Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Eleven
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 4, 2008
It was around midnight when Sean passed through Detroit and stopped for a cup of coffee. It was cool and calm in the motor city. There was the occasional cry of a cop siren, which Sean thought sounded like cats in heat. Someone was racing their hot wheels around and around the block somewhere near, like a rat on a treadmill. A radio blasted from a pink convertible passing by. In short, it didn’t seem any different from Baltimore. Sean had a couple mugsful of steaming pick-me-up and left. The road outside of town was quieter and much darker. He rode until he was ready to drop, then conked out in his sleeping bag.
He was up at dawn. He smiled, thinking, Canada today! By mid afternoon he saw the bridge, pedaled across it, and got in line at customs. There were a lot of funny looks directed his way. Perhaps it was the long ponytail, the bandana around his forehead, or the bright red beard. But then again, it could have been the bicycle, basket in the front, the bright yellow panniers and the sleeping bag over the rear wheel. Anyway, he waited his turn. “You’ll have to bring your bike inside,” he was told. The old clerk gave him some forms.
“Country of origin?” “Purpose of trip?” “Length of stay?” “Date of return?” “Address?” “Birth date?” “Name and address of employer?” Sean rushed through it and handed it back to the clerk, who told him, “Have a seat.” Another guy came out and took Sean to his desk. He questioned Sean about his plans, so he explained the purpose of his trip. He told him of his plan to travel across his country to the coast, and then head on down to California. The clerk’s face was expressionless. He wanted to know how much money Sean had.
“I have eighty dollars, why?”
“Oh, you know, we have to be sure that you have enough money to take care of yourself.”
“How much do I need?”
“A lot more than you have actually. We don’t want any more people on welfare.”
“Welfare? I’m just traveling through. I don’t need much money. I’ve got food, and I’m going to be visiting a friend in Toronto.”
“Well, I can see that you won’t have the same expenditures as most people, but the guidelines do ask that you prove self-sufficiency for the entire length of your stay.”
“What can I do? Go back to Baltimore? now?”
“Nah, it’s alright. I think I can make an exception, considering your circumstance.”
“Is that your stuff?”
“We’ll have to inspect your bags.”
“They’re alfalfa sprouts, I mean, seeds, for sprouting.”
“Honest. I needed some kind of greens.”
“Soybeans, and that’s granola, and that’s brown rice.”
“Hey, Bill, look at this I found in the basket.” Oh no!
“Smells funny, what is it?”
“Seeds. It’s just some more seeds.”
“Hmmm, what kind of seeds?”
“Well, actually, yeah, they are marijuana seeds.”
“What are you doing with this?”
“Nothing. I forgot I had ’em.”
“What were you going to do with it?”
“They’re just seeds. I thought I’d throw ’em somewhere.”
“Anywhere. Just alongside the road.”
“Why didn’t you do that before you got here?”
“I forgot. I just plain forgot.”
“Come with me.” He showed Sean to a small room. “Wait here.” Two men came in a few minutes later.
“Where are you from? Where are you going? What were you planning to do with the marijuana?”
“I wasn’t planning anything. I forgot I had it. It’s just seeds.”
“Remove your clothes.”
As Sean took off my clothes, he was immediately reminded of his pre-induction physical. The army makes you strip down to your underwear first. Then they run you around, weighing you, measuring you, taking blood. “Pee in this cup.” You fill out forms, and answer questions about your health. Then they line you up in a room and tell you to drop your shorts, bend over, and spread your cheeks. Kind of symbolic. Then this guy in a white coat takes a little flashlight and runs down the whole line, somehow looking into every butt hole, or pretending to.
“Bend over.” Oh no, not again.
“OK, you can get dressed.”
“What was that all about?”
“We had to look for drugs.”
“You’d be surprised what people can carry in there.”
“You’re right, I would.”
“Why were you carrying a deadly weapon?”
“Is this yours?”
“My knife. Yes. What are you doing with my knife?”
“This is classified as a deadly weapon.”
“What do you mean?”
“Anything over six inches is considered a deadly weapon. This is seven inches.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“What were you doing with it?”
“I brought it along for protection.”
“Protection? Against who?”
“No one. I was planning to do some camping. I thought I might need it.”
“What for? Well, I’d use it for hunting and skinning. And I thought I might run into a bear or something.”
“Do you know that you could go to jail for seven years?”
“No. I don’t understand. What for?”
“Possession of narcotics and attempting to smuggle a deadly weapon across the border.”
