Sunday, April 05, 2015

My bags are packed. I'm ready to go.

My first hitchhiking adventures began with Eric Drake and I driving back to Cambridge to visit his older brother Peter at Harvard. On the way we visited Peggy in Salt Lake City for a couple of days. In SLC I opened for Hoyt Axton at a now nameless folk club. That’s a particularly vivid memory because the audience was so fixated on seeing Hoyt that they couldn’t wait to get me off the stage. The silence deafening. I'd never seen dead people smoke.

We took a tiny detour to Aspen on the way to back east. I auditioned for a gig at the Abbey, a noted music venue where Buffy St. Marie was headlining at the time. That didn't happen but I did do a one hour live set on Chicago radio a couple  of days later. It was in St. Louis that we bought a bottle of dreadful vino rosso which we quaffed with crusty Italian bread on East 77th Street in Manhattan. I was some worldly dude.             

Loading up in SLC for the drive to NYC and Cambridge. The Wasatch range looms in the background.

After New York, up to Cambridge and back to NYC Eric dropped me off in northern New Jersey and he headed back to Arizona. I stuck out my thumb and got to Florida with zero shuteye. However fast you can drive from NYC to Florida that's how long it took me. The first ride, a youngish couple, really wanted a driver so we didn’t stop till I was dropped off somewhere in the Carolinas and picked up by a moonshiner who right out of the box asked me, “Are you a drinkin’ man?” When I allowed that I was a jug of hooch appeared from under the seat. I took a 100% kerosene belt. 

The hillbilly left me in central Florida where in a matter of minutes another hillbilly named John Hatfield, a Hatfield and McCoys Hatfield according to him, coasted to a stop in his 1948 Jimmy. We drove straight to Ft. Lauderdale, hung out for the week and I hitchhiked back to Arizona. 

This is the 22 year old 6’, 159 pound me during spring break in Ft Lauderdale. The year was 1964.
With John Hatfield in Ft. Lauderdale

The hitchhike back to Arizona was not quite as direct as NYC to Florida although I got a promising start. From Ft. Lauderdale I got a ride with a Georgia Tech student and stayed the first night on campus in Atlanta. Even had burgers at the legendary Varsity drive-in where the all black carhops paid to work. "That's what I like about the south." in the words of the immortal comic and singer Phil Harris. That's sarcasm, by the way.

The next morning the student whose name I don’t remember delivered me to the highway west and warned me not to take rides from negros. "It just isn't done." he told me. 

I did pretty well till I found myself by the side of the road in West Memphis for the entire frigid night. If that wasn’t the coldest I’ve ever been it’s close. When I couldn’t get a ride west I took one with an elderly African-American gentleman who was heading to St. Joseph, Missouri. The irony isn't lost on me. It wasn’t remotely in the right direction but I would have ridden back to Jersey to with Hannibal Lecter if that’s what it took to get warm.


Blacks Crossing said...

Good God, Steve, you write well, and have some great stories to tell. And everyone who played a guitar - folk or otherwise - during the day, remembers the song reference from John Denver's Leaving on a Jet Plane of your title. I even played it with my crummy six string.

What is totally cool is that you had these most incredible experiences but that you actually have photographs that don't seem the worse for wear. What year was that Volkswagen? Looks like mine that had a hole in the back floorboard from leaking battery acid.

Many a comedian would no doubt identify with your audience reaction while opening for Hoyt Axton.

Your ending line "It wasn’t remotely in the right direction but I would have ridden back to Jersey to with Hannibal Lecter if that’s what it took to get warm" is a real keeper.

Finally, I notice that even Ft. Lauderdale, you are wearing a nicely pressed shirt with jeans and flip flops (as opposed to cowboy boots). Flip flops just don't work in Taos during winter, do they? Otherwise, not much has changed, Steve. Thank goodness you are posting these stories. I suspect several weeks of all-nighters wouldn't be enough time.

Muchas gracias, Amigo!

John Farnsworth said...

Another winner, Steve! And what a great title for a book: DEAD PEOPLE SMOKING. MORE, PLEASE.

John Farnsworth said...

Oops, that should have been "More, please".

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