Steve Sherry's The Vagabonds of '74

Rocky Mountain Panorama and Perils
Home
Early '74 Montclair, New Jersey, Alf a most unusual friend
Cedar Grove, New Jersey my little town....Miss Munches House, Newberry's, Cedar Grove Pool
Hitchhiking To Albuquerque 1972, The Commune and Krishnamurti, University of New Mexico
Seeing Badfinger At Carnegie Hall, The Dugout, McSorely's Ale House
Seeing Bob Dylan, "The Poet Lad" At Madison Square Garden
South End Pizzeria, Van Gogh and Plans for California
Jersey Shore Recollections, Summer of '71. St. Louis, The Gateway of the West, The Road to Colorado
Rocky Mountain Panorama, Problems with the Pinto, Ritchfield Utah???
California! Lennon's Lost Weekend, Venice Beach, Malibu
Pacific Coast Highway, Panoramic Visions and the Magic Carpet Ride To Santa Barbara
San Francisco, The Shelter, The Warf and the Hole in the Wall Hotel
Sacramento, Jumping A Train? Wierd But True, The Shock of My Life
Oblivion, Reno, Good Samaritans and The Ghosts of Woody Guthrie, James Dean and Tom Joad
A Night In The Can in Kansas
University of Kansas at Lawrence and The Doobie Brothers
True Meditation Foundation of Human Understanding, "How Your Mind Can Keep You Well"
Vagabonds of '74 Part 2: Old Friend Ollie, Meeting Veronica, The Suburban in Montclair
BOSTON, The Leap of Faith and A Night in a Shelter
Sleeping in a Newspaper Truck, Cambridge Hippies and No Turning Back
Squatter's Rights: 269 BROADWAY, Furnishing Our Hippie Pad
269 BROADWAY becomes Miss Dale's Farm
California Hippies Arrive. Free Food from The Docks, Strange Encounters
Kenmore Square Blood Bank
Leonard Cohen, Patron Saint, Ali Defeats Foreman and the Great Squash Fight of '74
Vivid Visitors from New Jersey,
The Invasion of Boston University, Taking Over The Dorm
Jonathan Swifts, Harvard Square and The Sugar Shortage
Beacon Hill Gulf Gas Station and Reflections Atop The Longfellow Bridge
Christmas 1974 in Montclair, Returning to Cambridge, "13th Floor Panarama"
Bandages, Canes, Barroom Brawls and Spontaneous Conversation
Meeting Leonard Cohen
The Beginning Of The End and Saying Goodbye
Vagabonds of 74 Epilogue
Essex Catholic Memories: Crosby, Stills & Nash, Marty Liquori, Mark Murro, City Stadium, St. Benedicts, Dylan, Positively 4th St.
The Essex Catholic Wrestling Team 1971: 8 District Champs, Ting A Lings, Hitting the Town....
Essex Catholic Teachers and Students, Br. Harrington, Mr. Lamb, Mr. Taglieri, Mr. Zarro, Simon and Garfunkel
Random Events at Essex Catholic 1967-1971: Stuff Happens! Bomb Scare, JUG!, Abbey Road
Essex Catholic Senior Year 1971: World Trade Center Rising, The Staircase from "A Hard Days Night?" Meditation, MySpace: "Jersey Shore," Crosby, Stills and Nash Epilogue
The Jersey Shore: May, 2011 Brielle....Sea Girt....Introspection On The Sand.....
Essex Catholic Memories 2012

                            Rocky Mountain High
           Problems With The Pinto, Ritchfield Utah 

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In the morning we were eager to get going but had to wait hours for the office to open.
 

We were weary and couldn't sleep, hungry and couldn't eat and bored and couldn't go anywhere.
 
But finally they opened and after another hour we had our money.

We ate, gassed up and took off into the Wild Blue Yonder
without an inkling to what it would be like to take on the Rocky Mountains..........
 
 
At the foothills  our interest was piqued by the changing scenery.
 
The inclines became steep and we could smell the overheated brake pads of passing trucks.
 
There were Elevation Markers at roadside....
.......3,000 feet......4,000 and climbing......
 
 
 
There were abandoned Minor's Shacks that bore witness to the past,
weather worn and lopsided but still standing.
 
 
Historic markers dotted the landscape sharing information about Events and Pioneers.

