BRIAN ON THE ROAD
November 2, 1960.
Brian Sims had no idea what he was about to do, how long it would take him or what would happen, but he knew it would probably be a great adventure. He wasn’t wrong about that.
He had graduated from college that spring, spent the summer teaching kids how to swim and was now visiting his friend, Bob, who was working towards a master’s degree in drama at Boston University. At first their idea of opening a film company somewhere on the coast of California had been just a dream. But as time went by it had become more of a goal. Bob had one more year of school left, so Brian thought it would be a good idea if he went out there, got a job, looked around and when Bob was finished they would have a head start. Bob agreed.
Bob’s roommate, Chuck, said he was heading out to Cleveland the next evening and if Brian wanted a lift that far he could go along. Brian agreed not knowing that Chuck’s vehicle was a motorcycle,
November 3, 1960.
In the morning the three of them went down to the
Hayes-Bickford for breakfast. Chuck finishes his soon and went off to collect some new handle bars he had bought. It was then that Brian found out he would be riding on a motorcycle. He was glad he was dressed for the chilly New England Autumn. It was going to be a cold ride to Cleveland.
After Chuck left Bob and Brian discussed the trip. Bob suggested he hitchhike all the way to California. Brian liked that idea. So they went back to Bob’s place to look at a map. There was a northern route and a southern route. They both thought the southern route would be better.
“How much money do you have?” asked Bob.
“About three hundred dollars.”
“Write me a check and I’ll get you another couple of hundred.”
So Brian wrote out a check, tore it off his check book and handed it to Bob. Then they went off to the bank. When they got there Bob took out some money, handed some of it to Brian and then took a slip of paper from the table at the bank and wrote something on it.
“Here” he said “this is my parents’ phone number. They live in Green’s Park. I’ll tell them you’re on the road and to expect you in a few weeks.”
“Thanks” said Brian.
On the way back Bob stopped off at a liquor store and bought a bottle of Champagne. “We’ll send you off in good spirits” he said with a smile.
Later that afternoon Chuck returned with his new handle bars. They all got into Bob’s Volkswagen beetle, along with Marion, Bob’s girl friend, and they drove out to the suburbs where Chuck’s motorcycle was parked. Chuck suggested that Brian ride with the handlebars between them so they would be safe, as he wasn’t going to install them until he got to Cleveland. Brian agreed, but it was soon going to be a bad idea.
When Chuck came out of the garage where his bike was stored, Brian got on the back with the handle bars in his lap and Bob cracked open the Champagne. He had bought some paper cups and poured out four cupfuls of the fizzing stuff. They drank while having a bit of small talk. It was as if no one was going anywhere. It was a gathering, a party in the November evening out where no one was around. It was an easy, unembarrassed chat among friends Brian thought how much it resembled a surreal film. As the days went by Brian was going to learn that a trip was not about moving on a road but of the stops along the way.
Finally, the Champagne was gone, Chuck mounted the bike, stomped down to start it and best wishes for a good journey were awarded to the travelers. “Bon Voyage” said Marion. And off they went.
Chuck was an amiable fellow who always seemed to be smiling. He told Brian that when he wanted to stop for a break to tap him on the shoulder. They left the suburbs of Boston and turned onto the Massachusetts Turnpike. The ride soon became uncomfortable for Brian because of the handlebars in his lap. The seat was hard and was hurting him. After they had passed a few truck stops, Brian tapped Chuck on the shoulder and they pulled off. Chuck pulled up to the diner and they went in for a coffee and a bite to eat.
Chuck was chatting about where he was going and told Brian about his girlfriend. She was still a student, had one more year and Chuck was going to visit her. He said she was expecting him in a few days. He hoped he would get there soon. Brian felt a little embarrassed that he had to stop so often, but he had a real problem sitting on the back of that bike.
Soon they were on there way again. As time and miles went by Brian’s butt was getting more sore and he had to stop often. When it was very late they reached a gas station which was just closing. Chuck filled up the tank with gas and then asked the owner if there was any place they could spend the night. The owner offered the floor of the station and showed them how to get out in the morning. Chuck moved the motorcycle into the station, the owner pulled down the big front doors and left. Brian and Chuck settled down for the night.
November 3, 1960.
When Brian woke Chuck was already up and wiping his motorcycle with a cloth. He soon folded the cloth and tucked it into the boot. Hew looked over and saw Brian was awake. “Good morning” he said. “Let’s go find some breakfast.”
Brian got up, picked up his pack and joined Chuck as they went through the door the station owner had shown them. They were behind the station. It was just beginning to get light. Moving to the front they looked around for a diner. The only thing around was a Howard Johnson across the highway. “Shall we try it?” asked Brian. “Sure” said Chuck. They looked down the highway, nothing was coming so they dashed across to the median. When they got there they had to wait because there were some cars coming from the other direction. “Early morning commuters to Worcester” said Chuck.
Finally there was a small break in the traffic and they started running. They didn’t quite make it before two more cars came speeding toward them.
Brian scurried past in front of the oncoming car and made it to the edge of the road. But Chuck was stuck in between the two lanes. Brian looked back horrified. He expected Chuck to be hit by one of those cars. The nearest one sped past blocking Brian’s view for a moment. The second one, with its horn blaring, swerved out of the center lane to avoid hitting Chuck. Chuck gave its driver a salute and strolled casually to the edge to join Brian.
They walked jauntily into the Howard Johnson sat in a booth and enjoyed breakfast. Chuck wasted no time, but began charring up the waitress right away. She was a feisty young lady but she enjoyed the banter.
When they had finished breakfast they walked outside and saw that the traffic had picked up a bit. Getting back across would be more difficult. They also had another problem. What were they going to do about what was soon to be waiting for them on the other side?
Brian and Chuck came to the edge of the highway and watched a full line of cars come and pass them. The Massachusetts Turnpike was a three lane highway and all the lanes were busy. Finally Chuck saw an opening and ashed out into the road barely making it to the other side amid more honking of horns. Brian waited until he was sure he could get over and when the chance came made a run for it. When he got to the median Chuck said “We’ve got a problem.”
“What is it?” asked Brian.
“Look” said Chuck and pointed toward the gas station. Brian looked down and saw a police car sitting in front of the station.
“What’ll we do?” asked Brian.
“We’ve got to go down there. No choice” Chuck said.
So, since the westbound traffic wasn’t heavy, they soon found a break and ran back to the station. When they got there the police car door opened and Officer Brand got out. “Step over here please” he said.
They walked over to where the officer was standing. Chuck said “Yes, Sir,”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” asked Brand.
“Well, we were just coming back from breakfast” said Chuck.
“Is that so? It’s against the law in this state for pedestrians to be walking along the highway. That’s a good way to get yourselves in the Worcester morgue. Where did you come from?”
“Where are you going?”
“No, Sir. By motorcycle.”
Brand looked around. “Were is it?”
“In the back.”
“Go get it.”
Chuck went around to the back of the station. Brand looked at Brian. “You got any ID?”
Brian pulled out his wallet and handed it to the Officer. Brand looked at it and said “In what part of the state is Waynesburg?”
“In the northern part. Near the lakes.”
“You’re a long way from there.”
“Yes, Sir” said Brian
“What brings you to Massachusetts?”
“Visiting a friend in Boston.”
Brand handed the ID back to Brian as Chuck arrived with his bike. Brand looked at it and said “That’s a Harley Panhead.”
"Where’d you get that?”
“Bought it from a friend. He went to Europe, didn’t want it anymore.”
“You got a license and registration?”
Chuck went into the boot, took out some papers and handed them to Brand. He looked them over, handed them back to Chuck and said “You takin’ good care of that bike?”
“Yes, Sir. See, I’ve got new handlebars for it. Gonna put them on when I get to Cleveland.”
“Panhead’s a good bike. Treat her well.”
"Yes, Sir, I will.”
“All right. I’m gonna let you get on your way, but no more running across the highway. We don’t wanna be scraping you up.”
“No, Sir, thank you.”
Officer Brand got back into the police car and, after a few moments, pulled out into traffic and drove off.
After the police car was out of sight Chuck said “Let’s wait a while. I don’t want to catch up with him,”
“Right” said Brian and sat on the seat of the motorcycle. He noticed that the seat was comfortable when he didn’t have the handlebars in his lap. “Chuck is there some way we can attach these to my backpack. I’m riding too far back on this seat and it’s killing my ass.”
Chuck opened the boot and took out some leather boot laces. He went behind Brian and tied off the handlebars, threading it through the loops on Brian’s pack. “How’s that?”
“Much better. Now I won’t have to stop so often.”
“Okay. Just make sure it doesn’t slip out.”
Chuck got on, started the bike and off they went.
The day was bright and cool. They made good time: Springfield, Chicopee and on into western Massachusetts. Now they were in agricultural country, New England rock farmers. They were called that because every winter the earth pushed rocks up out of the ground and farmers had to clear them before they could plant. That’s why there are so many stone walls in New England, there isn’t much else you can do with the rocks. Even with the rock challenge it is said that a New England farmer can make a living off of land a Midwestern farmer wouldn’t have in his back yard,
Finally they reached Pittsfield and soon after crossed the border into New York State, a totally different world.
Shortly after they crossed the state lines Chuck pulled off the highway, down a ramp and after about a quarter of a mile pulled into the parking space of a diner called The Empire Seafood Palace. Chuck turned off the motor and said “Let’s have lunch.”
He got off, went inside and Brian followed. They were immediately ushered to a table and given menus. Everything was seafood except the sides of vegetables and the deserts. Brian had a Manhattan Clam Chowder in honor of being in New York, he supposed. He followed that with a Filet of Sole Almandine. Chuck had a Lobster Bisque and Swordfish Steak. The food was delicious.
“What a great place!” said Brian. “Did you know about this place?”
“No” said Chuck.
“How did you know it was here?”
“I don’t know.”
They finished off with coffee, paid the bill and left. Chuck turned back onto The New York State Thruway and headed west.
Northern New York State, or Upstate New York as it was known, was a mixture of various cultures, British, Dutch and Iroquois mainly. There were classical names like Troy, Utica and Syracuse, British names like Albany, Auburn, Liverpool and Rochester, Iroquois names, Oneida, Canandaigua, Mohawk, with some Dutch and French names here and there. And at the end of the line there was Buffalo. Brian wondered, how did a city in the northeast get the name Buffalo? But then there were many mysteries for Brian in the days to come.
Chuck and Brian made good time across New York State. Every time Chuck could he got behind a truck and let the slip stream pull the bike along. Chuck said the truckers hated it because they couldn’t see the motorcycle even though they knew it was there. But he wasn’t being malicious. It just helped and saved on gas.
They arrived at the outer edges of Buffalo by mid afternoon. By the time they got into the center of town it was dark. They reached an intersection and stopped at a red light. Chuck looked straight ahead and in both directions. Then he pulled the bike over to the side as if to park. But instead he waited for the traffic to move after the light changed and when he saw an opening he darted out and to the left of the street, making a sharp turn onto another street. They drove on for about three blocks until they came to a motorcycle shop. Chuck pulled in and came to a stop.
“Did you know this was here”? asked Brian.
“No” said Chuck.
“How did you find it?”
“I don’t know.”
A woman came out of the front door. “Hi, boys” she said. “What can I do for you?”
Chuck explained that they were on the way to Cleveland ad he needed to replace the handlebars and have the bike looked over.
”Well, you’ve come to the right place. Bring it on in here.” She opened a side door and Chuck wheeled it on in. Brian followed. The woman went right to work removing the old handle bars. She was evidently the chief mechanic of the place and she didn’t expect anyone to question that. It wasn’t long before the two of them were in an intense discussion about motorcycles.
There was a brief lull in the discussion while she went into a side room to get something, during which Brian told Chuck that he was going for a walk to check out the town.
“Okay” said Chuck. “I’ll be here.”
Brian left, went down the street and found the busy section of the city. He stopped in for a burger and a beer and then just walked for a while checking out the buildings and shops. He thought about going to see a movie and looked for a movie theatre. But what he found was even more interesting than a movie.
Brian stood in front of the theatre, read the marquee, looked at the photographs, saw that a show was about to begin, went to the box office, bought a ticket and entered. An usher tore his ticket in half and handed him a program. Then Brian took a seat at The Buffalo Burlesque.
This was burlesque on the cusp between the old fashioned variety shows and what would become tawdry stripper acts. There was a pit orchestra warming up and a curtain across the front of the stage. Brian saw from the program that the star attraction was Chili Pepper. He read that she had made a film called B-Girl Rhapsody back in the 50’s, that she was a dancer and an acrobat as well as being a stripper and that she was a big star in the burlesque circuit. So Brian sat back to enjoy the show.
Soon the house lights dimmed down, a conductor came out and the orchestra played a opening ditty. The was a Master of Ceremonies who came in front of the curtain and told some rather funny jokes, said there would be a raffle later and invited everyone to enjoy the show.
There were some scantily dressed dancers and singers, some stand up comics, some funny skits, one with a judge behind the bench who kept hitting people over the head with his gavel, some guy came out and played the spoons.
Then there was the raffle. They rolled out a drum with a handle. The MC turned the handle, took out a number and read it. It was the number on an admission ticket. Brian fished out his stub to see if it was his number. It wasn’t, but some guy in the balcony won a $100 bill.
After the raffle the curtain closed and over the loud speaker came the MCs voice introducing Chili Pepper. The curtain opened and she came on stage, stopped and smiled at the audience. She did some sexy dancing during which she finally twirled off her top and part of her bottoms. There was a big trunk on the stage. She opened it and took out some costume pieces to put on. They looked like they were from various countries: furs, a lace cape, wooden shoes, bonnets, a beret and smock, a silk shirt, etc. And while the orchestra played appropriate music she did a Russian dance, a Spanish dance, a Dutch, a French, a Chinese dance. Each time teasingly taking off what she had donned. It was multiple stripping. She finished wrapped up in red, white and blue while the orchestra played a snatch of America the Beautiful.
