(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2021)
It’s 1979 and you’ve just turned 21. You’ve got a bit of cash in your pocket from working and still have your redundancy money from your previous job. Your mate Russ has finished his degree in Psychology, Philosophy, Podiatry or some such thing. What do you do ? Go west young man, go west !
And so, after a month of visiting Russ’ relatives in Vancouver and Vancouver Island and friends in Alberta, we find ourselves on the outskirts of Calgary, LA bound.
With thumbs up these two ‘Jock’ Kerouacs were on the road. Our first two rides took us about 10 miles short of the Canadian/US border so a 3 hour hike was required to get to the border crossing. Nobody walks into the United States especially brazenly down the main highway with rucksacks on their backs. At least we brightened the immigration guys’ day.
Our first night was spent in a wooded area in St Mary, Montana. Nature’s alarm clock were some furry critters throwing nuts at us. Squirrels, chipmunks, ewoks who knows, but it was time to roll up the sleeping bags and look for some sustenance.
One of the greatest institutions in the US of A is the diner and to quote those scallywag supertrampers “Breakfast In America” is a real treat for a weary wanderer. Many a morn we’d pick the detritus from our hair, brush ourselves down and enter the warm and welcoming world of the fresh fry up.
As you sat down at your table you were presented with a glass of icy water, a cup of coffee and a menu that unfolded like a road map. Eggs any which way – scrambled, poached, sunny side up, dark side of the moon down. Bacon with pancakes and maple syrup and hash browns. Never quite figured out what a hash brown was but gobbled it up anyway. Then off to the rest room for a shite and a shave, back for more coffee and as it was approaching noon, reluctantly back out on the road.
St. Mary (Montana) to Couer D’Alene (Idaho)
One of our longer rides was from a guy called Rick who had all these carpentry tools in the back of his pickup truck. He explained how he had been in the military, honourably discharged for being a conscientious objector (Vietnam I suspect) and had studied carpentry on his GI bill. He took us to his house on a lake – a converted bus – and offered us mint tea as if we were old friends.
I related this encounter with Rick to our next driver who had picked us up assuming we were military with our short haircuts and moustaches. Our host was a Spencer Tracy doppelganger in a suit and hat whose head appeared not to rotate, staring straight ahead as we sedately motored along at 50mph. Just as I was getting to the ‘conshi’ bit of our tale about Rick, Spencer slammed on the brakes and launched into a diatribe about how Jimmy Carter was a commie, how Thatcher would be great for our country and how virtuous the John Birch Society was. (Russ had to explain to me later that the JBS was a far right anti communist organisation – well he did have a degree in Pedagogy !)
Four trees and a piece of cardboard 200 yards from the road was that night’s accommodation.
Red Bluff to Stockton (California)
After drinking too may beers and convincing ourselves there were rattle snakes on the ground, we spent the night in the back of a stationary pickup truck in a car lot.
Our next ride took us about 200 miles to the town of Lodi, San Joaquin County. It must have been almost 40° C and we were desperate for a beer. We stumbled on a hostelry and ordered our drinks. The drinking age in California is 21 so we had to whip out our passports for proof. That perked up the interest of the few locals and they graciously stood us several rounds. I noticed the barman on the phone who then presented us with another 2 beers. “These are from Don. He’ll be here in a minute” Sounded ominous but hey, if the beers keep coming.
A well heeled couple appeared, him with crew cut and gaudy sports jacket and her dripping in jewellery. They greeted us like long lost family which I think they thought they were as they shared the same surname as Russ (but I doubt they had degrees in Philately !) Before we know it we’re having cocktails with their friends at a huge lakeside mansion, going for boat rides and swimming. We were then whisked off to Don’s place with it’s copper bar, tartan carpet and coat of arms. After devouring huge steaks were then tucked into our warm comfy beds.
Next day with my least creased and relatively clean T-shirt on, we were given a personal tour of the Bank of Stockton by it’s president, Don. There we were sitting in the boardroom with all these suits while an anxious looking dusky gentleman was remonstrating with a secretary outside the door.
“Mr Abdul would like to speak to you Don”
“Tell that f**king camel jockey I’m busy with my Scottish friends !”
Then it’s back to Don’s mansion and a dinner party with building company owners, architects and the who’s who of the county with snippets of conversation buzzing about:
“Buy me a Rolls Royce, please, you promised……………”
“Out at my ranch………………..”
and the best one,
“Did you have to learn English to come here ?”
Too much. We have to move on.
“You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway”
(Coyote by Joni Mitchell)