Rivers cut zigzag patterns across fields where Ranch Houses nestled in far off glens.
 
 
 
Passing through a little town we stopped for a bowl of chile where locals discussed business with only an occasional glance at the 2 strangers in their midst.
 
 
Everything was different, the atmosphere, attitudes, the very air we breathed.
 
Did they really lead normal lives here?
 
They were sitting on top of Creation and the cares of the world seemed far, far away.

 
We sauntered back to the Pinto and kicked over the engine which was running rough, shuttering and wheezing in the thin mountain air. 
 
We drove on hugging the road as far to the right as possible, ogling Steep Gorges that fell away beneath us in breathtaking views.

 
 
With the afternoon slipping away we decided to start looking for a place to stay the night.
 
We now had money for a room but finding an inexpensive one
was a Major Consideration. We didn't want to end up broke again.

Eyes peeled, we spied a Motel and hobbled across the parking lot to the office where a man emerged from the back room.

"Can I help you?"

"Yeah, how much are the rooms?"

"One room, two beds, that'll be Twenty three dollars for the night. "

"Twenty three?"
I said as though considering the price.
In fact I thought it was a bit Steep (no pun intended).

Hoping for something cheaper I was looking to make a dignified retreat.

"Okay, thanks. We're going to go grab a cup of coffee and we'll be back."

I figured that was the best way to handle it.  Alf though, was not clued in.

"Why don't we pay now and then go get coffee?" he said, putting his foot in my mouth.

"No, lets go get coffee and then come back,"  I said in an instructional tone of voice.

"Why? Why don't we just pay and then go get...."

"No!" ...lets...go...get....a cup of coffee..."

A knowing look stole across his face and his inflection changes.

"Oh yeah, lets go get some coffee." ....... No subtlety at all.....
 
 
 
Embarrassed, I thank the Proprietor and we leave.


"Didn't ya pick up on the vibe man? I just wanted to get out of there."

"No, I didn't," Alf said and slumped into his seat as I devised a plan to avoid a repeat of what just happened.

"Look, if I don't like the next place I'll just say,
 
"Lets go get a cup of coffee, then we leave okay?"

 
A few miles down the road we asked about a room and were escorted to a series of cabin-like units.

The guy opened the door and we peeked in.
 
The room was small, unappealing and stuffy.
 
 
He then quoted a price higher than the first place. I knew instantly it was a "no go."
 
 
No need to linger, but there was a strategic moment of Dead Air.....
and I could immediately sense what was coming. 

 
I thought to myself, "No, no Alf don't say it...." 
 
but the Universe ground to a halt and I could almost hear The Twilight Zone music playing in the background and with exceptionally bad timing and in a contrived voice, Alf blurts out:

"Ya....wanna....getta....cuppa....coffee?"

There was no way I could avoid it.
I tried to purse my lips but a smile gripped my face, which in turn set off Alf and we both started laughing.

The owner of the place was not amused.
 
Here he was showing his rooms to 2 smart ass kids with the audacity not only to refuse the room but laugh at him too!

We made a bee line to the Pinto leaving him miffed.
 
We drove away laughing and it took a few minutes before I was able to speak.

"Man, what did you do?"

"What did I do? You told me to say that ya creep!"

"Yeah, but not like that!!!  Not when it was so obvious. Have a little class will ya?"

I looked at his bewildered expression and we started laughing again.
 
 
That was one of  Alf's gifts.
In a split second he could turn the tables on me and totally wipe me out.
 
 
 
We finally got a room down the road for the same amount of money.
 
Overtired, we hit the beds and went right out.

We never did get that cup of coffee.



                   
                                       Problems With The Pinto


In the morning we walked across the parking lot to return the key and were astonished at what we saw..........
 
Arriving after dark the night before, we had no inkling of the Magnificence  surrounding us.
 
It was as if we'd gone to sleep and awakened in Switzerland.

Snow capped peaks looked like works of art. Distances were Unfathomable.

I kicked the engine over as we lingered, taking in the  view, squeezing the value from the experience.
 
One day we would look back on all this with a really good story to tell......

 

....Hours later Alf  was fast asleep when I spied a train atop a trestle miles away in a distant Ravine.
 
If I didn't know better I'd have thought it was a toy under a tree on Christmas morning.
 