Then she closed the trunk, did some gyrations against the curtain and as the lights dimmed way down lay down on the trunk, removed everything else she had on and, to the sound of the thumping drum, gave her all to a very dark, overhead magenta spot light. Brian had never seen anything like that in his life.
After the show Brian went back to the motorcycle shop where he found Chuck with most of a large pizza and a six pack. “We can sleep here tonight.”
“How did you arrange that?” asked Brian.
“Oh.” Brian wondered which one of them had more fun.
They settled down to finish the pizza and the beer. Chuck told Brian all about motorcycles and Brian told Chuck all about The Buffalo Burlesque.
November 5, 1960
The next morning the sun was up and so were Brian and Chuck. They took turns using the bathroom near where they slept and then went downstairs. They found the owner of the shop already at work.
“Sleep well boys?” she asked.
“Yes” said Chuck.
“Yes, thank you” said Brian.
“Your bike’s ready. Here’s your bill. I didn’t charge you for the room.” She winked at Chuck. Brian didn’t know what that meant but he wasn’t going to ask.
With the handle bars now on the motorcycle, Brian’s ride was even easier. They left the shop and went toward the west where the highway would pick up, occasionally stopping at an intersection.
“What’s her name?” Brian asked.
“The woman at the bike shop.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask her.”
They left Buffalo and were now going south. They passed through a very depressed looking area with old warehouses and factory buildings that looked unused. The windows hadn’t been washed in many years and the bricks had long since lost all color.
Brian had never seen an American wasteland. Bob had told him of certain places in New England, old mill towns that had abandoned buildings and junk yards next to them. Brian fantasized that buildings like that could be renovated and turned into something splendid and profitable. Maybe some day, he thought. Meanwhile he imagined finding a building like one of these he was seeing now along the side of the road and turning it into a film studio.
They passed into more attractive areas as the road spread out, and the intersections became less frequent. They got occasional glimpses of the lake. And they soon crossed the state line into Pennsylvania. They were on the outskirts of Erie. Chuck pulled into “Maries Dinner – Fine Food, Good Company” and they went in to have some breakfast. While they were there Chuck went to make a phone call. When he returned he said “I called my girl, Tasha, to tell her we would be coming in this afternoon. You’ll like her. She’s cool. And she’ll like you.”
“Are you sure?”
After breakfast they made their way quickly through Erie to the suburbs. But they stopped for a traffic light and when they started up again Brian was flung from the motorcycle on to the grassy area beside the road and tumbled over three times.
When Brian looked up the motorcycle was lying on its side just off the road. There was a car next to it. Chuck and a man were talking. Chuck took something out of his pocket and handed it to the man who then got in the car, made a right turn and drove on. Chuck righted the bike and then went over to Brian.
“Did you survive that?”
“I think so” said Brian. “What happened?”
”He didn’t’ see me. I didn’t see his signal. We collided. But there’s no damage except to his tail light. I gave him 5 bucks for it. He was cool. Let’s go.”
They got on the bike and headed on toward Ohio. When they crossed the state line they moved along next to the lake. The view was nice and not depressing. Soon they were approaching Cleveland and Chuck’s destination, perhaps his destiny. When they came to the college campus, Chuck knew exactly where he was going and drove the bike right up a ramp into the ground floor at the back of the graduate student’s dormitory.
Within a few seconds three girls came out and gave hugs to Chuck. On of them gave him a big kiss. Brian assumed that was Tasha and he was right. Chuck swung his leg off the bike and he and Tasha disappeared somewhere. One of the girls said “Hello Chuck’s friend. What’s your name?”
“Come with us Brian.”
They moved into another back room where there was a bathtub. One of the girls turned on the water and said “Take off your clothes.”
Brian stood perplexed. “Come on” said the other girl. “We’ll clean your clothes while you take a bath. Wash off the highway.”
They waited. Brian wondered if he should do a little Chili Pepper dance but just went about stripping down in as discrete a manner as possible and stepped into the tub while the girls watched. Then they took up his clothes and disappeared.
As the bathtub slowly filled with delicious warm water, Brian lay back and closed his eyes. In his mind he saw neighborhoods going by, trees, houses, buildings, people, towns, cities and the scenes along the side of highways. So far the journey had been one of great purpose to get somewhere with few stops along the way. But it was Chuck’s journey. Brian was only a passenger, not the driver, not the decision maker. Now his motorcycle ride was over and the journey would be his alone.
This was an alien experience for Brian. He was a guy who always wanted to stay put, to settle down wherever he was. But now he was on the road, yet sitting in a bathtub in a place he’d never seen before and knew nothing about. The strangeness of it baffled him.
Who are those girls who took his clothes away? And would they come back? Where was Chuck? What if some stranger walked in here and wanted to know who he was and why he was sitting in the bathtub. The girls had taken his pants with his wallet in them. He wouldn’t even be able to identify himself. He imagined what it would be like to be picked up and arrested by the campus police without a stitch on his body.
The water was warm and the bath was relaxing and Brian decided to enjoy it and stop worrying. He thought about the events of the last few days. He thought about Bob and Marion and the bottle of champagne. He thought about the confrontation with the Massachusetts State policeman in Worcester. He thought about crossing the state line and the Empire Seafood Palace. He thought about the Buffalo Burlesque and Chili Pepper. He thought about the accident in Erie and how he went suddenly tumbling on the grass. And now he was sitting in a strange bathtub in the suburbs of Cleveland with no one else around. The story had been quite an adventure so far. He wondered what was next.
A moment later the door opened and one of the girls came in with a paper bag. “Hi” she said.
She pulled a stool over to the tub and sat down. “I’m Della. You want a beer?” She reached into the bag and took out a six pack, pulled the top off of one can and gave it to him. She put the bag on the floor next to the tub and said “Your wallet and stuff are in the bag. Your clothes are in the dryer.”
“Thank you Della.” He sipped the beer and said “This feels quite luxurious.”
“Yeah” said Della and giggled.
”How do you know Chuck?” she asked.
“He’s the roommate of a friend of mine in Boston>”
Brian was beginning to feel comfortable lying naked in the bathtub under the scrutiny of this pleasant young woman.
“How long you staying around?”
“Not long. I’m hitchhiking to California.”
“Oh. Do you have a place to sleep?”
“I don’t know if Chuck thought about that.”
“Well, we’ll find you a bed.”
“How old are you?”
“Are you married?”
The side door opened and in came Chuck and Tasha. ‘Hi Brian” he said. “I see you’re right at home. Meet Tasha. Tasha, Brian. He usually wears clothes.” Tasha came over to the tub looked in and said “Hi Brian. You look nice.” Brian was beginning to enjoy being an exhibitionist.
The other door opened and the other girl came in with a pile of clothes and set them down on a stool. “There. Everything is cleaned and dried. And here’s a towel.”
“Claire, Brian needs a place to sleep tonight. He’s hitching to California.”
“I didn’t even think of that” said Chuck.
We’ll fix him up” said Claire.
“We’re going to dinner” said Chuck. “When you’re finished with him bring him over to the cafeteria.” They left, Claire followed them. Della stayed behind.
“Well, since you’ve already seen all there is of me I might as well stand up, dry off and get dressed.”
“Might as well” she said.
Brian pulled the plug, stood up, stepped out onto the linoleum floor, picked up the towel and dried himself off. Della watched. When he was done she handed him the paper bag and he fished out his wallet and other things and picked up his back pack. Della tucked the remaining 5 cans of beer into the bag and said “For later. Let’s go.” She led him outside and after a short walk they entered the cafeteria.
After a basic meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas and coffee, Chuck said “Come on, I’ll show you the theatre.”
They all stood up. Della said “I’ll catch your later Brian.” She turned and walked off. Brian wondered what they word “catch” was going to mean.
The theatre was a high tech, state of the art, establishment with elevators and electronic sliding walls. It was in so many ways a dream theatre. Brian was amazed. He’d never seen such a place. The shop was furnished with all the latest equipment for building and painting scenery. The stage manager’s area was enclosed in a booth with wide windows that looked down on every part of the stage area. One could sit there and see the stage and both of the wings. The curtain opened and closed automatically. Chuck took him to see the costume shop which was filled with racks of clothes, all types of garments imaginable. Every area of the building was immaculate and designed for efficiency and with the comfort of audience and actors in mind.
But Brian felt a little sad. He realized that the students were getting an opportunity to work in a theatre the likes of which they would probably never see again. If any of those graduates came to New York City to work, even on Broadway, they would have to go through some very difficult adjustments. The real world of theatre was not like this.
Brian was glad he had learned his trade at a place where you made lighting instruments out of number ten tin cans, with cardboard cutout gel frames, where there was no room stage left, where the curtain would sometimes get stuck and where you couldn’t flush the toilet during a performance. At least everything from there was a step up.
After the tour of the theatre they walked around the campus for a while, and then Tasha said “let’s get some beer and munchies and have a party.”
“Great” said Chuck. “Brian?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Uhh. No, I guess not. I have some work to do.”
“What about Della?” asked Brian.
“I’ll find out” said Claire, and left.
They followed Claire Back to the dorm, where Chuck and Tasha got on his motorcycle and took off somewhere. Brian decided to wait for them right there.
In a minute Della came in. “Oh. I heard the motorcycle. I thought you’d gone somewhere.” Somewhere like the Buffalo Burlesque? Brian thought.
“No” he said “they went to get some beer. We’re having a party. You’re invited.”
“Okay. By the way, you’re sleeping with me tonight.”
“What does that mean?”
“My roommate is away for a couple of days. You can have her bed.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks. Will that be making Claire jealous?”
“Ooo! I hope so.”
“She won’t be back until Monday, it you want to stay another night.”
“Thanks. I’ll think about that.”
Soon the motorcycle came up the ramp with Chuck and Tasha. She was holding a case of beer in her lap with a paper bag on top of it. “You coming?” she asked and without waiting for an answer went through a door at the side and started up some stairs with Chuck following. So Della went for the stairs and motioned Brian to follow.
Once inside her room Tasha said “Frankie, put those stupid books away and have a beer." A nice looking young woman with glasses turned around from the desk and said “Hi.” Looking at Brian she said “Who are you?”
“That’s Brian. Brian meet Francine. We call her ‘Frank’.”
“What’s the occasion?” asked Frank.
“A good time.” Tasha said. “We’re showing Brian how much fun we have so he’ll stay.”
“Why won’t you stay?” asked Frank.
“I’m on my way to California.”
“Brian” said Chuck, “tomorrow is Sunday. I’ll take you out to where you can get a good road into Cleveland. There’ll probably be a lot of traffic. People coming home from the weekend.”
“Great. Thanks.” Brian gave a quick glance at Della, who didn’t say a word or bat an eye.
The party was a good time as Tasha said it was. Everybody had plenty to say and stories to tell.
When the party broke up Della took Brian down the hall to her room, where there were indeed two beds on opposite sides. “That’s your bed” she said pointing at one of them.
“Okay” he said and dropped his back pack on it. The beer was getting to him. “I gotta piss. Cn I use yer toilet.”
“Sure. I do it all the time.”
When he came out of the bathroom Della had changed into her bathrobe. She was sitting on her bad with the brown paper bag she had brought to him when he was in the bathtub downstairs. She pulled out the beer that was in it. “Nother beer?” she asked but didn’t wait for a reply. She cracked it open handed it to him and took one herself. Brian sat on the bed; Della sat on hers and looked at him. They looked at each other. She smiled.
“Whacha gonna do in California?”
“Me and a buddy are gonna start a film shtu, studio.”
“You’re gonna meet a lotta famous movies stars.”
“You’ll forget all about us.”
“Oh, I dunno. It’s nice here.”
“Well. I finish my bee” she said. “I’m goin’ to bed.”
“Okay.” Brian stripped down to his underwear, pulled down the covers and got into the bed.
“Night” she said.
“Good night” he answered. She turned off the light.
Brian lay awake in the dark thinking about this strange girl he had just met, about the other girls, about the theatre building and the campus. Then he began thinking about getting on the road again.
He heard a rustling noise and a few seconds later the covers were pulled back and Della got into the bed with him. “Hi” she said.
Soon lips found lips, hands found places to caress, fingers found things to stroke and investigate, clothing was removed, mouths and tongues went to work and the inevitable, and age old connecting of hungry passionate human bodies took over the night.
It was followed by delicious sleep.
November 6, 1960
The sound of the shower shutting off woke Brian. A few moments later Della came out of the bathroom, naked except for a big towel with which she was drying her hair. Brian looked at her sweet, slender body, recalled the joy of last night’s love making and briefly considered spending another night with her, or a week or a year or a life time. But he also became painfully aware that his bowels were about to burst with last night’s beer. So he threw off the covers, went into the bathroom and pissed a bucketful.
At the sound of the flushing toilet Della opened the door, handed him a towel and said “Shower, sir?”
When Brian came out of the shower Della was on the phone chatting away about nothing in particular. Brian got dressed while she watched and chatted. When he was dressed she said “Gotta go….okay….love you….bye.” She hung up. “That was my Mom. I call her every Sunday morning. Let’s go get breakfast.”
When they got to the cafeteria they found Chuck and Tasha. They enjoyed some eggs, ham, toast and coffee. Soon Claire joined them. Nobody asked Brian if he slept, how he slept or where he slept. He guessed it was probably a known.
When they finished breakfast Chuck said “Well, Brian, are you ready to hit the road?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“I’ll take you out to a good place to find a ride.”
On the way out to the motorcycle Della took Brian’s arm and asked “Brian? What’s your last name?”