Jesus! I’m dead now. What a trip. I’ve barely gotten started, and I’m going to jail. How can I ever go back? How can I face people? Damn, I can’t even survive on my own for a week. What a god-damned failure I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Wait here, we’ll be back.”
Goddamn! what am I gonna do? Who should I call? God! I don’t want to go to jail. I couldn’t stand it. How can people live in a cage? I’ll go crazy. So much for wilderness!
They came back. “Well, you can go. We’re not filing charges. But we’ll have to deny you entry.”
“Of course. Thank you. Uh, what about my knife?”
“Sorry, but we’ll have to keep that.”
Shit! That’s such a good knife, too. The old clerk came in and took Sean back to his bike.
“You know, you can always cross at the next station.”
“What? Won’t they know about this?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, the paperwork won’t be finished for a few days. It might even take me a week to file it.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“You have a good trip.”
He gave Sean directions to the next crossing point, but by the time he was back on the highway it was already dark. He couldn’t find a safe place to sleep, so he pulled into a couple of bushes not far off the road, and snuggled into his sleeping bag with the bike chained to his arm. Try and get that! he challenged the world. He watched the stars, wondering which ones had life, and what they were like. That old guy sure was nice. After all that, there was one nice thing. I guess he approved of my little adventure. Maybe he just felt sorry for me. I’m glad there’s people like him.
He was up at dawn again, excited, full of energy. Canada today! As soon as he rolled up the bag he bungee corded it across the back of the bike, and took off. One mile after another he pedaled along. Push with this foot, pull it back up, and push, pull, push, pull, and don’t stop, keep going, don’t stop, and use your back, and push, pull, don’t lean forward, and push, pull, and push. Alright! I’m gonna make it.
“Get off the road!”
“Roads are for cars, that’s why I pay taxes.”
“Get outta my way!”
Middle finger salutes often followed these greetings. Sean cheerfully returned the feeling. His special contempt, however, was reserved for those mindless honking geese that followed him for miles, refusing to pass. One such goose was the one who shouted: “Roads are for cars…” as he finally roared past and pulled back right in front of Sean. It often seemed as though some of the idiots wanted to kill him. They came close. Sean wondered if he could shoot them. Maybe I could claim self-defense? They were threatening me with deadly weapons – and that’s assault. Blam! Blam! Blam! He started blowing holes in engine blocks. Blam! Got another one. Blam! Whoops. He’s still coming. Blam. Blam. Got the bastard. He tired of that game after awhile – the danger was too real. Besides, it was soon time for lunch.
The sign read: “Picnic Area. No Fires Except In Grilles.” He gathered kindling, broke up some thick branches, and boiled some water. Soybeans first; they take a long time. Then some brown rice. Unfortunately, without spices, butter, oil or margarine, it was bland fare. It was filling, however, and the ritual of building the fire and cooking gave him a pleasant rest. He sat for awhile after eating, sipping sassafras tea. No one bothered him. In fact, people seemed to be making a wide berth around him. He thought it might be his appearance, but his hair was neatly pulled back into a ponytail, and his beard was neat and clean. As he ambled over to the water pump to wash his pan out, the people there moved out of the way. He said “Hello,” and they helloed him back, but coldly. A boy asked him why he was riding a bicycle and he explained his trip again, while the boy’s mother kept a tight grip on him. Finally, she summoned up the courage to suddenly blurt out:
“I thought you might be one of those Charlie Manson types.”
“Uh, no. Why do you say that?”
“Well, you look so much like him. You just never know.”
Sean laughed. “You should have heard what someone called me once. I was walking toward a woman one night. Just before we would have passed each other, she pulled back, staring at me bug-eyed, and said: ‘Are you Jesus?'” The boy’s mother laughed.
“I see the resemblance. Better to look like Him, I suppose.”
“You know, I tried to convince her that I wasn’t Jesus, but I don’t think I did. She kept staring at me, even after I said goodnight and walked away.”
“Well, good luck on your trip now. Come on Jimmy, let’s get back to the trailer.”
Sean packed up, put what was left of the fire out. He heard the woman calling.
“Would you like some sandwiches? We’ve got way too many.”
By mid-afternoon it was hot. Sean pulled into a gas station to change clothes and clean up. He stripped down to a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Miles later, he realized that he’d left everything that’d been in his pockets at the gas station, including money. He backtracked real quick, but the station attendant said he hadn’t found anything. When God passed out brains He surely shorted me. Damn. Damn, Damn! He was stupefied, looking through the bathroom, under and behind everything, again, and again, and again. Fifty bucks, fifty bucks I couldn’t really do without, gone. My stupidity is beginning to even amaze me. Could I really do this to myself? Fortunately, he still had thirty dollars stashed in his shoe, so he decided to continue. What choice do I have anyway? he thought, I’m not going back now.
