Steve Sherry's The Vagabonds of '74

Oblivion, Reno and Points East
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
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                               Ever been to Oblivion?
                            Easy to get there but you never come back
                            Sooner or later, you too will crack
                            Ya dig what I'm trying to say?
                            Ever been to Oblivion? Oblivion USA

                           
                            Now you can talk of how good it feels
                            To see the Rio Grande 
                            Or rave and rant about breathtaking sights
                            Away in some far off land

                          
                           But of all the places you've been to
                           You could never stay
                           Except my friend in Oblivion, Oblivion, USA

                          
                           We stopped to stare in each other's eyes
                           In the rain when the sky ran away
                           Guessing at the change in weather
                           And the words we were trying to say

                           
                           But all that rolled off our tongues
                           Was the horror of a permanent stay
                           In the graveyard of time, down, down the long line
                           To Oblivion USA......


 
Along the road, a sign pointed the way back to the Interstate and mercifully,
it wasn't far.

We stuck out a thumb and a Hot Shot in a yellow El Camino screeched to a halt.

"I'm going all the way to Reno, get in!"

 
We tossed our bags in the bed and climbed into the cab, the three of us scrunched together.

"What's your name man?" Alf asks, extending his hand.

"Name's Earl, man."

Eyes on the horizon, Earl accelerated and we took off for Reno.
 
 
He looked like he just walked out of Central Casting, a 1950's dinosaur, part cowboy, part  hipster and part hick.
Trinkets dangled from the rear view mirror and there was the mandatory air freshener.

He didn't take kindly to the Peterbuilt that had just blown by and got right on his CB to let him know about it.

"Hey, how 'bout that Peterbuilt that just passed the El Camino on I-80?

What did he want, a confrontation? Alf and I wondered where this was going.

"HEY, how bout that Petertbuilt on I-80 that just passed the El Camino !!"

He got no response so he hung the mouthpiece back under the dashboard.

"There's a lot of work in Reno." he said.

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yep, I'm going to see what I can get into. Lotta work there."

 
We wove in and out of traffic as Earl made small talk and entertained us with his philosophies.
I just sat back and listened. All I cared about was making good time.

"I'm gonna have to stop for gas," he said, pulling down an Exit Ramp into a Gas Station and up to a pump.
  
 
Alf announces he has to use the restroom and gets out, but finding the door locked, goes around to the back of the building............
 
Moments later, a  frantic figure emerges, arms and legs pumping furiously..........
 
Alf was being chased by a tiny Yorkie barking up a storm and nipping at his heels.
 
 
It looked absolutely ludicrous and Earl was amused, smiling, fixated on the situation........

Alf recovers and faces the Yorkie ending the pursuit.

He gets the keys to the rest room and a couple minutes later, emerges just in time to receive another scolding from the Yorkie. 

With an  embarrassed look on his face, he hops into the car and we pull out of the station as the little dog stomps victoriously around the parking lot.
 
 
 
     East of Lake Tahoe, the El Camino zig-zagged through traffic until we arrived in Reno.

The dismount was short and sweet.
Earl pulled over, wished us luck and disappeared in the direction of a large sign that read:
 
               
                    "Welcome To Reno, The Biggest Little City In The World"

 
 
  But the invitation was lost on us. Alf and I were only passing through.

We ran across the street and bought a couple burgers which we instantly devoured, licking the wrappers clean.

We shuffled along the guardrail of the Interstate for forty yards, dropped our bags and stuck out a thumb but a ride was not forthcoming..... 
 
 
 
              
                 Strange Encounter
 
 
Half an hour later we see a lone figure approaching, cowboy hat, boots, jeans, the whole shebang......

"Oh no, here comes competition." I said.....

As we already knew, when it comes to hitchhiking  "two's company and three's a crowd......"

He draws closer, head down, hands in pockets, acknowledges us with a quick nod and passes by without breaking stride. We look at each other, shrug and watch him disappear down the road...... 


A while later a car pulls over way down the road and we begin a half-hearted jog hoping he isn't playing the old trick where you run fifty yards only to have the car pull away at the last second.
 
