Vagabonds go on the road for different reasons: adventure, economic hardship, to search for truth or to heal a broken heart.
A journalist wrote a book about his experiences hopping freight trains throughout America. While interviewing some of the drifters he found on the trains and in hobo camps he would often see wounds that had been stitched or dressed professionally, and he would ask who had provided the medical care. “Oh, that was Doc,” he would often hear. Intrigued, he went looking for Doc, and found him.
Doc was a medical doctor who one day hopped a freight train as it pulled away from the train yard near his once-successful medical practice. His wife had left him, and he was fed up with the trappings of modern life. Doc, who had been drifting for several years, wasn’t sure when and if he’d ever go back to “civilized” life. For now he enjoyed wandering and serving those around him.
I decided to become a wayfarer in the winter of 1977 as I sat upon a grassy knoll near the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and stared at the casinos, those monuments to excess and greed, as they beckoned with their garish lights. A few months earlier, when I was about to leave Lake Tahoe and come to Vegas, some friends had invited me out to a cocktail lounge in Tahoe where a band was playing. A member of the band had just learned a new song which they played for us. As I recalled the words,
Las Vegas ain’t no place for a poor boy like me…
I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps it was an omen.
Leaving Vegas was no easy decision. I was doing well in my classes at the University and I had made a lot of effort to be there: studying while my roommates were skiing or partying; working and saving my money; even moving to Tahoe so I could gain Nevada State residency. But something was calling me. I could hear a still, small voice whispering to me, urging me to leave this place, “to seek and find”.
I decided to leave once the semester was over. I would head back to Linda for a few months, take a few classes at Yuba College to at least get my Associate’s Degree, sell my beloved old panel truck and other possessions, and prepare to hit the road.
And that’s pretty much what happened. I moved back into a trailer that I had parked on my parents’ property in Linda while I finished attending Yuba College. Inside that trailer on a wall next to where I slept on a piece of plywood, I had taped a quotation by Henry David Thoreau:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
In preparation for my journey, after selling most of my possessions and purchasing a sleeping bag, backpack and other items, I made a replica of a hand with an over-sized thumb out of stiff cardboard and painted it fluorescent pink. I then attached that hand to a collapsible automotive antenna I had purchased at the wrecking yard, and attached the antenna to my backpack. I anticipated that passing motorists would see the big hand on my backpack as I walked down the road and would know I was hitching a ride. (During my travels many people did tell me it was the bright pink cardboard hand that inspired them to stop and pick me up.)
As the spring of 1978 was coming to an end, I had someone give me a ride to Highway 70 near Marysville High School and drop me off. Leaning my backpack against a traffic sign, I allowed the cardboard hand to solicit rides for me while I sat down to read one of the several spiritually inclined books I had purchased. Before very long someone stopped to pick me up and once again, I was leaving Linda.
I eventually spent over eight years on the road, either on my own, or as a member of The Unification Church’s mobile fundraising team (MFT).
Road School is a collection of some of those stories of life on the road. Some may think that I shouldn’t have listened to that sound of a different drummer but personally, I’m glad I did.