On He Rode — Chapter Seven

“So what’re you guys up to?” I ask the two tee-shirt-and-jeans

teen-agers who wander into my camp and stop twenty yards in front of

me with my hood up. The taller one carries a .22 caliber rifle,

pointed sanely at the ground.

It’s early in the morning. My car won’t start. Cranking it any more

will kill the battery, and I’m facing uphill, not good for

kick-starting. I’m in a bit of a jam. Fucked, you might say.

“Not huntin’ season yet, is it?” I add.

“Not huntin’. Jus’ lookin’,” the shorter one says.

“Like me,” I say “Say,” I say, “I wonder if you guys might be able to

. . ..” My head’s exposure to the elements, the cool morning air,

makes me feel, well, exposed, a fact that I try to ignore.

Turns out they’re more than willing to help turn my car around and get

me headed downhill fast enough to get the engine firing more or less

properly. I honk thanks and don’t stop to shake hands. Mutual

appreciation: they’re glad to have me out of their woods, and I’m glad

to be out. It feels good to be back on Hwy. 101 and feels still better

to think how it happened. People helping people. Things are looking


Which reminds me of the gifted, tragic Hawaiian performer, Kui Lee:

“Ain’t no beeg teeng, bruddah, when teengs ain’t lookin’ up, ain’t no

beeg teeng when der ain’t no coffee to fill da cup.” Can you guess the

title? Yeah, you got it. Kui Lee. No forget.

One of the many consequences of Carrie’s reading to me so young is

that it opened me up early to the narrative possibilities of song

lyrics. I had no problem seeing verbal images — smoke on the water —

especially driven by the emotion of steel guitars, a Hawaiian

invention, and fiddles.

Enter B. Buck, “B for Butterball,” Ritchey on radio station KVI in

Tacoma and his afternoon hour of the best country and western music

anywhere. I tell you it inspired me. An early diet of Howard R. Garis,

L. Frank Baum, Bob Wills, and Roy Acuff absolutely grew that me then

into this me now. The day FDR died, Buck Ritchey was co-opted by

funeral music. Dirges displaced all regular programs on KVI,

including, inexplicably, my buddy Buck’s program. I was so pissed-off

that it permanently connected my memory to that historic event.

A similar event on November 22, 1963, carried its own set of images,

beginning with a classroom announcement on the Renton High School

classroom PA box that the President had been shot, followed soon after

by word that school was cancelled and we should all go home. I spent

the rest of that crisp autumn day polishing this very Chevrolet beside

my tar-paper house in Seattle, its radio keeping me abreast of the

terrible news from Dallas. I was married then. Things weren’t good at

home either. Nobody was happy anywhere, me included.

Do I blame Carrie for that too? Or books? Or music? For nurturing my

impractical predilection toward an enhanced artistic reality instead

of settling into a more practical blue-collar lifestyle that would not

encourage my use of such meaninglessly highfalutin’ verbiage as

“predilections” and “verbiage”? Who do I think I am, anyway? And how

will I find out?

Allow me to interrupt, Dear Reader (if, in fact, anybody out there is

actually reading and trying to make sense of this exploration of

personal events from the landmark summer of 1968), to formally

acknowledge the rough-draft nature of this effort. It is, after all, a

rough draft. You might then ask why I don’t keep my rough draft to

myself until I’ve had a chance to give it a more socially acceptable

coat of polish? The answer is that I’ve tried that, with mostly

unsatisfactory results — consequences, almost. It’s complicated.

So complicated that I will over-simplify by saying that it is almost

solely through the generosity of that most generous of hombres, the

Bamboo Buckaroo himself, that I am able to keep producing this

semblance of narrative flow. By allowing me to post a thousand

unprescribed and unjudged words a month, he offers a challenge and an

opportunity that even the laziest, most undisciplined bones in my

body, the ones that hold this pen, can’t resist. Thus, this homely


To my multitude of readers, I will just say that the next draft will

be better, especially if you offer suggestions, which I will

immediately assume are mean-spirited, ill-intended criticisms because,

like most people, I hate suggestions. But go ahead and piss me off and

get my writing juices flowing, my lazy bones moving.

Czarnecki, an ex-boxer, said I was by nature a counter-puncher. Not

true. I’ve never in my life punched a counter, but I did punch a wall

one time and the results were distinctly unpretty. I’ll try to do

better than that here, out of gratitude to the Buckaroo and out of

consideration for you my readers, who must by now be legion.

So, shoot the juice to me Bruce, I’m back on Highway 101 wondering

what my second day out might have in store and whether that might

include the acquisition of marijuana and the making of some new

friends to share it with. Or do the friends come first and the sharing

later? We won’t know until it happens, will we? Isn’t that what’s

called an adventure?

An adventure is what happens when your plans fall through. Like life

itself. For example, I plan to drive somewhere, but I’m not sure about

my exact route. Driving is my plan. Choosing my route on the fly is my

proposed adventure. But suppose my car dies and leaves me the

unproposed adventure of being stuck in some unfamiliar,

unaccommodating, perhaps dangerous, place? Am I up for that much

adventure, that much life? Could I be? Stay tuned.

Talk story

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