“Sims. What’s yours?”
“Oh, you’ll find out. Some day.”
They got to the bike, Chuck got on, Brian sat behind him, looked at the three girls watching them and said “There ought to be a bottle of champagne.”
Chuck laughed, stomped down on the starter and off they went down the ramp and away from the campus,
As the bike flew along a back road, the wind gently whipped Brian’s still damp hair. He felt that it was also flowing through his mind, cleaning out the events of the last few days, bringing an end to one section of Brian’s life and preparing him for a clean beginning. Once he stepped off the motorcycle he would be completely on his own, with no Chuck to call the moves. Brian felt a little aprehensive but mostly excited. In two and a half months he would be 25, two and a half decades, a quarter of a century old. It was a good time for a new beginning. California, a place he’s never been before. That was a goal that was so firm in his thoughts he didn’t even consider the thousands of mile he still had to go to get there. In his mind he was already there.
Chuck pulled to a stop at the start of an entrance ramp to a wider road. “Here we are. This’ll take you into Cleveland. I’ll be back in Boston on Tuesday. Keep in touch with Bob. Let us know where you are and how you’re doing.”
“I will. And thank you for everything, Chuck. I had a good time here.”
“You’re welcome. Good luck.”
Chuck and his motorcycle disappeared back the way they had come. Brian wondered if he would ever see him again.
Brian walked down the entrance to the road and saw a sign indicating that he was on the way to Cleveland. The excitement of being off by himself on his journey was too great for him to stand still, so he started walking. When he heard a vehicle approaching he turned and stuck his thumb out. The first few cars passed him by. He kept walking and, on the side of the road, he saw a wooden sign on which someone had scrawled “L A” with a sharp object. The sign had been casually tossed aside as if a car had picked up the hitchhiker and taken him all the way to Los Angeles. Brian picked up the sign and held it in front of him hoping he would be just as lucky. But then he felt silly holding it so he threw it aside. Then he thought maybe that’s how the first person discarded it. This wasn’t a major highway, after all, how likely would it be that someone would be driving down it on their way to California?
So there had been another hitchhiker along this road, going west. Brian now felt he was part of an invisible wagon train. He wondered if he should be leaving signs every now and then: Brian Sims passed this way, November, 1960.
Soon a car stopped for him. The driver asked him how far he was going. When he said California the driver chuckled and said he could only take him a few miles before he had to turn off. With three notable and memorable exceptions, that is the way it would be for the most part in the next couple of weeks.
One of the cars that stopped for him went into a gas station to fill up and let the driver use the rest room, so Brian went into the office and got an Ohio state roadmap. That driver took him all the way to the edge of the city. Brian thanked him, got out and walked into town. It was still afternoon so he thought to find a way going south out of the city
It was early November dark when he got into a busy part of Cleveland. He had to stand under a street lamp to read the map. While he was doing that, suddenly and unexpectedly someone spoke his name.
Brian looked up and gasped as he saw Margie King walking toward him with a big smile on her face. Margie was a counselor at the summer camp where Brian had taught swimming last summer.
“Margie! What a surprise.”
“I looked. I said ‘that looks like Brian Sims, but it can’t be.’ I looked again and it is. What are you doing here?”
“I’m hitchhiking to California.”
“I was just looking for the best way out of town. What are you doing here?”
“I got a job with the Camber of Commerce. Mary Lou, you remember her, is teaching. Public school.”
Margie and Mary Lou were lovers and soul mates. They were both full of fun; Brian remembered that any time spent with them was a time of laughter, jokes and stories.
”I do remember. You both doing well?”
“Great. Listen Brian, instead of leaving town come and have dinner with us. We’ll put you up and you can head out tomorrow. Mary Lou would love to see you. Say ‘yes’,“
“Okay.” Brian was anxious to get going, but he knew it would be a pleasant stop along the way. And so it was.
They took him to a Chinese restaurant called Hung Fat where Brian filled up the tank on Bean Curd Soup, Egg Roll, Kung Po Chicken, Green Beans in Oyster Sauce, Pork Fried Rice, Tea and a Fortune Cookie. When he broke open his cookie it read “Friends are good signs along the road.” He felt encouraged by that.
When they finally stood up Brian felt so bloated with food that he could hardly walk. But the few blocks walk back to their apartment loosened him up. Once they got there Mary Lou opened a bottle of wine and they sat around telling funny stories about where they had been and what they had been doing until it was bed time. It would be Monday morning and the girls had to be up and out early for their jobs.
“Are you sure it’s no trouble putting me up?” asked Brian.
Mary Lou smacked the sofa she was sitting on. “Nope, this is a pull out. My brother sleeps here sometimes.” She stood up and they pulled out the sofa to reveal a bed all made with sheets and a blanket. Margie went into the other room and came back with a pillow which she tossed on the bed.
“Thank you. I appreciate this.”
“No problem” said Margie. “We’ll meet you in the morning for a fast coffee and bagel.”
November 7, 1960
The girls were up and dressed when Brian woke. H quickly got up, pulled his clothes on and joined them at the breakfast table for coffee. He no sooner sat down when Margie said “Well? Where’s your map?”
Brian got up, fetched the map from his back pack and brought it to the table. Margie took it, unfolded it and the two girls poured over it.
“Which way are you going?” asked Mary Lou.
“He wants to get on 71. That’ll take him to Columbus.”
“Yeah, but he can by-pass Columbus if he goes down 42. It’s a slower road but he might have a better chance of getting picked up.”
“Yeah but he can by pass Columbus if he gets out before it.”
“And then what? He gets tangled up in the beltway? He’ll never get off it, like Charlie on the MTA.”
“What are you talking about. He doesn’t have to get tangled up in it. There are ramps off of it.”
“Yeah but he doesn’t know where he’s going he could get off the wrong way.”
“He should follow the signs.”
“But what if there are no signs? Hey Brian. You got a compass?”
“Okay. I guess you’re right, as usual. Okay Brian here’s what you do.”
Finally they showed Brian his map and Margie pointed at it. “You take this road here. It’s a good road. You’re better off not on the highway. That would take you into Columbus which you don’t want to do.”
“What’s wrong with Columbus?” asked Brian.
“Nothing” said Mary Lou. “It’s a nice town but you’ll just waste a lot of time trying to get through it.”
“Then you have to get on 70. That’ll take you west. But be careful. The Ohio State cops don’t like hitchhikers.”
Brian didn’t know what he could do about that if he was going to be on a state highway. He had already dealt with the Massachusetts Police. He wondered if the Ohio Police would be as gentlemanly about it.
“Come on” said Margie. “I’ll point you in the right direction. Take your bagel.”
They left the apartment. Mary Lou gave Margie a kiss, then gave Brian a hug and said “Good luck. Keep in touch.” She turned and walked away.
Brian and Margie walked a few blocks and Margie pointed out an intersection of several roads and said “You want the one with the brick house on the corner.”
“Okay. How do I keep in touch?”
“Me. Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland. I’ll get it.”
“Thank you Margie. It was great seeing you again.”
“Good luck Brian. Don't look back.” She smiled, turned and walked away.
So Brian was now on his way south, out of Cleveland and headed for California once again. At first the road was a city street, not right for hitching. But Brian kept walking and after a while it became a suburban road with houses and lawns. Brian thought how much it resembled Waynsburg and he felt a little homesick. But then he thought about California and what he and Bob could do there and he felt good to be on the way.
After a few miles he tried to hitch again. This was a two lane road and he noticed that most of the traffic was going in the other direction. Monday morning rush hour into Cleveland, he thought. Some cars came his way but didn’t stop for him. Finally after another mile or so a car pulled over. He opened the door and the driver asked whim where wanted to go. Brian said he was eventually heading west. The driver said he could only take him a few miles as he was turning east. Brian said okay.
The driver had glasses and a grey well trimmed beard. Brian thought he might be a teacher, a professor of something, somewhere. “Where’d you start out?” the driver asked.
“Oh, you’ve come aways.”
“What are going to do out west?”
“California actually. My friend and I are going to start a film company, we hope.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’ll look for it.”
After a while the man pulled over. “You may as well get out here. My exit’s just up ahead.”
Brian thanked him and got out. Across the road was Liberty Diner. Brian decided to go in and have a coffee. He was still carrying the remnants of a load of Chinese food in his gut which he needed to be relieved of. It was easy crossing this road, not like the Mass Pike. He entered, sat at the counter and ordered a coffee, then went to the men’s room.
The Liberty Diner was a clean, neat and friendly place, not unlike thousands of such places all around the country, and Brian would see many of them.
The man behind the counter placed the coffee in front of Brian and asked if there would be anything else. Brian ordered a banana cream pie.
Brian sat having his pie and coffee and thought about his home in Waynesburg and about his Mom and Dad. They knew he was thinking of going to California but he hadn’t told them he was hitchhiking. His mother would be very concerned. He guessed he would have to send them a post card soon. But not yet. He thought about his sister Louise who was finishing up her undergraduate work at the University of Virginia. A Chem/Bio major, of all things. She could have gone to Barnard or Vassar, but she picked a big university setting. Probably so she could poke her nose into as many things as possible. Brian recalled the incident of the cave.
After a while he left the diner and went back across the road. He still felt like walking. There were enough cars on the road to make hitching on it worthwhile, but no cars were stopping for him. As he walked he admired the look of things, the houses, buildings, some interesting bridges, one in particular. So this is the Midwest, Brian thought. Not a bad looking place at all. Well, he thought, seeing the country is one of the benefits of hitchhiking across it.
He walked for hours. Nobody stopped to pick him up. The afternoon darkness was setting in and it was getting cold. He finally came to another diner and went in to warm up and have some dinner: hot dogs and baked beans. He finished off with another piece of banana cream pie.
When he went outside there was a street lamp on in front of the diner. Brian was very tired and didn’t want to walk any more so he stood under the lamp with his thumb out. But nobody stopped for him.
It was getting very cold and occasionally he would go back inside the diner to have another coffee, chat with the owner and warm up. For the next several hours it was back and forth to the diner and out to the road. At one point it started to snow. The snow was think and heavy and he imagined it would be difficult for anyone to see him even under the street lamp.
Brian didn’t know what time it was, but when he saw the light on the front of the diner go out he rushed back inside.
“I’m closing up” said the owner.
“So I see. I need a place to sleep.”
“You sure do. Go round the back and into the basement. There’s some cardboard packing crates. Push a couple of them together. You can sleep there for the night.”
“I open early” he warned.
Brian found the basement and the packing crates. He put them together, put his pack under his head and in no time he was asleep.
November 8. 1960
When Brian awoke in the morning he was lying on the grass in the back yard of the diner.
It took him a few moments to collect his thoughts. He knew he went to sleep on some cardboard crates, what was he doing on the grass. He noticed that the snow from last night had melted and the grass was dry. It felt very strange not to wake up in the same place he went to sleep. Then he heard voices. He looked up and saw some men working in the basement. The crates had been opened and items were sitting around. The men must have carried him out when they went to work. How nice of them not to wake him up, he thought. He got up and went back into the diner for breakfast. The owner wasn’t there or he would have thanked him for the night’s sleep. He saw only strange faces but he ordered breakfast. As the days went by the journey was going to be strange and Brian was getting used to it.
After breakfast he went out to the road and started walking and hitching. A few hours went by when a man pulled over who was driving two Fords, one behind the other. Brian got in and had the usual conversation about where he was going and where he came from. Then he asked the man why he had two cars. “Delivery” the man said. “Kentucky.” This was clearly a man who didn’t talk much. So they traveled in silence for a long time. It was early afternoon and the sky was already getting dark. Brian thought there would be more snow. Bad weather was not something he had counted on when he began the journey back in Boston. He was dressed warmly enough for November but he didn’t really have anything to protect him from the elements; no hat, no hood on his coat.
The driver pulled over to the side “Down there is 70. It’ll take you west.”
“Thank you very much” said Brian and got out. He looked ahead and saw a ramp that led down to a highway. It took him almost a half an hour to walk down to it. He hoped he wouldn’t be stopped by any State Troopers as he stepped out on the edge of the road. He held out his hand to a line of cars that was coming, but none stopped. He started walking. It was quite dark though only around mid afternoon. After about half an hour of walking, he was to face one of the worst episodes of his journey.
At first there were just minor flashes of light in the sky. Softly rumbling thunder followed. Then the rain came down in a sprinkle. Brian kept walking. He had no choice. He thought that with the rain someone might take pity on him and stop. False hope. Soon there was a full thunder and lightening storm. The rain grew to a major downpour. Great flashes of lightening streaked across the sky making a split second of day light showing him trees, fields and distant hills, but no buildings.. Rain water was flowing from the road into the side where Brian was walking. It was so heavy that even if someone had wanted to stop for him they probably couldn’t see him soon enough. In the distance Brian could see the lightening touch down, followed almost instantly by a loud crack of thunder. Brian tried to stay calm but the lightening flashes were coming so frequently that he had a hard time keeping himself from crouching down on the road, covering his head and waiting. Every time a car passed he was splashed with water. And whenever a truck passed, which was often, it was like having a bucket of cold water thrown in his face. The lightening flashes were coming closer and more often. Still the trucks came and each one drenched him with a fierce bath. Then he saw ahead of him two lightening bolts smack down on the road, one after another, with sharp cannon shots of deafening thunder. Now Brian was frightened. He was so wet from the rain he could be an easy target for a lightening strike. He didn’t know what to do, to stand still or keep moving. There was no shelter.
While they were crossing New York State Chuck stayed behind the trucks so that the air currents would help pull the motorcycle along and now these same currents were showering Brian with misery. Brian wondered if there was some sort of justice in it, some pay back. Even if so, or even if not so, Brian would have to bear it. One has to live with the circumstances of one’s choices. Brian was old enough and smart enough to know the truth of that, but it was no help. Every time he saw a truck coming he would just brace himself for the cold, wet crash against his body.
