The Hitchhiking Years
The long-awaited, 304 page, hardcover collection of five short stories by Don White
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The Hitchhiking Years
And Four Other Stories
The new book by Don White.
All will receive signed first edition copies.
We stuck our thumbs out and left the life we had known in the industrial northeast when we were fresh out of high school. Every day thereafter we experienced something or someplace or someone new. Destinations were for a good night’s sleep. The excitement of not knowing where and with whom each day would bring us was the destination. We grew up on the road.
Theresa and I are grandparents now. People who meet us these days probably suspect that we have had an interesting journey together. It’s hard to imagine that their suspicions would live up to the stories contained herein.
If you were a hitchhiker in the sixties and seventies or if you are curious about what life on the road was like then, this story is for you.
READ AN EXCERPT
We began this leg of our adventure in May. After a four-hour visit with some new friends on our favorite Indio on-ramp, we were soon reunited with our old friends in San Francisco.
Eighteen years old, as free as free can be, hanging with our friends in America’s coolest city … the partying was epic. So much so, and I know this is hard to believe, but after a week Theresa and I locked bloodshot eyes with each other and said, “We gotta get the hell away from here. How much Thunderbird wine can our metabolisms withstand?” (Side note and home improvement tip: The Thunderbird of this era cost two bucks a gallon. One night we spilled a full glass from the kitchen table. Within minutes the tiles on the floor started to buckle and come loose. I’m not sure if the classic wino Thunderbird is still available but if so, you might find that in addition to being an affordable aperitif, it is also an inexpensive and effective flooring adhesive remover.)
In the eight years between the summer of love and our arrival, San Francisco had experienced a significant exodus of peace and love. It was still a great place, especially the music scene, but the corner of Haight and Ashbury, while not exactly barbiturate-laden, was, shall we say, trending in that direction.
So off we went in the gradual and at times circuitous direction of Alaska. The plan was to begin by going places where walking down the street with your home on your back wouldn’t cause the locals to drag their children indoors and call the authorities.
Embracing the era’s tradition of nonconformity, we began our trip to America’s most northern region by heading due south to Big Sur.
In 1975 it would have been damn near impossible to find a larger concentration of people dedicating their lives to what would later be called new age pursuits than the cast of characters that had invaded this coastal California community.
The Esalen Institute was and still is located near some hot springs in Big Sur. It is a non-profit American retreat center and intentional community, which focuses on humanistic alternative education. What does that mean? No one knows. But what it meant to me at the time was that from there some deep-thinking naked hippies in hot springs were sending out cosmic vibes to every like-minded seeker on earth. If you were interested in personal growth, meditation, massage, yoga, psychology, ecology, spirituality, organic food, Eastern religions, alternative medicine and/or the exploration of human consciousness, you best be gassing up the Volkswagen van and following Esalen’s beacon of positive energy (which is only visible to the truly enlightened) to this California epicenter of grooviness. (I believe that in the fine print of that cosmic beacon it says that in addition to your sleeping bag and your determination to enhance your personal evolution you should also bring your checkbook.)
The road had been patiently waiting for us to untether from the familiarity of what we had known so that it could begin to introduce us to people who were on a spiritual journey. In retrospect, it would have been nice if our first introduction to this new world had been a bit more incremental. Our hasty transition from a world where it was normal to drink adhesive remover intentionally mislabeled as wine to an Esalen world so polar opposite was at best … unceremonious.
It seemed like the plan was to show us the end at the beginning and then see how close we could come to it via all the experiences the road intended to subject us to now that we were embracing it by relinquishing our San Francisco safety net.
We didn’t know it, but we were taking our first steps on the well-worn route of personal discovery blazed by the countless flower children who came before us. That month we meandered up and down the coasts of California and Oregon which were saturated, infested, inundated, irretrievably overrun with what were in those days affectionately called freaks.
It seemed like every man who gave us a ride had long hair. Every woman wore Birkenstocks. Everyone used to live in Haight-Ashbury. Everyone had toured with The Grateful Dead. And everyone had a book to give us that “will change your life”.
And we read them all—Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Be Here Now, On the Road, The Dharma Bums—all required reading for mid-seventies seekers. Each page of every book and all these encounters inching us away from what we had known and toward something we didn’t know but thought might prove interesting.
During those traveling years our impressionable brains were forming an understanding of a world where yes was the answer to the question, adventure was its own reward, trusting that things would work out was the only way to view a situation, and almost everyone was a potential good Samaritan.
I estimate that during that first year we traveled between fifteen and twenty thousand miles entirely on the wings of kindness.
There are five stories here. The one about my dad and the hitchhiking one are both true—whatever that means. With the three others, I freed myself from the tyranny of truth-telling. I created characters by melding together the personalities and idiosyncrasies of different people I have met to fit the needs of the stories I wanted to tell. It was exhilarating. Writing fiction, it turns out, is a freeing and enjoyable enterprise.
By 2020 I had written four stories—approximately half a book. Then good old Covid 19 showed up and was kind enough to grant me the two things I needed to finish the other half: The inability to earn money via the shutting down of performance venues, and the gobs of free time that that new reality so considerately bestowed upon my world.
That’s when the stories from the three years I spent hitchhiking around North America with my then girlfriend and now wife submitted their applications for the job. They had done so many times in the past and were always denied because they couldn’t or wouldn’t answer the one crucial question: What is the story?
I would rather go broke than write a glorified blog on being a hitchhiker. “Got a ride by some freaks in a van in Albuquerque. They had killer weed—a trucker drove us all the way to San Francisco—the cops hassled us in Kansas.”
But I needed the money and I needed the pages. After much reflection, a story worthy of consideration emerged. It was about America in the mid-seventies and a method of travel that is lost to history—a story of uncompromised freedom—of how the road opened our world to unlimited possibilities and … it is a love story!