 
It's happened before.  We finally get to the car and open the door.

"I'm not going very far but I can get you down the road a few miles."

We decided to take the ride and piled in.
 
 
Striking up a conversation we were just about settled in when a lone figure appears on the horizon......the guy from a few miles back still plodding along with the same determination. 

We blow by and he never looks up, just keeps his head down and his back to us.
I turn and watch as his silhouette disintegrates in the distance.........

Five miles down the road our driver pulls off the Interstate to head north.
 
It wasn't one of our better rides but it did what we wanted it to do, got us out of a place where we weren't getting rides anyway. 

We'd been hitchhiking for another half hour when upon the horizon appears a figure, hat pulled down, leaning into the wind.......
 
 
As he draws closer we can hear his boot heals clacking on the asphalt.........
At the last second he looks up and nods. We step back and he breezes by again,
down the gray highway...........solemn, dignified, determined...........

Like us, he was "gettin' down the road" but didn't feel the need to lift his thumb.
He wasn't asking anyone for anything but his progress was steady and real.
 
Coming from Reno, maybe he'd lost everything he owned at the gambling table.
Whatever his situation was, he was dealing with it and we were impressed by his grit.

  
 
                       
                                  Good Fortune Finds Us
    
     It was late in the afternoon and we were concerned with the "sleeping issue," not wanting a repeat of the previous night.

Maybe we could hit a Truck Stop or latch onto a ride that would last all night or maybe, heaven forbid, we'd have to sleep out on the desert shivering our asses off.

In the near distance, sitting like a cheese box on the horizon, is a Cafe decked out with a Coca Cola sign and billboard advertising their menu.
 
 
We still had a few bucks so we made our way over with the thought of getting something to eat.
The place was empty except for one customer, an older man sitting on a stool sipping coffee.  

Behind the counter was a middle aged guy wearing an apron who greeted us as we walked in.
We sat down and perused the menu, deciding on a couple bowls of chile. 

"Two bowls of chile, coming right up!"

After devouring the chile, saltines and draining our water glasses we engaged in small talk with the two men. Taking a shot in the dark, I asked the owner if he knew of any place where we might jump a freight train. 

"We're looking to jump one heading back East."

"Where, back East?"

"New Jersey."

Not rattled in the least by the request, he thinks for a minute, then asks his other customer for help.

"You know any place Jimmy, where they can hop a train?"

They put their heads together and tried to come up with ideas.
 
 
These were rural people, living out in the wide open spaces where the thought of jumping a freight train wasn't all that outlandish.
 
They bandied it about for a minute while our counterman thought more seriously about the question.

"Ya know, I used to jump trains too. Ya gotta be careful. 
 
Sometimes hobos crawl into boxcars and the door slams shut and they get locked inside and they find them dead in there a week later. 
Ya gotta bring a  two-by-four and wedge it in the door so it can't close all the way.
I know, I used to ride the trains. You gotta be careful."


     While this was going on 3 young locals had come in to pick up food they'd ordered "to go" and soon they became part of the discussion.
 
It was good to see that total strangers were willing to take the time to help us out and we were open to what they had to say.
 
I paid the tab as Alf and the three locals stepped out the door, then picked up my duffel bag and went out to join them.

Before I could say or do anything, Alf's voice cuts across the parking lot. 

"Come on Davey, we've got a place to stay."

"Oh man, great!"

Alf had made short work of our dilemma and now was introducing me to the locals as if they were long lost cousins.

"Davey, this is Rickey, this is Billy and this is Carlos. Guys, this is my buddy, Davey." 

We squeezed into their car and drove along a winding road past matchbox houses randomly located like dice tossed upon a crap table.
 
A few minutes later we arrived at their dwelling, a one story cubicle surrounded by endless desert.

We followed them inside and were shown the living room where we would sleep, me on the couch and Alf on cushions on the floor.
 
While our friends disappeared into the kitchen to dole out their meal we made ourselves comfortable.
 
Alf and I were still hungry but couldn't possibly ask for food so we just sat in the living room grateful to just be off our feet.

