CHAPTER 1 - THE FIRST TEN MILES
The trees on Centre Street wavered with the warm spring wind under a blue cloudless morning sky, as an Arborway trolley rattled on the warped steel rails toward Forest Hills. Two long-haired men and a young blonde woman in a peasant dress sat on the wooden seats of the near-empty streetcar. Their travel bags rested at their feet.
When the twenty-one year-old Bostonian unfolded a map of America, his friend pointed to the West Coast and said, “I can’t believe we’re driving cross-country in a station wagon.”
“A ride’s a ride, plus we can sleep in the back.” Sean defended the station wagon, since his father had bought a new one every three years until his six kids were old enough to drive their own cars.
“We could have waited for a Cadillac,” argued AK.
“A station wagon was all the Drive-Away company had going to Northern California and I’m all about CALIFORNIA DREAMIN, instead of DIRTY WATER.”
“I second the motion,” added Pam. The blonde nursing student was dead set on leaving today. She was hot to reach her fiancee in Mendocino. “We’re leaving Boston. Today. Five days from now we’ll be in Sacramento.”
“Boston to LA would have worked for me.” The pianist had a friend north of San Diego.
“No cars were going there for another week.”
“What if the owner says no?” asked AK.
“It’s too nice a day for him to say anything other than ‘yes’, plus we already signed a contract with the DriveAway company. Here’s our stop.” Sean pulled the stop signal and the driver halted the trolley car.
The three got off at Boynton Street and proceeded down the sidewalk. Sean knew this neighborhood well. His grandmother had once lived there.
The pick-up address of 166 Boynton was a three-story family wooden dwelling. A middle-aged man in a startlingly white tee shirt stood on the sidewalk. A porcupine crew cut topped an erect posture and his chino trousers had been ironed to a razor sharpness.
“Shit, he looks like a Marine.” AK pushed back his long hair.
“A career Marine too.” Sean respected the Corps. They fought hard.
“He won’t be happy to see you hippies.” Pam’s blonde hair flowed over her shoulders and her filmy dress swayed with the twenty year-old’s easy gait.
“Just smile and make nice.” Sean directed his advice to the nursing student and said to his friend, “Let me do the talking.”
Seeing the three of them the older man tapped his watch and said, “It’s 9:10. You’re ten minutes late.”
“Sorry,” said Sean.
Men the car owner’s age and conviction preferred an apology to an excuse.
“I suppose ten minutes is better than twenty. The name’s Jake Moore.” The forty year-old seized Sean’s hand.
“Please to meet you.” Sean met the firm grip with strength and his knuckles did not buckle under the pressure.
“That’s my wife.”
An older woman sat on the porch. Her black dress testified to a period of mourning. Sean bowed his head in respect for her loss. She bit her lower lip and gazed at her folded hands.
“My condolences.” Sean wasn’t asking who had died, but the deceased had most certainly been a close family member.
“Thanks.” Jake eyed Sean’s shoulder-length hair, regarded AK’s ponytail, and then warmed to Pam’s free-flowing blonde locks. “So you’re my driving team.”
“That’s us.” Sean released his hand and introduced them by name.
“You from Boston?”
“My grandmother lived a couple of blocks away on St. Joseph’s Street. My grandfather operated the trolleys on this line.”
“Half. The Yankee side came over on the Mayflower and my Nana sailed over from Galway at the age of 14 in the year of the Crow. Coming down the gangplank she broke her shoe and Nana said she arrived in America like Cinderella, but worked as a maid in a Marblehead mansion.”
“Which is much better than slaving in a Connemara potato patch. My grandmother came over in the Year of the Pig. What about yours?”
“The Year of the Crow.”
Their shared heritage and accents narrowed the generation gap.
“We thought the year had something to do with Chinese Astrology, but my grand never told us yes or no.”
“Those women from the West of Ireland carried their secrets to the grave.”
“What’s your family’s name?”
Sean told him.
“There were four daughters. Older than you, but my uncle served with in Korea,” he said Uncle Jack’s name.
“I heard about Captain Jack. His platoon fought off hundreds of Chinese Communists to save the retreat column from Chosen Reservoir.”
“He was the only officer to see the dawn.”
