Peregrine flight

Monday, August 10, 2009


Photograph © 2009 Robert Sommers
I've been told that there's a statute of limitations on youthful indiscretion, lord hope it's true. My story involves a particular detour my life took in the summer of my discontent or maybe it would be better described as my big break out.

I was sixteen when the clarion call of the open highway rang in my ears and I first stuck out my thumb. Mom had gone a little crazy that year, chasing after some guy who didn't have much use for her and draggin' my sister and I around in their turbulent wake.

We drug her out of the ocean once near Nipomo, when the Gallo hearty burgundy decided it didn't like the general tone of the handfull of phenobarbitol she had only recently ingested. Once when I dared to have a few friends over, she drunkenly took off her clothes and tried to serve our guests a frozen leg of lamb. They scurried like rats on a sinking ship and Geena, my sister and I just laughed hysterically at the queer hand that life had dealt us.

I didn't really have much use for school, I had actually been a straight A student back east in Philadelphia in prep school. Out west they took one look at me and thought I was a troublemaker and advised me straight away that they didn't like my type. So like many a young man at the time, I decided that I would travel the west and see what kind of learning I could get out on the highway.

The first stop on the road for many a traveler in the old days was in Santa Barbara, just north of our rented apartment. The Lights were a rite of passage for many a hobo in those days, the only three stoplights on old highway 101 for hundreds of miles. It was the stepping off point for many an itinerant wanderer.

Hitchhikers were advised to follow the accepted protocol at the Lights, going to the back of the line and waiting their turn for a chance to put their thumb out. Sometimes the line stood 10 or 12 deep. Waited 13 hours for a ride once, with a duffel bag full of pot in tow and a strange escapee from a mental asylum following me around, I kid you not.

Anyway, you could hitchhike back then without much fear of danger on either side of the steering wheel. I don't remember all that much about my departure, except for reading the writing on the back of the signposts from people who had long ago stood in the same place, waiting for a good soul to pick them up. I don't know if they are still writing on the back of signposts, probably somewhere in this good land of ours, but it was common back then. And it wasn't always just somebody's stupid name or profanity, sometimes someone would write something that actually made some sense.

People would write in between the little tiles in the lavatories too. Right in the grout. Not always about blowjobs and screwing like today but smart things as well. And jokes.They don't seem to do that so much anymore.

I always carried a silver dollar in my pocket for luck picking up rides. I wouldn't take it out until things were really bad and I had stood in my spot for two or three hours in the blazing sun without moving an inch. Hot. It was a hot May. I remember. So like I said, things got too bad, I would pull out this half dollar, did I say it was a dollar, I can't recall. All I know was it was close to all the money I really had to my name at the time. I walked in to the convenience store up in Klamath Falls and wanting to get one of those little packs with the undetermined cheese substance and the two little crackers with the odd plastic spoon and I had twenty four cents to my name. The cheese pack cost a quarter. And I said "All I got is twenty four cents" and the evil looking girl showed me her nasty and sharp bicuspids and said "Thats right, all you got is twenty four cents" and I just slinked off into the landscape.

Anyhow, like I said, I would grab that dollar and squeeze it as hard as I could and will myself a ride and I tell you, sometimes it actually worked.

This particular time, a young fellow in an old steel blue Plymouth Fury station wagon picked me up, the one before the simulated wood paneling. The car, not the guy of course. And with the sharper body line. Perhaps he felt the invisible call from the silver dollar, I don't really know.This guy was driving all the way to Spokane, my destination. And he could drive me all the way, and the blonde ponytailed fellow traveler from New Jersey next to me in the lineup too. I think our gracious host may have been doing a little speed. Or had recent experience with it. His complexion was sallow and the spark of joy had seemed to have left his life in a one way exit.

(to be continued)