.  I tried to check if I could find a school yard or park but the area was commercial. There was a strip mall with a grocery, an out of business hardware shop with wooden boards where windows had been, a bank, and a dry-cleaner. All closed of course. The bank parking lot had some possibilities.  I found a corner, not far from a streetlight, but not so close that it would keep me up all night.  There was a level place for the bag and I tried to get some sleep.  

I couldn’t. I was not there for more than twenty minutes when I decided this was not so good. If I did fall asleep and a police officer came by and put a light in my face I thought I might panic.  So, I got up and started walking, not hiking. I thought I knew how to get back to the interstate and figured I would walk towards the ramp--somehow kill the four hours or so until first light.

This plan, as I hatched it and as I started to implement it, was only a little bit wiser than trying to hike from Colorado to Utah. I was nowhere and would not break my no hitchhiking at night rule. I did not see anything approaching a university or a motel.  So, I walked around in what amounted to circles for a long while. And then a godsend.  A fellow pulled up next to me in a motorcycle.

“Lost?”

I explained I was hiking cross country and was looking for some place safe to sleep for the night. And asked for recommendations.  He could not suggest any place safe—“not around here”-- but asked me to hop on the motorcycle. And then this motorcyclist from heaven, Phil, took me through the streets of Salt Lake to his suburban home.  I’m not much of a fan of motorcycles, but I was that night.

It was close to 3 when we got to his mother’s house.  He had the late shift at some factory and was coming off work when he spotted me. Phil could not let me sleep in the house because he figured his mother might wake up and have a fit, but he fixed me a sandwich for breakfast that he called a nature sandwich with sprouts, told me I could sleep in his backyard, and I would do just that. It had been a scary night.  There was one fellow in the Truckstop who especially made me nervous.  A buzz cut guy who had eyeballs that were staring at me, the long-haired stranger with the backpack.  I thought that Phil might have saved me just at the right time.  He was going to sleep late, he said, but showed me on my map how I could get to route 80 from his house.  I’d explained that it was my goal to get to San Francisco, a 14-hour drive away, by the following night.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

11

2019

Becca did not answer the phone. No surprise there.  Becca did not answer the phone before there were answering machines. Caller ID and voice mail must have seemed like a gift from the almighty to her. I left a message after hearing a predictable Becca message.  Flat voice, matter of fact: “Richard and I are not here now. Please leave a message.”  

I knew there was a Richard or knew that at one point there had been a Richard. Apparently, there still was a Richard.  I’d met him a couple of times, once only a couple of years after Becca and I had stopped dancing.  Another time about a decade later. Not much to Richard. Did not say much. Lugged a camera around his neck and grunted hellos.  A doctor of some sort.  The kind that made money unlike the kind that I had become.  After the beep, I said hi to them both.  Then I asked Becca to call me, trying to relay an urgency without ratcheting up anxiety.  Must be an urgency she’d have to think. I had not called her since the Carter administration. 

The first thing that Becca did when I got back from the trip in 1974 was suggest I take a bath.  I did not think I was that ripe, but she met me outside her apartment, gave me a hug and a kiss that reflected longing but also some reluctance.  We walked up the stairs to her apartment and she immediately turned right and headed into the bathroom. She left the door open and started running the water in the bathtub.  It was only about 5 in the afternoon. I looked at her. She nodded her head and said, “You need a bath.”

Then afterwards we had sex, pretty good sex as I recall it.  A month without sex when you are 24 kind of sex.  Becca was a prig in many ways for sure, but she liked to dance.  It was in fact she who first seduced me.  We had gone to Niagara Falls for a date. Probably our third or fourth. Drove back to my apartment and had a drink.  We were kissing in the living room on a couch that came with the apartment and looked like it came with the place when Al Jolson starred in the Jazz Singer.  The living room/couch was right on the beat of anyone who came into the house.  After two of my roommates-- strangers to her--plodded through the living room and did not even register our necking presence she nudged me and whispered that we should go upstairs to my bedroom.  She came into the bedroom, told me it was sweet, and then went into the bathroom. When she came out I could smell the spermicide used on diaphragms.  I figured either she liked me, or this was the 70s, I was available and—as far as she could predict—I was likely to be armed.  

I asked if we were going to have sex when I smelled the stuff. She looked at me and said something like, “well it does not have to be right now.”  Usually right now was fine with me, but that night for some reason I felt we might be rushing it a bit.  Then after a couple more passionate smooches I stopped wavering.

