The Crystal neon when it was still working, probably late 1980s
Two photos of the Crystal Restaurant in Watertown, New York were I have eaten many times with great joy and nostalgia. It is one of the only places that still remains intact from my youth, and it has been featured in my novel A Repair Manual for New England Melancholiacs.
For Kris Marsala 1954-2018
Classic road trips do not begin as classics. It’s not as if two guys look at each other one morning and say, “You in the mood for a classic road run?” And the other guy nods, “Sure, why not?” Nothing like that at all. And many times it’s only after the run is completed, and it’s fermented in the memory for a number of years, does it become classic. But my run with Kris Marsala around New England that summer of 1975 driving my blue Porsche 356A coupe is a true stand out. A true classic!
It began innocently enough. Kris was 21 years old and at the height of his handsomeness. I was maybe at the height of my fearless cool, having ridden freights for years, hitchhiked over 15k miles, I was a weathered tough road guy of 18 years old. Although I hadn’t began lifting weights or learned to box yet, my pool hustling skills were formidable, my Willie Hoppe pool cue always at hand, and my heart had not been dimmed by the world yet, or completely broken as it would soon enough. I had a true positive rage to live—likely fueled by my many years of childhood illnesses and 22 hospital visits—and Kris was willing to accompany me.
At the quiet beginning (unusually vague in my memory) we headed east across upper state New York on Route 11. We must’ve stopped at McCarthy’s diner because at that time it would’ve been impossible for me to drive past any classic diner without at the least a quick pull in for a coffee. I drank an inordinate amount of coffee during this era, which ending in around 1980 when I discovered coffee wasn’t a health food as I’d thought. Bleeding ulcers shortly after ended my coffee craze forever. But I ground my own beans by hand, and always carried my expresso vacuum pot (hilariously even to Europe—I brought sand to the beach). Even on the freights I had a single cup drip coffee maker and always drank from my prized G.I. mug. The stain inside was a thing of great value to me although Kris’s mother Edie once scrubbed it clean by mistake. In talking to Kris recently, this was one of the only things he remembered from the era.
Among other story gems, McCarthy’s is the diner where Hal Stowell knocked a dime sized hole into his stemmed cocktail glass while over-energetically stirring his Bloody Mary one afternoon after soaking up endless beers from Montpelier, Vermont to McCarthy’s. The thick red drink silently exited his glass onto the Formica tabletop as he gazed drunkenly into whatever space drunks gaze. His next sip was an empty icy surprise. I, of course, fell off my chair laughing, annoying everyone. Why do so few people embrace true happiness in others?
One morning in Provincetown, Massachusetts before heading up the Maine coast and over to Islesboro, which was simply a quiet island with a slow ferry back then. No billionaires, no movie stars, and only one bar and a general store. I had made my first corncob pipe there in 1971.
This photo shows the Bursch Extractor racing exhaust, which sounded incredible as we tore through city streets, the sound echoing off the brick and cement gauntlet, Kris hanging out of the window, half his body out of the car as he loved to do then, showing off his well-muscled naked torso, screaming at the cute girls, “It’s the Mille Miglia, it’s the Mille Miglia, it’s the Mille Miglia,” over and over.
Sir Stirling Moss, one of my absolute and true heroes. My father insisted Stirling had taught him the 4-wheel drift, as my father taught it to me, but I’ve never really wanted to know the truth. I SO want to believe he did.
This was written by Jim Sitz in an e-mail to me on January 21, 2018:
Stirling was still not sure of Fangio being generous that hot summer day 60 years later when we dined on a grilled cheese sandwich in London [Fortnum & Mason].
Stirling made the point that he sure worked for it!
Years before we had had a lovely lunch just after his return from Italy in celebration of his Mille Miglia win, which I think gave him the proudest day in his career.
I had told Kris about my hero Stirling Moss (who taught my father the 4-wheel drift in the late 1940s), Moss having won the great Italian road race in Italy in 1955, driving for 10 hours at an average speed of 100 mph, a feat that will never be equaled by any human being again. Moss’s winning Mercedes had plaid seat inserts. The Quantum Run 356s will honor that with plaid seat inserts woven by the author’s wife Amanda. I’m very excited about that part of the car since plaid inserts were very rare in all but a few 1955 Continental 356s and there were only around 200 of those ever made. The cloth has been sent to QC, who called on the tartan’s arrival in California, crowning Amanda the finest weaver on the planet. I could not agree more; besides, who am I to argue with the Q?
The car with the front bumper still attached (dent is NOT by the author who has never dented anything minus one Harley Springer front end). My father talked me into removing the bumper—weight reduction—and then left it in Wisconsin after that house sold, refusing to move it although the move was paid by his new company. As I’ve mentioned, he detested my 356 and basically refused to have anything to do with it until the third engine dropped a valve on Gorham Hill. Then, finally, we rebuilt the 1500cc engine together, finding that someone had cloned 1300 heads onto the 1500cc block. No wonder the valve stem overheated and snapped. Porsche engines from that era received an unwarranted poor reputation. Trust me, the issues were never with the engine but rather because of poor handling by careless drivers and mechanics.
And the photo “cleaned” by my new French friend Gregoire who loves early racing and rare Ferraris. His contact here:
As an aside, a week or two before the valve broke, my father was listening to the engine as the car idled in his Vermont dirt drive. After a few minutes he looked at me, “That doesn’t sound quite right, Boo. You’re going to drop a valve.” To this day I get shivers remembering that. My dad didn’t understand people, but he understood machines as few ever will.
After a coffee and fresh-made cinnamon bun, Kris and I continued along the remote bleakness of Route 11, past the green vertical neon of the Casablanca sign, through the lost towns of Canton and Potsdam, and eventually over Rouses Point into Vermont. Strange to think my parents had not yet quite moved to Morrisville, or later to Waterbury Center, where my mother would live until 2005 when I moved her to Belfast, taking care of her for the last 4 years of her life. I’m sure we stopped at the hobby shop in Swanton and the Blue Lion in St. Albans because I always made the same stops that my father had made during my childhood. What wonderful memories that hobby shop held because even then I was obsessed by model trains. It was the first excitement on our way from Watertown to Beloin’s Cabins in Camden, Maine, where we spent every summer vacation, every year until we began to head to P.E.I around 1968.