Crossing the Rockies was so Cinematic, so Symbolic, so Challenging. 
 
We had to adjust for hidden surprises like slopes that were steeper than they first appeared  and hairpin turns that required almost a Complete Stop.
 
 
Oncoming traffic was another concern and we'd find ourselves pulled over, scrunched up as far to the right as possible when larger vehicles lumbered by.

 
At night, driving without Street Lights made things all the more difficult.
To keep alert I began scanning the Radio for the few stations able to reach us over the surrounding peaks.
 
 
I struggled to keep awake but drowsiness was overtaking me.....then suddenly BANG!!!
 
The sound of rocks and gravel kicking up beneath us startled me.....
 
 
We were passing through a Construction Zone and rocks and debris were everywhere. I thought that Alf would jump up but he remained asleep in the back.........
 
 
Continuing at 30 mph,
I was ready to apply the breaks if the road got any more hazardous.
 
Then..... BANG!! 
 
Another rock shot up under the chassis, this time jolting Alf awake.

"Hey, slow down man!!"

"I am," I said. "We're in a construction zone, the road's all broken up."

I knew I screwed up. I should have been going even slower.
 
 
 
As things were, anything but a crawl was hazardous and the next few miles had me wincing every time a rock shot up underneath us.
 
 
I was Paranoid about being stranded because of a Flat Tire and my heart was in my throat but we finally cleared the Construction Zone.


Alf had gone back to sleep which was okay by me.  I was into driving now......
The shock pumped me full of adrenaline.

After an hour I happened to glance down and saw we were getting low on gas.
This was surprising since we refueled not that long before.
 
It was now a priority to find a gas station and after several miles I spied one and pulled in.
 
We got out to  stretch while the Attendant filled the tank and 10 minutes later we were rolling again.

We'd  passed through the most challenging terrain and were now in Western Colorado near Grand Junction.

I had my eye on the fuel gauge and was keeping track of the mileage and after another hour I could see the fuel level dropping faster than normal.
 
 
 
A half hour later....... I had to go with my observations.

"Alf, I think we've got  a leak. The gas level's dropping, I can see it."

"We don't have a leak," he said patronizingly.

"No, I think we do. We've only gone 80 miles and look where the level is. When we went over that bumpy road a rock must have shot up and put a hole in the tank."

"It's fine man, we don't have a leak!"

"Yeah? Well we'll see."

 
We then traded places.
 
I made myself comfortable in the passenger seat and drifted off to sleep.
Later, I awakened and snapped to attention,  fixing my eyes on Alf as he gazed out the windshield.

"Where are we?" I asked.  

"We're in Utah."

"Great, how's the gas?"

I looked over to see the level had dropped noticeably.
 
 
There was no mistaking it now, there had to be a leak but Alf was not impressed with my conclusion. He just took it in stride like he did everything else.

But I was responsible for the safe return of the Pinto
and I was counting on the 50 dollar deposit.
 
 
A leaky tank would have to be fixed and that would cost money and I had visions of our cash reserves drip......drip......dripping onto the pavement.

The atmosphere became tense, me overly concerned and Alf denying there was much of a problem at all.

When we again stopped to fill the tank I got down on my hands and knees to inspect the undercarriage but  couldn't see much without a flashlight.
 
We were in a hurry anyway, to put on as many miles as possible before having to stop for the night.



                                              

                                    Richfield Utah???


There was a town up ahead and we slowed as we rolled down the main drag.
 
After hours of driving in pitch darkness the place seemed surreal.
 
It was an older town with Stores on one side and a Refinery of some sort on the other.
 
 
There were ramps where trucks were descending and under Star Light, it looked like a Science Fiction Movie unfolding before our eyes.

To our surprise we came upon a Chinese Restaurant, went in and ate to our fill, down to the last grain of rice......
 
 
When we went back outside I decided to get to the bottom of the mystery once and for all.
 
We'd spent enough time in the restaurant for any leak, no matter how small, to evidence itself and there was enough light from the street lamps for me to see under the car.

Sure Enough !!!, there was a small puddle under the gas tank.
 
I squinted my eyes and stared, waiting for the tell tale sign of a drip from above and after about 15 seconds a drop hit the puddle.

I waited.....then another drop....then another......and another........

I reached out, dabbed my fingers and held them to my nose.....Gasoline!!! 
 