After several hours of this awful baptism he was soaking wet. Then there came a cold wind. It moved the lightening part of the storm to the other side of the highway but it was biting into Brian’s face. In one of the flashes of light he saw a bridge ahead. When he finally got there he stood under it hoping to dry off a little bit and get away from the wind. A few minutes later he was relieved to see a Cadillac pull over with a middle age couple in the front seat. But when Brian got in the driver looked at him with a frown and said “Oh!”
The woman next to the man said “Oh dear. We thought you were our son. He’s on leave and promised to meet us under one of these bridges.”
“I’m sorry” said Brian and went to open the door.
“Well, wait” said the man, “we’ll drive you to the next bridge. Maybe he’s there.”
It was several miles to the next bridge, but their son wasn’t there either. The man stopped the car and Brian got out wishing them luck finding their son and thanking them for the ride. They drove on. Brian had dried off a bit in their car so he decided to keep walking and as he did he thought about that surreal experience of mistaken identity. Those people could have been his parents and he could have been their son in some other saga, in some other universe. The characters were interchangeable. A good idea for a film, Brian thought.
It was getting very late now. A few more trucks and Brian was just as wet as he had been before, but as night came the splashes were getting colder and the rain grew into a deluge. But Brian walked on. Everything was wet and cold from his head to his feet. Occasionally a car would honk as it passed him as if to say “Get out of the road, dummy.” But Brian got used to that insult. It was the trucks that were hard to bear, but he knew it wasn’t the drivers’ fault.
He noticed the traffic letting up and getting sparse. It must be late, he thought. He came to another bridge and stood under it for a while. But he moved on when no one stopped for him. He hoped the couple with the Cadillac had found their son. He wanted to be their son, to be on leave, to be relieved, to be in a Cadillac with parents, to be taken home where it is warm and dry, to have something to eat, to sleep in a bed.
The heavy rain bashed at him as the trucks went by. Brian knew that eventually he would find someplace, he was certain of that. It was just a matter of when, how much further and how long he would have to bear this misery.
Gradually, almost invisibly, lights began to emerge through the rain. As Brian walked on they grew brighter and he could see that they were not the lights of a street lamp or a house. As he got closer he could see it was a bar. It was in a group of buildings on the other side of the highway. The bar was the only place open. Brian crossed the highway as quickly as he could when there was no traffic. He opened the door of the bar and went in. There was a television on over the bar and Walter Cronkite was just announcing that John F. Kennedy had won the election.
Brian went over to the bar and took a set on a stool. The bartender came over, placed a napkin in front of him and said “What’ll you have?”
“You got any coffee going?”
“I’ll have a cup of that.”
There was a young man sitting a few stools away and when the bartender went to get the coffee he moved over and sat next to Brian. “You been hitching?” he asked.
“They don’t like stopping in the rain.”
The bartender brought a mug of coffee and set it down in front of Brian turning a spoon so the handle was toward him and putting a small bowl of sugar down near it and a container of milk. Brian pulled a dollar out of his wallet and put it on the bar, then he put two spoonfuls of sugar in the coffee, stirred it and wrapped his freezing fingers around the mug.
“Where’d you come from?” the young man wanted to know.
“Boston.” Brian took the spoon out of the mug, filled it with coffee and blew on it for a few moments, then sipped it off the spoon. The young man watched him.
“Yes.” After a few more spoonfuls Brian was able to lift the mug to his moth and take a good sip of coffee. It went down into his gullet like a caress.
“Where you headed?”
“Think you’ll make it?”
“I’ll make it.”
Then Brian spoke to the bartender, “Sir, may I eat my bagel here?”
“Sure” he said.
Brian took the bagel out of the backpack, placed it on the napkin and broke it open. He dipped part of it in the coffee and put it in his mouth. He just let it sit in his mouth remembering Margie, Mary Lou and the Chinese dinner. Walter Cronkite was saying something about a concession speech from Richard Nixon. A couple of other customers got up and left the bar. Brian finished the bagel and washed it down with the rest of the coffee.
When the bartender came over to collect the mug and napkin the young man said “Can I buy you a beer?”
Brian sighed and thought for a moment. “Oh, I don’t think I want a beer. I’m very tired. Thank you.”
“How about a Pepsi?”
Okay, I’ll take a Pepsi.”
The bartender brought over a Pepsi and another beer for the young man.
“I’m Larry” the young man said and put out his hand.
“I’m Brian” he said and shook his hand. Brian didn’t really want the Pepsi but he drank it slowly.
“How’d you get here from Boston?”
“I was on the back seat of a motorcycle. We went across New York State to Buffalo then over to Cleveland. I came south from there.”
“That’s quite a trip.”
“Where am I now?”
“Oh. Is this still Ohio?”
“Yes. Need a place to sleep, doncha?”
“My apartment is upstairs, over the bar. I can put you up. I have a big bed. My wife is seeing her mother.”
“Tomorrow I’ll take you to the border. You can probably get a ride to Indianapolis anyway.”
“What are going to do when you get there?”
“I got a friend in Boston. We want to start a film company.”
“Are you an actor?”
“Sometimes.” Brian thought about that. Am I an actor, he asked himself. And if so what does that mean? I’ve tried so many things, but the theatre was the one thing I felt the most comfortable doing. Maybe I should have stayed east and gone to New York City. No, I don’t want to turn back. I’ve come this far. No point in giving up. But I don’t want to spend another day like yesterday. Trial by rain. Baptism. Survival. A new life, a new President, a new Brian. Perhaps.
Brian was so tired his thoughts were plodding through his head as his feet had done down the highway. There was no lightening in his mind. It was just soggy.
“Let’s go” said Larry.
They left the bar and climbed a flight of stairs on the side of the building. The rain had stopped but it was still quite cold. Larry’s apartment was big but there wasn’t much in the way of furniture or decorations. Larry took Brian into the bedroom and pointed out where the bathroom was. There was a king size bed against one wall and a desk in the corner. Ample but sparse, Brian thought.
Against one wall was a radiator sending out a constant flow of heat. Brian said he would like to sleep next to it. “Okay” said Larry. Brian stretched out next to the warm radiator with his back pack under his head and was instantly asleep.
November 9, 1960
When Brian woke up he was warm and dry. Larry was still asleep, so Brian went to the bathroom. While he was in there he decided to change his socks. He noticed that even his shoes had dried up during the night. He removed them and his socks. He went into the pack looking for a fresh pair and came across a strange piece of paper in the bottom. It was folded twice. He unfolded it and read “Della Lipinski” with address and phone number. That brought back the memory of a special night, with a special girl, which seemed to have happened a year ago though it was only a few days. Even if he was still in Ohio, Brian felt as if he had traveled a thousand miles and Della was a distant memory. Ah well, he thought, maybe I’ll send her a post card one of these days or maybe I won’t. He folded up the paper and put it back.
Soon Larry was up and dressed. He and Brian shared a quick breakfast in the kitchen. Brian noticed the definite signs of a female living there, but they were very modest. This was a no frills life and yet there was something attractive about it, homey and comfortable. There are people, Brian thought, that live lives far from the excitement of city life with all of its cultural and economic opportunities and yet seem quite satisfied and happy. That was somewhat of a puzzle to Brian with his urbane leanings. Well, to each his own, he thought.
After breakfast they went down the stairs to Larry’s small pick up and got in. Brian noticed a few large trucks parked in the parking lot a few doors down. Truckers having breakfast he guessed. As they pulled out of the parking lot Brian saw the sign over the bar which he hadn’t noticed when he came to it. It read “Amos’s Place.” “Who’s Amos?” he asked.
“He’s the owner and bar tender.”
“The guy I met last night?”
“That’s right. He’s a great guy.”
“You rent that apartment from him?”
“Yeah. It’s a good deal for us.”
“What to you do for a living?”
“I fix cars. My wife Maureen works at the back. We’re both active in our church. That’s where we met.”
“You’re a beer drinking Christian?”
Larry laughed. “Well we’re Episcopalians, we’re not Jesus freaks.”
“Not yet, but we’re planning on it.”
“Something tells me you’ll be a good Mom and Dad.”
“Thanks Brian.” Larry smiled.
He pulled into a parking lot in front of an auto repair shop,” Englewood Auto.” There were other cars sitting around, some without their wheels, some with their doors removed.
“Well, this is where I work” said Larry. “The state line is just passed that curve there. Good luck.”
Brian thanked Larry, got out, crossed the road and started walking. Just passed the curve he came to a sign that read “Welcome to Indiana” with some statistics. He turned, put out his thumb and immediately a big truck pulled over and stopped. The passenger door opened. Brian walked over to it and got in.
To Brian there was something akin to hoisting himself up on a rocky ledge, or mounting a pulpit or settling in to the cockpit of an Air Force jet fighter as he climbed up into the seat of that truck.
“How far are you going?” asked the driver.
“I’m heading for California.”
“Well, I can take you to Wichita.”
The driver pushed into gear and started off. Brian wasn’t sure where Wichita was other than it was in Kansas, but he knew it would be a good long trip. He thought it was ironic that yesterday these trucks were insulting him by throwing cold water in his face and now here he was traveling west in one of them. I guess there’s some justice in it, he thought.
The driver, Zack, wanted to know where Brian came from, how the trip was so far and what he planned to do in California. So Brian recounted the voyage he had been on, the motorcycle trip to Buffalo and then to Cleveland. He explained about his friend Bob back in Boston and how they wanted to open a film studio. When he got to that part in the narrative Zack said “I did that.”
“Oh. I went out to Hollywood. I thought I was going to break into movies, be a movie star.”
“What happened?” Brian was curious to know.
“Nothing. I hung around for six years and then came back east and bought this truck.”
“Did you go on auditions? Did you have an agent?”
“Sure. But I didn’t have any luck. You need luck.”
“So this is your own truck?”
“Yep. I got a regular route. I load up in Pittsburg and unload in Wichita.”
“What do you carry?”
“All kinds of stuff.”
Brian decided not to pursue it.
Zack’s questions made Brian think about the last few days, the people and the places: Boston, Worcester, Buffalo, Erie, the college town, Cleveland, the basement of a diner, Englewood. It had only been one week and so much had happened. And the people: Bob, Chuck, Chili Pepper, Della, Margie and Mary Lou, the man with two cars, a bar tender, Larry and now Zack. Brian saw it as a mosaic of his life but also of the country. Watching scenery go by, either slowly on foot or from one vehicle or another, was giving Brian a sense of wonder. He wondered what life was like for all the people who lived in those places, how many stories there were to tell, to write about, to make films about. Brian wished he could go back to the start, to interview everyone he had met and get the full story of their lives. But that was not to be his future. He was on the road.
Out the window of the truck he saw a large collection of buildings in the distance, some of them very large. “What’s over there?” he asked.
“That’s Indianapolis” said Zack. “We’re going to pass that by.”
Now Brian was thinking about cities. There were these cities he had only heard about but had never seen: Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Wichita. America.
Once well past Indianapolis Zack pulled over at a truck stop for lunch. Brian was glad because he was hungry. While they were eating, another truck pulled up and through the door came one of the biggest men Brian had ever seen. He wasn’t fat, he was big. He looked like he could have picked up his truck by himself. He came over and sat next to Zack. Brian was fascinated as the two men talked the truck drivers’ lingo. He heard about, routes, speed limits, cops, scales, alternate routes, detours and so on. Zack asked the driver what he was hauling.
“A load of sprinkles”
“Sprinkles?” asked Brian, thinking it was a trucker’s term for some important cargo.
“Yeah, sprinkles” said the big driver and looked at Brian as if he was stupid. “You know? Those things they put on ice cream?”
“Oh, yes” said Brian, and he marveled at the irony of this huge man carrying a truckload of little colored sugary things.
For desert Brian ordered another banana cream pie and thought perhaps he could describe his trip across the county by a critique of banana cream pies, state by state.
Back on the road heading southwest still on Route 70 the sky began to darken.
“We’re going to have rain” said Zack. He was right. Within a half an hour it began to pour. Brian was glad to be inside the truck this time instead of out on the highway. But when they passed another hitchhiker Brian felt sorry for the guy, knowing the whiplash of water the truck was going to throw into the guy’s face.
After a while Zack reached into his breast pocket and took out a small harmonica. He tooted a few notes on it and then handed it to Brian. “Here. Play something.”
Brian had never mastered the harmonica but he tried it out and was able to play a few tunes, hitting wrong notes as he went. Zack didn’t seem to mind Brian’s lack of musicianship. Brian guessed it was just the sound and the company that Zack wanted. A truck driver’s life must be a lonely one, Brian thought. So hes began to ask Zack questions about his life: how he got to Hollywood, was he married and what about a family. He found out a lot of information. Zack didn’t seem to mind talking about himself. It turned out that Zack had been a hitchhiker himself. Amazingly he had hitched all through Maine with a big black Labrador and a canoe. They went across the lake area of the state one summer.
“Did you get rides?”
“More than I thought I would. Mo is a friendly dog and he took to the people who stopped.”
“Short for Eskimo. Of course, we had to strap the canoe down on top of the car, but I had the stuff to do that. And we weren’t usually going that far. Just to the next lake.”
“And Mo rode in the canoe when you were on a lake?”
“Yeah, mostly, but he likes to swim also.”
“You still have him?”
“Yeah, but he’s old now. He goes out, but mostly he sleeps.”
“You think you’ll ever go back to California?”
“Nah. I didn’t like it there.”
“I hope I’m going to like it” Brian said.
“It’s different. You don’t get this in LA” said Zack pointing out the front window at the heavy rain. Soon they passed another hitcher who turned his back on the truck as it passed him. Another baptism, thought Brian.
