Why I Wander?

Why I Wander…?

I have been asked many times, why I love to travel so much, so I thought I’d attempt to answer this question not only for those who might actually want to know but also for myself. One of the first reasons is because I’m a very curious person. I’ve been a seeker of knowledge & experience all my life. My mom said that when I was in kindergarten, I’d get up early, dress myself incorrectly, & be down at the school waiting for them to open up and she’d go get me and bring me back home. Moreover, books have become a sort of refuge for me over the course of my life. I don’t want to get into too much psychobabble but I feel that books were /are like friends to me. I’m a shy person and it takes me a long time to get to know people & to open up to them, so books allowed me to escape into a fantasy world of action, romance, & adventure when I felt alone or in need of stimulation. We moved a lot as I was growing up and because I have a lazy eye, kids could be very cruel when my eye turned in and would tease me mercilessly. I would withdraw into my world of books where no one could hurt me and when I think about it, yeah, I feel a sense of security when I am surrounded by my books which I keep on buying though I have several thousand I haven’t even read yet.

Correspondingly, I can still recall how my first girlfriend, Connie Hockett and I would sit on the picnic tables in the park when we were in the first grade & plan on living in Switzerland when we grew up and got married. We were going to live in a little cabin in the Alps and raise dogs. I met Connie when I lived with my grandmother in Salem, Oregon and as I said, we moved around a lot when I was a child. I was born near the coast of Oregon in Toledo and went to kindergarten in Flint, Michigan. I went to the first grade in the Dalles, Oregon and went to first grade for a second time in Salem. We moved to San Diego when I was in third grade and I attended fourth grade in Wilmington (a town in L.A.). We moved to Paramount when I started the sixth grade and that was the longest we ever stayed in the same town i.e. six years. So Paramount became the place where as Neil Young sang in his song “Helpless,” ‘all my changes there’ e.g. first time making love, first time getting high, first time getting loaded, etc. And though I wasn’t aware of it for quite some time, Paramount was a rough place to grow up in. It’s located across the L.A. riverbed from Compton, the notorious home of the Cryps. Because we didn’t have much money, nor did anyone who lived in my neighborhood, we hung out on the street corners and most of us got into drugs & alcohol. My little brother started way before I did and he got so deeply into the drug scene that he died at the age of 18 due to a heroin overdose. Though it’s a cliché now, drugs and alcohol were definitely an escape from the ugly reality we were surrounded by. In fact, I was partying the summer away after graduating from high school and every now and then a couple of my former classmates would come by and tell us of their hitchhiking experiences and we’d soak up their tales of adventure and romance, and one day it occurred to me, ‘I’m just as smart and tough as they are and if they can do it, so can I.’ And I started off hitching to Santa Barbara to a place in the foothills where assorted hippies and others would go skinny dipping.

By the way, I think what inspired me to want to go to Switzerland at such a young age was a travel journal a couple of college students had left behind at my grama’s house. She used to rent the top floor of her home out to students. And perhaps the Shirley Temple movie “Heidi” which was set in Switzerland, also motivated me? But when I got a taste of hitching and started meeting all sorts of interesting people in the late 1960s and early 70s, the freedom was intoxicating. Every once in awhile, I’d get a ride with someone who was going a long ways in my direction, had some good pot, & an ice chest full of cold beer and we’d be driving through country like the Redwoods or the rugged, Northern California or Oregon coast. And often I’d have some really in depth conversations about life, goals, dreams, responsibility, etc. and I’d get momentary flashes of calm, connection, & assuredness that I was doing the right thing in pursuing my dreams. Of course there were the critics every now & then but mostly, people were supportive and said things like ‘good for you!’ My family, including especially my aunts & uncle, labeled me a bum, irresponsible, etc. And most of my friends didn’t really understand why I traveled so much but accepted the fact that that was just who I was.

With each trip that I successfully completed, my confidence grew and I started hitching farther and farther & taking greater risks in other ways as well. I think it was very fortuitous that I met Ruedi Trefzer from Switzerland because he was a major intellectual inspiration for me, sort of like a mentor but a very polite, sensitive, & respectful mentor. Ray Sharp & I had been friends since we graduated high school in 1971 & when I started talking about going to Europe for the first time in 1977, Ray told me about a friend of his named Javier. I met Javier a few times & he gave me a hair cut (the best I’ve ever had) and he gave me his cousin’s address in Basel as well as Ruedi’s address & phone number. I looked Ruedi up on my first trip to Europe and he was vacationing for a week on the Costa Brava in a quaint village where Salvador Dali lived. Over the course of that week I spent with Ruedi & Javier’s cousin, I learned that Ruedi knew more about American literature, politics, history, etc. than I did and I started asking him about books I should read. We maintained a correspondence for several years though it was often only once a year or so that we’d write each other. But I mark my meeting with Ruedi as a sort of opening the floodgates of my pursuit of knowledge. And living in Europe and being from a family which encouraged, stimulated, fostered interest in art, music, literature, politics, travel, etc., Ruedi became who he is i.e. an easy going, down-to-earth, and serious scholar.

