Friday, March 09, 2007

17.) The Hitchhiking Years: California, a Blur

My rule so far has been to leave out even some cool stories if I don't remember exactly when they happened - on what particular trip during the Hitchhiking Years. California gets a little tricky since I would interact with it many times after 1972, and not everything we did back then was conducive to a strong memory.

There's a chance that my first visit to a legendary Aramco friend named Big R happened on this initial pass through California although he might not have gotten there quite yet. Big R attended a boarding school in a setting so beautiful that you had to hitch past the Pebble Beach golf course just to get there. I believe the school was called Robert Louis Stevenson. I just searched for it and I was right on the name. Given the tenor of those times, it's always good when a fact checks out.

Besides, I don't want to force the memories on this stuff. The human brain is great at filling in the gaps with the imagination, so I'm not going to press it. I know there was a visit to Big R that led to a ridiculous weekend at a state park with one residence on it, right on the coast. We were staying with the rich kids who lived there. That was later, but we were at a stop light and they informed us that one of the musicians from the Youngbloods was coming the other way. I always thought that was cool. Ahh, this part is sort of a blur as far as chronology goes. I know! I'll check the old map I drew about the trip. See above. Okay, first let's take a moment to admire that stunning drawing of the redwoods. It's like for a second there they come alive on the page. Hmm, I also just got a memory of another place I think I stayed on this pass even before I got to Monterey and Carmel. It was the University of Santa Cruz, and the campus looked like a resort. But who was I visiting and was that later? Would it have killed me to write a little journal? Nothing detailed like Kevin Costner's in "Dancing with Wolves" - just the basics. You know, I had to check in every night with an uncle on the East Coast and for a long time I had the phone records of all the collect calls. That would have been extremely helpful, too. Oh, screw it. Let's stick to what I know. At least we'll always have the special drawing of the redwoods.

The map shows that I hitched all the way down the coast to Los Angeles. That's right, because I remember when I finally drove on I-5 up the agricultural inland part of California. Okay, and I know this was not the time when I hitchhiked through Los Angeles at night. That was also later but picture this, people. How desperate and crazy do you have to be to hitchhike through Los Angeles at night? That definitely went in the screenplay.

See the problem? Look at the map below. Can you make out all those faint lines east and south of L.A.? Those are all different hitchhiking journeys. So let me just stick to what I'm sure of and leave out the rest. This first time through Los Angeles, it was in the day and even then, in the bright sunlight, I would have a brush with the dark side of humanity. I was on a dusty freeway ramp with a bare lot next to it, and a car full of people pulled over. I threw on my pack - a smooth motion by now - and I jogged to the car. When I got there, I reached for the door handle and as soon as I grabbed it, the car tore off, causing me to lose my balance. I didn't fall over but I could hear them laughing in the car and I definitely got sprayed with small rocks and dirt as they peeled out.

One of the best things about revisiting the Hitchhiking Years is that it's a chance to remember what I used to be like. I was 18 and I had a fairly idealistic view of humanity. By December of the following year that would lay in ruins as my best friend, Walker, the drummer of our rock band in Arabia, would be killed in a horrific terrorist attack on a Pan Am jet at the airport in Rome. That would change me, but during the main two Hitchhiking Years of 1972 and 1973, I was protected by an overwhelming optimism and sense of adventure. You need that to face the public in this format, and I definitely reaccessed a lot of it after Walker got killed. Frankly, I lost a lot of my faith in humanity - not you, just those other crazy bastards out there - and because I was young and full of good intentions at the time, I had more of it to lose.

Innocence can be a protective shield. It was a nice force that helped me win over complete strangers during the Hitchhiking Years. When people sense you're not as suspicious of them as you should be, they relax. Of course, it gets shed as you live longer, but while you have it, the innocence can make you strong. I miss that. It was naive but it was genuine. One of the great tasks of growing up is maintaining your love of the human race even after you get to know what we're really like.

So the Hitchhiking Years are my chance to revisit my old self. Now admittedly, I would bring out the road skills years later in Portland for a legendary 6-day jaunt across America to Massachusetts, and another one from Portland to Minnesota, but those were done in a darker mood. My youthful view of humanity ended when the terrorists killed my friend - that's for sure.

So this brief display of man's inhumanity to man that I experienced that day in Los Angeles bounced off me like one of the rocks that flew up from the screeching tires as the car tore off. I was a little startled. If I had fallen forward, I suppose I could have been run over by the back tire, but it was nothing really. I would face much worse only a few days later.

I shrugged it off and went back to the side of the road. Within a day or two I would be having one of the great stops of the entire trip and I would be living it up once again. For now it was just a matter of dusting myself off and marveling that people would take the time to pull a prank like this. Oh well. Back then it was all just part of the adventure.


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