But in an hour the rain let up and they were on dry pavement. Brian figured they must have driven through the rain storm and left it behind. Now the truck was flying down the highway. Zack was trying to make up time he lost having to be careful through the rain. Brian saw the signs flesh by: Mooresville, Cloverdale, Center Point, Brazil, Riley, Terre Haute. That was the first one Brian had ever heard of.
“How did a town in the Midwest get to be named Brazil I wonder” said Brian.
“I don’t know” said Zack. “But I heard there was originally a farm by that name.”
As they approached Terre Haute Zack pulled over and stopped. “You’re going to have to help me with the truck.”
“What do I do?”
“Get out and go around the other side.” So Brian did that. Then Zack opened his door and looked out. “You see that lever sticking out the side?”
“Pull it down and hold it while I drive forward about four feet, then let it go.”
Brian pulled the lever down. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, Brian thought. The truck inched forward. He tried to guess four feet and then let the lever go. It thunked back into place under the truck. “That’s got it” shouted Zack and waited for Brian to get back inside.
“We’re going to pick up speed and she was waving a bit during that last run.”
“Oh. Okay” said Brian. He had no idea what Zack was talking about.
Soon they crossed the border into Illinois and just as Zack had said they went spinning along the highway. It was farm and highway country. And also railroad country. They passed through Effingham, “The Crossroads of Opportunity” the sign read and continued on, a part of those crossroads.
Brian admired some of the old ornate buildings they saw as they passed near the towns. It was unlike the northeastern architecture he was used to. The management of lives that were settled but also full of promise. There was a feeling of the character of certainty among these people, early westward expansion, but not the wilderness challenge that Brian would see later.
Brian noticed that many of the towns were named after the men and women who settled them. Brian wondered, whimsically, if there would ever be a Simsburg, a Simstown or maybe a Sims City. Most likely not. At least not in Illinois, Most of the spaces seem to have been taken up already.
They stopped once for a meal. When they entered the diner Zack saw someone he knew, another trucker.
“I have to go talk to this guy, Brian. You stay here and enjoy your dinner.”
By himself Brian ordered a meat loaf with mashed potatoes and, of course, a piece of banana cream pie. Not bad, he thought, but it was better in Ohio.
Back on the road Zack explained that the guy in the diner just got out of jail and Zack wanted to know how he was doing.
“What did he do?” asked Brian.
Zack was uncomfortable with the question but he answered it anyway, “Transporting stolen property. He didn’t know it was, but he should have checked. They gave him six months. He just got out.”
“You got any stolen property in the back?”
“I hope not.”
“What are we carrying, if I may be so nosy?”
Again Zack seemed uncomfortable. “Ladies garments” he said.
Brian wasn’t sure Zack was telling the truth, but he wasn’t going to question it.
As night came Zack pulled in to a place where there were other trucks parked. Near it was a bar called “Big Wheel’s.”
“Here’s where we sleep” said Zack. “Bur first we have something to eat and a lot to drink. Come on.” He climbed down off the truck and headed for the bar. Brian followed him. As he approached Big Wheel’s he could hear the music playing and when he went inside there was what seemed to be a party going on: loud music, girls dancing with guys, or sitting at the bar with them. There were colored lights and smoke everywhere. Zack kept moving past the bar into a back room where there were tables. He sat at one and in a minute a scantily clad girl came over to the table and said “Hi Zack, Who’s your friend?”
“Brian, meet Norma.”
“Hi” said Brian.
“The usual?” she asked.
“Brian, what’ll you have?” Norma asked.
“Bring a pitcher” said Zack.
“Comin’ up” she said and headed out to the bar.
“We’re at the border” said Zack. “The girls are here to entertain the boys and make a little money in the process, in case you’re interested.”
Brian laughed, “I don’t think I can afford it.”
“We’ll see” said Zack.
When Norma came back with a pitcher and two mugs she leaned over to put them on the table and Brian got a good look at an attractive, full, white pair of breasts, which pleased both Brian and Norma.
Then Norma stood, put a hand on Brian’s shoulder and said “Will you be having some of our fine cuisine?”
“Wouldn’t miss it” said Zack. And off she went in the opposite direction. “I hope you like pizza” said Zack. “That’s all they’ve got.”
Beer and pizza was becoming a way of life on this trip, thought Brian, almost as important as banana cream pie. After Chili Pepper there was beer and pizza and also before Della. Brian laughed to himself. Who’s next? he wondered.
Zack poured the beer into Brian’s mug and then into his own. He lifted the mug and said “Well, here’s to California” and drank. Brian took a mouthful of beer and swallowed it. It felt good.
The rainy, windy purgatory of Ohio was behind him now and though he was sitting in a sleazy beer and pizza joint Zack was not what Brian thought of as your average trucker. As he sat listening to the loud music and the whoops and laughter coming from the bar he felt land locked. He had never been in the center of the country before, so far from water, lakes or ocean. Brian didn’t realizeit at the time but he was in for a big surprise.
Norma came over with a pizza on a metal tray, two plates and some napkins. She set it down on the table, making sure to give Brian another flash down her front. “You want anything else y’all holler, you hear me” she said and went back into the bar.
Zack pulled off a piece of the pizza and put it on his plate. “It’s not great but it fills up the tank” he said.
Brian was curious about the Big Wheel’s. “Who owns this place?”
“Mr. Big. I don’t know his name but he calls himself the Big Wheel.”
“Are those girls like Norma?”
“Pretty much. Yes.”
“Are they all whores?”
“I guess so.”
“Do you ever hire one?”
“No. Not since I got married.”
“So do they have a back room somewhere they go to?”
“I think there’s a room upstairs. But Mr. Big won’t allow any monkey business in the place. He don’t mind the groping and kissing that goes on but if it gets serious it has to go on out in the trucks.”
“Fascinating” said Brian.
Zack was right about the pizza. It was third rate. Tomato sauce, cheese, too much oregano on an overcooked crust, but it filled the tank. Brian washed it down with plenty of beer.
Zack said he had to go to the men’s room and went into the bar. While he was gone, one of the truckers came in with one of the girls and sat at a table. In a moment Norma came in and went into the kitchen shortly coming back with a mug of beer and some pizza slices. The man chomped on the pizza while the girl sat very close to him stroking his head with one hand with her other hand in his lap. Seems like she’s getting down to business, he thought.
When Zack came back there was a girl with him. She was younger and prettier than most of the others he saw. She didn’t seem like a hooker to him. Maybe she isn’t, he thought, she seems too delicate for it. “Sabrina meet Brian” said Zack.
“Hi Sweet Potato” she said. “Come dance with me.” She took his hand, pulled him right out of the chair and into the bar..
Brian looked back and Zack was smiling at him. Once inside the bar one of the truckers called out “Hey, Sabrina, whatcha got?”
Another one said “She’s robbin’ the cradle.”
“He’s just jealous” Sabrina said loud enough for the trucker to hear. There was laughter. They started dancing, which was more like a moving hug. Brian tried not to step on her feet.
“I’m not much of a dancer” he said. “If I do any dancing, it’s on the stage.”
“You’re an actor?” she asked.
“Wow. I never knew and actor before.” The music stopped but started again in a few seconds, so they continued their dance.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” asked Sabrina.
“Yes” he said. “Very.”
She gave a short giggle and held him a little closer.
“You want to go out to your truck and have some fun?” she asked.
“Can’t do it.”
“I don’t have a truck.”
“I’m hitchhiking. Zack picked me up.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed but kept dancing. “Where you goin’?”
“Why go way out there?”
“A friend and I want to start a film company.”
“Can I come and be in your movie?”
Brian laughed in a kindly way. “Sure” he said.
“Come on. I’ll take you back to Zack. Next time come with your own truck.”
When they got back to the table there was one piece of pizza left and a new pitcher of beer.
“Bye, Dearie” said Sabrina and went back into the bar. Brian ate the pizza and poured another beer.
“How was your dance?” asked Zack.
“Close. But no cigar.”
Zack laughed, “That’s probably a good thing.”
Occasionally another trucker would come into the dining area with a girl hanging onto him. Brian wondered if these women really wanted the life they had. They were friendly and not bad looking. Some were older but there was not one old hag in the group as far as he could tell. They probably never had to buy a drink or a slice for themselves. He didn’t know how much it cost for a visit in a truck but he guessed it was enough to make it worthwhile. Maybe it was just the money that kept them coming here. He tucked the experience away in his memory for another possible film scenario. Who knows? Maybe Sabrina will end up in the film someday, he thought with a grin.
After another pitcher Brian and Zack were beginning to nod off. When he saw her go by Zack signaled to Norma. He asked for the bill and paid it. Then he and Brian went out into the night air. Sabrina was busy with another customer and didn’t notice Brian as he left.
When they got to the truck, Zack climbed into the sleeping area at the back of the cab and Brian stretched out on the front seats. Soon they were both asleep.
November 10, 1960
Brian became aware of someone shaking his foot. He looked down and saw Zack outside the door of the cab waking him. “Let’s go get some breakfast. I need to get going.”
“Okay.” Brian heaved himself up and started to climb out of the truck when he realized that his wallet was missing.
It took him a few moments to get his mind focused on what was happening. He sat back on the seat, looked over at the Big Wheel’s bar which was closed. The sky was still dark. He tried to figure things out. He brought back the events of the night before. He remembered the beer and pizza, Norma the waitress and Sabrina. He guessed someone must have picked his pocket, or else he dropped it on the floor. Either way, he was stuck in the middle of nowhere without any money or identification.
“Zack, I’ve got a problem.”
“I don’t have my wallet. I must have left it in there, or else that girl picked my pocket. What’ll I do?”
“Nobody picked your pocket.”
“But I don’t have it.”
“Mr. Big would never allow for pick pockets. Sabrina’s a regular there and truckers keep coming back. Besides Mr. Big’s punishments can be notoriously nasty.”
“Then I must have left it in there and I’ll have to stay until it opens.”
“Come out here.” Brian jumped carefully down off the truck seat. Zack climbed up and opened a compartment on the dashboard of the truck, took out a flashlight and shined it on the floor. Then he leaned down and poked it under the seat. He reached in and pulled out a black leather wallet. “Is this it?”
“Yes!” Brian heaved a big sigh of relief and held out his hand.
“Are you sure?”
“Maybe it’s someone else’s wallet.”
“No, it’s mine.”
“Maybe we should ask around.”
“No need. It’s mine.”
“Can you identify it?”
“Yes, it’s black and it has my name in it.”
Zack opened it. “Are you Brian Sims?”
“Are you sure you’re Brian Sims?”
“I don’t know. You were pretty drunk last night. You might have forgotten who you are.”
“No I remember. I’m the only Brian Sims around.”
“Well then, this must be yours. Do you think?”
“Well, here then.” Zack gave him his wallet and said “Now, don’t go throwing your wallet around, you never know who’s going to pick it up.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
Zack smiled, turned and headed for a coffee shop a few stores away. Brian followed, light headed with hunger and relief. He celebrated with a slice of banana cream pie.
After breakfast they headed west. The sky was just beginning to get light when Brian saw the first signs to Saint Louis. Zack kept up a good pace but the traffic gradually began to get heavy as they approached the city. It was almost sunrise as they moved slowly but certainly through the traffic that was coming from several sides. Zack had to stop occasionally to let another truck enter his lane, but the lane kept moving. Brain couldn’t explain what he felt or why but there was a breathless anticipation in him, something about traveling to a new place in the world or leaving an old one. Or was it perhaps leaving the easy hominess of the Midwest and going into unknown lands? Soon the feeling in his gut turned into an explosion of beauty and grandeur he never expected to see.
In a moment Zack moved the truck onto Eads Bridge and they were crossing the amazing Mississippi River at dawn. Brian gasped at the sight of it. It was at the place where the Missouri River joined up and everything Brian saw was gold. It looked like a giant lake. In the morning light the water was liquid gold. High above it, from the window of the truck, he was flying over it like an eagle soaring through the sky. The air around him was filled with expectations. The distant shore was barely visible and beyond it he could still see remnants of the night sky.
Far below him the boats like insects skimming slowly and gracefully along the surface were weaving tiny threads of sparkling white into the golden lava. Brian knew rivers. He knew the Charles River, The Connecticut River, the mighty Hudson River and the gentle, modest streams of home. But he never imagined a sight like the shimmering, grand, magical beauty that stretched out below him. When they reached the top of the span he felt they could ascend forever from that spectacle like a rocket ship into strange worlds.
But soon the truck began to descend, The gold of the river was beginning to meld with the blue of the sky and the morning sun was setting on fire the windows of Saint Louis. They came down into the city leaving behind a vision Brian would never forget,
Zack easily skirted the city, got back on Route 70 and picked up speed. So Brian, with the gasp still in his heart, was again on the road and heading west, into the unknown.
As they came out of Saint Louis the traffic fanned out in all directions and Zack got a good grip on the highway going west. This was a straight highway now, like a line drawn right across the middle of Missouri. This was not a road for tourists. Not a route to stop and see the sights along the way. It was a relentless race to the west, probably set down originally by the land grabbing buck boards and covered wagons of settlers from the last century.
Just past Columbia Zack slowed down and kept to the extreme right. Brian's curiosity was soon answered when Zack said "There's a detour up ahead. It's not well marked. The left lanes get all bogged down if drivers don't know about it." Sure enough, Brian saw that they were in a line of trucks, none in the center lanes. And soon the traffic was slowing down and then backing up as drivers tried to get to the right. Zack successfully moved his truck into the exit ramp behind a big moving van and they kept going.
A moving van, thought Brian, how appropriate. I wonder how far west it's going. Maybe I'll meet up with it in California.