The next border crossing was close by. He went through almost the same rigmarole, until they got to the money business again.
“I have eighty dollars,” he told them.
“I’m sorry. That’s not enough.”
“But, that’s been enough before. I won’t be staying long.”
“That’s the rule. I don’t know who let you in before, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Eighty dollars won’t even pay for a hotel for two weeks.”
Why am I doing this? he wondered, not for the last time. At a phone booth in a supermarket parking lot, he gambled some money on a call to his old friend Lenny in Toronto.
“Hi Lenny, this is Sean.”
“Sean? Where are you?”
“Almost in Canada.”
“You are? Are you coming here?”
“Yeah, if I can ever get across the border.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
He explained the problem he was having and where he was. Lenny said he’d check into it, and to call him back in the morning.
“In the morning? What can I do until then?”
“I don’t know, what have you been doing?”
“I can’t roll out my sleeping bag here in a parking lot.”
“Don’t you have any money? Can’t you stay at a motel?
“No, not really. I don’t have that much money, I have just enough for food.”
“Sean, there’s nothing I can do until morning. I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK Lenny, thanks for helping.”
“Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, talk to you then.”
Now what? He sat for awhile, then got up and started riding the bike around in circles. He didn’t know what to do, where to go.
“Hello. Where are you headed?”
“What? Oh, hello. I’m trying to get across the border into Canada, but I’m having a hell of a time doing it.”
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“Nah, ‘fraid not. I haven’t figured out what to do just yet.”
“Why don’t you come to my place? You can stay there tonight.”
“Here, I’ll give you directions. By the way, name’s Mike.”
“Well, I’ve gotta go; see you soon.”
On the way to Mike’s Sean couldn’t help thinking that he might be making another mistake. Why should a total stranger take such an interest in my welfare? Should I be more cautious? I don’t have much money and my bike isn’t fancy. I can’t believe Mike is just a thief. Sean knocked on the door of a small, old house. Mike seemed surprised to see him, but welcomed him in and introduced him to his wife Carla. Sean was surprised. Mike seemed so young. Sean couldn’t imagine being married so young. After dinner they all sat around the tube watching the “Watergate” hearings. Mike was fascinated by the whole thing.
“Who’d have believed Nixon would be involved in something like this?”
“I believe it,” I said.
“Oh, you know, Nixon’s such a jerk.”
“It looks that way, now. But you know, I voted for him.”
Whoops! “You did? Why?”
“He said he would end the War. I didn’t want to go to Vietnam.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“You? But, how old are you anyway?”
“You are? I thought you were much older.”
Mike’s wife spoke up for the first time: “Yeah, Mike told me he had met an old man who was bicycling ‘cross country.” She smiled. Mike looked disappointed. So he thought I was some poor old man that needed help. How funny. As he was thinking about Mike’s error, he was still looking at Carla. She was smiling at Sean. Mike glared at her, and she scuttled off. “I have to clean up,” she said. Sean thought of offering to help, but the look on Mike’s face convinced him otherwise.
“Maybe I’d better get back on the road,” he said.
“Oh, no. It’s way too dark. I said you could stay the night. We have a cot you can sleep on. You should get a good night’s rest.”
Mike was up early for work, and Sean left with him. Before he left, however, he called Lenny.
“It’s all taken care of.”
“That’s a relief. How’d you do that?”
“I knew someone that worked there. He got the paperwork OK’d, but I had to take responsibility for you.”
“You’ll have to take a train to get here. I live in Scarborough. It’s a suburb of Toronto, and it’s not close.”
“I don’t understand, it won’t take me long to get there by bike.”
“Listen, I’m responsible for you. If you get into any trouble, my ass is grass. I don’t need any more problems in my life.”
“OK, OK. I’ll take the train.”
He got off the train in Scarborough and found Lenny’s apartment.
“Sean. You made it, I see.”
“Yeah. How ya doing Lenny?”
“Listen, I can’t talk now, I’m late for work. Make yourself at home. There’s food in the fridge and a T.V. in the bedroom. See ya later.”
Later they went to a bar and sampled Canada’s Moosehead beer. Lenny was involved in Canadian politics. He was helping to elect a Liberal Party candidate.
“I watched T.V. all day and all I saw were political ads.”
“Did you see anyone you liked?”
“I don’t know. There was this one guy from the Conservatives who was promoting bicycle paths.”