Hal Stowell’s cabin during that time was my spiritual home, and Hal was always welcoming, which, as I look back from my mature viewpoint, is kind of amazing. I simply don’t open my door if visitors don’t call first, and if they catch me in the yard, I’m rude and annoyed. I can’t abide drop by visitors, and it has cost me some friendships, none I minded giving up.
But Hal always had a warm greeting and always met the poetry of the moment, which must have been exhausting because of my intensity. Everything mattered so much to me then! And I’m probably not much better now, but maybe wiser as to overwhelming people, or maybe not (I do try). I can hear a few people snickering. “Fuck you! Try my brain for a few weeks and then report back.”
Of course I always called first and brought beer. And of course I always searched the homespun package stores around Wendell, Massachusetts for something interesting: Rolling Rock when it first showed up in New England with its stubby bottle and tiny label. Later it would go to the impressive silk-screened long neck, Black Horse Ale, Pickwick Ale, Ballantine’s or the rare Ballantine’s I.P.A that was actually and truly aged in wood for 9 months. Narragansett and Haffenreffer and Black Label pounders. I wrote this poem for Hal in 1979:
ONE FOR HAL
The two of us on Route 2 that afternoon Were a vision of our own time: Drinking pint bottles of malt liquor, Singing the naked melodies Of the open road. The broken muffler, a low ringing As we climbed out of the dark valley; The sun etching the telephone wires, White gold against the purple shadow of evening; The pale clouds cut by the black poles, We follow the two ever-changing curves of the road. We reach the hill pass, light blinding our eyes, Our pipes filling the car with a blue soul. Then the hairpin Down into the cool shade of the valley again, Through the tunnel of brick factory-lined streets We stop in search of better beer; You a quiet image through the package store window, I watch the working girls heading home. And my thoughts: Like the infinite sun-exposed specks of the windshield, Like my memories. You return with two racks of dark bottles, Ballantine’s aged one year in the wood, And we reenter the script of the moist dusk. And our voices: The whining of the hot tires on pavement, The cap popped off a cold ale.
And these words, this voice, our voice I give you, A prayer to what we have left.
The above 50 inch pencil drawing was given to Jake MacKenzie who lives in Monkton, Vermont. Here I am with Jake (photograph below) in my hometown of Gorham, New Hampshire the morning after I presented the framed drawing to Jake at the Town & Country Motor Inn. As an aside, I believe the drawing is worth three times what Jake’s home is worth. “Might be a first, eh?” Not that I don’t like Jake’s trailer and home!
After the obligatory visit with Hal—at least I rarely stayed more than an overnight and always took Hal out to the Spring Hills Diner for supper—Kris and I headed for Providence to search out the friends who had lived over Duke’s Poolroom on the third floor. It was bizarrely hot, but the Porsche seemed to run fine in almost any temperature condition—from -15 to over 100 degrees f. As I’ve said, 356 Porsches were phenomenal cars as they left the factory; it was the carelessness of American owners who ruined them.
But when we reached Providence, stopping at a bizarre massage parlor in a cement strip of 1970s buildings (nothing quite as ugly ever again) on the way down, everyone I knew had long since moved on. It felt strange, maybe for the first time in my life, to sense that things did not last. When I returned to Providence during the 1990s, the entire area I knew had been razed.
We left the heat of the city and pointed the Porsche to Cape Cod, for the cool air as much as anything else. Heat or not, Kris was still yelling his Mille Miglia cry of joy. It should be noted that Kris at this time smoked pot continually—from the moment he awoke to when he settled for the night. He even swallowed the roach ends, telling me that the more THC in his system the better. I, on the other hand, never touched the stuff, and felt that it did not improve Kris’s insensitivity or obnoxious arrogance.
Rich Bruce’s mother had an amazing house in Woods Hole that was just off the main road on the right before the draw bridge approaching the sleepy downtown that it was in 1975 because Martha’s Vineyard had not been “discovered” yet. We called Rich, and spend a few days with him and his wonderful mom, Edith, a true free-thinker from the old school. She was the stuff!
That night we swam in the calm black ocean, which after the long drive and the blazing city was everything you wanted it to be. I should point out that Rich was a fair match for Gregory Peck during his 20s, so when we drank draft beer at the crowded Captain Kid that evening, I didn’t even consider talking to girls, assuming no female would choose a misshappen aardvark over two tall well-built movie star types. Women were always on my mind, and I must say, Kris for all his faults, has been obsessed with females his entire life as a true Sicilian should be. He truly loves women. Not that many men do, regardless of anything.
Even on the phone today, and even with PD, he talked glowingly about a young woman whom he met on the train returning from seeing my drawing exhibition in New York at A/M/Y. It was wonderful to hear him sounding happy. PD is a cruel way for anyone to end their days, and having watched his father gradually being submerged by the disease doesn’t improve matters. And one thing about Kris Marsala is that he’s as tough as they come. I’ve never heard a single whine from him in 57 years of friendship. “Cheers, old old friend!”
Above is my photo of Kris, below is Kris’s photo of himself.
And Kris and the woman he rejected. He claimed her smell did not appeal to him. A perfectionist! I know the issue!
Kris when he OWNED late night TV talk and Letterman was a pawn.
And the PROOF! These days, the honor of your word seems to be not enough. You are losing out so much of what makes a life great!
Kris and I could not have been more different when we first met again after high school. Of course I never finished high school, leaving after my junior year to attend RISD. And although I’d known Kris since I was two, being a couple years older than me, and being the most popular boy in school, he ignored me when our parents got together.
I was an original outsider, and although students knew who I was (because the much-loved anthropology teacher gave a lecture about me being the only unconditioned student he had ever encountered in 20 years of teaching), I was always by myself, eating my mother’s strange lunches outside behind the school—winter or summer—never in the cafeteria, or hanging out at an abandoned farm or in the extensive freight yards around Neenah, Wisconsin where the family had moved from New England in 1971. And I was working on my painting up to 14 hours a day. Painting bugged me. It challenged me. It annoyed me. I never wanted to be a painter. I had wanted to be a poet. But when I began selling work as a teenager . . . and Kris’s dad Chuck was one of the first people to buy my work. Edie called him from the Midwest where she had fallen for two of my paintings and couldn’t decide which one to purchase. Chuck’s response? “Buy ’em both.” That was another $825 in 1974, and I’d learned by 1975 not to loan my dad any more money.