I'd been right all along.
 
 
Judging the size of the puddle against the time we'd been inside, it wasn't a major leak. It was steady though and could get worse.
 
I popped up from under the car and explained the situation to Alf.

"We've got to get to wherever we're going tonight man, we can't fool around with this at all!


On a wing and a prayer we forged ahead into Uncharted Territory and soon we were arguing again.

"You're overdoing it, man."

"No I'm not. We're in a really  screwed up situation. I'll have to handle this myself."

"No, we'll fix the @@*&*%+""?#  thing."

With what ##@#%%#@&^&  money? If I listen to you we'll never make it." 

Yeah? %%###*****^@#"

"Oh, thanks a lot, that ###@%$$##*** helps!"

"**%$#@**!!!

"**&%^$#@#" to you too !!! 
 
It was so much fun to be 20 years old........
 
 
 
 
At least we'd eaten and were able to stay awake but I watched as the Fuel Level dropped and also became more conscious of a knocking sound that had first started in Colorado.
 
At first we thought it was the Rough Terrain but the noise persisted. 
 
 
We pulled into another station and I was out of the car in an instant.
 
The Attendant, an older guy walked over and I explained the situation.

"We've got a leak in the tank. Can it be fixed?"

"Yeah, it can be fixed. First ya got to pull it off....... then ya gotta ......."

"We can't do that. We have to have this thing in California in a few days."

"Oh well, there's nothing I can do then."

We filled up and split. 
 
I swallowed hard but said little and an hour later we stopped in another Station where the scenario was repeated.

"How did it happen?"

"We were coming through the Rockies and we hit a bad patch of road.
We must've had a rock fly up and put a hole in the tank. What can we do?"

"Well I can pop it off there, let it dry then weld it. Have ya back on the road in a couple days."

That was all I had to hear.

"Okay,  just fill her up."

We made a bee line out of  there and as we picked up speed the knocking resumed.
 
In the stress of the moment I'd forgotten to check into what might be the cause. 
 
Up until then it escaped me that the knocking might have something to do with the leak.

 
 
It was getting late.
Were we going to find a motel or drive all night?  
 
 At the next station I jumped out and poked around to find the source of the knocking.
 
It didn't take much effort.

The muffler had come loose and I was able to wiggle it from side to side.
 
The strap had broken, causing the muffler to swing repeatedly into the gas tank which is what caused the leak.

I reached over and swung it to the right and sure enough, the edge of the muffler fit the damaged part of the tank perfectly.
 
It wasn't very wide but wide enough to partially drain the tank of precious fuel.

"Alf, I found the problem."

I ran to the office to ask for a Coat Hanger to stabilize the muffler but the woman behind the counter had a sour look on her face.

"I don't have a coat hanger," she said in a tone that left no room for further discussion.

Luckily, the young Attendant who was pumping gas was a different story.
 
 
He was about our age and he could relate to us and after Alf told him the story he wanted to help.

"Have ya got a coat hanger?"  I asked.

"Yeah,  follow me."

We went inside, he reached behind the door and handed me one.

I undid its original shape, then lying on my back twisted it around the tail pipe, anchoring it away from the gas tank preventing any further damage.
 
That was done but it didn't solve the problem with the leak.

 
As we assessed the situation, I thought I'd pick our Attendants brain.

"Is there anything we can do to fix the leak at least temporarily?"

"Yeah."

"What?"

"Soap."

"Soap? Will that work?"

"I've never seen it not work."  (exact words)

 
I asked if he had any to spare and he pointed to the rest room.
On the sink was a bar of  Ivory.  I washed my hands and returned to the car.

"Now get under there and smear it all over."
 
He didn't have to tell me twice.
 
I scooted underneath, wiped the tank with a paper towel and slathered a thick layer of soap over the slit.

Had the hole been any larger I don't think it would have worked but it was narrow enough for the soap to seal it nicely.
 
I pictured us having to stop every now and then for another application but the attendant assured us the soap would hold,  for a while at least. 

We drove off eying the fuel level carefully and when an hour had passed the needle had hardly moved.

"Son of a gun, I think its working!"

If we had to limp to California so be it but we were going to get there.
 
We had a whole bar of Ivory Soap and it's "99 and 44/100's percent pure"!

I don't know how that guy knew about soap as a leak stopper.
 
