Sunday, August 21, 2011

Go West

"Started out on burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff...." B. Dylan

Now that I'm the father of two teenagers I begin to realize the kind of hell I must of put my parents through. Three days after high school graduation I was hitch hiking my way toward California, a Kelty back pack, my imitation Hummingbird guitar and my Boy Scout sleeping bag, complete with ounce of cheap Mexican pot sewn into its thick cotton lining.

Looking back, what's weird is how it all seemed so normal. Class president, student council president, alpha honor roll student, Junior Rotarian, Boy's State rep, student director, Eagle Boy Scout and over night my hair was down past my shoulders and I was crashing in Denver with a Chicano girl's family, her brother walking me through the basement of the Hilton Hotel where he was staff and me thinking how odd it was that in an American cowboy town like Denver all the signs in the town's ritziest digs were printed in Spanish. That was 1974. The road to Boulder was still through dusty prairie, not endless housing developments, and Estes Park, at the foot of Rockies, was nothing more then a couple of stick framed buildings suspended over a rushing creek. When that stream flooded a few years later I learned that those rickety shops all washed down stream along with my buddy's red Kharmen Ghia.

Like others of my generation, I left my virginity in San Francisco. I was a few years late for the Summer of Love, but there were still plenty of blondes with bell-bottom jeans and i guess it felt like it was the right thing to do. Six months earlier I truly believed I was saving all that for marriage. The morning after found me carving my initials into the wooden sign post of California's Highway 1. It was July 11th, my 18th birthday. An older woman (maybe thirty) picked me up in a convertible and when she learned what day it was, bought me a ticket into the Hearst Castle at San Simeon. Zebras and giraffes roaming the grounds, 60 rooms in each of the three guest houses, a million dollar swimming pool built during the darkest days of the Great Depression; just another lesson that not all the world was populated by middle class families living in brick-faced colonial homes.

I got sick about six weeks out, a wicked stomach virus that wouldn't let up, so I called my folks. My Dad was an engineer with the Kellogg Corporation. He was also a private pilot and was friends with the guy who flew the corporation's private jet. Somehow he arranged a seat for me and I rode home to Battle Creek, Michigan in royal comfort, sipping 7-UP and chatting with Bill LaMothe, then the president of the cereal giant. I must have thanked my Dad for setting up that ride, but really, I took so much for granted back then, like it was all just suppose to happen. I never really knew how lucky I was.

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