“That’s what you’ll find here. The most conservative of the Conservatives are more liberal than most U.S. liberals.”
“So you’re pretty happy here.”
“You bet. I’m getting to be part of the local government. How about that? Can you imagine me in a position of power?”
“Actually no. Seems a little frightening.”
“Oh, you. Still a little creep huh?”
“I’m doing fine. Better than fine actually. You wouldn’t believe how accepted I am here. And you wouldn’t believe how many people like me there are in government.”
“That’s why you’re in politics!”
“It’s a good reason, you little fucker, but no, that’s not the whole reason. I’m happy here. I’m involved in making things happen. People respect me. I’ve got power.”
“Why don’t you run for office?”
“Oh I will, I will, when the time’s right. Look, why don’t we head on home? I’ve still got to get up early.”
Sean was nervous when he undressed and climbed into his bag. He remembered what Lenny was like. He could tell he was still a horny bastard, and he could get violent. He remembered the way Lenny could react if he pushed him too far. They could be having a discussion on just about any topic, and if Sean didn’t accept Lenny’s logic, he’d smash his huge arm down on the table, and then he’d be up and screaming about how stupid Sean could be. He’d jump up and down like a little kid having a temper tantrum. I wonder if he’s still on tranks? But the night passed uneventfully.
“Hey, Sean? I’ve gotta go. Make yourself some breakfast, but take it easy on the eggs and bacon. It’s all I’ve got.”
“What’s this stuff?”
“It’s Canadian bacon. Didn’t you ever have it?”
“No, I’ve never seen it before. Looks like ham.”
“It’s bacon here. You’re such a babe in the woods.”
“Hey, I thought you were doing real well? As a matter of fact, I was hoping to borrow a few bucks.”
“No way. I don’t even get paid until next week. Listen. I can’t afford to feed you, I can barely afford to feed myself. Especially if I’m not getting anything in return.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it.”
Sean thought about it. I am imposing on him. What should I do? I suppose I owe him. I’d never have gotten across the border without his help. Can I really do it? He’s so repulsive. Damn. What else can I do? I do owe him. Damn.
Sure enough, when Lenny got home, really late that night, he seemed to be expecting something.
“Well, did you leave me any food? How long were you planning to stay? I really can’t afford to keep you.”
“Yeah. I know. Look, I thought about it, and I need to be going, but I know I owe you, and I need to repay you.”
“Oh yeah? How are you going to do that?”
“Anyway you want.”
“You know what I want?”
This was it. I’ll find out now if I’m repressing my attraction to men. Maybe I’ll enjoy it, but then again, maybe not. His best friend Bonnie in college had said that heterosexuals were abnormal; that bisexuality was the only real sexual freedom. He’d been in love with her, even though she was gay. She’d always implied that maybe she’d be interested if I was bisexual. “Well, come on Sean, let’s get some action here.”
He looked at Lenny’s huge butt and he looked at his limp penis. No, this wouldn’t work. Sean decided he just wasn’t able to do it, couldn’t fake it, and that was that. And, there was no way in hell he was going to suggest any other options to Lenny. Lenny said, “Just forget it,” and Sean got into his sleeping bag. Really time to go, he thought, and zipped the bag up to his chin.
Sean headed North, as in Great White. He was just leaving Toronto’s city limits, had, in fact, just passed the last streetlight, when he heard the cat-wail of his siren and a cop pulled in behind him. What could he possibly want? God damn! I’ve never been pulled over on a bicycle before.
“Could I see your driver’s license, sir?”
“For a bicycle?”
“I need to see some I.D. Did you know that you have to have a light on your bicycle to ride at night?”
“Well, no. But I do have a light, I just hadn’t put it on yet. It was pretty bright back there.”
“Yeah, I’m on a cross-country trip.”
“Mmmm. Well, O.K., here’s your I.D., Sean. Don’t forget to use your light.”
“Yes sir.” Strange. I wonder what that was about? I wonder if Lenny had a hand in that? Nah, I’m just being paranoid. Although, he did have to promise Immigration that I wouldn’t be staying long, in order to get them to allow me in. Officer McMurphy. Nice Irish name.