With a line of trucks moving back on to the highway after the detour what few cars yet with them were very glad to get back into the left lanes and avoid them.
Brian was reflecting on California and wondering what Bob's parents were like and what his life was going to be in California. But this was Missouri and he was about to get his first taste of being in the South.
Brian and Zack made good time across Missouri toward the Kansas border, but it was getting late. Zack said they should stop for a late lunch near Kansas City and spend the night there. At about 5 Zack pulled the truck into a parking space next to a restaurant called "Country Cousin." They went inside where they were met by a young man wearing a western string tie over a blue shirt. "Howdy" he said, took them to a table and handed them menus. Country Cousin looked like it had once been a barn but it was a very attractive decor, Brian thought. There were posts around the room with photographs on them. Some of them were near where Brian was and he could see they were pictures of people, some with guitars and some groups. The pictures were autographed. In the corner Brian saw what looked like a small bandstand. There was an upright piano on it.
"They have entertainment here" Brian said.
"At night, on the weekends" said Zack. "It's place where the local country singers come, sing their songs and pick up a few bucks. Some of them have gone on to bigger things. It's a starting place."
"How's the food?"
A pretty young waitress who never smiled came over to take their order. Brian ordered a steak and the girl said something which sounded to Brian exactly like "Super Jews?" He looked up quizzically and she said "Y'all wan soup er juice?"
"What's the soup?" he asked.
"Chin noo" she said.
Brian interpreted that to mean chicken noodle and said "I'll have that."
A moment later another girl came over with a tray of glasses containing more ice than water and set them down. "How y'all doon naht?" she said.
"We're doing just fine, thank you" said Zack. Brian was glad to have Zack along to interpret. The girl went off to another table and in a moment the waitress came with the soup. He was right. It was chicken noodle and it was very good.
When Brian's sizzling steak arrived it was on a plate with some sort of tasty greens and some strange soupy looking stuff. Brian looked at the plate.
"Grits" said Zack.
"Oh" said Brian. "She didn't ask me if I wanted grits."
"Well, this isn't the deep south but in most places you don't have a choice. It comes with the meal, like ice water does."
The waitress had brought a small pot with crushed ice and some slabs of butter. Zack took one and plopped it onto his grits, so Brian did the same.
The meal was excellent, just as Zack had predicted. Brian topped it off with a slice of banana cream pie. As they were leaving there was a delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. When they passed by the waitress Brian said "Smells good. What's cooking?"
"Pays O'Gran" she said.
"Oh" he said, as if he understood.
As they left the young cowboy at the door said "Y'all come back."
Once outside Brian said "All right. What did she say? Pays O'Gran. What's that?"
"Potatoes Au Gratin" said Zack with a grin, as if it was obvious.
Once they got back to the truck Zack said "I've changed my mind. I think I want to drive all night. You up for it?"
"Sure. If you are."
"Let's do it."
Zack eased the truck back onto the highway, There was a lot of traffic coming from the other direction, rush hour from some place Brian guessed. As night fell the traffic lessened up and except far trucks there was very little of it and so the night went by. They crossed the line into Kansas in the dark and headed for Topeka.
November 11, 1960
At Topeka Zack turned the truck onto another highway, this one going southwest. As the sun was coming up Brian was astonished to see how flat the land was. The landscape was broken only by occasional farm houses with barns and silos. Now and then there was a store or business along the road, mainly catering to farmers. There were a few truck stops, but very few. Mainly it was just open fields and crops growing. And flat. Relentlessly flat. Brian thought of Dorothy and Toto being swept up by a tornado and whisked off to Oz.
Daylight was happening as they came into Wichita. Zack drove into a truck stop on the edge of the city and said "Well, Brian, this is where I turn off. Let's have one more breakfast and then you're on your own."
Over breakfast Zack wrote out his address. "Here, write me when you get settled. I might even answer."
"Thanks, and thanks for the ride. It was a good long one, I appreciate it."
"No problem. You still got a long way to go to get to California. You're in the plains now. You'll probably do okay. These folks are friendly."
After breakfast Zack got into his truck and, without another word drove off. Brian stood looking down the main road into Wichita. Once again on his own.
Brian looked down the long straight road into Wichita. He thought he would probably have to walk through the city but almost immediately a car stopped. When he opened the door he saw an older woman. He calculated she was about 60 yeas old or so. He noticed immediately that she was wearing a long colorful skirt with brown leather boots. She had several scarves and chains of beads around her neck and a large hoop earring. "Hello" she said. Brian got in her car and sat, He could see there were strange looking objects hanging from the rear view mirror.
"Your name begins with a 'B' doesn't it?"
Brian was startled. "Yes. Brian."
"Ah." She smiled and started driving. "And you come from a place starting with 'B.'
"Boston. How do you know?"
"I'm a psychic."
"Oh" said Brian, slightly suspicious, but curious.
"You're going a long way. I see an ocean."
"You're going to make movies."
"I hope so."
"You are. You will have sorrow and danger, great danger, but you will be successful."
"I hope so."
"You will. The girl you are in love with is not for you."
"I'm not in love with anybody."
"No, but you will be. Sadly."
They drove in silence for a long while as she carefully made it through the city. Then she said "You will know many interesting people. You will be loved by some. Beware of false friends."
She pulled the car over to the side of the road and said "This is the edge of the city. The road west is right in front of you. May the Spirit go with you. You will be a big success, Brian. Remember, Mother Linda told you." She smiled.
Brian said "Thank you" got out of the car and closed the door. Mother Linda turned onto a side road. Brian stood watching her car disappear in the distance. He said "Thank you Mother Linda, whoever you are." Then he thought: Linda, Glinda. She sort of looked like Billie Burke. Maybe she's the Good Witch of the North. Maybe I am in the land of Oz, after all.
He smiled and turned west.
It was a bright, warm day and Brian felt good, so he started walking. There wasn't much traffic on the road but when he heard a vehicle approaching he turned and stuck out his hand. No one stopped. Perhaps these Munchkins aren't as friendly as Zack thought they would be.
As he moved along the highway Brian was struck again by how flat and level everything was. He was used to the hills and valleys of the Northeast. Brian had heard about the Great Plains but seeing it was a new experience for him. This wasn't just an easily described geologic formation. It was a different place in the world, with a character all its own: vast, empty, lonely, revealing a breath taking expanse of sky. Brian walked.
On both sides of the road there were fields, Now and then unpaved roads would abruptly turn off the highway and in the distance he could make out the silos and other buildings of a distant farm. And he walked.
Even though no one was stopping for him the area wasn't devoid of life. Some of the fields were grazing ground for cattle. Cows lined up at the fences and watched him. He must be the most interesting thing they've seen in a month, Brian thought. For miles there were cows, silent watchers, guardians of the field, chroniclers of his journey through their kingdom, approving of every step. And so he walked.
For hours Brian walked, through a relentlessly unchanging landscape. No one was stopping for him. As the afternoon wore on and evening approached, the sun fell gracefully into its decline right in front of him. As it set it grew huge and orange. It hovered at the edge of the highway as if it was a benign golden doorway waiting for him to enter. Then it set. The light went out. The darkness of night came in an instant. And he walked.
Although thee was no moon the broad sky was filled with stars. He had never seen so many stars. Each one, large and small, shone with importance, They were bright and brazen. Brian held back his head until all he could see were stars, until he was with them, until he was one of them, shining with them, a part of the universe.
Brian walked on for many hours. The traffic had dwindled down to almost nothing. It was getting cold. The chill November night was setting in and Brian's feet hurt. He reasoned that he had not fully recovered from his rain soaked trek through Ohio. His boots and socks were dry now but the pain in his feet told him they needed to rest. There was no curb or fence between the highway and the grass next to it. So he stepped off the highway and began walking on the smooth ground, which was nicer, until something vibrated very fierce and fast under his foot. He stepped immediately back onto the hard highway and decided not to try doing that again.
After many hours he came upon a small shopping center. The only thing open was a diner. So he went in and had a burger and coffee and, of course, a piece of banana cream pie. After affirming that there were no sleeping arrangements available he went back out to the exit area.
One car was parked near the exit and when a man came out to get into it Brian asked him if he was going west by any chance. The man said "No, I'm sorry. I live here. But good luck."
"Thank you" said Brian. He waited hoping to find another driver to take him along.
After a few moments the man came back, drove into the parking lot, turned and pulled up next to Brian. "Say Fellow, I have some new mattresses in my basement. If you would like you can sleep on one of them."
"I sure would. Thank you." He got into the car. It was the first of two times a driver turned around and came back for him. The second time was an amazing story.
November 12. 1960
Brian woke after a good solid night's sleep. The first one he had taken on a real mattress in many days. He felt refreshed and ready to move on. Ha ascended the caller stairs into the kitchen. No one was there so he went out the door into the driveway. The car was still there. He dug into his back pack, took out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote a thank you note saying that he had slept well. He tucked it behind the wiper and went down the driveway to the road. When he crossed the road he met Ben.
Ben was around 50 years old. He wore frayed trousers of what had once been suit pants, a brown shirt and a broad rimmed hat. He greeted Brian in a friendly manner and said it was a good day to travel. So they started out.
Ben never asked Brian where he was going or where he had come from. But Brian was curious about Ben so he asked him a few questions being careful not to step on areas of history Ben didn't want to discuss. Ben came from Idaho and had been on the road for about 20 years, he guessed, tried to stay south in the winter, didn't go back to Idaho if he could help it. How does he get by? Holding out a tin cup from his pocket he shook it and put it back. He said also that if he was really desperate he could get himself pulled in for vagrancy and sleep in a cell. Did he have any family? A sister in Arkansas. She took him in when he passed that way.
Ben definitely had the look of the road in his eyes but he was remarkably clean and intelligent for a hobo Brian thought. Gradually it came out that Ben graduated from the University of Oregon as a philosophy major, had left a wife back in Idaho who was probably happy to see him go and had been on the road ever since.
As they were walking through Pratt a dog started barking at them. Ben said "Let;s pick it up. If there's one thing I hate it's a barking. snarling dog."
Brian asked if Ben had ever been in the service. "Sure. After I got out of school I joined the Navy. Spent two years. Couldn't wait to get out. The officers were all stupid. Most of them."
After about an hour of walking, as they were reaching the edge of town, Brian's feet were very painful and he realized that he hadn't had his boots off of his feet since the night he spent with Margie and Mary Lou in Cleveland. He told Ben he had to rest his feet a few minutes, sat down on the grass just off the road and removed his boots. It felt very good.
"I hope your feet don't swell up. You won't be able to get your boots back on if they do."
But there wasn't time for that to happen. A few minutes later a car stopped for them. It was an old Chevy. The driver was a surly man wearing a construction hat. Ben got in the front seat, Brian behind him. The driver wasted no time on introductions but started right off. He soon said "I have some meat in the back. We'll stop up ahead and cook it." During a voyage of several hours he said that over again a few times. Brian got the impression that he had no intention of doing that or even if there was any meat in the trunk. And though he stopped to pick them up he seemed to be in a great hurry to get someplace.
When they came near to Liberal Ben said he would get out there, so the driver pulled over without a word and stopped. Ben got out followed by Brian. Brian said "Thank you." The driver didn't answer but drove off.
Ben said "I didn't trust that meat in the back. You never know what it is or how old it is."
"Ah" said Brian. He was learning the ways of the road.
They walked a few miles into Liberal and it was now late afternoon. Ben said he was going to stay there, but Brian felt like moving on so they parted.
Brian walked through Liberal. It was dark when he reached the other side but there were street lights on. So he stood under one of them with has hand out and fairly soon another truck pulled over. The driver asked Brian where he was going. Brian sad he was trying to get to California. The driver said "I;ll take you to Guymon." Brian thought he said "Diamond." But he was used to hearing strange words and strange names so he said "Great."
After a while the driver pulled over and said "This is where I turn off. Good luck."
Brian thanked him, jumped out of the truck and found himself on the edge of Guymon, Oklahoma. He saw a diner, went in and took a seat at the counter. A quite overweight young woman named Teena came over to take his order which was franks and beans and a piece of banana cream pie. Brian was delighted to find that the pie was excellent. He thought, I'll have to remember that the best banana cream pie I had was in Oklahoma.
He finished his meal and walk through the town which didn't take long. He found a restaurant open at the other end, went in and took a table. There were only a few other customers. He really didn't feel like eating anything but he was there to angle for a sleeping place so he ordered a roll and some coffee.
He was about to ask the waitress if she knew of any place he could spend the night when he heard the sound of vehicles arriving, car doors slamming, the door burst open and more than a score of teenagers came in with a great noise and bustle and filled up the other tables. The waitress went around and took their orders which were almost immediately filled. The kids gobbled up the food in less that a half an hour and left as fast as they came. It was like a tribe of youngsters galloping through. Cowboys and their girl friends. Pick up trucks instead of horses.
When the waitress come over to Brian to clear the dishes and leave a check Brian asked her what that was all about. She said "Drive-in movie just let out." Then she said "We're closing up now." Brian thought, Of course, this is small town Oklahoma. No Hayes-Bicks here." Then he asked if she knew of any place he could sleep, but she didn't.
Brian left the restaurant and walked a bit around a completely dark town. Even the restaurant lights went out in a few minutes. Brian was now on the edge of the great Wild West, cowboys and horses, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, cattle rustlers, gun fighters, saloons, six shooters and branding irons. This was the land where lynch mobs took justice into their own hands and where the rule of law was enforced by a sheriff and his posse. This was the land where the bad guys were all red skins and bank robbers and where the good guys all played the guitar and sang. Here was the land of chuck wagons, round ups and stampedes. There was a strong Mexican influence here so that people lived in haciendas, did things pronto, wore sombreros and were plum loco.