When they returned from the kitchen, we were each handed the next best thing to a meal, a bottle of beer.
 
When you're as tired as we were, a single beer can really hit you where you live.

We mellowed out while being regaled with stories of sexual adventures with a local girl they all seemed to have had flings with.

We listened to local gossip and more anecdotes, nodding approvingly to be as polite as possible.

When the house grew chilly they stoked the fireplace and got a nice fire burning.
 
I could tell it was something they did all the time, not just for guests and in a few minutes the fire was roaring......casting a glow around the room........

Between the fire, the beer and the comfortable sofa, I was in hog heaven but if that weren't enough, one of them slipped a record on the turntable and soon mellow music began playing in the background.
 
These guys may have been yokels but it was evident they knew how to live.
 
At that point the question of imbibing in reefer arose but knowing that it wood jam my head, I declined.
Alf, however, followed them into an adjoining room, leaving me alone,
staring at the fire........

In solitude, my attention was brought back to the music welling up around me.
 
It was the song "If" by the group "Bread"
 
Their music was Melodic and Intelligent and the background undulations transported me someplace far away.........

My Anxieties disappeared and my inner being focused totally on the song.......
and the Experience became Holy.........
Holy, because our quest was Holy........
    Holy, because the desert was Holy.......
         Holy, because the pain was gone.......
               Holy, because everything I ever desired became clear in that little house......
 
 
the Fireplace........ my struggle to be Understood.......
my loneliness........ my friendship with Alf........
all we'd been through........ all of it converged in that Sacred Vortex..........

 
 I listened as the music faded........
 
then looked around.......and seeing there was no one else in the room,
I became Invisible and tumbled into a Deep Exhausted Sleep..............

                                              
                                               *********************
 
 
 
     In the morning our hosts offered breakfast and soon bowls of oatmeal were served.

The plan was for them to give us a lift back to the Interstate.
There was just one problem: Money.
Between us we had just a few dollars. I pulled Alf aside.

"Hey, we've got no money! See if you can get them to toss us a few bucks. We're gonna need it!"

Alf's survival mechanism went into gear and a minute later he emerged from the kitchen signaling everything was okay.
He was able to get them to throw us 5 bucks, a windfall...................
Their generosity went on and on..........
 
 
 
A few minutes later we were stuffing the duffel bags into the trunk and we were driven past the little Cafe right up to the On Ramp of the Interstate. 
 
There was a flurry of handshakes in the chilly morning air and with a final wave we watched them disappear back from whence they came.

There was no pretense with these guys, they were the Salt of the Earth who happened to do everything right for us.

They didn't hesitate to take us in and what could have easily been a nightmare in the freezing desert had been transformed into a cozy interlude with conversation, beer, a fire and good music.

Something about the way we were afforded those comforts stuck with me.......
It was pure.....right down to the oatmeal, the 5 dollars and the ride to the Interstate.
 
I never knew what town it was but somewhere out there on that Nevada desert there are some really good people.

Man, they did us a solid........


                          
                                         *************************

   
The sun hadn't risen high enough to warm the desert and we were shivering,
stomping around to get feeling back into our feet.
 
This went on for an hour until a passing motorist hit the break and we ran full tilt to the car.

The icy door handle, the relief from the cold, the cramming of bags into the back seat were the lead in to the next round of conversation with another stranger.....


I was emotionally spent and disappointment was again overtaking me.
I felt I was returning home empty handed, having accomplished nothing, but by then I was too tired to care that much. I just wanted to get back home......


As the scenery went skittering by the window, I sat scanning the horizon........

Moments before, I perceived a speck in the distance that seemed to have grown larger.
 
Deserts are filled with mirages but this particular one seemed to be animating, morphing into human form.......

"Alf, look!........look who it is!"

In the glacial air we could see our Cowboy Friend from the day before plodding along.
 
We had no idea where he might have spent the night but there he was, perambulating into eternity, unaware of who had just passed him by..........

Woodie Guthrie, James Dean, Tom Joad and Everyman rolled into one........
walking that lonely highway..........

In another moment, he was gone..........

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