After awhile he set up camp off the road. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were incredible! He had never considered what it would be like to be so close to a lake. He built the greenest, smokiest fire he could without discouraging them. He sat in the middle of the smoke, without success, and it was hard to breathe in there. He gave up, got back on the highway. He rode until he started weaving. There was still some truck traffic, so he got off the bike and walked. Soon, he thought he heard footsteps. Just like in a movie, every time he stopped, the footsteps would stop. As he would resume walking, he’d hear the steps. These are not echos! The sounds didn’t seem to quite match his cadence and he could hear twigs snapping and leaves crunching too. He searched through his tools until he found his exacto knife – at least it had a razor blade. He used a leather thong to hang it around his neck. He kept walking, faster and faster, but the noise got louder. Just as he started to cross a small bridge, SPLASH! One hell of a loud splash convinced him it was time to get back on the bike. Fear banished his fatigue. He rode down the center of the road; there wasn’t any more truck traffic. Several miles away he saw a sign for a campground, still another five miles away, and he made for that. There was a ranger at the gate, and he asked if he could stay there. The ranger told him he could sleep on one of the picnic tables.
“What’s that around your neck?” he asked.
“Oh, I thought something might be following me, it sounded big, like a bear.”
“And you were going to stop it with that?”
“It’s all I have.” He decided not to mention the problems at the border.
He slept well, convinced that the ranger would notice a bear. When dawn crept through the trees he was back on the highway riding the white line on the edge. Trans-Canadian highways have no shoulders and only one lane for each direction of traffic. The force of the air being pushed by a tractor-trailer followed by a bus followed by another truck sometimes pushed him right off the road into the gravel, but he managed to stick to that borderline most times, like a wolf to a scared rabbit. He got used to it, and the truckers tried to give him a wide berth. Sometimes they couldn’t move over due to oncoming traffic, so he steeled himself for the blast of air and held on.
After a few days, he thought about human company again. His path wasn’t random, after all. Back in college, he had known a woman who had given him directions to a summer camp where she taught. He hadn’t known Lynn very well, but she’d been friendly and had encouraged him to visit when he’d told her where he was going. He found the turnoff for the camp and had reason to regret the decision. The road abruptly headed up a mountain. Oh well, at least it’ll be worth it to see a friendly face. Who knows? maybe something good will happen.
There was a bend in the road ahead when he heard a truck coming up the hill behind him. Should I get off the road? Nah, I’ve never had a problem before, why should it be any different now? I’m talking to myself! When have I ever argued with myself like this before? I know! I remember. I was wrong. I thought something was going to happen, dismissed the possibility that I could know something like that, and I was wrong! He pulled off the road just as the truck passed. It’s wheels rolled over the exact space he had been riding. The truck hadn’t moved over. Next time I’ll listen to that voice, if there is a next time.
He found Lynn at the camp and she was exited to see him. Her boyfriend, Bob, wasn’t. There goes that possibility. They showed him the camp, and offered to let him stay overnight, but he left after dinner in the mess hall. He had happened to overhear a whispered conversation between Lynn and Bob on his way back from peeing. Bob said, “He’s the BMOC you told me about?” Lynn had shushed him. What could that mean? I wasn’t any big-man-on-campus, I didn’t even know there was such a term around anymore. He rode away wondering how he had impressed Lynn that way. What had I done?
Sean had plodded through the usual classes at the University of Maryland, and ended up doing badly. Perhaps Lynn was referring to my articles in the school paper. He’d written a few things on the meat boycott, child care, and bicycling, but never thought people even read ’em. Of course, I’d helped organize that teach-in on the War. That was sad. We’d not generated anywhere near the excitement of the sixties’ strikes and boycotts, but at least some people, like Lynn, had gotten involved. I remember showing movies about the War. People just wandered in and out. I remember that guy saying, “This is nothing new, I’ve seen all before.” I guess we all had, but hell, the war wasn’t over just because U.S. soldiers weren’t dying anymore. He came away convinced that the whole thing was a failure, but people like Lynn hadn’t seen it that way.
That’d been such a bad time for me. Besides attending demonstrations and organizing meetings, and working at the Free Clinic, Sean still had his job on the weekends. His best friend Bonnie was lesbian. They managed to have some laughs over a few joints, and studied together sometimes, but it was frustarting too. I sure as hell wasn’t happy. Life was too complicated. I could never figure out how to please everyone. Don and Joan were too busy with each other to help me out. I had introduced them – of course – and asked them to room with me. I could’ve hooked up with Joan if I hadn’t gone off to Chicago after Marilyn. By the time I came back, she and Don were a couple. They had their lives, I had mine. Don said my Catholic background was the reason I took everything so seriously. Well, I sure as hell ain’t taking anything very serious now. I‘m on the road, free, but still alone.
The night after he left the camp where Lynn worked he learned how to deal with the mosquitoes. As long as he pedaled late enough into the night, the mosquitoes would eventually disappear. But, the blackflies were something else. They followed him some days, all along Trans Canadian highway 69.