Kris’s father had done very well in the car business, had a huge AMC Rambler dealership with a body shop and multiple bay repair shop called State Street Body Works. The family was wealthy by my standards, with an in-ground pool, a white living room, with white shag carpet, white brick fireplace and a grand piano (black), full five-stool bar with neon lights and pool table in the basement where I always slept, a cottage on the river, and Kris always had a free Rambler of his choosing and a gas card! This was amazing to me, who was always loaning his broke father money and who grew up in four-room ranch houses. The Marsala mansion even had a drawbridge heading to the front doors, which I can’t remember ever being used. They even had a TV room with a massive color set and wraparound sofa, where as my family never owned even a B&W.
Kris was a hugely popular guy in Watertown along with his steady, the gorgeous Lisa Beaverson, who would soon enough dump him and run off with an older balding bee keeper. I’m not sure Kris ever got over this first great disappointment in his life. He used to say, “So, you know, I asked her how it was with the bee asshole, and she looked me right in the eye and grinned, ‘It hurt! Is that what you want to hear? And I loved it!’ Jee-sus! Talk about cruel,” Kris would moan. But all said and done, Kris had an addictive cool, a tough powerful style that matched the body, was an amazingly fast runner and had a hilarious dry sense of humor. Of course, he also wanted to be an artist and a poet and a singer. He would eventually have a successful cable talk show called “The Krazy Kris Show” that even Letterman liked.
Kris also had perfect skin, which I much envied, not to mention the massive arms and chest like Marlon Brando that Kris always showed if the temperature was above freezing, Watertown having a much more severe climate than New England besides northern Maine. So there I was, extremely skinny, uneven complexion, yet I must have had something Kris wanted because he latched onto me. I guess I’ve never really known what it was.
I took driving very seriously and my father had begun to train me in racing moves on gravel (because of my begging) at about 14 years old. I practiced incessantly, as I did with anything I wanted to master, and by 16 I could double clutch, had a perfect toe-heel change, could slide cars in the wet as well as the dry, could shift without touching the clutch if needed, could spin a car using the handbrake at speed, and so forth.
I always wore Italian leather racing gloves, and each section of a road run was like a race for me. In the 356 Porsche, I was only passed three times on secondary roads over the years I had it, once by a Lotus, once by a 911 Porsche, and annoyingly once by a Chevrolet Nova hotrod that pulled beside me at over 100 mph and then simply disappeared—laughing. I was the only kid who passed the driving test on my first try. If you made even the slightest error, you flunked. I had a perfect test. This really annoyed Eric Murphy and Peter Verbrick, my two high school friends.
Leaving Rich Bruce, such a gentle quiet soul back then, we headed out through Edward Hopper territory to the tip of the Cape. When we decided at mid-afternoon to swim, I was arrested by a female cop for nudity. I always swam naked, so at first I figured it was a joke. It wasn’t, and she almost cuffed me! Being naked, I wasn’t carrying any identification, so we walked back to the 356 together, I feeling odd naked next to a female cop; I was shy then about my physicality. But on seeing the car, she offered to forgo my ticket if I gave her a ride. I agreed. “Now, how do you want me to drive? Are you going to give me a ticket for speeding or reckless driving?” She told me to go for it, and believe me, I gave her the ride of her life. When we returned to the impatient Kris she was quite flushed. “Wow, that was simply amazing.” This might be a first and last.
Gayness wasn’t the same in 1975 as it is now, in the sense that it wasn’t overt or even particularly interesting. None of the friends I knew cared if you were gay or not—it just wasn’t an issue. Fine either way was my feeling, and I was actually attacked once on a train in Europe when I was 13. Being a soccer player I destroyed the rapist’s shins. Then at 14 I was accosted in the middle of the night waiting for a bus in Portland, Maine. Later, after riding freights and hurting my head jumping off a train stupidly, I was messed with in the restroom of the Spokane, Washington bus station. Even with these occurrences, all of which I easily deflected, I’ve never had an issues with anyone’s sexuality, excepting the two fat lesbian neighbors who insisted on exhibiting their preference every Sunday morning when I walked to our barn. It wasn’t a problem besides that it was so unattractive seeing all that blubber against blubber rolling around moaning, particularly when severely hung over.
Provincetown in 1975 had a lot of homosexuals. Kris and I, always intently looking for girls, couldn’t figure out what seemed different. Kris of course immediately picked up a luscious English girl, Penelope, in a lunchroom where we had gone for a sandwich and a coffee. She explained the situation to us, and suddenly the bulb lit.
That evening, the three of us went to Penelope’s favorite tavern, and I spent the evening hustling pool. I made an inordinate amount of money, well over a hundred dollars. It was almost as if all these gay guys just wanted to give me money. They were amazingly friendly and funny, and I had a tremendously good time. After about three hours, I went to check on the love birds. Kris was apparently in the washroom, I’m sure to smoke more pot. I sat down beside Penelope and said the obvious, “You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.” I said it because it was true. The palest blue, huge, dark prominent lashes against the whitest skin.
Kris ended up sleeping in a rubber boat on Penelope’s porch, and when it began to rain during the night, the boat quietly filled with water. Kris was the proverbial wet hen in the morning. I was crazy about Penelope. A few months later when I returned from Europe, I visited her at her college in Maryland, but she had another boyfriend by then. She was too gorgeous to leave alone for months, and I was as far from settling down as a boy could be. We sat in the manicured lawn outside her dorm room, my Porsche looking stunning in the late afternoon sunlight. I took three early autumn leaves and carefully removed the centers as we talked. When I painted Penelope that winter from a nude drawing I’d done that Provincetown morning, I painted in the three leaves.
The next summer, Penelope sent me a drawing she had done of herself naked against a flaming sunset. It was a pretty terrible watercolor, but I loved the pure gesture and sentiment of it. By then I was involved with the French one. There are so many misses in life.
Early 1980s, when I invented (kidding) the mullet, which Kris later claimed as his own. Yes, he did look much better in it, but what some smart girls noticed (I found out way too late) was the package. No idea what that means.
The street in Providence, Rhode Island were I blasted my 356, that wonderful exhaust echoing. Duke’s Billiards—I lived above it for a few months—would’ve been on the left, the Greek diner with the generous 25-cent soup was to the right of the movie palace, which was called the Ocean in 1974.
