Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thoughts from 1968

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:inflationaryvehicles.
A friend of mine is flying to Los Angeles. She and her significant-other will spend 4½ hours getting there, including a stopover in Chicago. It brings to mind my first trip to southern California. I was 18 and it was an adventure. I hitched a ride with a friend; Rich had to report for duty at a military base in Sacramento.
We left Western New York in a blizzard, in Rich’s 1964½ Mustang, something Lee Iacocca morphed from a Ford Falcon. To save money, we were going to share the ride driving straight through to LA. The car rode like the Ford Falcon it was- as if it had no springs or shocks.
Before we left, we bought two loaves of Wonder Bread and a couple of jars of peanut butter and jelly. We made PB&J sandwiches, placing them all back into the bread bags, two loaves of meals for the trip.
A huge bird, of unknown origin, smashed our windshield in Tennessee; we lost a muffler in Arkansas, and saw a blazing barn fire at 2 AM in Oklahoma. Still on rte 66, we spent hours and hours, crossing the panhandle of Texas, amazed at the size of it all.
While one of us drove, the other would try to sleep; the front bucket seats weren’t roomy and didn’t recline far. We took turns sitting in the back seat with our legs stretched out on top of the driveline “hump” down the middle of the car, feet propped on the center console beside the driver. There seemed no comfortable position in which to snooze.
Exhausted, stunned by the heat, both of us sweating profusely in the non-air conditioned little Ford, we recalled that a day and a half before, we couldn’t keep our windshield wipers free of ice.
I had horrendous indigestion from the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of peanut butter and jelly, washed down with warm Pepsi. The second loaf of Wonder Bread and PB&J began turning into heavy, colorful, goo in its bag. It smelled surprisingly bad when opened. I don’t think rolling around in the car with the heat helped any.
We splurged one night, basking in twin, lumpy, air-conditioned and non-moving beds in an Albuquerque motel.
We imagined we were as carefree and daring as Tod and Buz from the TV show Rte 66, after all, we were on rte 66 and we were two guys. Carefree we weren’t though, we had to keep moving, or we would soon become penniless vagrants.
It got hotter when we hit Needles, California and cooler, back down in the lower 80’s, when we neared the coast.
We spent more money than planned; our pooled resources were used up, repairing the Mustang, and for the motel.
Back East, Rich and I frequented pool halls in Western NY. We played for money and most of the times, won enough to shoot all evening, and often eat out afterwards as well.
We spotted a pool hall a few doors down from a pawnshop in Van Nuys. I was going to stay with relatives in the LA suburbs and didn’t want to show up with no money. I hocked the only thing of value I had, a big old camera. We figured we would make some cash hustling at the pool hall, then I would get my camera back and Rich could buy a meal or two on his way to Sacramento. We counted our cash, then saved a ten-dollar bill out for gas, if the unthinkable happened, Rich could still make Sacramento by his appointed time.
We learned that Van Nuys pool shooters are very good.
I rang the doorbell at my aunt’s house with a quarter in my pocket. My aunt and uncle took pity on Rich, fed the both of us and he drove on to Sacramento.
Today, I would probably take a plane to LA, but I savor the ride we took in that Mustang. We drove most of rte 66 when it was still a vibrant highway with a thousand gaudy tourist traps, miles of sand, rusty-layered rocks, and at least one snow capped mountain.
I could have done without the peanut butter and jelly.

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