Sure I'd been out of state before; hell I'd even been to a foreign country, though in retrospect Canada seems a hell of a lot more foreign now than it did then. The reality is that I'd never been beyond the plains to that point, that even my Canadian experience only amounted to visiting Kenora and Winnipeg, two of the most ordinary, unremarkable and flat as a pancake cities in North America.
So as we hitched our way across the grasslands of western Nebraska and began to catch sight of the Rockies of Colorado, I was stunned at what magnificence I'd been missing all my life. But stunned or not, by the time we reached Colorado Springs I was exhausted and starving and had no idea how to remedy either. Lucky for me I had a tour guide along that knew how to scrounge and after a few short hours, we were firmly placed in single bed rooms in the local YMCA with boxes of dumpster donuts to snack on for the night.
I don't remember the cost though I do recall the stark white room smelling eye-wateringly of pine-sol and looking more like a monk's quarters than a hotel; the crucifix and bible replacing the usual television and soft core porn movie selector box being a dead giveaway as to what the letters YMCA actually stood for.
But no matter, I'm not for or against any religion much less those that come with an incredibly cheap room and solid night's sleep in the prone position. I'd caught a few winks to that date, but crushed in a back seat of a car with an exhaust leak whose owner was moving from a farm town in the Dakotas to a ranch town near Pike's Peak. My poor carcass was barricaded between the canvas duffels of dirty clothing and the well-used electronics that probably comprised every personal possession our driver owned. I could hardly bitch, a ride's a ride. But between the coughing incessantly, the taste of tin getting stronger by the minute, and the muscle cramps from contorting my body into baggage mode, I was awakened after every few moments of shutteye.
We headed south upon the next morning's sunrise, toward Albuquerque where we'd turn due west for the last leg of the journey. The rides became shorter and shorter as the day wore on, some only a few sparse miles at a time, but each having a piece of local gossip in common. Hippies were not welcome in the mountains of Colorado; and as it seemed a young biker was just a hippie with a dirty, cut up jacket, we were two of the very targets mentioned.
Rumors of local hoods travelling in pickup truck packs on the hunt for "longhairs" were told by nearly everyone we met; dangerous fellows who would beat to unconsciousness any suspect of either gender they thought to be an infestation on their sacred lands, and then sheep shear their precious hair from their heads; I suppose in some kind of reverence to the natives’ "scalping" ritual.
It was the late 60's and hippies were then what piercers are now, or whatever the current "fuck authority, I'll look how I like" community calls themselves these days. There were communes springing up all over, but as hippies were just as tasteful as anyone else, the tended to choose remote beauty over proximity to shopping when they decided where to live in sexual freedom. The result was that Colorado among a few other states had an inordinately high hippie population, and the residents were not happy about having weirdoes invade their properly dressed and weekly bathed population.
Nothing actually happened to us as a result of this anger, as luck would have it we never did see a truckload of high school dropouts with baseball bats and hedge trimmers roaming the highways; but when I hear all the clatter about how hard the new generation has it because the general population thinks cock rings and clitoral jewels are not made to be on display at local supermarkets, I have to laugh out loud. Been there, done that, bore me to tears.
We were perhaps a hundred miles out of Pueblo Colorado when the skies became increasingly foreboding and a brisk and frigid breeze began to force my bare skinned fingers to find shelter from the oncoming storm. We'd had no luck for an hour, in fact we'd not seen but a few dozen cars in all that time, a couple of whom had at least given us the finger as they drove past. It was better to be recognized as human pariah than to be ignored altogether we joked in a much more crass fashion than this.
And then an old pickup truck slowed well before our position and sort of creeped onto the shoulder as if the driver was having a slow motion heart attack and wasn't sure whether to drive on or stop and meet his maker. It was a white stepsider, but not white because someone in Detroit had requisitioned another colorless vehicle. The white was primer and the method of application had been a cheap bristle brush, 3 inches wide by the look of the strokes.
It sat for a few moments about 50 feet from us while the single occupant looked us over, an old man in a wide brim Stetson, the hat almost bigger than the driver's head. In fact the only reason he could wear his hat inside the truck was that his eyes were barely above the steering wheel, and I had every reason to believe that he was seated on a big city phone book to boot.
He slip-clutched so that he rolled in our direction by a partial mile per hour, and we watched him nearly grinning as there was no other traffic and only the roiling of the mammary clouds to distract us. As he got closer I could see his face, a weathered old coot in the style of Wilford Brimly or Richard Farnsworth, a silver mustachioed real life cowboy who was obviously deciding something of great import.
Once he finally reached our position and motioned us to open the passenger door, we were enlightened to his quandary as a large caliber revolver lay on his lap, his left trigger finger toying with the curved sliver of metal as he spoke his terms.
There was a storm a'comin, and a bad one at that. It'd be a monster blizzard and we'd surely die if left in it alone. We were near 50 miles from civilization in any direction and within an hour would be unable to walk anywhere in any case. So he felt it his obligation to not simply pass us by...but he didn't trust us all the same.
So if we would be ok with his holding a pistol on us all the way, he was traveling to Santa Fe and would be pleased as punch to give us a ride.
Ask me now and I might have a totally different answer, but ask a teenager who had butcher knifed the words "born to lose" into his own arm and there was no question. Of course we'd take the ride, we were immortal as should have been obvious by the fact that we were on this trip at all.
As always Denny got his choice of seating arrangements and wouldn't ya know it, he chose the window so my flesh and blood might serve as a buffer in case the old man got crazy and put off a few rounds just for fun. That was fine though; at least I had something to do as the driver had one arm occupied with the bullet flinger and was unable to take care of things like shifting the floor stick and changing the radio station.
I'd never seen a drive-in liquor store until I'd ridden through New Mexico; the whole concept fascinated me in that innocent Midwestern boy sorta way. One of my favorite things to do was dine at a drive in as I grew up in a time when roller skating car-hops delivered frosty mugs of root beer and greezy burgers and fries. After noting the window attendant at a package store drive through, I could imagine mom and pop after a hard day at work parking at an auto eatery where a young, pretty, bikini'd chick might stroll up to the driver's window with a clip on tray and whisper in her best Marilyn Monroe voice, "less filling...or more taste"?
After the old man had warily dropped us off, the old man who had for hundreds of miles watched our movements at the end of a loaded pistol while only occasionally letting his gaze drift onto the snowpacked roads we’d passed over, we waved bye bye and pointed toward Arizona.
The last ride of the day was another pickup but we could only inhabit the uncovered back, so there we rode; both curled into the fetal position to stave off the swirling 30 degree winds and doing our best to catch a few hours of sleep while we had the opportunity.
It was an all night ride and a few hours nap, but I duly remember the beauty of waking in a bright red and purple sunrise, surrounded by hundreds of lodgepole pine and pinion trees all covered in a fresh layer of snowflakes. It was Flagstaff Arizona and yet another turn to the south as I had relatives that I was certain would help us out with a meal, a bath and a bed for a day or two before our final slide into the left coast.