Kris and I dropped straight down through Vermont to Hal Stowell’s cabin. Hal was my tremendous hero through this era, and of course he had magically appeared after Andi Shapiro kicked me out the winter before. I’ve never told the truth about why Andrea Shapiro kicked me out, but I suppose there is no reason to hold back now.
Her obsession with me was because of the book The Little Prince, which was her great childhood favorite, and I still have her copy that she gave me sandwiched on a low dark shelf in the library of our house, her name written in childish huge letters. When she saw me that evening at the RISD I was wearing a self-designed handmade suit of pale yellow cotton duck. It was cooler-looking than anything Richard Merkin ever wore, believe me. I had traded Betsy Carlson a painting since she was a talented seamstress. Andi introduced herself, and after I left the college the next morning, we began to correspond. Then, I hitchhiked that winter in 1974 to visit her at her beckoning. [This has all been written about in a former entry.]
The suit a couple of months old in 1973, Gorham, New Hampshire, the author writing! The author rarely wore anything except that suit during that era. Even the belt was pale yellow cotton duck and thin as a crayon, the buttons including the fly were hand-carved maple.
What I’ve never told about my week with her (and ignored in my poem about her) is that she went to a doctor on Tuesday to have herself fitted with a diaphragm so we could fuck. During the doctor visit she found out her college painting professor (she was in her final year at RISD and was getting her senior show in painting together) had not only given her an STD and made her pregnant, but he was also flunking her. Her upset and emotional pain, fury and anger were overwhelming as she was a very upper-class spoiled girl and had never had to deal with anything negative before. As my roommate for one week recently e-mailed me (and I paraphrase):
“But then I remember you landed this crazy cute rich chick and you still bailed. The two of you — just can’t imagine her living in the woods when she was hob nabbing with the likes of Dick Cavette the TV guy in NYC swish splendor. I saw her at various swish soho parties. I always had secondary (not good) thoughts about her although she was an extremely attractive young lady. And had ambitions, whatever they were, way beyond mine.”
I tenderly held and soothed Andi’s sobbing body for a day or so, took her out to eat at fancy joints until I was broke, and then she simply asked me to leave. I felt an overwhelming emotional attachment (love?) for her because of having shared so much, so quickly, but she never gave me another thought after the lightning struck. I’m always amazed by people who can be that self-serving and cold.
As a footnote, I tracked Andrea Andi Shapiro down online recently, and actually contacted one of her former husbands—a famous and nice enough guy. But, ha! She still refused to have anything to do with me. Her words as they were passed along: “Tell him to FUCK OFF.” Ha, ha, ha.
Taken in one of those photo booths that were in train and bus stations. Providence, January, 1974, I was 17 by less than a few weeks, Andrea Shapiro (Andi Shapiro) was 21. Think of that!
My Andi Shapiro journal entries
In October 1973 after meeting her in the Cafeteria at RISD.
“I met this girl Andy my last night there. She is very beautiful.”
And that was all.
Then we must have started writing to each other and talking on the phone until I went back to Providence on her beckoning, January 1974. I had turned 17 years old that December.
April 1, 1974
This gray day bears no blessing. Andi Shapiro calls while I am sleeping. My mother alerts me. I am awoken to Andi’s words. They too carry no blessing. Such is weather and city women.
I guess I loved her—now I only have Casablanca on the brain. I see no further time between us, the one day we met, the one week at her side, the only memory. I so remember her asking me if I wanted her to take my penis in her mouth. That Sunday morning—The city sounds in my ears through the open window since the steam heat was overly warm, finally fully awake after my long two-day hitchhike from Wisconsin, my aimless walk around her city in the cold, trying desperately to find her damn apartment before I froze to death.
Then, I had actually forgotten what she looked like. Now, her face and body are etched into my vision. A raw girl—yet so confused and swallowed up by the system. Such a creature of both pain and beauty.
I finally found the apartment and hammered on her door. Nothing. So I curled up on the landing in my sleeping bag and slept. I awoke to her long black leather boots as they hastened, clacking up the three flights of stairs at 2 a.m. I stood, still so exhausted, only partially awake, feeling so crazy after days and nights on the road. And there she was—raven hair embracing her finely featured pale face. We embraced and then she invited me into her small place—huge boxspring and mattress on the floor with brown velvet sheets still unmade. My come made stains on those sheets in the days to follow, but then I showered in the tiny bathroom, the shower in the 4-foot tub, and I fell asleep at her side only to awaken a couple of hours later just before dawn. And there she was watching me. Andi Shapiro. We went out to eat every night, to a Chinese place at least three times, where she formed small penises in the coconut ice cream and then hooking my eyes, she licked them away.
Andrea Gene Shapiro looks at Eric Green in a photo booth in 1974. I wonder what she was thinking? I know what I was thinking.
Andrea Andi Shapiro at 16 years old.
I must have written this poem for her at the beginning of the week.
Andrea poem from January 1974
Who has heard the morning scream in sunlight?
Sure—these are weighty moments!
Were there really church bells ringing?
All I heard were loud lips
And a slow movement
Like a low note from her body;
All is one when Sunday’s pigeons and city
Live beyond the window.
I heard only one sound:
A sound one warm body breathes into another
The morning after a long vigil.
Someone called my name in ecstasy
A one-syllable song.
Andi Shapiro in the RISD painting studio in 1974. Photo by Roger Gordy.
SHE for Andi Shapiro
She who stood before me naked;
“Isn’t my body perfect,”
She’d say and it was.
She in her last year of art school,
The girl I hitchhiked a thousand miles
To see when I was seventeen.
Before I left I had inspected my face,
I had a few issues, an uncertain complexion,
Maybe I should wait a month or two
Till my skin cleared;
She so doll-like and blemish-free
from upscale Chappaqua, New York.
I hitchhiked a thousand miles in winter
With my pool cue and my freight-riding sack
Packed inside with handmade gifts for her,
Things I had labored over.
“I wish you had a sports car,” she said.
While she was attending painting classes
I’d either be in the freight yard wandering,
Angling my complexion to the January sun,
Or in one of the two poolrooms.
(But how do you win a sports car on a pool table
In Providence, Rhode Island, in 1974?)
She the first to put the mouth to me
And she choked badly in my moment,
Thereafter eyeing it suspiciously.
She who kicked me out after a week,
After my meager money was gone and
The pool balls had stopped dropping.
How can a seventeen-year-old choke
When he is playing for the woman he loves?
