Get out and experience the adventure life can give you when you drag yourself away from the home-fires. “Roads go ever ever on,” J.R.R. Tolkien writes. As Bilbo Baggins states to his nephew Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings,” “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step out onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
You really can’t plan for such events as setting out into the world. Put one foot — even if it is a hairy, barefoot one — in front of the other and keep going. Experience will come to you. You have to either embrace it or dodge out of its way, and when you come up for air you might decide to change course. Go a different way. Like Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
You may have to improvise — in life and love. Because in the end, Mr. Brink will come for you. What fork do you take? Death will give you leeway. Especially if you at least step out onto the road and let your wanderlust sweep you away.
Go to Grow
“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac changed my life. I read the book four years before I got hold of an abridged, bootlegged copy of “The Lord of the Rings.” Just as “The Lord of the Rings” later reinforced the idea of setting out on an adventure, Kerouac’s novel, “On the Road,” got me out on the road and away from my family, who I loved, but needed to grow and get away from those loving souls who sheltered and loved me. I needed to throw away the chapters of my childhood and hit the road. I was a child of the fifties, a baby boomer. I was coddled and protected. I needed to strike out on my own, break the bonds and step into the vast world that was beckoning me like a siren. I wanted to be Odysseus and ply the waters far from home.
“On the Road” taught me not to be afraid, taught me to embrace the unknown. Before that I had lived vicariously through reading books and occasionally going to a movie in the small rural town I grew up in. I had already experimented with pot. That opened me up, too; that exotic weed which helped me dream of what was out there to explore.
It was July 1964, and the time was right for my first road trip. Without my parents. I had just turned sixteen and passed my driver’s license exam. I was working a summer job for the State of Pennsylvania as a laborer on a road crew patching asphalt, fixing and painting guardrails and generally just standing around leaning against my shovel chewing the cud with my fellow workers, all of them lifers working for the state. The irony is not lost on me today. I was repairing the roads I would soon be escaping on.
I talked my mother into letting me borrow her VW microbus. Yes, she drove one of those, a 1962 VW Microbus, so I was introduced at an early age to the joys of these vehicles. When my father was away she smoked pot, but never let me have any. Until I turned sixteen. My father was in the Navy and only drank booze when he got home from one of his sojourns on the high seas. If he ever suspected my mother smoking pot he never let on, and it wasn’t until after he retired when he, too, began to partake in the lovely weed. Being a budding folksinger myself, I was planning a trip to Newport, Rhode Island, to experience the Newport Folk Festival. I requested and received four days off my job.
ADD-Impaired and Stoned
In those days there were no onboard maps, no phones to talk to us in seductive female voices to give us directions, no magic screens showing you the way so you can let machines do the all thinking for you. Back then, just paper maps, which, when you folded one of them out on your lap, usually became so crumpled you couldn’t read it, anyway. And when you tried to fold it back up, well, that was impossible. Especially when you were ADD-impaired, dyslectic and stoned. Plus, I’d never driven in heavy traffic. Just country roads in an old farm truck I used to race around a muddy field in, dodging cows and ducks. Still, the trip would be an adventure. In more ways than one. I was a little fearful, but ready to take the road on, ever on. I was always a Hobbit at heart.
We packed the microbus with our belongings and took off Thursday night after I finished my job on the road crew. We didn’t have tickets to the festival, but we didn’t care. We thought that the journey to New England would be more important than what we’d find when we got to Newport. Little did I know, but would come to understand, was that everything in life is a journey. The three days of the folk festival would be a journey as well. I was confident we’d get into the festival. Sneak in, if we had to. Then the next journey would begin.
The Good Old Fifties
Three of us piled into the VW bus: my cousin, Mo, another friend, Ike, named after you-know-but who we called Carefree, and me. We three had formed a folk group, and performed occasionally at school. I played a Pete Seeger Long Neck Vega banjo with three extra frets. Mo played guitar and Ike sang. Being the budding hippies and beats that we thought we were at sixteen, Mo brought along a brown paper bag of stash that he’d taken from his father, a prominent attorney, who lived in town and grew pot in his back yard next to his prized roses, back before most police even knew what pot was and before it became a banned substance. Ah, the good old fifties, when pot was pot and the police left you alone.
The three of us had our driver’s licenses, so we could take turns driving. None of us was a particularly good driver, because none of us had the experience time brings. Only Mo had been driving long enough (a month) to garner some kind of know-how. Smoking joints on the road didn’t help matters — made us all a little happy-go-lucky and free with the wheel. Still, we remained calm. Thankfully, we decided to save the beer we had stockpiled in a cooler until we got to our destination. None of us were old enough to buy alcohol.
We said our goodbyes to my dear old ma, who waved to us as we drove away from home by ourselves for the first time. When we got around the corner, out of her sight and away from the house, we lit up our first joint. I knew there would be divergences, knew we would have to improvise as we went. The best plans are the ones you break. The road goes ever on. Whatever the direction. Wherever the fork.
Up Next: On the Road: The Journey