“Never had the honor of meeting him.” Jake glanced over to the driveway. “That’s the car.”
His car was no normal family station wagon. Its chrome details had been polished to a high sheen and the hubcaps were for high performance.
“Better than nice.” Jake strolled over to the station wagon and popped the hood. “This 1967 Ford Torino has a 428 FE V8 with a three-speed automatic transmission. I was lucky to buy one with a Cobra-Jet engine.”
“Wasn’t the same engine in Steve McQueen’s ride in BULLITT?” AK stepped closer to admire the V-8.
“Ford stuck a 390 into that Mustang GT, which had a lighter chassis than the Torino.” Jake launched into a minute-long monologue extolling his car’s speed. “This baby can do a quarter-mile in 14 seconds.”
“Cool.” Sean nodded his head with appreciation. “My only car was a 1964 VW bug and its top speed was 85.”
“85?” Jake laughed, shutting the hood.
“Downhill with a tailwind in the White Mountains.”
“You know telling someone about speeding isn’t the best way to persuade them to give you a car.”
“I’ll make sure that he keeps the speed down,” Pam assured the owner.
“You know I had hoped for someone more like me to drive the car, but there’s not many of me around Boston these years.” Jake inspected their eyes.
“More than you think.” AK and Sean had smoked a joint this morning and he wished he was wearing his sunglasses. “South Boston still supplies the Marines with warm bodies.”
“Sounds like you protested against the War.” His statement was an accusation more than a question.
“Yes, but when I was 17, I tried to enlist in the Marines, but my mother wouldn’t sign the papers.”
“She was against the War?”
“No, my mother is a devout commie-hating Catholic, but she loved me too much to allow my fighting overseas in a war and threw the papers in the trash.”
“After which you became a hippie?”
“Something like that.”
Sean spared him the story of how an older friend had returned from Viet Nam in 1968, preaching Muhammad Ali’s creed that no VC had killed anyone in the USA.
“There’s a lot of ‘something like that’ going around.” Sadness tainted every word and Jake’s fingers twitched a request.
“Let me see your driver’s licenses.”
AK and Pam handed over their out-of-state driving permits.
Sean’s ID had been issued from the Boston DMV.
“Any outstanding warrants or violations?”
“None.” Sean answered, although last autumn he had been arrested after a high-speed chase in a VW from Pam’s college. His Uncle Jack had gotten all the charges thrown out at court. He knew the judge.
“Well, the faces match the photos.” Jake handed back the IDs. “We drove out here for a family visit. Normally I’d drive back, but my wife can’t bear driving through those cornfields again.”
“It is a long ride.” The distance from East Coast to West Coast was almost 3000 miles.
“You ever gone cross-country before?”
“I haven’t driven it, but I hitchhiked back and forth twice. The first time was in 1972. A Super Bee picked us up in Iowa and the driver drove 100 or better most of the way to Reno. My friend and I completed the trip from Boston to San Francisco in about fifty hours.”
Pam and AK dismissed this claim with matching smirks.
“Fifty hours sounds fast, but it averages out to about 60mph.” Jake stepped away from his car.
“The driver was in a hurry to reach LA, so we didn’t stop much.”
“People have been hitchhiking since Jonah rode in the whale. When I was stationed in Key West I hitchhiked to Boston every long leave. Everyone who picked me up told a different story, almost like they were trying to change their lives, if only for the time I was in their car and that’s the beauty of the open road. You become someone different with a new name and a new past. You get out of the car and you go back to who you are. There is no escaping the future of you.”
Jake’s unexpected insight constructed a connection between college students, hoboes, tramps, soldiers, beatniks, runaways, and hippies traveling the highways of America.
“No one believes my story about making the trip in fifty hours.”
“All stories are true, if interesting.” Jake clapped Sean’s shoulder. The War in Vietnam was coming to an end and they had lost their hatchets instead of burying them. “As for driving cross country in fifty hours, I’d appreciate if you take it a little easy on my car.”
“Driving fast in America is against the law now.” Pam opened the station wagon’s rear door and examined the car, which seemed to pass her inspection.
“These idiots in Congress think driving 55 will save gas and free us from the Arabs. There’s no shortage of gas.” Jake’s face reddened with anger.