She did—I did.
He heard I was around and wounded,
(I’d called his ex-wife looking for him)
And in a decrepit yellow ex-mail van
He found me and offered the Wendell woods,
A tiny cabin chained to a massive pine tree.
No well, a rusted-out wood stove, gas lamps,
The January wind keeping that chain taught.
My complexion cleared right up.
Over frozen rutted dirt roads, there
The lone payphone at Lake Wyola,
The single light above it now,
A small shrine in darkness,
The frozen lake the wind had blown
to white waves in the moonlight,
Black Label pounders between our legs,
Oh, I had to call her,
Damn, I had to call her,
Just had to.
And after the miles of fierce dirt roads
And the coins pressed hard into the slot
And standing there shivering in the
Forever wind of our belief in salvation
And then me whispering her name when
Whispering it again with
All the humility and fear of what I felt.
And she said,
“I can’t talk now, I’m with someone.”
He gathered me up out of the snow,
I’d tripped somehow leaving the booth
And I looked out again over frozen Lake Wyola.
And I looked at him and I said,
I should have known
I should have known
Damn it, I should have known.
I should have known the second time too,
When I hitchhiked to see her again,
Though, at least, the distance was down
To two hundred miles.
COASTThere is something about a cold June morning,And you’re leaning against your beat 356 Porsche,And the sun has been soaking into the metal,So it’s warm against your back,You shivering a bit in a T-shirt,But it’s okay because you knowThat the day will be sweltering asYou drive Down East.The day opens in a way nothing else can.You are alive in a way only the true road gives:No plans, no expectations, no worries, no fear,For this is Maine, this is your home state becauseSome place must always be home, oh, vagabond.Each of our pasts seems to move backwards.It recedes and we reach out to hold it tight,But time gives no favors and no slights,It just quietly travels on. AsThe antiqued diner with a mottled bar topThose classic diner smells, so embracingAs the wind lifts salt brine off clam flatsA generally nasty smell but now—And you think, “My God, I do exist.”Forgive the false cloven hoof,For today I chase you from sight,For no evil can withstand suchObvious joy within absolute humility.Because when you truly understand the road,The only way to survive is to become nothing.Just surviving is enough, completely enoughAnd that is its beauty and truth.
Poem written in 2017
The Maine Coast has always been my favorite place on Earth, and to live here is a daily joy. I simply like everything about it, and the true Mainers exemplify what I admire in people as well, although I’ve always preferred animals and nature to most people. After all, I’m misanthropic, melancholic, quite agoraphobic now, as well as germaphobic and reclusive—a hermit who loves only one woman and one cat—a Maine Coon of course. Perfect combination of attributes for mid-coast Maine.
Kris and I stopped in Boston to visit Peter C. and after I took him through the streets of the city at intolerable speed, I noticed the tires looked peculiar. It was the dirty canvas backing protruding through the rubber in far too many spots; overly energetic hard 4-wheel drifts on dry pavement will do that. New Uniroyals fitted (funny I remember the tire manufacturer), we pointed north after a good night’s sleep at Peter’s family’s glorious apartment in Cambridge filled with rare harpsichords and spinets that his father had collected or made. Poor Kris’s night was far drier, mine far less wet, but all road heroes need sleep on occasion.
It began to feel like Maine when we stopped at L.L. Beans. If you’ve never been there in the 1970s or earlier, you’ve never been there. It was simply the best then, and no wonder it became so famous.
But also the narrow passage up to the old Bath bridge, such a rumble over the metal grid, which I attacked just a tick under 80 mph, and the nostalgic pass through Wiscasset ( these wonderful NA names!), the sinking schooners still signaling the glorious windjammer past with a rotten wooden mast or two before they eventually vanished. How I loved the sight of those schooners as a boy.
Of course NOTHING says Maine to me more than Moody’s Diner. Why is this photograph taken a month ago so unusual?
Because the clock is near noon and the place is empty! Moody’s still looks great but it was heaven itself in 1975, appearing exactly as it did in the 1950s. The tiny washrooms could make a grown man cry, and that yellow counter that you see in the photo was the same yellow counter Kris and I sat at, rubbed our summer-tanned forearms across. What wonderful sensibilities to keep something like that and not to change it, but that’s the gift of a family owned business that stretches for generations. The hot turkey sandwich on a grilled homemade biscuit!
For me, the memorable part of the whole trip was now. We stopped at the Smiling Cow in Camden, the place where I’d purchased my first art supplies in the 1960s—simple felt-tip pens and sketchbook pads of drawing paper—and after walking out onto the back porch over the tidal river, gazing at Camden harbor, we realized (were told) that the last Islesboro ferry was leaving in under five minutes.
Okay, I’m guessing here, but I would wager few cars have ever passed that distance quicker than that blue coupe on that June afternoon. Gloves on, I was flat out—and Eric Green in 1975 in his Porsche 356A was pretty quick. I 4-wheel drifted (new Uniroyals!) off Route 1 as the ferry was just inching away from the slip. The lads on the boat, GOD bless them! signaled, and I jumped the slight difference to cooly place the 356 on the boat deck. Kris, of course, was calling out his mantra with wicked abandon. It was one of those crystalline moments that few get more than once. There, Kris! We will always have that.
1992 oil on linen painting of Route 2 approaching the White Mountains along the Androscoggin River near probably Bethel.
Kris and I visited Uncle Don (in name only) who had a house on Islesboro and whom I’d known since 1970 when I first visited the island.Many of my firsts happened on Islesboro, like skinny dipping at night with girls at fourteen, or smoking my first corncob pipe, bought off the rack at the country store there, with Borkum Riff because I wanted to connect myself with the square-riggers printed on the pouch.Uncle Don thought I was brilliant for figuring out how to drill a hole in a hand-carved pipe stem.I burned it through with a red-hot piano wire heated on the gas stove.I learned from Mitch the other day that this was how Mainers made syrup spiles out of sumac.As an aside, my father could’ve bought 8 prime waterfront acres in 1968 for 2k.“Not a good buy,” he claimed to convince my mother who was all for it.“No one will ever want to deal with that ferry.”Thanks, Dad.
