Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Vagabond Days

“And it’s a hitchhike a hundred miles. I’m a rag-a-muffin child.” – Paul Simon, Cloudy

There was a period of time in my life, roughly from 1967 through 1970, when hitchhiking was my primary method of covering any great distance. I didn’t own a car. I had very little money. And the kids of my generation were taking up the gauntlet of Jack Kerouac and going “on the road”. For me, at first, it was just short hops in and around the friendly suburbs of the San Francisco peninsula. Usually I was trying to get to Cupertino from Mountain View to link up with my then girlfriend Nina. Sometimes I would luck out and get offered a joint by the driver. Or sometimes I would do the offering. In any event, it was a time of extreme trust and faith both from the driver and the passenger.

By 1970 I was living in Santa Cruz, getting by on mescaline and unemployment and getting around on an old bicycle. When the bike was stolen, it was pretty much back to using the old thumbs again. On a hitching hop down to Big Sur that summer I met a woman from Orange County. After our weekend interlude by the mighty Pacific, I became a regular roadside vagabond covering the several hundred miles between Santa Cruz and La Habra at least half a dozen times that year. Sometimes I’d get lucky and get a through ride nearly the full distance, but often it was just short hops from one freeway overpass to another….from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, Ventura to Oxnard. And the urban milieu of the L.A. basin could be positively frightening.

Nevertheless, love drove me onward. Once in a while a trucker would pick me up. One time I was picked up by a business man type who wanted to show me pornographic comics. Another time I got picked up by a fellow who called himself “Honda John” and shared some good weed with me while he ranted about his no-good girlfriend. Several times I was left by the side of the road in the most hopeless of circumstances. Yet I would always eventually get a ride.

And now that I’m older, I think about all the things that could have gone wrong. All the rides that could have ended in disaster. I remember that when the Manson murders made the headlines, it became much harder to get picked up…much harder to try and telegraph a peaceful and benign countenance to the hundreds of cars zooming by along the Coast Highway. Yet so very often, I put my faith completely in the hands of my fellow man.

I was lucky. And probably not very bright. But that yen for the open road and the peculiar kind of freedom that comes from having nothing and not knowing where the ride might end still bubbles up within me once in a while. It was truly the best of times and the worst of times.


  1. It sure was a different time, and I agree, trust had a lot to do with it. Or perhaps we were very naive.