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  • I tried hard to make college a challenge, an adventure. Started papers at midnight the day they were due. Dropped acid. Smoked enough weed to get a ragged hack. Wrote a poem as a test answer in a philosophy class. Many small and pointless rebellions. And, after three semesters, decided I’d had enough.

    I headed back to my parents’ place in St. Louis and found work on a carpet cleaning crew run by an early telemarketer, until my father looked at me from his end of the supper table and announced

    My son, the carpet cleaner.

    Rick was a buddy from high school. We had both read Carlos Castenada. It seemed only natural that we head out on a quest for peyote and whatever else might come our way. He and I, we pooled our funds, bought a green ’65 Ford pick-up and a camper top.

    Our travels took us south and west from St. Louis to Big Bend down in Texas and then north and west again until we ran out of America. There we were in Evergreen State University up in Olympia Washington, home of the goeducks and banana slugs, flat broke.

    I got a job in a fiberglass boat shop rolling the sticky slurry of chopped mat and resin smooth in the molds. Eyes stinging from the fumes and hands chapped from washing them in acetone.

    Rick figured he’d go back to school but even the thought of innovative classrooms gave me the restless itch. Washington was lush and soft with rainbows. It was a land of dreams and visions. There, at the tail end of the 70’s, everyone was involved in one cause or another. I was reading Thoreau and suddenly the stark, bare bones of New England called me. All the way across the continent I felt the season’s tidal pull, felt the fierce joy of Maine’s spring reach and call.

    Heard, Boy, what the fuck are you doing here?

    Greyhound Bus was selling open tickets for $27 dollars. Go anywhere, ride wherever we go. I packed my one small bag, told Rick to keep the truck, bought a ticket, and climbed on board.

    In the eastern highlands of Washington State, Joe from Webo, Montana and headed home, got on board. We talked about ranching and his horses and his family’s place in their valley. He wondered about my rambles and the freedom to just pick up and go. In the dark, he talked about his brother’s time in Vietnam, and should he go into the service too, and what did a son owe his father. I thought of his place and envied his sense of it.

    It was the second night somewhere in the vast sameness of the Great Plains that she got on. The bus was dark and all the other riders asleep. She lurched as the bus dropped into gear and sat next to me. We skipped the usual questions, where did you start, how far are you going, she jumped right in the deep end, asked about God and what did I believe.

    There in the darkness, while the bus rattled and swayed, while the old guy in the seat across the aisle snored and the lady next to him pushed his head away very time it dropped on her shoulder, while America slipped by, we wondered together about belief and faith. Her voice was sweet and low, melodious. Beautiful. There was an amazing feeling of connection. Just the two of us, alone in the night, sharing ideas and truth while America snored and slept.

    Just before sunrise the bus stopped at a local station. I didn’t have the money to buy anything to eat but I wanted to stretch my legs. Day was a thin strip of red against the fading deep blue of night. My breath smoked in the clean cold air.

    The driver strutted back, hitched up his pants, called impatiently for the stragglers to hurry up. He had a schedule to keep. I walked back to my seat and saw her for the first time. She didn’t smile. Suddenly she was a chunky missionary with rough skin and bad teeth out to save my lost and wandering soul and I didn’t want any part of the situation. We didn’t speak again. She got off a few stops down the line.

    A few of us were on board for the duration. The long haul crew. An old guy in a ragged coat who asked me to walk around the block with him on a longer stop in Chicago. The canal was green and I didn’t figure out for the longest time that it was St Patrick’s Day. A sharp and weasel faced New Yorker who passed me his porn stash from his seat two rows back. We were ragged and worn by that time. Local riders, new comers, gave us as wide a berth as possible. Looked around for open seats anywhere but near us. Can’t say as I blame them.

    In New York I switched and got on board the bus to Bangor and all points north. I wasn’t in any hurry to sit down again so by the time I walked up the steps and got my ticket punched there was just the one open seat next to a young woman in a thick wool sweater. I figured she’d shrink away, scoot over just as far as she could. I thought about explaining that this was day five but it didn’t seem worth the effort.

    She took out her knitting and asked me how far I had to get home.

    That’s when I knew I was almost there.
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