Another round where I had done something to upset my father which I had grown to realize may have been one of the easiest things I had been tasked with early in life. You know at that time in my life there was no way one could even make a smidgen of measurable effort to help me understand my Dad. It wasn’t until much later in life (30 years later) that I had some insight into what made my father tick. He was so very strict, hard, and able to flip to anger on a dime and did so often. Not to pass the blame as I too had fallen into a pattern which I’m not going to say I was unmanageable, but I was unmanageable! I guess I had reached the last straw, one in which I could imagine no positive outcome; let’s just say I wasn’t going to stick around to see the end of the movie. I can’t even remember what it was that cast us into the knock-down pick your son up and throw him through the front screen door in his underwear scenario on that lovely morning. This may seem a little over the edge but you must remember that back in the early 70’s life as a child was very different than it is today. Parents were more “hands-on” in a sense, if you get where I’m going with this. This may not have been too bad but what really changed it for me is we lived on a corner lot and our front yard was where all the high school kids were picked up and dropped off from the school bus. I would say some of them were my friends but at this point in my life I wasn’t really popular and granted I may have known a few of them, but calling them my friends well that was a stretch, but still here I was in my underwear very pissed and probably crying, laying on the ground in total view of, well…I think you get the picture.
It was 2:30 in the morning, I was 14 years old, I had $1.79 in my pocket, I had clothes on my back…let’s change my scenery. I was off to Pennsylvania where I had a grandmother who had recently lost her husband and well that sounded like a good spot for me. Oh, yea did I mention I lived in San Antonio, Texas at the time, which was only 1,567 miles away? What could possibly go wrong? Again, I know I said this previously but in the early ’70s things were a bit different and a 14-year-old could really hitchhike from San Antonio, Texas to Erie, Pennsylvania and not raise some kind of red flag along the way. At the start I was thinking it would take me three to four days to get there, but I hadn’t really thought this out very well. I made it to the highway after walking about an hour with a plan of hitchhiking once there. The problem was that it was now about 4am and well there just wasn’t much traffic and of course, it was dark. Not to get discouraged but it was important that I get out of this general area (San Antonio) before the “warden released the bloodhounds.” So, I walked, and walked, and walked. As the sun started to come up, I knew I had walked at least 7 miles as I had made it to my high school and I was thinking “There is no way I can walk all the way to Pennsylvania,” and it happened…my first ride. A middle-aged woman pulled over and asked “Son are you ok?” “Oh yes ma’am, I’m just trying to get to my aunt’s house because my mom is at the hospital with my brother.” As you can see a salesman was born. “Ok come on, where does your aunt live?” “Just by the Mall at San Pedro Ave. I should have told her in Erie, Pennsylvania but I guess I was off my game a bit.
Well, I bet by now you are wondering if I gave up, licked my wounds, and returned to my cell block pleading for mercy from old Pops. You would be wrong. Granted I did not arrive in Erie in three to four days, even with a detour and being dropped off at New York University in New York City at 3am on a Saturday morning. In fact, it took me almost two weeks to arrive at the address I had for my grandmother, where as I soon found out she no longer lived. This is where we will start the next blog – I will introduce you to the lady living at Grandma’s address.
You know in life everything is a lesson and to say I gained knowledge on this adventure would be a complete understatement. I mean you have to eat right and where does one with no or very little money find food while traveling on the road? Well of course grabbing a candy bar here and there was always an option, not paying was the best option. Grocery stores were good as I could shoplift just about anything and I really learned that it didn’t take much and I was very grateful for even a little something. I also found out that at the rear of restaurants they were always throwing food out and it really wasn’t bad, you just had to sort a little. It was best to get noticed doing that because then out would come a loving soul with a fresh meal. I learned to get noticed, if you know what I mean.
As one can imagine I got to meet people from all walks of life, some I wish I had not met but for the most part they were generally very interesting and most definitely educational. For example, there was the college student driving you guessed it a VW Bus and yes, it even had a flower on it. I rode with him for two days all the way to Tennessee. He smoked a lot of hand-rolled cigarettes and I learned that he had a stash of coins in his glove box which I helped myself to almost every time we stopped and he left the van. Then there was the lady who pulled over and as I opened her passenger door and jumped in, she politely pointed to a small bat in between the seats and asked me, which was really a statement, “We aren’t going to have any trouble are we?” “No”, I replied as she also showed me a small pistol that she had tucked into her door panel. Needless to say, I chose a shorter ride with her.
You know somewhere I was told that hanging out at the truck stops would be a good way to get rides and wow that really made sense to me at the time. But not so fast. While I don’t want to give truckers a bad name, in my first experience traveling with one I ended up in a position that felt very unfamiliar and also very dangerous, a sick in your stomach-type dangerous as sexual advances were made going down the road at 70 mph and 10 feet off the ground and there I was, at best 100 pounds locked in a truck with a man who could be my dad’s age and all I can think is “Can this even be happening?” Well, let’s just say I really learned to pick my drivers going forward and I also stayed closer to the ground (as in cars) just in case I had to jump.
Sleeping was usually the easiest part of the adventure. I would just go off the road into a field or brush and sleep. To this day I can feel and picture waking up lying on my back in tall grass with such a peaceful feeling, except for that one time. Just like usual off I went to find a spot to sleep. Now, remember I was from Texas and I had made it to Ohio where it was now Fall and cold. I woke up because I felt wet and cold only to find that it had snowed and I mean good snow too. Half my head was buried. Again, I adjusted. I learned that cover was needed when sleeping outside in the Fall up north. Location, location, location!
Eventually I was offered a ride again this time with a college student saying “I’m going to the University of New York. I can take you that far.” Well, that was cool. I knew New York was close to Pennsylvania. Bad decision though, as yes New York may be close to Pennsylvania, but New York City was on the wrong end of the state! The next part is somewhat of a blur, but I do remember running from a very large guy in downtown New York City at 4am who wanted to know what I had in my backpack. No, he did not catch me! Now I don’t know if you ever tried to walk out of New York City on foot, I really had no idea where I should be going, but I did it and even rode a subway thingy.
What an adventure! What I was thinking was that this was way better than school. I mean where are you going to get the kind of education that I had received over the last two weeks? Surely not any school I had ever been to. I had it all figured out right up until I found out that Grandma wasn’t at the address I had and there I was standing on a porch trying to explain to a very old, lonely woman who I was, where I had come from, and why I was there when she politely said “Well you can stay here if you would like….”
Stay tuned for the next part of the adventure!