ON HE RODE — Chapter Eight

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

of life.

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.

Talk story

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