Paperback version of my memoir now available!
A paperback print version of my memoir, Sunshine and Troubled Sea: How I Stumbled My Way Into Adulthood, More or Less, is now available online at the CreateSpace e-store and at Amazon.com.
Sunshine and Troubled Sea is the story of my rocky road to adulthood as I tried to resolve within myself the conflicting influences of my good-humored mother and sometimes moody father. It’s told with the amusement, nostalgia and (I hope) wisdom of hindsight now that my parents are gone and I’ve had several decades to reflect on the past.
Here are some excerpts about a hitchhiking trip when I was almost eighteen:
We left for California in early July, dropped off by my mother at a nearby entrance to the I-94 freeway. I suspect Mom didn’t like the idea, but she never tried to rein me in as I spread my wings in early adulthood. Many years later she told me she would hide in the basement and cry each time I left Michigan, which happened a lot in the next several years, but I had no inkling of this back then—another example of my acute sensitivity to women’s emotions. My father most certainly did not like the idea, carping that “If he has the money to travel to California, he has the money to pay rent!” In part, the trip was a test of whether I could survive without relying on my parents, particularly the financial support of my father, which was something I felt he held over me (and against me). I was testing not just my capacity to take care of myself on my own but that sense I had of a guiding force in life. If I threw my fate into the hands of the universe, would I be okay? Not that I realized it at the time, but I seemed to be asking the same question I had about Dawn, only on a deeper level. Did the universe, or whoever or whatever was behind all this, really care about me?
My old friend Jim joined us for the journey, as after mentioning the plan to him one evening I had to agree to his eager request to go with us. Cliff was more reluctant about adding a third person, especially since he did not always get along with Jim, but ultimately agreed to it as well. To make it easier for the three of us to fit in cars we traveled light, each with a rolled-up blanket to sleep in and a small carrying bag for a few essentials, such as utensils, some food, a couple extra clothes, Cliff’s notebook for recording the historic journey, and Cliff and Jim’s recorders—the flute-like instrument—to play music on. Potentially helpful items like camping equipment, raingear, or a first-aid kit did not occur to us. Jim stipulated that he had to find a piano every day to practice on during the trip, and Cliff stipulated that none of us use drugs or have sex with anyone during it. (Cliff’s first rule was aimed primarily at Jim; his second rule came from an overactive imagination.) After being dropped off we stood by the freeway entrance long enough to start laughing at the possibility we wouldn’t even get out of Roseville, but finally someone stopped and we were on our way…
The next day started off badly. Hours passed as we waited for a ride on the side of I-80, with nothing to look at but the vast monotonous corn fields of Nebraska and various vehicles occasionally whizzing by. To keep ourselves amused we imitated a Three Stooges’ acrobatic routine, stacking ourselves on top of each other on hands and knees then sticking our thumbs out and tumbling to the ground whenever a car passed. We also put a can of beans in front of us with a sign offering “FREE BEANS!” to passing motorists. By late morning we were kicking around the idea of turning back and heading home, when finally the universe came through. A tall, lean guy in worn clothes with close cropped grey hair and a grizzled chin stopped in a rusty VW Beetle and asked where we were headed. “California?” he said when we told him. “That’s where I’m going. Do any of you know how to drive a stick shift?” Yes, Jim did. Seems the guy was headed straight through to California hoping to make as few stops as possible, and he wanted someone to share driving duties with him. So we stuffed our bodies and our gear in the dinky car (the small trunk was already full) and peered through the windows at pretty much nothing for hundreds of miles as we crossed Nebraska, grateful to be moving again…
At the border of Colorado we left I-80 to head south on I-76, and by late afternoon there were purple mounds low on the horizon, growing ever taller as we approached Denver. I gawked in amazement at the shifting perspective, my first time seeing real mountains. In Denver we switched to I-70 and soon were climbing into the Rocky Mountains as evening gathered. A bit later the guy pulled to the side and said he needed some shut-eye so it was Jim’s turn to drive. Jim switched seats with him and cautiously began driving. At first the guy watched and gave Jim a few pointers on driving in the mountains, but then he promptly tilted his head back and began to snore. Cliff and I stared out the window emitting comical gasps of terror as Jim navigated winding roads bordered by sheer drop-offs, though the gasps became more real as the sky gradually darkened. After hours of this—roller coasters are laughable to me since then—the guy woke up refreshed and took the wheel again. The rest of us let built-up exhaustion erase our consciousness, falling asleep in the swaying car.
I woke up when the car pulled into a lit-up gas station, where our driver fished out the spare tire and haggled with the attendant about how much gas he would give him for it. Outside the perimeter of light I could see the eerie darkness of the desert and wondered which would strand us first, a flat tire or running out of gas. Finally the driver made a deal, got the gas, and we took off again. I drifted in and out of dreamland until awakening again to bright colored lights flashing all around us, and saw Jim and Cliff looking around in sleepy confusion as well—was it the police? The driver laughed, “Welcome to Las Vegas, boys!” Soon the neon jungle was behind us and I fell back asleep. The next morning our chauffeur pulled into a parking lot in a seedy neighborhood of San Bernardino on the outskirts of Los Angeles, unceremoniously announcing that the ride was over. We got out, he took off, and the three of us gaped at each other in the glaring sun, all with the same expression on our faces, which said: “We’re in California! What the hell are we doing here?”
The answer was not long in coming. Somehow we conquered the maze of streets that is Los Angeles, following the Ventura Highway to the oceanfront. With the first sight of vast ocean kissing sun-illumined sky the illusory boundary between my body and the environment began to dissolve, my soul stretching outward in all directions toward eternity. At that moment I knew there was much more to this life than I had encountered in my almost eighteen years, and I was so thirsty for that ‘much more’ I could have drunk the ocean itself. Our legs propelled us forward, laughing and dropping our shoes and gear in the sand as we ran straight into the waves with our clothes on. We bathed and laundered by romping in the surf, almost losing Cliff to a riptide, which someone on the beach warned us about when we got back to shore. As we sat on our blankets in the sun watching the endless arrival of watery hillocks to shore, I felt more at home than I ever had in Michigan. We ate some of the food left in our bags and then dozed there on the beach, each dreaming our own daydreams—mine of Dawn lying there with her arms around me—until the reddening sun began its inevitable descent toward the horizon.
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