ON HE RODE — Chapter Eight
This is not a writing contest entry.
To help me choose my route, I’ve got a magazine-sized Rand-McNally
road atlas as my ready reference, though so far I’ve used it more to
tell me where I’ve been than to suggest where I might go. The beach
where I almost got swept out to sea may have been Cannon Beach, but I
wonder how important that is? If I might eventually want to turn this
into a fictional account, ala Hemingway or Kerouac, will I really need
to document my hero’s location at every dot and turn? What difference
would it make if I mislocated a thing or two?
In “On the Road” Kerouac mentions the big lake beside Bremerton,
Washington. He does not give us the lake’s name and also fails to
notice that the “lake’s” salty water has regular tides keeping pace
with the water of the Pacific Ocean to which it is connected. Has
anyone ever noted that Kerouac’s “lake” is actually a significant body
of water called Puget Sound? Not that I know. And does that make a
difference, even to me, apparently the only reader ever to catch
Jack’s miscue? Yeah. It makes me feel smart. And so, dear reader, if
I’ve similarly made you feel smart, please know that I follow
established literary tradition.
You might see me as the unreliable narrator of a documentary whose
facts might at any point be called into question but the truth of
which should be considered unassailable. That is my own private
conceit, of course, but it is no different from any other writer of
fiction — we want it both ways. Doesn’t everybody? And aren’t we all
writers of our own fictional documentary? Deep, I tell you.
California used to maintain stateline border monitors intended to keep
nefarious plants and people — weeds — from entering its pristine
croplands. Do they still? Good luck with that. Better to take away my
harmonica to keep out the bad sounds I make. “Oh Susannah” seemed a
good starting point, but shouldn’t I be doing better by now? How long
did it take Sonny Terry or John Mayall? Did they learn all by
themselves, or did somebody show them? Maybe that’s what I need,
someone to show me? How hard can it be?
I’m driving along, huffing my way through a scratchy, one-handed
“Don’t Think Twice . . .” when, out of nowhere, I’m thinking about the
women I’ve screwed, and the women I haven’t screwed but could’ve, and
the women I wanted to but couldn’t. And still can’t. And the ones that
screwed me. Over. No bragging or complaining. I’m just reminding
myself there’s still life out there — out here — all alone on the
North American Pacific Coast. Too alone. Are you heading for that
south country fair? Too? Time to pick up hitchhikers.
Does that sound ominous? Hitchhiking’s risky for both hiker and hikee.
Who knows what you might be getting into when you open that door and
climb inside? The possibilities seem limitless. Welcome to the fun
Pre-teenage Evers and I were already used to riding our thumbs
everywhere within a twenty-mile radius. Country kids, we watched out
for each other, hitchhiked into town, up to the lakes — Tiger,
Mission, Panther — or out to Hood Canal. We aren’t the only ones
hitchhiking, but we might be the busiest. People recognize us as nice
local kids. Harmless. They give us rides only sometimes — not always.
Friends without obligations. Everybody understands. It’s the highway
One time Evers and I get a ride with an old guy in a big tub of a 1948
Ford sedan. He’s driving ok but talking kind of nutty.
“You ever hear of a Pierce Arrow, young men?” He leans in our
direction. We’re in a row across the big front seat, Evers in the
middle. “Best damn car ever made, the Pierce Arrow.” He’s talking
deliberately in an inflectionless cadence of his own design, not
waiting for cues from us. “Ever ride in a Pierce Arrow, young men?” he
asks but doesn’t wait for an answer. “Nothing like it, young men,
nothing in this world,” and he swoons into the silence of fond
remembrance. Nodding in our direction, he goes, “This is a Pierce
Arrow you are riding in at this very moment, young men. Best car ever
made, and you’re riding in one.” Crazy talk, but he’s driving ok, so
maybe he’s just an entertainer, not a pervert. Dropping us off as
requested at Tiger Lake, he waves friendly, and drives off down the
dusty gravel road in his 1948 Pierce Arrow.
After we take our swim, sun-dry ourselves on somebody’s private but
unoccupied deck, we head back down the road toward home. Would we get
a ride? We’d see.
That settles it. I’ll pick up the next hitcher I see. In the meantime,
I’ll settle back to seeing the USA in my Chevrolet.
Traffic opens up and moves faster farther south. There’s less admiring
the scenery and more getting where you’re going. Everybody complains
about California drivers going too fast and taking too many chances,
but after you’ve spent time in California you find yourself driving
like Californians in self-defense. The best defense is a good offense,
unlike Washington or Hawaii, where too much offense can get you in
Where are the clusters of flowers-in-their-hair hippie couples vying
for my attention? Like, hey baldheaded guy who needs a shave, why
don’t you give us free spirits a ride so we can share our Tijuana Gold
with you — or how about some Owsley Acid . . . or my girl friend? But
hippie couples, like the snows of yesteryear, seem in short supply,
and I find myself passing up some distinctly non-hippie types that
look like they might want me to pay dearly for the privilege of
continuing my journey in one piece, if at all.
Finally, I spot a guy who looks like he’s got his shit together, slow
down, and pull over.