Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sweet Hitchhiker (A Cautionary Tale of the Road)

The recent mass exhumation of the literary remains of J. Kerouac (that’s us in the group picture, back row, third from right, holding our Bic aloft), which culminated, we hope, in this belated but very sharp appreciation by Louis Menand in the recent New Yorker, as well as an even more belated parsing by New York Times tight end David Brooks, who uses the 50th anniversary of K’s On the Road as an excuse for Baby Boomer-bashing (which is OK when we do it, ’cause we earned the right), compels us to document for posterity---or whenever this Internet thing craters---our first hitchhiking experience, which coincided, perhaps fittingly and perhaps not, with out first massive, nerve-mangling hangover experience.

Our story begins on a Friday evening, during the summer after either our freshman or sophomore year in high school, when we laced up our desert boots and sauntered over to our friend St-ve’s house to “spend the night,” as we informed our parents. We did not inform them that St-ve’s parents were away and his older brother, who was either a senior in high school or may have been in college already (but whatever his academic standing was a nice guy, and we were sorry to learn of his recent passing away), was throwing a party for his peers, and that St-ve had beckoned over some of his associates to mull around the periphery and observe the proceedings, perhaps pick up a few pointers in the art of acting “older.” The plan was that we---that is, us, St-ve and another buddy, R-b---were to arise early the next morning and head up to a weekend “ranch” north of town where St-ve had arranged for us to clean out a barn and rebuild a fence for some rich guy.

We passed the evening eating popcorn (the kind that was actually popped on a stove; this predated the advent of that nasty, carcinogenic microwaved crap, as well as the advent of the microwave) and sipping from the many available bottles of Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, a popular beverage of the day which in the not too distant future we would be purchasing from the 7-11 with our doctored high school I.D., which proclaimed us to be two years older than we actually were but showed us to look two (or more) years younger than we actually were. There was swingin’, swayin’ and record playin’: lots of Beach Boys and the Buffalo Springfield one with On the Way Home on it, and somewhere in there, as the evening took on a hazy, golden glow and St-ve’s brother’s friends began retiring to various secluded parts of the house, The Lettermen’s A Summer Place. Emboldened by the Boone’s Farm, late in the evening even we undertook to do the boogaloo with a Weejun-wearing, mini-skirted blonde of 18 or 19, who most likely perceived us as “goofy” and “harmless” (as well as “drunk”) but of course was unaware of the dark and powerful sexual energy coiled within our mostly hairless 15-year-old body.

We had had a nip or two here or there dating back to 7th grade, but were a decided amateur in the art of drinking, and we eventually partook of so much Boone’s Farm that we puked half-digested popcorn all over self before puking out what seemed to be all of our insides, then passed out---or fell into a coma---at the foot of a tall oak in St-ve’s front yard. It was there that we awoke shortly after dawn and noticed that R-b had also ended his evening at the foot of a tree, about 10 yards away. We had never felt so bad, maybe to this day (and if we try real hard we can recall the smell of the regurgitated Boone’s Farm at the base of our throat, laced with the fine tang of urped-up popcorn). But somehow we pulled our self together enough to be on board a couple of hours later for the drive out to the work site.

Then came the bouncing ride with the clanging tools in the back of a pick-up, the overpowering smell of the creosoted timber at the barn, our pressing need to vomit again shortly after arriving, and our subsequent announcement, after only an hour or so of desultory toil in the blistering sun, that we would be forgoing the further opportunity to earn $1.75 an hour stringing barb-wire and would be heading for home. Our pending departure was met with derision by St-ve and R-b, and we exchanged a round of insults and counter-insults that most likely were confined to such terms as “little girl,” “big pussy” and the chart-topping favorite “you big f-----' queer.” Such were the parameters of male adolescent repartee in the Hub City.

Unbeknown to us, St-ve and R-b would pack it in within the hour and drive back to ease their hangovers in the leafy green of suburbia, but we were in a decided hurry and made the long walk down the dirt road and out to the highway, where we stuck out our thumb by the side of a thoroughfare called the Evangeline Thruway (‘cause it went straight through town, we think). In very short order we were picked up by a car driven by a small brown-skinned gentleman, a native of the Subcontinent who must have been affiliated with the petroleum engineering branch of the local diploma mill, as there would have been no other reason for an Indian from India to be in that town then, the non-chain motels all being locally owned. Not too long after we climbed in the car, which was stuffy and stinking of B.O., the driver inquired in a small, tentative voice whether we would like to stop at the coming-up-on-the-right K-Mart to try on bathing suits. Not believing we had heard what we had heard, we asked the driver to repeat the question, which he did, but at much more of a mumble. We politely asked to be let off, immediately, then proceeded to walk all the way home, a good 5 or 6 miles as the crow flies.

This, we’re embarrassed to say, was not to be the last time we would hitchhike, or drink to excess.

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