Brian was still learning his history from the movies, but he was about to visit the real West. First though he had to find a place to sleep. There was nothing moving in the town of Guymon but Brian. Then he turned up a side street and saw a police car coming slowly toward him. When the car stopped near him Brian walked around to the open window and said into the face of an unsmiling cop "I'm hitching to California and I was just looking for a place to sleep."
The policeman motioned to the seat next to him and said "Get in. There's an empty cell. You can sleep there." Brian didn't know if he was being arrested or not but he got into the car and a few blocks away they stopped at a new brick building which was a combination police station and fire house. Brian was ushered in the door and the cop explained to another one at a desk why he was there. The other one nodded. There were two cells and another cop was asleep in one of them. So Brian went into the empty cell and stretched out an a comfortable bed. The first cop closed the door but didn't lock it.
Well, Brian thought, since I wasn't booked for anything I guess I wasn't arrested. He quickly fell asleep and that was the first and only time Brian ever spent a night in jail.
November 13, 1960
Brian woke up to the sound of a voice. He looked up. The cell door was open and the unsmiling policeman was standing there with a container of coffee. "Here" he said.
It's black, no sugar."
That was not the way Brian liked his coffee but he wasn't going to refuse it. "Thank you" he said. "And thanks a lot for putting me up. I'm very grateful." The cop nodded and Brian left the police station.
The sun was coming up, yellow and strong as he drank the hot coffee. Last night's restaurant was open so Brian went in for some breakfast. He thought about the cowboys and cowgirls of the previous night: who were they, where did they come from? Other than the small town he could see no expansion or developing real estate on either side of it. Somewhere, off in the mysterious distance was a drive-in movie, accessible only by pick up trucks evidently. He wondered if when those kids grew up their children would be watching one of Brian's films from the same al fresco theatre.
After breakfast he walked out to the edge of the town and back onto the highway. In a few minutes the same unsmiling cop passed him in his own vehicle, evidently off duty now. They saw each other and Brian saluted him as he went by. Soon after Brian got a couple of short rides. One of them left him off a short walk from the next town. The highway had been cut through a mountain area and there were cliffs on either side of it with signs warning of falling rocks. When he heard a strange sound he looked up to see if there were any rocks coming down on him. There were no rocks but there was a cougar looking down at him, tense and dangerous, deciding if Brian was a good catch for lunch. Brian’s heart was pounding but he resisted the desire to run. He lowered his gaze and just kept walking.
Brian just kept walking and silently, but fervently, saying "Mr. Mountain Lion please don't jump on me, Mr. Mountain Lion please don't jump on me." Fearing to look up again he kept his eyes on the road ahead of him, Finally, after he had gone about 50 feet, uttering his prayer to the cougar, he glanced up and the animal was gone. He sighed in relief. Later on during his trip Brian would have another experience with a wild beast more dangerous than this one.
The road descended from the cliff area to the town below. When he entered the town he saw a sign saying "Welcome to Dalhart." Somewhere along the road he had crossed the border into Texas. He had always wondered about Texas. It was a place with history and Brian had always wanted to visit there, But his only Texas experience was to be in an obscure corner of it in a town no one had heard of.
He saw a general store, went in and bought some post cards, them went to the post office near by and bought some stamps. He sat down at a table in a tiny park and wrote some notes telling people where he was. He wrote to his folks back in Waynesburg. He wrote to his sister Louise in Virginia. He wrote to Bob in Boston. He wrote to Margie and Mary Lou in Cleveland. He had to go into his back pack to get some addresses and came across the slip of paper with the name Della Lipinski an address and a phone number. He debated with himself about writing to her. Finally he decided to do it, a short note about where he was. He thought of saying that it was a pleasure to meet her, but since they had spent the night together it sounded much too formal. On the other hand he didn't want to say "Thanks for a good time." That sounded too much like those notes you see scribbled on phone booth walls sometimes "For a good time call Della." He decided on a short friendly note "Hi Della, I'm in Dalhart, Texas heading west. It's been a fascinating trip so far. Brian" that's all. He stamped the post cards, put them in a mail box and walked on.
Brian was now walking down a road marked Rte. 54 toward New Mexico. He saw no more cliffs harboring cougars for which he was glad. The scenery around him was changing as he went. There were fewer buildings and the land was beginning to look more like a quiet desert. There were new things to look at, interesting rock formations in the distance lit up with an amber fluorescence by the blazing sun, things growing solitary in the sandy soil he had never seen before, a dusty arome.
After a while the silence was broken by the sound of twanging country music coming from some distance behind him. It got louder and a car pulled over with pictures of lightening painted on the sides, some sort of animal tail on the antenna and a confederate flag decal on the window. The driver turned the radio down and shouted out the window "You ever been to Tucumcari?"
"No" said Brian.
"Well, that's where Ah'm goin'. Git in."
Brian got in. The driver was wearing a cowboy hat and a big smile. "Where you from?" he asked.
"I started out in Boston, Massachusetts."
"Well dog me, you done some travellin'. Hitched all the way?"
"Damn! You like country music?"
"I like all kinds of music."
"Hot damn!" He turned the radio back up full blast and that was the end of all conversation until they got to Tucumcari. When they got there he turned the radio down and said "Here's where Ah haul up. I gotta see muh girl. Good luck."
"Thanks" said Brian. He got out and the cowboy turned a corner. Brian noticed as he drove off that his license plate read SKUNK U.
Almost immediately another car stopped for him. In it was a middle aged man. He wanted to know where Brian was headed and said he would take him as far as Kingman.
Brian asked where that was and the man said western Arizona. This was to be the third of Brian's four long rides. The man introduced himself as a Louisiana state trooper on vacation and on his way to visit his daughter who was in college in Las Vegas.
The trooper was a talkative fellow who kept up a constant stream of conversation about human behavior. He was a moral philosopher Brian determined. There was nothing the man said that Brian could disagree with. It wasn't about politics or religion but a straight forward down the line utterance of common sense about standards and values. Now and then the man would ask Brian if he agreed, which he did, Brian didn't have much to offer otherwise.
While the man talked Brian stared out the window at the scenes going by. He felt as if he was on another planet. The giant rock formations, the shrubbery along the road and now and then a small white cross beside it. The colors were the most amazing thing for him. Everything was yellow, amber, orange, rust, red. There was a grand and formidable mystery about the land. It made him think of some of the paintings he had seen in museums back east. But none of them could catch the invisible spirits that seemed to proudly stand tall on this land. There were views and visions Brian would never forget. He tucked them away in the same memory box that held the experience of crossing the Mississippi River at dawn.
As the afternoon sun was lowering the same colors took on a bluish tinge and the shadows spread across the desert like a quickly growing moss. Then as a curve in the road changed his perspective he was startled to see the frame and lights of a huge power station in the middle of nowhere, rising up out of the desert with nothing around it like some mammoth work of surrealist art.
"Wow!" said Brian.
"That means we'll soon be in Albuquerque" said the trooper.
As they drove into Albuquerque Brian guessed it was a major stopping point for people traveling west. There seemed to be motels everywhere along the road. And many of them were designed to look like life in the Southwest. The units were miniature haciendas, pueblos and even one that was all tepees. They had names to match.
The driver who by now, was known as Allen, pulled into the parking lot of a diner. As it was dinner time Brian was hungry. They sat at the counter. Brian ordered a hamburger which he ate even though it was the worst hamburger he ever had, tough and tasteless. That puzzled him. Here he was in beef country. Why couldn't he get a good burger? The banana cream pie he had after it wasn't much better. Go to Oklahoma for banana cream pie, he thought. And New York for a good burger. Was Brian getting homesick. Not yet.
After a drive around town Allen drove into the lot of a motel that had no special designs. A simple place with the units in a row on a porch. Allen explained to the motel clerk that Brian would be sleeping in the back of the car and not to disturb him. And that's where Brian spent the night.
November 14, 1960
Brian woke to the sound of a car door slamming and a car starting. He looked up and saw Allen in the driver's seat about to pull out of the parking lot. "Good morning" he said. "Sleep good?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Let's go get some breakfast and hit the road."
Brian felt a little sheepish sitting in the back seat while Allen drove him like a chauffeur. But in a moment they pulled into a diner. It was very early. The sun was just coming up. A quick scrambled eggs, bacon toast and coffee and the trip continued and so did Allen's lecture on human life. He knew right from wrong, good from evil, nice from nasty and truth from falsehood.
Finally Brian said "As a state trooper you must have seen a lot of things most of us never see."
"Yeah. I sure did" he said. "But I'll tell you something. There's a lot of good people in the world, but it's hard to find them. You have to look for them. The bad I take for granted. The good I look for. Look for the good, Brian, you'll find it. Or else it will just come along when you least expect it, but then you have to recognize it."
Allen went on talking as Brian thought about that and his other statements. He was thinking to himself that Allen stopping to pick him up was one of those good things that came along when he was least expecting it.
The highway was straight with almost no traffic on it. They soon crossed into Arizona. Allen was driving as fast as he wanted to. Brian thought if a cop pulled him over he would just show his badge and professional courtesy, or something like that, would let him go on.
The Arizona landscape was somewhat different from New Mexico but just as spectacular. There was a bit more greenery and some majestic mountains in the distance. They whizzed through the towns and cities.
Brian wondered about the people who lived in them, about people who spent their whole lives living in the innards of America, about the owner of the gas station in Worcester, the Massachusetts state trooper, the woman who owned the bike shop in Buffalo, the owner of the Liberty Diner in Ohio, the man driving two cars, the couple in the fancy car trying to find their son, Larry and his wife in Englewood, Zack, Sabrina, the waitress at the Country Cousin in Missouri. the man in Pratt who let him sleep on the mattress in the basement, Mother Linda the Good Witch of the North, Teena the waitress in Guymon, the cop who put him up in the jail, the cowboy from Texas with the blaring radio and now Allen. Brian wondered about them, the real Americans. He wanted to know them and tell their stories on film. But he knew it would take several lifetimes to do it and besides this city boy, this New Yorker/New Englander was not stopping. "California here I come" he sang silently to himself.
They sped quickly through Arizona and by the afternoon they reached Kingman where Allen turned to go north to Las Vegas. When they parted, Allen wished Brian good luck on the rest of his trip. Brian noted that of all those who took him any distance Allen was the only one who didn't ask him what he was going to do California.
Brian looked around him and saw the road turning south. He wondered about that but it was the right road so he began walking along it and soon reached the edge of the town. To his right he saw a freight train slowly pulling out. It was near and moving so slowly that Brian thought of jumping on it. If he saw an open box car he could easily get into it. The train was probably going across the desert. He approached it cautiously but just then it picked up speed and was soon traveling so fast that trying to get on was impossible.
He walked back to the road and in a minute a pickup truck pulled over and stopped. Brian got in. The man driving was obviously a Native American. He had a long braid of dark hair down his back with a few feathers on a string tied to it. "Where you going?" he asked.
"Trying to get to California."
"Ah. I go a few miles." As they traveled, the man took a pack of Pall Malls out of his pocket and handed it to Brian. "Open that. Take one and give me one."
Brian carefully opened the pack. took out two cigarettes and handed one to the man. The man pushed in the cigarette lighter on the dash board. When it popped out he handed it to Brian to light his cigarette. Then Brian handed it back. The man pushed into the dash board again and then lit his own.
Brian was curious. "Are you a Navajo?"
"No. Cherokee. Where you from?"
"I started out in Boston, Massachusetts."
Brian could see some buildings up ahead. The Cherokee pulled over and stopped. "That's Yucca" he said. "Wait for a ride. Don't walk out on the desert. There's bad things out there that'll get you." Good advice that Brian was eventually to ignore.
"Okay. Thank you" he said. The Cherokee did a Uturn and drove back a few score feet and turned up a side road. Brian stomped his cigarette out on the highway and started walking. In about five minutes he came upon a small village with a dingy 6 unit motel and across the road a truck stop, a gas station and an area of abandoned cars. He was in Yucca, Arizona.
He stared down at the village near a road that went there. Ahead of him was sand, shrubbery, cactus and small twisted trees. After those came some simple dwellings. In the far distance he heard a single dog barking. He thought it might be the only dog in the village.
As he was looking, a freight train slowly approached and stopped. Brian wondered if it was the same train he almost jumped onto in Kingman. If so, and they saw him, they might throw him off and he would be in the same place he was now. But then he wouldn't have met the Cherokee, had a free cigarette and been warned about the desert. After a few moments the freight train moved on to places unkown.
As Brian turned to cross the highway he was startled to see a semi perched on a pole many feet in the air. He was puzzled about how they managed to get it up there but he figured it was good advertising to tell truckers coming in from a distance that here was a place they could stop and refresh themselves before they hit the desert road.
He went into the diner to have some lunch then back out to the road to hitch. He was taking the Cherokee's advice and not trying to walk, but no one was stopping to pick him up. The day wore on and he got no rides. He would occasionally go back into the diner to rest and then back out to the road. He was still dressed for the northern November weather and here it was hot in the afternoon sun. But the night was coming and Brian was going to be glad he was warmly dressed.
Back in the diner he overheard a conversation between the owner and one of the truckers about a hitchhiker who had come across a frozen lizard on the side of the road. They guy thought the lizard was dead so he picked it up and put it in his pocket. As the day worn on the lizard woke up and bit him in the chest. The guy died. Brian remembered the Cherokee's warning "There's bad things out there that'll get you."
As night was coming on Brian went out to see if he could still get a ride. A lumber truck was just pulling out carrying what looked to Brian like telephone poles. Even though the road was clear the driver stopped at the exit. Brian thought maybe the driver was expecting him to jump on and lie down with the lumber. He wasn't sure. It might be a ride across the desert. On the other hand he might end up in some remote place, impossible to get out of. He let the truck go.