“I agree with you.” Sean had seen the tankers riding low on the outer roads of Boston Harbor.
“How you planning to go out West?”
“We’re driving straight from here to the Rockies. I’ve always wanted to see them.”
“They’re beautiful this time of year with the snow up high.” His voice became dreamy, then he said, “You be careful on the road. Nothing the state troopers like better than arresting hippies for speeding.”
“Thanks for the warning. The station wagon should provide good camouflage for a passage through the Midwest.”
“Why are you driving cross country?” Jake stared Pam, who was braless under her paisley dress.
“Going to visit my fiancée.” Pam answered an continued, “He’s an internship at a hospital north of San Francisco and I’ll be working at the same hospital as a nurse in training this summer. Harry and I met in high school.”
“You and he are high school sweethearts like my wife and me.” Jake glanced to at woman in black. “Somerville High School. Class of 1950.”
“What about you?” Jake directed the question to Sean.
“Xaverian 1970. My high school sweetheart and I broke up senior year. I just graduated from BC with a degree in economics.” Sean volunteered this information to change the subject from young love.
“What about a job?” Jake asked, as if he had served in the military without counting days or years.
“I drove taxi to pay for college. I probably worked too many hours past midnight and graduated at the bottom of my class.”
“His diploma read ‘sin laude’.”
"Without honors," Sean answered.
AK had told the same joke at Sean’s graduation party and his father hadn’t appreciated the Long Islander’s humor, yet his mother had beamed with pride after the graduation ceremony. Her mother had not finished grammar school back in the Connemara. Jake felt the same way and said, “Hey you graduated, but what about getting a real job?”
“I’ll be a substitute teacher at South Boston High School come the fall.” Sean had taken no education classes in college, but his older brother’s friend had been elected onto the Boston School Committee and a teaching spot had been a reward for Sean’s having working on the campaign.
“I’d rather face a banzai charge than a room filled with teenagers.”
“Yeah, I feel the same way, so when AK’s friend invited us out to Encinitas, I figured to take one long last beach vacation. 65 is mandatory retirement age for a teacher, so I will be working well into the next century.”
“Yes, they don’t have a twenty and out.”
“No, they don’t.” Jake continued to hold onto the the keys and Sean said, “We appreciate your letting us take your car.”
“And I guess I appreciate your driving it. It has a big engine and guzzles gas, so I’m giving you an extra $100 for the trip, but I want you to fill the tank up every time the gas gauge hits half and use the highest octane from Sunoco.” He handed Sean the keys.
“Yes, sir.” Sean smiled to Pam and AK. They were minutes away from hitting the road. “We’ll see you in six days.”
“Make it seven and you’re in for a treat; the Great Plains, the Rockies, the high deserts, the Sierras, and finally the Golden State of California.” Jake had obviously driven the road more than once.
“And don’t forget the Mississippi.” Pam beamed a smile revealing her happiness to be heading West.
“It’s a big country.”
Jake and Sean signed the matching contracts from the drive-away company and he told Pam, “Make sure they drive my car safe.”
“I’ll keep them between the white lines. You have my word.” The blonde stored her bags in the car and sat in the rear.
“You do that, Pam.” Jake studied her face for a few seconds, as she rolled down the window. “She reminds me of someone.”
“To me she looked like the singer from The Band Named Smith.”
“They had a hit with BABY IT’S YOU.”
“Yes, they did.” Sean was surprised that he knew the group, but Gayle McCormick was very attractive. “See you in Lodi.”
He tossed his canvas bag in the station wagon, sat behind the wheel, started the engine, and reversed out of the driveway. After beeping the horn they headed onto the Jamaica Way, the engine strong and smooth under the hood.
“For a second I didn’t think Jake would give us the car.” AK unfolded the map of the USA.
“Because of your admission to being a traitor.”
“I was telling him the truth, besides Pam had him wrapped around her little finger.”
Sean drove around Jamaica Pond in the slow lane.
“The power of feminine wile.” The blonde smiled at Sean in the rearview mirror.
“Something never to be underestimated.”
“Only a fool would do that.”
Pam breathed in deeply.
“This car even smells new.”
As a child of the suburbs Pam liked things clean.
