In the five years since I had lived with Greg and John there were some substantial changes to my life. Despite my efforts to the contrary, I had learned a lot at school. The Viet Nam war ended, and with it, the draft was abolished and we began the era of a volunteer Army. With the draft gone, so too was my reason to be in school and I withdrew the next day. By this time I was working full-time at a bank and saving money for my first new car. I was making a whopping $3.75 an hour, which was much more than I needed to live and my savings account was doing very well.
In October 1973 the OPEC oil embargo changed gasoline prices from $0.28 a gallon to the new and outrageous price of $0.55 a gallon. The new Chevy Vega that I was saving to buy also went up in price since it was one of the few American cars that got 30 MPG at that time. It took a few extra months of saving but I was finally the owner of my first new car. This was the first major purchase of my young life, I had paid cash for it with money I had earned and saved, and I was way beyond proud of myself.
There would be no more taking the bus for me. And perhaps that was adding to the problem. Now it was even easier to leave Paula, get my own place and then just as easy to get back together again. But this last move back home had been an emotional disaster and once again I needed to sort things out. During the first year with my new car I had taken a few road trips by myself, Boston to Jacksonville and Boston to New Orleans, among others. But I had always been fascinated with the idea of California, not the place itself so much, but the idea of it. At that time California represented a wide spectrum for me, the Beach Boys at one end and Haight-Ashbury at the other. That pretty much sums up all I knew about it, but somehow I needed to go there.
And so off I went. I had already covered the eastern seaboard in previous trips and I was determined to visit the entire continental US. This was going to be my “Route 66 trip” and when the money ran out I would stop and get a job. I had no fear about anything, I was 25 and completely free, and I would work out my problems as my bias-belted tires slapped against the pavement. I had no cell phone (not invented yet), no computer (not invented yet), no credit cards, and no AAA card (didn’t know there was such a thing), but I had a brain and I would figure it all out as I went along.
What I found out on this trip is that ours is an amazing country. I zigzagged the whole country from Cape Cod to New Orleans to Chicago to Dallas to Duluth to El Paso to Billings to Phoenix to Tacoma and finally to San Francisco. I tried to stay off the Interstate highway system as much as I could to just see the towns and experience the people. It was those people who helped me a great deal. These were genuine small town folk, just like I was, who for no apparent reason, would take an interest in a young blond kid just passing through. I didn’t have much interest in the major cities along the way so the majority of the people I met were simple country folk; farmers, merchants, ranchers, etc. Once you get past the Conway Twitty and Johnny Paycheck songs on the radio everywhere, what really jumps out at you is the wisdom. It is simple, concise, easy, and everybody has it. There were no complicated formulas for how to have a good life or how to be a good person with these people. I wouldn’t be hearing the twists, turns, and outdated logic from my father out here.
I really don’t remember any of those people; it’s been too many years now. I can still see some of their faces if I try, but when I would hit the road again the next day I would take with me another piece of the puzzle that would help to clear my head and remove the mental pulling and bending I had been forced to do over the previous 15 years. Who would have believed that these (in those days) much maligned country folk would have the answers I sought. It was a mix of Moses, Calvin, Sitting Bull, and Lincoln paired with the experiences of the individual. And here is what I can remember:
- Do unto others
- Try to give people what they need before what they want
- No matter what, work hard and do your best
- Be satisfied with what you’ve got because it was a gift
- Always hope for better next year
- Tell the truth, especially when it hurts you
- Trust in each other
- Know the value of true friendship
- Protect the land
- Use only what you need.
When I finally arrived in San Francisco I was beginning to know who I would turn out to be. I had been on the road for almost 3 months and I had learned more about the country, the people, and myself in that time than I had ever been taught in a classroom. I walked with my head up now. I smiled all the time. I was happy to meet new people. Somehow I knew that now I would be just fine.
© J T Weaver