31 March 2008

William Schmidt on Kerouac's road (5) - in technicolour

My "Journey Around America" was both picaresque and picturesque. I was still young enough to cry when I left my girlfriend and to spend the night traveling in the front row of a Greyhound holding close to a girl I just met on the way to New Orleans. She gave me her address and told me to call visit when I came to Vancouver. Out of New Orleans, I met another girl who asked me to sit with her. I was going to Houston and she to Dallas. She offered to let me stay with her there, but the wife of a middle-aged Jewish couple (she kept screaming, "Look, Ira, he looks just like a blue-eyed Jesus") told me her sister was picking them up and I could spend the night with them. I said goodbye to the girl from Dallas and went to a rough cowboy bar near the bus station and had my first Lone Star beer. When the sister showed up, Ira said goodbye to me and I was left alone with some very big, unfriendly fellows.
Walking back to the bus station in the growing dusk, I was told to watch myself, that it was dangerous around there after dark and that I could be killed for my backpack and my boots. I looked into the shadows and in my young boy's imagination, I could see it happening. I decided to take the bus onto Denver at midnight. In the bus station, a sweet, nervous man struck up a conversation with me and told me he lived nearby, that I could come to his house, that he would play piano for me and I could shower. As badly as I needed to shower, I had to decline the offer.
Overnight to Denver. I was going to sleep in my tent in a campground and after touring the city that morning, I took a city bus to the edge of town. The campground was a desolate camper and trailer park where I was offered a plot by a drainage ditch. I sat up my tent, and lay down to rest, but I felt absurd, and so to Boulder, meeting a girl on the bus who said I could sleep on her balcony, and I did, poorly, the first night in my new down sleeping bag. She took me to breakfast and that night to a bar where they refused to serve Indians where I played pool and bought beer for Native Americans.

The west was different, and I was in love. Lonely roads hitching through Wyoming and Montanna, sleeping in a small, dingy room in Butte where I was offered a job as a bouncer in a cowboy bar. It must have been a joke. Buffalo, antelope, deer. On to Yellowstone where I rented a car with a psychologist from South Africa, a mathematician from China, a physicist from India, and a college student from the U.S. They thrilled me with their enthusiasm ("I want to see Old Faceful", cried the mathematician while the physicist flipped the through radio stations like a madman, irritating the psychologist who drove). When they left I camped and hiked along the Yellowstone river on the last day the park was open, scared and lost, sloshing through sloughs and crashing through tall grass, singing and clapping my hands to keep away the bears. Oregon where I fell asleep on the lawn of the University in Eugene, waking to a fellow playing guitar. Marijuana had been legalized, though the restaurants had signs that said, "No Smoking or Toking." A big, beefy guy offered to take the guitar player and me back to his house where we would make spaghetti and drink from a gallon jug of wine. In the morning, we made a big, lazy breakfast and he called in sick to work. Later, his wife drove me out to the highway. Vancouver. I went to see the girl from the first night on the bus, a month gone by, but she was not home. Lovely neighborhood. A hippie family picked me up and we ate together. They told me I must go to Vancouver Island and they drove me to the ferry station. We glided through cold water, piney islands, past Joni Mitchell's house someone said.

I met a girl who is going to cross the island to meet some friends. We would go together we decided. It was dark when we de- board. We met a diamond miner who took us to dinner and told us he had a room for the night; we could sleep on the floor. In the morning, we hitchhiked across the island, up winding roads through lovely wilderness, one Winnobega passing us again and again without picking us up, rides with loggers and fishermen, down toward the wild Pacific. The beach was littered with giant logs. We pitched a tent and made dinner. All about the beach, fires glowed. Communion.

The next day we went to a dock where a boat would come to take her to Cat Island. She asked me if I would like to go. Cat Island. Young and fearful, I said no. The boat arrived, she turned and waved. Later I learned from a local fisherman that Cat Island was a commune of artists and professors. Then I was alone, the way back much harder. I shared a room with three women in Seattle more worldly than I, who scare me wickedly.

Down the coast. California, hitchhiking in big sunlight, catching a ride with a fellow in an open van who picks up everyone he sees, a rolling party. In San Francisco I stay in Haight/ Ashbury in a big old Victorian house owned by a religious sect. At night I go to North Beach, to City Light Books, to jazz clubs, and walk those Beat streets. Hitching to Yosemite, I meet a girl. We get a ride in a semi driver taking a load of construction goods to the park. We set up my tent but that night it rains, filling the tent with water and mud.
Reno, Nevada, The Biggest Little City in America, where I gamble for the first time. Free drinks, I lose more money than I can afford. Sleep in a youth hostel on the outskirts of town. Sick for three days, burning fever, hallucinations. I go to hospital. Broke, I begin the last leg of my journey. New York City. I get off the bus at 42nd Street at noon. Suddenly, a cute girl takes my arm. "You want a date?" At first I am puzzled. "Twenty for me, five for the room." "You can't do that to hippies," I tell her, and with a laugh she is gone. Then all the money is gone.
Home. I must find a job. I am about to enter another world.
text and pictures by William Schmidt


Anonymous said...

This is a great story Bill, in the color that I prefer: Technicolor
Your contribution to The F Blog is important and I am glad that you share these stories about youth. I think many of us can recognize situations and feelings that you speak of.Many thanks

J. Karanka said...

How cool, really reminds me of Kerouac now... like everybody was messing around the States in Greyhound busses picking up girls ;-)

Sean Cusick said...

That America is no longer here. I was about 15 years younger than Bill but never got to experience that country, though I would have if it was there. Hitchhiking had become illegal by the time I was at the age to cross the country. When I did so it was in a car with my girlfriend. These pictures and these words make me long for a place that was right in front of me.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your work, Bill. Wish I could have been there those days.

cafe selavy said...

Thank you all for looking at these. I am embarrassed by the writing errors in the narrative, the verb tense shifts, etc. Think of English as my second language, if you will. Ho!

I have put up two more of these color photos and have told a couple stories about them on my website. I don't think I made too many writing errors. I just don't like to edit very much.

I wonder how Kerouac did it, drunk, without editing.


Anonymous said...

These are gorgeous photographs, like they weren't at all intended to be so. The narrative is compelling, I want to be there. I wanted to see the girl, though, the one you mentioned last, the one that went to Cat Island...

Love the work, much appreciated, thanks for sharing.