I had a tiny single bed in a room that was probably 10 by 8.  A single bed, a small dresser, a desk, a tiny closet, and that was it. Roll out of bed, take two steps and you are out the door. One more step and you are in the one bathroom for four men, bathroom.  

She must have just about died having to use our bathroom to put that diaphragm in.  When I stayed at Becca’s apartment, nothing was out of place. She lived with two other students, none of whom got along with any of the others, but the place was dust free.  The bathroom had three toothbrushes standing at attention, the soap in a proper soap dish, some knick-knack around the sink for who knows what and a picture on the wall, again for who knows what.  

Despite the apparent uniformity suggested by a tidy three-person apartment, the tension between the women became such that by April Becca had moved on to a place she had by herself.  And it was there, where she ran the water for the bath when I returned, and it was there that she listened to some stories about my trip.  Not sure how much she heard as, being a child of the 60s and 24 herself, and also having gone a month without a fellow, she was sort of anxious for me to soap up.  But I told her about the trip while I was washing. I left out the scary parts then.

The next day, I showed her the map and the log.

10

 

May 1974

The record collector did not have success in Grand Junction and seemed blue about the lack of luck. It is hit or miss he tells us.  “Sometimes there is a bonanza.  Not today.” We hear a good deal about the tribulations of being an itinerant record collector.  I listen puzzled about why he chose this line of work or hobby if the very activity of driving about and sleuthing brings him down.  Strange; driving cross country, stopping in towns, looking for old records. When I asked him why he does the collecting, he snorted a noise and waved his hand forward. “Long story” he said.

Because he is headed for Las Vegas, the driver will stay on I-70 once we pass a town called Green River. At that point, I will hop out and veer North on route 6 on my way toward Salt Lake City.  It is late in the afternoon now and I figure that we will hit the junction of 6 and I-70 with about an hour left of sunlight.

Of all the places I remembered on this journey, the stretch from Fruita to the Utah border, and the next 70 miles or so to Green River was the most desolate.  More desolate than even Nevada.  There was nothing west of the Colorado/Utah border on I-70.  No exits no gas stations, nothing. The signs that we saw were for Green River and because of the absence of everything else, Green River seemed like it would have to be a haven, a large town of some sort.  A few hours earlier I’d considered (and begun) walking from Colorado to Utah to avoid the cop’s warning.  Had I continued on that walk to the promised land of Utah I would have died since for seventy miles past the border, I did not see a single human made thing besides other vehicles until we got to Green River.

My hitch-hiking partner opened up during this journey through nothing.  From Baltimore originally, he’d had it with college, his parents, his siblings, his fair-weather friends and was seeking some place where people were, “you know, true.”  Fellow’s name was Billy and Billy did not seem to like much of anything.  During the time we were on the ramp in Fruita he had not said much though he often spoke disparagingly about the vehicles that passed us.  “Bleeping station wagon”, for example, “Bleeping Chrysler. 

“Let me tell you something about Chryslers. Forget about Chryslers.”   

The driver seemed to be developing a connection with Billy, muttering “I know what you mean” regularly after some comment about a problem with this or that. “Don’t talk to me about guidance counselors” he said a couple of times in a row when Billy discussed how he had wound up at “the wrong school.”  “Just don’t talk to me about guidance counselors.” The driver said again.

We arrive in Green River expecting gold in the streets after all the signs and found it hardly worthy of our anticipation. There was a gas station with an attached grocery.  Across the street from it were a couple of stores and around this hub were homes scattered in an elevated area.  Green River was a something in the midst of nothing.  They were not going to get a major league baseball franchise. Doubt if there were enough kids to field a single little league team and I wonder now where the kids went to school.

Billy and the driver were up in the front and began to schmooze like old buddies.  I was glad, and so were they, that I’d be leaving the car when the road split.  When it did, we said our goodbyes and I was not out of the car for a few minutes before another car stopped.  I was disappointed to hear that he was only going a few miles down the road but was nevertheless considering taking the ride, when not one, but two other cars stopped.  I’ve done a good deal of hitch-hiking in my day and this spot, though I was only there once, has been the luckiest.  I guess if you have been driving through nowhere and you are about to pop because you have had nobody to talk to or even see except the soul selling coffee and pumping gas and stocking the shelves in the superette in Green River you might get itchy for some conversation.

I had my rule about not taking a ride after dark and there was probably only an hour before the sun would be down for good. It was great news that I now had my pick of rides.  One of the drivers was going all the way to Salt Lake City and I thought that this was one lucky moment as I threw my gear into the backseat and hauled my body into the front.