How many situations like that do you run into?
 
But his words kept repeating in my ear. "I've never seen it not work."

I guess people in Utah know how to improvise.
 
 
 
Once we had that worry behind us we realized how utterly drained we were.
 
It was almost midnight by the time we got to a Motel and fell on the beds exhausted.

The next morning we were barely able to budge and it was long after sunrise before I was able to consider getting out of bed.  
 
The first thing I did was run out to the parking lot to check under the car for signs of a leak.......Not a drop of gasoline did I see to my great relief.


It was afternoon before we were back on the road.
 
We'd gotten off  70 and were now traveling South on Interstate 15  heading toward Arizona and Nevada.
 
We chased the Sun through late afternoon until it dipped below the horizon and softened into a haze.
 
Oranges, blues, yellows washed through the Canyons of the Sky......
 
In the last 24 hours our trip had gone from Ominous to Manageable
and now was becoming downright Pleasant.
 
 
 
 
 
                                   An Amazing Vision
 
 
 
 
At nightfall stars appeared in great numbers and wanting to get a better look, we pulled off the road and climbed out of the Pinto........

 
It was like nothing we'd ever seen before.
 
The sky was so densely packed with Stars it was Beyond Surreal......

We stumbled around, our faces turned upward as Shooting Stars streaked across the far reaches of Space.
 
 
Each Star had a  Depth, a Hue, a Message........
 
It seemed as though I could reach up and stir them around...........
.......but that would have been Sacrilegious..... 

 
"Remember this my friend," I said to Alf.
"Years from now this is what we'll talk about." 

We lingered for awhile before climbing back into the Pinto and pressed on.........


     After midnight, in the distant reaches of the desert an Other-Worldy glow evidenced itself as we rounded a bend.
 
Over the next several miles it would disappear then reappear,
its Illuminations growing more intense each time it came into view.
 
Was it a power plant? Oncoming traffic?
 
Its reflections shot tubular beams skyward,  manifesting itself as a huge basin of light.
 
 
"That's gotta be Las Vegas!" 

 
An hour later we were rolling down the Vegas Strip........
 
Having just driven in from the desert the eye stabbing brightness was unpleasant and we shielded our faces.
 
We made a necessary pit stop to fill up and  Alf handled the chores. 
I had no energy to even get out of the car.

We pulled down The Strip and peeled out of Los Vegas.........
 
It was 3:30 in the morning............

 
 
 
 
                               California !!!
 

Once we were out of town Alf asked to change places and he climbed into the back to sleep.
 
To help fill the void I switched on the radio zeroing in on "Rock On" by David Essex. 
 
The screeching of bows being dragged across the strings of  Violins was the backdrop for the Lyrics.
 
It was one of  Alf's favorite songs, one that decorated the air during afternoon drives around suburbia.

I kept the pedal to the metal wondering as I  drove........
 
How far could it be to the California border???

As the Shadowy Desert world wizzed by I felt like a Marathon Runner looking for the finish line......
 
Then out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a sign:
                                                      
                                          
                                   
                                          Welcome To California
 
 
 
 
This is California???

"Hey Alf, wake up man! We're in California!"

I looked over my shoulder to see if he was stirring when suddenly a hand shot up over the top of the seat and we slapped palms.

Our arrival, though, was Anticlimactic.
 
No Welcoming Committee....no Starlets....Nothing.....!!!

In a moment Alf was sitting up, his hair tangled, his eyes barely open but he was smiling.

"We made it Ace!"

In the Good Energy of the night we pulled over and got out to stretch.

Breathing the air was a tonic and I took a seat on the fender with arms crossed staring into the darkness.

The door had been left open and the radio was playing
 
"La, La Means I Love You" by the Del Fonics........A beautiful tune........

I closed my eyes as the melody wafted all around me..............
............my emotions swimming to the surface.............
 
 
 
It reminded me of a girl I knew back in  Jersey and I savored it like a glass of wine,
not wanting to budge until the lead singer's voice melted away............

....there I was.....sitting in total darkness........Three Thousand Miles from home........
 
...........on the Precipice of  a Dream..........


Getting back in the car, we drove until dawn then pulled into a rest stop, sprawling across the seats like Castaways who washed up on a distant shore......
 
 
                                           California.....!!!!!

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