To show you how shallow my education had been, it took Ruedi to turn me onto Ernest Hemmingway. I had heard the name Hemmingway before but didn’t really know hardly anything about him until Ruedi took me to a little store in Cadagues, the town we stayed in on the Costa Brava, which had a small assortment of American writers or books in English on one of those wire, swirling book racks. I started with Papa’s last book Islands in the Stream & was instantly smitten. I then devoured just about every book Hemmingway had written & kept branching out to an ever widening array of authors in various disciplines or genres. It’s strange how both traveling and the pursuit of knowledge whether by reading or by attending university courses, complement each other. The wider read I am, the more able I am to converse with a wide variety of people and the more I travel, the more diversity I find and ever more, intellectual and/or spiritual guides along the way, who turn me on to ever more authors, musicians, painters, etc., so they mutually reinforce one another i.e. traveling & learning. I am inspired by a Dostoyevsky or a Hermann Hesse and because they touch my soul, so-to-speak, I want to go to their surroundings i.e. places they loved, did most of their work in, were inspired by, etc. and see what I could learn from these places.

Dreams are what Europe is all about. Dreams we learned in fairy tales, watered-down, sanitized versions of Anglo/Saxon history and how we, who were chosen by God & ‘manifest destiny,’ to rule the indigenous peoples of this planet, must believe in these dreams to maintain the myth of American superiority over the rest of the world e.g. ‘Globalization,’ which is cover or a disguise for the G-8 to basically maintain the status quo. Nonetheless, Europe is a most interesting dream because going there in person helps you to discover some of the truths behind every nation, every people, every culture, every ethnic group of people. There are a lot of truths in Europe as well as lies but to visit some of those sites that we learned about in public school or college in person, is a feeling that is difficult to express. My experiences while traveling in Europe, not only liberated me intellectually but also socially.

One night when I was staying with Ruedi & Javier’s cousin in Cadaques, we were out at the only disco/club in town and all of a sudden, Ruedi said, “let’s dance,” it was him, me, Javier’s cousin, and a couple other guys and my first reaction was ‘what? Is this a gay bar or something?’ and then reasoned, ‘well, when in Rome, do as the Romans.’ We were all dancing and there weren’t any women dancing if I remember correctly and I was thinking ‘this is crazy.’ Yet it was fun and it struck me that I could have a good time dancing even if a girl had turned me down when I asked her for a dance. It took me a couple of years after this experience to sum up the courage to go out on a dance floor by myself but when I did, wow!

I can pinpoint the night that I discovered just how liberating this simple freedom to go out and dance by myself, a male, in the uptight, conservative American macho culture, was. I was scared to death that people would think I was gay or crazy. It was 1978 and I had just returned from my second trip to Europe. I was staying temporarily with my little sister & her boyfriend in their apartment in Buena Park and she was working in a restaurant next to Disneyland. Tammy asked her boyfriend, Steve, if he and I wanted to hang out in the bar next to her restaurant for the last part of her shift & we went for it. There was a live band and the bar was packed with tourists. Steve and I had a few beers and a song came on that I liked and I didn’t even bother to ask a girl or woman to dance, I just walked out on the huge dance floor which was empty and started dancing. I continued song after song for hours and sometimes girls would ask if they could join me and sometimes they’d just jump in and we’d be dancing together. I could’ve collected quite a few phone numbers that evening but could care less because I was on a natural high. Fine lookin’ women were flocking to me and my ego was flying & I didn’t give a damn if I got laid or not, I was high on the freedom because I finally realized that whether I had a good time or not, depended not on strangers—many of whom could be rude or cruel—but depended on my frame of mind. In fact, some of those who asked if they could join me on the dance floor, probably thought me an egotistical jerk because I sometimes responded with “I don’t care if you join me or not, I’m going to have a good time anyway.” The one gal who sticks out in my memory on that night, joined me on the dance floor near the end of my show. She said, “I don’t know what you’re high on but I want some of it,” and when I replied, “I’m high on Europe,” she looked at me with a quizzical expression like ‘that’s a new drug on me?” I just laughed or smiled at her befuddlement and didn’t care to elaborate. I was John Travolta and Fred Astaire rolled into one that night. I must’ve danced with twenty different women that night and didn’t ask a single one for her phone number. I recall how Steve couldn’t get over the reactions of the women to me that night. I just laughed and basked in the glow of the experience.

That night was magical. That night was a dream. A dream like most male hitchhikers probably dream e.g. a gorgeous woman/girl gives you a ride, is going a long way in your direction, has good smoke, some cold ones, & is interested in you and you end up having a torrid, sexual escapade and she drops you off in the perfect spot to catch another long ride towards your destination. Of course I never had anywhere near the number of erotic adventures that I felt I was due but I did know a few and feel blessed. More times than naught, I blew opportunities to be with some lovely ladies because I was so naïve, innocent, old-fashioned romantic or idealist? And even though I went hungry for three days, slept sometimes on bus stop or park benches, under freeway overpasses, in train stations or ferry stations, etc., I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of my travel experiences because they all taught me something. Some more than others. And one overriding sense of pride or joy was occasionally, I’d be somewhere exotic or faraway and across an ocean and it’d come to me, ‘wow, I’m really here. I actually did it and wasn’t just bullshitting.’

For some reason I’ve been thinking of Don Quixote quite a bit for the past several months and though I’ve never read the classic, I have an idea of what it’s about. I feel a kinship with The Man of La Mancha because I’ve always been a dreamer, an idealist, a defender of the weak against the strong, etc.

1 reply
  1. tnt
    tnt says:

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays..

    Reply

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