“And why wouldn’t it be? Jake’s in love with his car.” Sean rolled down his window. The morning smelled of Spring.
“Car love is a man thing. Sometimes it seems like my boyfriend loves his car more than me.” Pam tied a scarf around her head to keep her hair from getting snarled in the wind.
“What kind of car does he drive?” asked AK.
“A 1974 Mustang II.” She sounded disappointed. “It’s red.”
Sean didn’t mean it, because Ford had dumped a Pinto engine into the classic Mustang to sacrifice power for fuel efficiency. “He drive it cross country?”
“No, he sent the car out on a train and flew to pick it up in San Francisco.”
“That’s one way of crossing the country.” AK rolled his eyes. His Pontiac Firebird’s low gas mileage and bald tires were two reasons for driving Jake’s Torino.
“I wish we were that smart.” Sean didn’t like her fiancée and his choice of a car reinforced his disdain.
“Are you making fun of Harry?”
“Not at all. My VW is on its last legs and I don’t have a girlfriend to love.” Sean steered past the hospitals of the Fenway.
“Funny.” She didn’t mean it.
Sean cringed at stepping on her toes this early on a long trip.
“Wonder what Jake listened to on the radio.” AK pushed a button to hear Wildman Steve cuing up America’s surprising # 1 hit ROCK THE BOAT by The Hues Corporation. His fingers plunked at an imaginary keyboard. For a longhaired white boy from Levittown Long Island he had a lot of soul.
Sean obeyed the traffic lights through Boston and he smiled upon seeing the sun flashing off the Charles River, as they turned off Storrow Drive.
A bearded hitchhiker stood at the Brighton Mass Pike exit. His leather jacket was a patchwork of different colors and his jeans were torn at the knees. Sean veered over to the breakdown lane and braked a hundred feet before the tollbooth.
“What are you doing?” Pam asked with alarm.
“Stopping to give him a ride.”
“He could be an ax murderer.”
“I’ve hitchhiked everywhere in the States and never ran into an ax murderer.”
“There’s always a first time.”
The ragged longhair waited by the rear passenger door. Closer up he was older and rougher, but karma overruled Sean’s apprehension.
“Next week I’ll be hitchhiking down the coast of California. If I don’t pick up hitchhikers now, then I might be stranded in Big Sur for days. Let him in.”
“Okay, but I’m not happy about this.” Pam slid over to the driver’s side. “If he starts anything, I expect you to take care of it.”
“I promise I will.” Sean reached back to unlock the rear door.
“Thanks for stopping. The name is Bill.” A thick Southern accent slithered from his chapped lips. “Where you going?”
“California.” Sean had friends from Dixie. Not all of them were rednecks.
“Damn, I always wanted to see the fuckin’ weirdos out in Cally.”
“Weirdos?” asked AK.
“Yeah, Satanists, drag queen, queers and fags.” Bill was no hippie.
“Where you going?” Sean hoped only a few miles.
“I’m joinin’ a fuckin’ carnival for the summer. We travel from Biloxi to Texas and up into the wheat fields. I specialize in bumper cars. How ‘rubes’ drive them says a lot about them.”
“How so?” AK turned around to face Bill
“Cautious ‘straights’ play it safe. Aggressive ‘squares’ go for fucking head-ons. You look like in-between.”
“In-betweeners get sandwiched by aggressive ‘squares’. They don’t stand a fucking chance in life. That’s you.”
Bill had been in the car for less than two minutes and Sean already regretted having stopped for him.
“Where you coming from?”
“I spent the winter in a fuckin’ loggin’ town up north in Northeast Kingdom.”
“Vermont.” Sean was a native New Englander.
“That’s right. Them damned Yankees don’t give a rat’s ass for crackers like me. Last night I was in a bar on a river. They had a live band.” His hands draped over the seat. The knuckles were scuffed with scabs. “The pansy-assed guitarist wouldn’t play FREEBIRD. Fuckin’ Yankees.”
Pam sighed in disapproval of his favorite adjective.
“Sorry, Sunshine, if I offend you, but I was brought up twenty miles past the fuckin’ wrong side of the tracks.” He slid closer to her, as the radio station segued to HOLLYWOOD SWINGING.
“Why you listening to this fuckin’ disco shine crap?” Bill barked over his shoulder.