Donna was Uncle Don’s daughter and she was getting married the next day at eighteen years old, my age.It seemed way too young to get married although I would marry just a year later.To celebrate a kind of co-ed bachelor party, the three of us set off around the island in the Porsche with lots of beer.I think it was Tuborg or Labatts.We ended up next to the ocean in a moonlit bit of beach.Somehow Iwas invited to Donna’s top half and Kris to her bottom half.The three of us enjoyed this greatly until it was discovered that Donna’s grandmother’s engagement ring had vanished, which she desperately needed in mere hours.We sifted sand until dawn, and strangely I can’t remember if we ever found that ring or not.I do remember the sad weary blueness of all that sand in the hung-over dawn—we all felt terrible.Donna got married that day, and Kris and I slunk off on the early ferry back to the mainland.
The ferry docked at Lincolnville Beach where I had camped so many times during my past hitchhiking days.We stopped in Belfast, but once again could not find Sam Appleton although his restaurant was finished and operating.Leaving Belfast during that era, I always took the Moosehead Trail and then Route 137 through the rolling dairy farms.Same route I hitchhiked in 1973.I always utilized roads with cool names like the Mohawk Trail or the Pilgrim Highway, which filled me with romantic ideals.
Most early Maine roads were built across ridges and then they dip down to water—streams, rivers, lakes, where the towns congregate around since water was so vital.Dirt path from settlement to settlement, which were eventually widened and then paved, missing the correct base of gravel and drainage to prevent frost heaves.We drove past the paper mills of Skowhegan and Rumford, the stench in Mexico all but unbearable, an actual slap to the face and then an immediate sleeve to nostrils.It reminded me of Gorham when the Brown Company reek blew down the Androscoggin River.Of course I adored all this kind of thing back then, and still know a lot about paper mills and paper making, all my father’s inventions being within that industry.
Entering the White Mountains and arriving in your hometown, driving an early 356 Porsche, your own Porsche at the age of eighteen, after driving with your father so many times in his Porsches is a feeling beyond words. Past the Shelburne Birches, past Reflection Pond, past the Town & Country Motor Lodge, over the railroad tracks and the Peabody river (pronounced Pibbidy river) and up the steep drive to Prospect Terrace and the last house of three, my Godmother’s grand Queen Anne Victorian. Oh man, oh man!
Of course we played straight pool at Archies and drank a couple birch beers, a pop which I’ve never seen outside of New Hampshire. And for the one and only time Kris beat me at straight pool. He couldn’t miss a shot—perhaps the exact blend of pot and lack of sleep. I kept going outside to admire the sight of my beautiful blue coupe parked next to my favorite ever poolroom.
This acrylic on panel painting done in 1977, the first version of which Chuck Marsala bought in 1976.
We went to a bar then, probably up in Berlin, maybe the Club Joliette de Raccateurs, and at about midnight, I decided we would head for Lake Placid where Kris had a girlfriend he wanted to visit. I remember this old guy who owned the gas station where Route 16 joins Route 2 which then sets out alone for Vermont across the north slopes of the White Mountains, this old guy, really drunk, turned on one of his pumps so we could gas up, a lovely gesture, Kris and I then push-starting the 356 up the slight incline that became the enormous rise of Gorham Hill.
My godmother’s porch in Gorham, with parents and my godmother in cast. I loved those field stone steps and rebuilt them for free during the 1980s.
The house that began my obsession with Victorians and large houses in general. Hal Stowell and his Volkswagen the summer of 1972 when we drove from Massachusetts to Prince Edward Island to catch the total eclipse of the sun. That is another entire road trip story, which began many of the rituals that followed through the years. I must have been 15.
The headlights began to dim to the point where I simply had to shut them off just to keep enough juice in the system to fire the plugs through the coil and distributor. I stopped a few times to whack the voltage regulator, but the old generator was too worn to do much good. (Soon Inky Wardwell and I would replace the brushes in Sacks Harbor.) Kris kept falling asleep, and his head would snap backwards cruelly into nothingness because the Porsche seats did not include headrests. He’d wake from the pain, mumble illegibly and then repeat. This must have happened fifty times. It was a glorious run while the moon was out, but bizarrely dangerous when the clouds closed over our only light, and I put the car into a few panic slides to keep her from the void of true darkness and disaster. Kris bizarrely slept through it all.
I had not at this point memorized Route 2 from so many crossings as I have now. Of course in the last ten years much of the road has been straightened, and I no longer take the original pure Route 2 run through Lancaster, New Hampshire to cross the Connecticut River at Lunenberg, Vermont and enter what Stan Walker always called “The Waste Lands.”
The dawn lightened the world when we reached Rouses Point and Lake Champlain. I stopped the Porsche and simply got out and lay down exactly on the center white line, the lake perfectly reflecting the rose colored sky to become one like a vision of God. I was so elated I wasn’t even really tired although I was entering my third day without any sleep. I felt the cold damp Macadam on my back, I heard the 1500 tick as she cooled, I looked up at the sky and knew I had done it, achieved it, truly felt it—the road, the blessed road. 15 minutes of silence and bliss. Then I gave the car a light push, jumped back in, slipped the clutch in second gear and off we continued.
I That black night, came out of black hills Tired headlights eyeing the endless road. Quiet constant: vision of one slant pole Curving white line into the damp fog. Last midnight gas, tired old drunk filling the tank, Push-started, our heads bouncing with beer. The old Porsche grinding out the distance, Hill curves out of Vermont, Kris your head snapping back in sleep, Bridge into New York State, Rose dawn falling in a clouded Lake Champlain, Earth smell, the last sip In a broken Thermos of coffee.
The toll bridge into New York State took our last coins leaving us 17 cents. I begged the sleepy guy in the booth—I’d woken him and could’ve just driven right by—but he insisted we pay. Now we didn’t have quite enough money for coffee, and we really NEEDED coffee more than the state needed our 50 cents. I couldn’t get on a pool table till afternoon, and I hated to play broke. It was poor ethics although sometimes it was unavoidable. That said, I very rarely lost when hustling. And then we arrived at the girlfriend’s apartment and Kris disappeared with her, as I fell asleep on a dirty sofa. It was about 8 a.m. on a Friday morning in late June 1975. That road run had ended. They all do . . .
Now, if you reread this poem, you’ll probably understand where every line came from:
On light wings we came Following pretty girls in old cars, Salt brine reaching our nostrils Steaming from our pores. With our youthful energy We hot-highway-determined Pulled the ripe scent of the country Into the hanging mouth of the city Noon sun flooding the windshield. We found the familiar Poolroom But all friends had since moved away, Those times left in the dusty stale air And on the wide dark stairs. New addresses, an old Italian barber giving us directions (a hundred hands) We found only empty warehouses, The freight yard with Its barren ghost noises Tar stench No one.