Night came cold and dark. The diner owner had no place for Brian to sleep so he went around to the back, found a car with no doors on it. stretched out his aching legs on the back seat, propped up his head with his back pack and fell asleep.
November 15, 1960
Bright sunlight woke Brian. Sleeping propped up in the back of a car was not a good choice, but it was his only choice. He bent his knees and then straightened out his legs again. He was about to put one foot out onto the floor of the car when a bright yellow caught his eye, He looked over and saw a colorful rope coiled up on the floor. He hadn't noticed it when he got in last night. It reminded him of a braided toy whip he once owned from a trip to the circus when he was a boy back in Waynesburg. This was bigger though and the colors were very bright in the sunlight. He almost reached down to puck it up but he felt a cold wind go up his back and a fist hit his stomach when he realized it was a snake,
He carefully and slowly slid feet first through the doorless side of the car away from the snake. The snake didn't move. When he was out he went around to the other side, carefully reached into the car and slowly took his back pack out being careful not to drop it on the snake. While he was doing that the snake moved slightly and Brian could see the rattle.
He quickly ran away from the car to the front of the gas station deciding that ride or no ride he was not going to spend another night in Yucca. He picked up a map of California from the gas station and went into the diner for some breakfast.
He sat at the counter, ordered a coffee and felt a great relief as the sweat began to form on his face. When the coffee came he ordered a big breakfast and opened the map. It's good to be alive, he thought.
He saw in the map that just across the border there was a city called Needles. If I can make it to there I can probably get a bus across the desert if I can't get a ride.
After breakfast he crossed the road. Many cars and trucks passed him but no one stopped. A few times a car pulled into the diner or gas station but when they came back out they ignored him, So after a few hours of frustration he decided to start walking. I walked a long way in Ohio and again in Kansas, he thought, I can walk this. Never mind the Cherokee's warning, I'll just be careful, keep my eyes on the ground and not pick up any lizards. So he started out. He was soon going to get a ride, and one of the most unusual rides of his journey.
So Brian walked along the highway keeping his eyes to the ground, only looking up when he heard a car approaching. No one was stopping for him. But he was determined to make it to Needles by the evening even if he couldn't get a ride.
As the day wore on it was getting hot. The winter clothes he was wearing kept him comfortable at night, but now they were oppressive. Nevertheless he didn't want to remove anything for fear of losing it by accident.
He occasionally glanced out across the desert. The scenery didn't change: sand, shrubbery, cactus, twisted trees and mountains in the distance.
He suddenly stopped walking when he saw something he couldn't explain. It was an abject skimming along the tops of the trees and cactus somewhere between Brian and the distant mountains. He thought it might be an eagle or some large desert raptor, but its wings didn't move and it was silent. He couldn't tell how large it was or how far away it was. He stood watching it as it made its way to the side of the mountain range and started to curve around them. Then he heard a motorized sound coming from the same direction. The object had been a jet plane, now out of sight, that had broken through the sound barrier, and now its noise was pursuing it at the same speed but with nothing to identify it. Brian was used to hearing the sonic boom when they broke through the barrier but he had never seen one in flight before. It was an eerie sight. Eventually the sound disappeared around the mountain, still chasing its owner.
Brian continued to walk thinking about that unusual experience and wondering what it was like to travel that fast. At one point a car passed that was completely full of people and things. Brian could see through the passenger window a woman with a child on her lap and a pile of clothes behind her. There was definitely no room for him in that car.
He kept walking and in about five minutes he was amazed to see the same car coming down the road in the opposite direction. The driver slowed down, made a U turn and stopped next to Brian. The woman was tossing kids and things into the back seat, then she opened the door and moved on over next to the man who was driving. The woman smiled at Brian and patted the seat, so he got in and pulled the door closed with his left hand. It was a tight squeeze but he was in. The man said he had been a hitchhiker in his younger days, knew what it was like and couldn't bear to pass him up.
They went on their way. The man was about 30 Brian guessed. The woman was a few years younger. Brian looked over his shoulder into the back seat and saw some suitcases and a pile of clothes. Sitting on the clothes were two twin boys about 4 years old and one small brown curly haired dog.
As they were driving along the man asked Brian a lot of questions about him, including where he came from and where he was going. When Brian said he was on his way to California the man said "Well, we'll take you there." Brian was relieved to know he had his ride across the desert.
The man asked him what he was going to do in California. "A friend and I want to open a movie studio."
"Oh, I love movies" said the woman. "I almost never get to see them. I hope you and your friend succeed. Make some good ones."
They passed over the border, went through Needles quickly and headed out on to the desert.
Brian looked behind him again at the two boys and the dog. He was amazed at how quiet they were, even the dog. The woman asked them a few times how they were doing and one boy would answer "Okay."
"Where are you folks headed?" Brian asked.
"Oregon" was the only reply.
"Where'd you come from?"
"We came from Saint Louis" said the woman. "And we're moving to Oregon." Brian was impressed with her. She was a very sweet and polite person, and was not complaining at all that she was being jammed in between two men without much room to move.
Brian watched out the window as the desert flashed by. It was a lone and forlorn looking place but also beautiful in its severity. There were strange plants growing out of the sand, twisted trees and cracked earth. There were tiny flowers growing from what looked like dead wood. There were dunes for miles with occasional trees in them. A colony of cactus in strange shapes seemed to burst up out of the ground in clumps. In the distance towered demanding natural rock formations like castles and temples. If there was animal life it was furtive and hidden. Everything else was exposed by the blazing sun. This is a mystical place, thought Brian. I wonder who lives here.
After a while the woman spoke up suddenly and quietly as if she had been keeping a secret or a valuable piece of gossip. "I'm leaving my husband."
Brian was stunned. He couldn't speak.
"He's a mean man" said the woman.
"He beats her" said the man.
"He beats me. My husband is a cruel man. He's unfaithful. He gets drunk and beats me up and he smacks the kids around and the dog. We're all afraid of him. I can't take it any more. So we're leaving him. It's awful."
"You seem like a good man. So I guess we can tell you" said the man.
"Bob here is not the other man. He's my friend."
"We've been friends since we were kids in school together" said Bob.
"I'm Mary Lou."
"I'm Brian. Why Oregon?"
"My brother has a farm there. He said to come on up and stay. He can use the help" said Bob.
"Are you also from Saint Louis, Bob?" asked Brian.
"Yes, but I don't have a family there or anything so this seems like the right thing to do, for me also."
"How long have you been on the road?"
"Three days ago. We only stop for gas and a short nap. I want to get there" said Bob.
"How did it happen?"
"He went to work in the morning. I packed as much as I could in the suitcases and the rest I just piled in the back. Bob helped me. And then we left."
"Did you leave a note?"
"Yeah. I told him not to try to follow us or find us. I don't think he will. He doesn't want the responsibility any more. I think he's probably glad to see us go."
"Probably" said Bob.
"It's best for us. A new life. For me, the boys and Fluffy."
"Who's Fluffy, the dog?"
Brian looked behind him at Fluffy who was sitting up and wagging a tail at the mention of his name. "He's a cute dog."
"He used to kick Fluffy" said Mary Lou.
"Well, I'm sorry you suffered so much but you're probably doing the best thing" said Brian. "I have to thank you two times for picking me up in your full car and considering your circumstances."
"Happy to do it" said Bob.
The blazing afternoon sun was setting behind the hills ahead. Slowly things were becoming greener and cooler. They went on for another hour until Bob pulled into a gas station and filled up the car. Then he drove over to a convenience store, everybody got out, snacks were bought and he said "Nap time."
"Nap time" meant a lot of activity. Bob took the boys into the rest room. Fluffy was led out and taken on a walk to sniff out the right tree for his business and then was fed and watered. Brian went into the store and bought a pack of Pall Malls. The cigarette he got from the Cherokee was so good he thought he'd have another while he waited.
Soon snacks were distributed and quickly consumed. Everyone was back in the car with the doors closed. Bob put his head back and was quickly asleep. Brian was exhausted, so he had no trouble nodding off. He woke up briefly once to find the car on the road again. He saw it going over a series of corrugated hills, up and down like a gentle amusement park ride. It soon lulled him back to sleep.
November 16, 1960
When he woke up again it was daylight and there was more traffic on the road.
"We're coming into the edges of LA, Brian. Is that good for you?"
Brian didn't know where in California Green's Point was but he thought that LA, Hollywood, would be an appropriate place to start. "Yeah, I think so."
Bob pulled the car over. Brian opened the door and slid halfway out of the seat. He looked behind him. Fluffy picked his head up, the two boys were watching him, Bob and Mary Lou were smiling.
"I am really grateful to you for bringing me all this way, Bob. I know it's been hard on you, but I'm very thankful. I hope you have good luck in Oregon and a happy life from now on, all of you. No more being afraid."
"Thank you" said Mary Lou. "Well now, you have good luck and happiness yourself."
"Thank you, I'll try." He closed the door and stepped back. The car drove off. He was sorry to see it go.
Bran would never see those people again but for the rest of his life he would wonder how they made out in Oregon.
After watching their car disappear up the highway, Brian walked down the ramp into a neighborhood of palm trees and warm air. The morning sun was bright and he was feeling good. He soon found out that he was in Pasadena. He knew of the Pasadena Playhouse. It was famous. Brian hoped that maybe someday he would work there.
After an hour or so of walking along, a tanned young man in a Cadillac convertible with the top down swung briskly over to Brian and stopped. "Hey. Where'r ya goin?" the driver said.
"I'm not sure" answered Brian. "It's Green Park."
"Green's Park. "It's near the beach. Hop in. I'll take you to Santa Monica. It's not far from there."
Brian got in and the car swerved back onto the road and whizzed off. The air felt good going through Brian's hair. He looked with great interest at what they were passing. There were palm trees, eucalyptus trees, vines dripping down from second story balconies. There was an eclectic array of buildings. There didn't seem to be any identifiable style to Los Angeles, thought Brian, but everything seemed bright and friendly.
When they reached Santa Monica the driver pulled into a gas station to fill up and said "You're almost there. You can make it from here in no time."
"Okay. Thanks." Brian got out of the car. After the driver filled up the tank he drove off in another direction. Brian went to a pay phone, fished the number for Bob's parents out of his pack and dialed it.
"Hi, this is Brian Sims....Yes...Yes I am....I'm in Santa Monica....I'm in a Mobil station....It's across the street from some place called Albert's....You do?...Okay, Great." He hung up.
About five minutes later a car drove up and swung over to him. Inside was a middle aged man who asked "Are you Brian?"
"I'm Bob's father. Get in."
Brian got in and in another few minutes they drove into a driveway next to a very nice house on a hill overlooking the sea.
The were met at the door by a very nice looking woman, about 40, with a big smile on her face. "Hello Brian. Welcome."
She ushered Brian down a hall to a bedroom and said "I've laid out some of Bob's clothes for you. Take a shower and then bring me your dirty clothes. You smell awful." She grinned a big grin and left, closing the door.
On the bed were underwear, a shirt, some trousers and a bathrobe. He got undressed and realized that he hadn't had his clothes off since somewhere near Cleveland. He didn't want to get out of the shower it felt so good to get clean at last.
When he finally got dressed he took his bundle of clothes out to Bob's mom. "Good" she said. "Now go join Kevin on the veranda." He did so, where a drink was awaiting him.
As Brian sat down he thought to himself, 14 days ago, two weeks ago, I was on the back of a motorcycle in Massachusetts. And now I'm sitting in fresh clothes on a comfortable chair with a gin and tonic in one hand, a cigarette in the other, staring out in the afternoon sun at the beautiful Pacific Ocean in California.
Over dinner he told them about his trip: Chuck and the motorcycle ride, sleeping on the floor of the gas station in Worcester, the bike shop in Buffalo, the spill they took in Erie, visiting the college campus, unexpectedly finding friends in Cleveland, falling asleep on some boxes and waking up in the back yard, the long trek through the lightening and freezing rain in Ohio, Zack and the truck, crossing the Mississippi River, Linda, the Good Witch of the North, the long walk through Kansas, sleeping on a mattress in the basement, the jail in Oklahoma, the Louisiana state trooper with the daughter in Las Vegas, the Cherokee in the pick up truck, the rattlesnake in Yucca, and finally the renegade family on their way to Oregon fleeing an abusive husband and father back east. He left out the references to Chili Pepper, Della and Sabrina.
"Oh, I just remembered. You got a letter" said Bob's mother.
"A letter?" asked Brian, surprised.
"Yes. I'll get it."
She returned with a letter addressed to Brian Sims c/o Kevin Schultz. He looked for a return address and all it said was DL.
"May I?" he asked.
"Of course" said Kevin.
He opened the letter and read: Dear Brian, when i got your postcard I asked Tasha to find out from Chuck where Bob's parents lived. So I'm writing this to find out if you made it through okay and if you're settled in wherever you are. We miss you. I miss you. Be careful, I may come and visit. Della.
"Someone you know?" asked Mrs. Schultz,
"A nice girl I met in Cleveland. She tracked me down. She got your address from Bob. When I get settled I'll send her my address so this won't happen again."
"Oh, we don't mind, dear" said Mrs. Schultz. "Please keep in touch with us and come for Thanksgiving if you can. Bob said he would fly down for a few days. You two can conspire" she said with a big grin.
Brian slept very well that night.
November 17, 1960
When he woke up, he found his clothes clean and fresh outside the door to the room. After breakfast and a few thanks yous and good byes. Kevin drove Brian into town. He checked into the Hollywood YMCA, walked down Hollywood Boulevard looking at all the stars with names on them embedded in the sidewalk and wondered if his name would ever be one of them. Then he got a job for the season at the largest bookstore west of Chicago.
And that's how Brian Sims got to California.