“Fucking disco shine crap?” Sean regarded their passenger in the rearview mirror. His face was swollen from hard drinking and well-aimed lefts and rights had flattened his nose.
“Yeah, I hate fuckin’ disco.”
“This isn’t disco.” Kool and the Gang’s song had been a big hit at the 1270, where gay boys loved dancing with straight boys and the deejay spun the best dance records in Boston. “This disco shine crap is climbing the R&B charts and the band is a thousand times more hip than that BAND ON THE RUN bullshit by that loser Paul McCarthy.” “Loser? The Beatles are the fuckin’ best band in the world.”
“Yeah, HEY JUDE sucks.”
“Does not, you Mick sword-swallower.”
“What’d you say?”
“You heard me good, you fuckin’ potato-eatin’ fag.”
Sean seethed behind the wheel.
“I’ll handle this.” AK had a much cooler head and Sean shut his mouth.
“You’ll handle what, Jew Boy? What? You’re not a Jew? I can spot a yid as soon I see their fuckin’ hooknose. Sorry, you can love this music all you want, but queers and niggers play this fuckin’ music and you’re just a sand nigger.” he spat the words fag and nigger with a long-seeded hatred.
“That’s it.” Sean stomped on the brakes and the station wagon swerved to a stop in the breakdown lane The Charles River Bridge was another hundred yards ahead and westbound cars whizzed past switching lanes for 128 North or South.
“Why you stoppin’ here?” Bill menacingly leaned forward.
Sean revved the big V8. The Torino remained in drive and he told Bill, “I’ll tell you why. Jack Kerouac wrote in ON THE ROAD that the biggest challenge for a hitchhiker was proving to the driver that he didn’t make a mistake picking him up and I have to admit I made a mistake picking up you. Now get out of the car.”
“Get out of the car?”
“He really means it.” AK was of the same mind about Bill.
“This isn’t the fuckin’ end of the road.”
“It is for you and us. I don’t like queer bashers or racists.”
“I fuckin’ knew it the second I got in the car.”
“That you two were fuckin’ queers.” Bill opened the door and sneered, “Girlie, you know your boyfriends are fudge packers.”
“Even if I was, I wouldn’t fuck you with an elephant’s dick.”
“You fuckin’ fag.” Bill started for Sean, who blocked the drifter’s hands from encircling his neck, as AK leaped out of the car to grab Jim’s leather jacket.
The pianist mightn’t have been a fighter, but he manhandled the roustabout out of the car and flung Bill across the breakdown lane. The vagrant tumbled down the embankment and AK chucked the his bag after him. A lucky toss hit Bill’s shoulder and he completed his descent down the gully.
“Go.” AK jumped in the front.
Pam shut the back door Sean’s right foot hit the gas. The Torino accelerated from a standing stop.
“Nothing’s broken.” Pam leaned over to examine AK’s knuckles.
“I’m not much of a fighter.”
“Unlike some people we know.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“No, you just stopped for a crazy ax-murderer. I hope you learned your lesson. He had his hands all over me.”
“Sorry.” Sean turned his head.
Pam’s eyes looked into his.
Her hatred seethed under her skin.
“Let’s pretend it didn’t happen.” She tilted her head to the side. Blonde hair covered one side of her face and the twenty-year old nursing student pushed the strands behind her ears. “No more hitchhikers. This isn’t ON THE ROAD. And one more thing. Could we keep the use of ‘fucking’ to a minimum?”
“Your wish is my command.” Sean gripped the wheel and AK raised the volume of the radio playing James Brown’s PAYBACK PART 2. The Godfather of Soul had a wicked rhythm section.
Pam was right about hitchhikers, but then women were always right and men were always wrong.
They crossed the Charles River and Sean slowed to pick up a ticket at the tollbooth. He thanked the attendant and laid a light foot on the gas.
“Now we’re on our way.”
The traffic on the Interstate rolled at 60. The Torino had a full tank of High Test and easily passed a procession of slower cars.
Five days from now would be his 22th birthday.
Sean stepped on the accelerator. The needle on the speedometer hit 100. The other cars on the road stood still, but none of other cars were going to California and at this speed the Golden State was only thirty hours away.