Thus hot and bare-chested We drove past the city blocks (Dark-skinned girls gleaming on the cement corners) Listening to the wailing strains of Charlie Parker, Rolling smokes, gunning up the highway Under nameless signs, The humid afternoon Blasting through the windows Into our hair.
Then the sun settling, spinning itself Into the dusk-black sands of Cape Cod. First lights blinking on, Blushing evening, brush-stroke moon. Other friends found with lone pay phone, Hot coffee thoughts, The last easy miles, Grinning faces at the cambered porch, The outstretched blue arms of the Atlantic.
Midnight we swam, Salty, cold, naked, dangling, We yelling into that huge caldron night, The moon a perfect scratch in the blackened metal: Silver, new, curled—and our voices seasoning the mild ever-retreating air.
The morning opened Hinged on the horizon of the ocean, We followed the coastline north, uncomplaining Hungry for every moment, The small Porsche our home, The glove box lid our table, Eating powdered sugar donuts, Splashing down sweating cartons Of cold milk.
Kris, your straight nose in the sun, Your hairless chest shining, Your eyes licking the long green hills.
So the miles laid themselves short, So we tore them off as if the road Was a long strip of paper, So we saw all the tanned faces Followed all the trucks Smelled the summer night deep The silver ocean, Rumbled by all the June days Like a kick stone down a smooth hill.
That last night at Hal’s cabin, We three rattled over dusty dirt roads To the Spring Hill Diner. And under the flickering neon, We grumbled out of drunk night To the bright white counter, The wall menu, the thick cups of coffee.
Hal went to bed early that night As he does often now: His energy burning out early, His poetry like a long-since-shaved beard, Life hung on his strong shoulders Like great flour sacks of earth, His days hard beside an angry woman. Yet still his eyes searched out The fruit of the night Its juice wetting his lips.
That last night, over the last beers, Our words grafted us together; The beer cold in the swooning June air, Flies aiming for a hole in the sky. And you—Kris Your eagerness lighting in your smooth face, Your ego like a draft, Your lack of attachment supposedly a vision.
We slept on the cabin floor, Morning the rooster woke us, Hal rummaging back Into the pattern of his days: A clean shirt His honest good-bye A poet’s finesse Still on his eyebrows, Lost only In an angry world.
After the classic road run through New England with Kris Marsala, I spent about a week repairing much needed bits on the Porsche with Inky Wardwell. Inky adored my dad and so wanted to be a racecar driver, even owning the helmet, goggles and full race suit. The problem? No racecar. Inky was a lovely guy, scrawny as a broom bristle with terrible pocked skin. One evening after drinking too much beer in Sacks Harbor, which is where I first met Sam Stallard at the age of two, I drove the Porsche back to Watertown, quite drunk. I stopped at a corner coffee and donut shop just up from the Crystal Restaurant, and bought a large coffee to go and for some misaligned reason a red star came up on my receipt, and I was awarded four-dozen mixed donuts. About the last thing I wanted since I’ve never eaten much sugar.
My wonderful great friend Sam Stallard in the 1950s. We arm-wrestled in the 1970s and always came to draw; it took me quite some time to realize the truth! I so miss you, Sam.
“Jolly gee willikers it’s good to see you, Eric,” Sam never failed to greet me with a huge smile, whether he was drunk or sober.
“It must’ve been odd, my friend, to be the first superhero before they even existed in the American consciousness.”
But I faithfully stumbled back to the car with my sticky boxes of dozens. Car wouldn’t start, or I was too drunk to push it rapidly enough and jump in, shift into gear and release the clutch before the momentum died, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Well, a few fellows from the neighborhood bar staring out the open midnight door noticed a couple sweaty failed attempts, and about a dozen guys and girls charged out of the bar to give me a monumental push. 356 1500 purring, I called back, “Would anyone care for a donut?” Huge cheers, lots of drunken grins; I kept one dozen to give to Edie Marsala for breakfast.
Late July, I parked my Porsche in an enclosed shed on the outskirts of Montreal and took a cheap flight to Munich, Germany to see my grandfather who was my only grandparent and whom I loved dearly. He was Dutch and his family brought windmills from Holland to Pomerania across the Baltic Sea. He was a revered hunter, and when the Russians entered Eastern Germany at the end of WWII, he was forced to walk away from his vast estate, pear and apple orchards, multiple servants (even a live-in gay tutor for my mother and uncle), the only Steinway grand piano in the region, along with his bees since he was a dedicated beekeeper. Before fleeing, he carefully wrapped all his gorgeous rifles in oil cloth and buried them. The weapons could well still be there on the estate somewhere.
Among other things, he survived tetanus without amputation, which was considered a medical miracle. He told me he didn’t want to live without his right arm. He married into nobility and though he was frowned upon by his noble counterparts as a commoner, to me he was the true gentleman in every way. He always wore a three-piece suit with tie and never left the house without a dapper felt hat. He smoked exactly four Cuban cigars, drank two Underbergs, two coffees, one section of cake, one schnapps, three large wheat beers with slices of lemon, walked two miles each and every day. He told me the secret to life was moderation! Lived to be 93 and stood as straight as a hemlock until the day he died of the flu. His name was Erich and of course he’s my namesake. If I wanted to smoke one of his superb cigars, he insisted I stick the cigar into my pipe bowl straight up, which he pronounced “peep.” Pizza he called “pits,” and refused ever to try it.
My great grandmother on the noble side was Jewish, my mother’s side of the family. My great grandmother actually stood on a balcony and screamed obscenities at Hitler in the 1930s as he came by in some massive parade. She was very wealthy and apparently quite fearless. Hitler’s SS guards came after her, so the family slid my great grandmother under a bed, placed my grandmother on the chamber pot in front of the bed. The guards after a moment of embarrassment, relented. I guess even SS guards had certain sensitivities. I hope people still know what a chamber pot is?
After a week, I took the night train to Paris, France, using my hobo experience to sleep comfortably in the baggage car. As a footnote, I could walk from my grandfather’s house in Ebersberg to the train station in town, and from there reach anywhere in Europe with my shockingly inexpensive one-month Euro-rail pass. And I ended up even taking the Orient Express from Paris to Athens, Greece, which was a completely miserable yet story-worthy experience, which will be addressed in a later post.
