I am of the generation whose identity was firmly defined by the lures and mysteries of THE ROAD. Nothing is quite as exciting, to me, as the steady whine of the road beneath the tires of my car / truck as I head out of L.A. on my way up Route One or Highway 101 or even the dull repetition of Interstate Five as it careens through the brown-ness of the western San Jaoquin Valley.
My memory of road trips past is tied to vehicles past, as if a particular car or truck can act as a marker along memory lane. The road is so intrinsically interwoven into my history, that I often canít recall the person I was involved with at the time, but I can remember with ease the vehicle I was driving and the many adventures that I had whilst in said vehicle.
Unfortunately, I took a slight detour during the nineties, distracted by women of various makes & models... But, realizing my error have once again sought the easy comfort of a good traveliní tape, some new sunglasses, a full tank of gas and an inclination for a change of scenery. Just me and a million other drivers... Move over road-ragers, Iíve got Tom Waits on the tape deck and Iím headiní out. See you in two weeks.
This particular two weeks had an actual itinerary that involved visiting old friends, meeting new ones and doing a little poetic business on the side. No risk of boredom here!
RD Armstrong, August, 1999
About the author
RD Armstrong, a self-styled Road Scholar, reluctant gypsy and vagabond, has spent many of his years on the "coast route", choosing, whenever possible, to get from point A to point B via car and/or truck. In this case, the vehichle was an Ď88 Nissan Sentra.
Raindog, as his friends know him, also is devoted to the craft of writing, both poetry & prose and has numerous chap & little books, including Bone (with Todd Moore) published by his Lummox Press in early 1999 as part of the LRB series.
SANTA CRUZ Crisp morning Santa Cruz 5 a.m. Left Long Beach 10 a.m. yesterday drove up 101 "just 4 Old times sake" -- Not much old times left on 101 except the rough and tumble rural areas which will probably never change until they are gobbled up by "progress" Noticed said progress outside San Luis Obispo where, as a lad, I got stuck hitch-hiking back to L.A. late one starry night in spring of Ď72 (no car) and had to hike -- no hitching at 3 a.m. -- from San Luis to the sea 10 miles Took all night but I was young and determined. (I didnít know any damned better). Area is all built up now was empty space land and trees. Stayed with poet Will Taylor, jr. and girlfriend and cat and bird in Santa Cruz. A likable young man with a common love of Buk and the poem the honest crisp line. Santa Cruz reeks of the almighty "vibe". JS warned me about it & now Iíve seen it walked among it even sat down and drank with it. Just another town in NoCal. Thank god Will and co. are good people good enough to put up a stranger for the night (something that was promised but proved to be a rarity later in the trip) good enough to put up with all my stories and "old man wisdom" Taylor: Santa Cruz via Bakersfield "by a fluke" refers to me as his "publisher" and accords me a respect that is foreign, yet familiar -- a nostalgic memory of past lives -- My skills as a publisher are somewhat dubious I am unaccustomed to this new title and the ensuing acclaim. I met Will at "LOGOS" a used/new bookstore in the good vibing heart of Santa Cruz Unlike most independent (used) bookstores this one thrives centrally located in this college town of young/old readers. I know Iím not in L. A. anymore where the cry for "New!" never ceases. Driving up 101 found myself drifting into the memory lane on more than one occasion. Many treks up and down this highway -- this stretch of road in the fine company of the comrades of youth -- friends and lovers companions of those daze so many years / miles ago and now I fly solo (so low). Funny how certain landscape features trigger certain memories like dreams re-activated by the piano roll of time the subconscious mind tips open the dusty old photo album and out tumbles pictures from another time -- Karen and her Ď58 Chevy four door bruising tank of a car riding north through Paso Robles in the heat of that summer 101 a two-lane country road in those days Karen long gone now. Thought of her much this first time on 101 in a dozen years easy. Look forward to the sad dumb beauty of these memories as trip unfolds after house uncurls itself and the coffee pot is empty. ROUTE ONE Two lanes winding out of desolate coast lined with sheer cliffs flat gray drops into sheetmetal patina sea cliffs topped with scrub and bush and wild grasses wildly rioting at roadside or freshly mowed and baled like a KS wheatfield. Little towns of Davenport Pescadero, Half Moon Maltera and Venice Beach "Whereís the sunglasses?" Even San Pedro (park) "Am I going south or north?" Pass a gutted and wind-blasted concrete shell of a house -- it has no access no explanation just stands on the weathered pedestal of sandstone perched on top of a hill over-looking Half Moon Bay. This stretch winding up to the outskirts of SanFranís suburbs leads a caravan away from the isolation of the rugged coastline and into Daly Cityís "little boxes" made of ticky-tack once a novelty now the common denominator. Bumper to bumper on Saturday a.m.? Four day weekend oh yeah forgot. Every motherfather is out last minute errands or leaving to be with friends for the "red glare" that no Mureen can cure. All these important people -- as Mike Jensen puts it -- must reach their destination before the mass of us must push and claw their way every mile wearing on them like a D-Day marine. Itís everywhere this insistence this assertion this I Not just in evil olí L.A. Do I risk personal injury if I point this out? Climbing away from the coast into gray skies one reaches the sky line and skirts the clouds with the rural landscape: straw blond and flattened dull green trees the beauty of shades of gray Suddenly a bend reveals a herd of suburbia as frightening and sudden as a herd of pastel buffalo sweeping across the hills of South SanFran dividing into the upper meadows of Daly City and the lower industrial flats of the Cow Palace and SFO. SanFran lays spread out before me like a blanket spread out over bumpy ground ready for a July Four picnic that great American icon of leisure time and success. ONE OH ONE Then itís the rush to merge the mad race of the city. Sudden and surprising The City (old hippie name) rises up through cracked concrete -- as if by magic -- and compels me to face it on its terms play by its rules. But is this really SanFran or just more development? Could be part of L.A. easy Then the towers rising out of trees as green as the eyes of envy the reddish-orange towers of the "Golden Gate" a visual password as familiar as Hewell Houser confirms that this is definitely The City.
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