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from A Squandered Life / Highway 101 '68

Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....


Highway 101

The US west coast Highway 101 has got to be one of the most alluring roads in the world. It snakes in and out along the rugged coastline like an Alpine trail but with the added advantage of panoramic vistas of the even more alluring Pacific Ocean hoving in and out of view. With intimate glimpses of small inviting coves, rocky outcrops, breaking surf, and generous beaches, each bend in the road brought sumptuous visual gifts.

There weren't many trucks on this route, but there were plenty of cars travelling at gentle speeds which gave them plenty of time to stop if they so wished. So progress was good and the trudging between lifts hugely rewarding from a sheer appreciation of natural beauty point of view. If the road was near the water, I would often stop and go down to the ocean to dabble. In Washington State, Oregon, and northern California, the water was still coolish. Seals could be seen basking. I even saw plumes at sea which I took to be whales. It was like a casual wander along the coast of Paradise.

The first ride of note I can remember was a relaxed young man with whom I had an interesting and varied conversation on a wide range of topics from marijuana and flower power to history and Vietnam. He clearly had a very broad knowledge and had something genuinely interesting to say about almost everything we touched upon. At one point he gently quizzed me about my politics. Feeling comfortable and confident in his seemingly learned company, and not wishing to reveal that I hadn't really had a political thought in my head, I spouted the usual middle-of-the-road shite about freedom and democracy and free enterprise. He listened attentively and queried some points, and then asked me what I thought about communism. Unfazed, I again began trotting out my acquired “knowledge” which consisted largely of thinking communists were intent on destroying all I held dear. He asked if I'd ever met a communist, and I had to pause for a moment to think. “No”, I said, “I've never actually met one” as if they were some sort of alien sub-species, and he said, “Well I'm one.” Perhaps this shouldn't have surprised me, but I was actually quite taken aback. For one thing, I'd never, as he'd revealed, ever met a “commie”. I'd only seen them in comic books. For another, he was a really nice, quiet, intelligent guy. I looked over at him. He looked back at me and raised his eyebrows. I didn't know what to say, but he began a very low-key chat about distribution and ownership and production. I could feel my brain resisting but couldn't really think why. By the time he dropped me off I felt vaguely dissembled. We shook hands and waved and I trudged on trying to assess what had just happened.

It wouldn't have lasted long. The most pressing question I had in my head at that time was “Is marijuana harmful?” Just about everybody who gave me a lift down that coast got asked that question. Answers varied, but the one that stuck was from an older hippy guy who said, “Really, it's just another intoxicant.”

At some point an old boy, an alleged fisherman, stopped in a battered pick up. He'd had a few drinks and told me some slurring stories about fish and the sea and, as it was getting dark, he offered me a place to stay for the night. I thought that sounded reasonable and said thanks. A short while later he spotted some even younger guys hitching ahead. He swung over and invited them to jump in the back. In the course of this he also invited them to stay the night. That seemed friendly enough to all of us so a few miles further on he swung off the highway and up a gravel road into some coastal hills. His house was actually quite nice, if a bit run down. He had an amazing sound system and offered us drinks. We all got a bit merry, but I was knackered and relatively stationary on a sofa. But the other guys seemed to get more animated and were moving about the room quite a bit, to excited chatter and occasional peals of laughter. In my dulled state, I sensed I was missing something and, eventually, I noticed he was surreptitiously fondling the guys, and that this usually coincided with the peals of laughter. I sloped off to a room somewhere with my pack and got into my sleeping bag. I went to sleep to the sound of peals of laughter and music from the elaborate system. At one point in the middle of the night one of the guys woke me up. In whispers, he asked me if I knew the old boy and I said no. Then he asked if I'd noticed what was going on, to which a mumbled “Sort of”. He thought for a moment, then whispered, “Is it legal?” I said I hadn't a clue and he went back out again.

In the morning all was quiet. I had a bit of look around but could not see or hear anybody, so I packed my bag and set off back down to the coast highway.

© 2021 Deacon Martin

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