When I was pretending to grow up, one of the biggest influences on me was my perception of Ken Kesey. I say my “perception” because of course I didn’t know the Kesey of reality, only the Kesey of my reality, filtered as it was through stories, articles and his own writings. And more importantly through my own imagination.
Kesey was a man out of time. By that I mean, well, he said it best, “I was too young to be a beatnik, and too old to be a hippie”. That was exactly how I was feeling. Well, not exactly, but the feeling that the society I lived in was not the society I belonged too. A feeling I have described as “missing the bus”, to which I was usually greeted with strange looks and that little smile you give when talking to a crazy person. The reason it was an inside joke is because the community I belonged too would have no reason to associate me with anything about Kesey, even if they might have had some peripheral knowledge of who he was. When someone asked where I was going and I said “Further”, they just ignored it.
I was already in my mid-twenties when I met someone that knew where I was coming from. He was a hippie back in the day, after involuntary servitude to the flag, of late transformed into your everyday worker under the rigors and demands of the capitalist system. His name was Mike and I could wax poetic on the many conversations we had, but those images are mine. My last image I will share. It was Mike, standing next to a bus, with the worlds biggest smile on his face. He was hitting the road.
Even though I was in my twenties at the time, I actually already had quite a bit of life experience of “life on the road”. Years worth of experience as a matter of fact. So much experience that it was hard wired into who I was, even before I was hard wired into who I was. At the end of my fifth grade my parents hit the road. Kids in tow.
I am still not 100% sure what sent my parents onto the road. Also in my fifth grade year I discovered marijuana, so there seem to be long stretches of my life where I wasn’t really sure what was going on around me. Actually, now that I try to think about it, I am not even sure it was my fifth grade year. But, for the sake of ever getting around to spitting out the story, lets call it fifth grade.
I have a pretty good idea today of some of the problems that might have made it an attractive alternative. The economy of what was once my hometown was crap. My dad was a carpenter and chasing work was a big thing for construction work at the time. We went from the deserts of New Mexico to the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. I still remember the cool breeze coming off the Gulf early in the morning as the sun rises. The smell of salt was heavy and the air was wet. It was amazing.
I could go on forever on all the places we “lived” over the next several years. I could tell stories of good times and bad times, fun times and scary times. What matters from those stories will surely be told again. But those stories, like those images of Mike, are all stored up in my head and sometimes I am jealous with them. Besides, this isn’t about those stories. This is about new stories. My new stories.
The other day a couple of years ago I finally realized that society at large had little use for me and that I felt pretty much the same way about it. I have blown a fortune trying to be part of society, all along knowing that there was nothing in the concept (as far as I understood and understand it) that appeals to me. There were things that had me tied to that concept, but the main chains holding me down were just in my own perceptions. I could easily say, “Well, the kids need stability. They need school and friends and blah blah blah.”, because it is easy to blame things on the kids. And just like for everything else in life, there just isn’t enough money. There is this really good job that makes it just possible to be high enough above the poverty level that you can’t catch a break, but not high enough above it to be able to afford luxuries like healthcare and food.
Work your fingers to the bone so you can send your boss on vacation. Give up part of it to send your politicians over to scout out countries to invade. Spend a few hours numbing your mind in front of the T.V., trying to convince yourself that your crap is as good as the crap in the commercials. Waiting for the late-night comics to come on and hopefully send you to bed with happy thoughts. Rinse and Repeat.
Despite having worked hard, and having made several attempts at living the dream, I was never quite able to “own” that little piece of heaven that would fulfill my soul and make me grow healthy roots into society. I was pretty much always a “renter”.
Most of the places I could manage to afford were not what most people would want to call home. Roach infestations. Faulty wiring. Nasty water. Bitchy neighbors. Slumlords. Mice. Anything needed repaired, better whip out the tools and get busy. And in my mind, I dreamed of getting out into the country and raising a garden and some animals and living off the land. But once again, money was an issue. The same problems with housing in the city was actually even worse in the country. Some rundown part of the country, probably next to the dump. Where nothing but stickers can grow. And still the tentacles of society start to strangle you.
And always, the road was calling me home.
So finally one day, I started getting rid of all my crap. I quit worrying about the kids having roots in “society”. I quit caring if the landlord was going to come fix the dripping water under the trailer house that was attracting local wildlife. I re-defined what “poor” means. I started to set my priorities straight. I really realized what “dropping out” could mean and why some, not that long ago, had considered it a revolutionary act.
And I bought a bus. I named it “How Far?”…
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