Paris was a revelation. I simply loved everything about it: from the coffee varieties with the heated twin silver pitchers for cafe au lait to the crisp croissants fresh from ovens each morning, to the language which sounded like an uncontrollable whisper, the lovely girls in light frocks swishing along the newly washed streets where the freed water was broomed along with medieval thatch on gnarled sticks, the strange undefinable citrus smell of the subway with its ancient wicker-covered seats, the Eiffel Tower, the beyond bewildering art museums where Impressionists reign, and the crazy pigeons hop and complain seemingly absolutely everywhere you walked. I would smoke fat hand-rolled cigarettes trying to look like Belmondo with the bored pout. I lived on baguette with camembert and Archie Shepp playing “Blasé,” which I must have listened to over a hundred times.
I sometimes walked the damp streets all night until the bakeries and cafes began to light and open, and I could score an espresso and croissant. I had oddly enough found a paperback of On the Road by Jack Kerouac at my grandfather’s with a lurid cover promising wild road kicks and wanton sex-escapades, which I then read for the first time without being overly impressed although I was hugely attracted to the idea of being beatific and to the frenzy of Dean (Neal Cassidy) who seemed to match my normal intensity for life at that time. Those Paris night walks made me feel pretty beat.
Of course I also met the French woman I would marry and who would make me, besides the abundant sex, pretty miserable.
Photo was taken in the farm fields of Wisconsin, January, 1975. The temperature? Only a tad under 5, but I thought my polyester pearl-snap suit had quite the look. I only look cold because of the wind (always raging across those flats) and the fact that the 356 had no functioning heat at this time. Soon enough I closed some of the large holes in the heat exchangers with tin and duct tape. Better? Only very slightly, but it felt glorious, even if it was the kind of heat your favorite pet blows against your chest on a cold afternoon in bed.
Winter 1975 In Neenah, Wisconsin, I take my “new” 1956 356A 1600S Porsche to an English mechanic recommended by my father. Not only does he damage the car by pushing it out of a snow bank with his plow, but he also steals many Porsche parts and replaces them with cheap VW ones (the horn suddenly made the distracted bleat of a sick sheep). He also pinches a brake line while jacking the car, which would lead to a brake failure at 80 mph when headed into the Rocky Mountains. At this point I still trust people, so have no idea how poorly I’ve been treated. I pay his ridiculous bill. Remember, I am still just 18 years old.
I drive to Ocean Shores, Washington to visit my father who has taken a job in Aberdeen and bought a house, building an enormous garage for his 911 Targa. My mother is stuck in Wisconsin trying to sell that house.
My father stupidly bought a house on Ocean Shores, and I went to visit him. My high school buddy Eric Murphy (I drove to see him in Portland, Oregon) blew up my Porsche engine within one minute of driving the car for the first time. He immediately accelerated flat out to over a 100 mph and then shifted back into third. I simply could not believe he could be such an asshole. I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing? “Well . . . you were driving it that way.” Even though we were only 18 years old, I will never forgive him. But it stranded me, and it took months to find a new engine, and after two tries I was finally running again with a much slower motor than before.
Then the man who had hired my father committed suicide, so my dad was fired. Then the entire chimney blew off the side of the house he’d bought. He ended up returning to Vermont in financial ruin, and I drove one of his cars back across the country for him although he had refused to help me repair my 356. I begged him! All he had to do was tell me what to do—he was a master mechanic and had just build himself a huge garage. Instead, he once again cheated me by talking me into selling my broken Super 75hp engine to a “friend” of his. He did the same thing with the amazing Marklin train set my grandfather had bought for me when I was around 12 or 13. It wouldn’t work because it ran on 220 volts, but he could’ve easily bought a converter. But then he had never wanted me. My mother actually told me that at 13 years old to try and further set us apart. It worked for a while.
But the trip across the country—my first big run in the Porsche—was a classic. Initially, I visited Ripon College, met Rich Bruce and saw Kathy Carlsberg, who I had had a huge crush on in high school. She had always kept me at arm’s length because I’m sure she saw me as too puny and unattractive. But even with her amazing Greta Garbo looks and perfect breasts, she chose misbalanced dominoes of abusive men until the age of forty when she finally found the right guy, at least as portrayed in her Christmas letters.
There was a moment on that trip West that no one will believe, but it’s true. As I mentioned, I lost the brakes at 80 miles per hour coming off an Interstate exit towards a stop sign. When I pulled the emergency brake, the rusted cable snapped and I was left holding the T-shaped chrome handle. I downshifted as the revs would permit, slid through the dead-end corner in a four-wheel drift, and basically enjoyed the entire moment as pretty exciting, but later in the day, toward dusk, I would finally become truly scared.
In the Rockies, on Interstate 90, I was met by a massive mountain blizzard. It became apparent the Interstate was becoming impassible so I took the first exit and began searching for any form of human habitation. Cold? Very. Remember the Porsche didn’t have heat. Also no brakes. Then the Wipers stopped working. To see—I couldn’t pull over or stop or I’d be stuck and stranded and freeze to death—I attempted to roll down the window, but the mechanism jammed, so I had to open the door, hold it from flying completely open, peer through the crack into blinding flakes, steer and downshift for brakes with my other hand while maintaining the momentum of around 50 mph. Just as the pan of the car began to lift in the mass of snow drifts, and darkness had all but made visibility impossible, did I spot a motel neon. Imagine that sight! God does exist!
The next morning it was 20 below zero and no one’s car would start except my 356. How? A chicken baster—I extracted gas from the tank under the bonnet, injected the fuel into the four carburetor venturis, and off I went. That morning I also called my father, and I drove to the one official Porsche dealer in that part of the world during 1975. They fixed the severed brake line as well as the leaking gas filter, which had dripped constantly on my right shoe. Life was good!
My 356 on the West Coast. My father convinced me to detach the front bumper—weight reduction. He then left it behind in Wisconsin, refusing to move it. Funny what that bumper is worth today. Or maybe not so funny.
Slower Porsche engine (1500, 55hp) fitted, I drove back across the country on Route 12, missing the racing Bursch Extractor and the extra horsepower. I think I’m the only person who has driven across the country on almost every non-Interstate highway that bisects the West. For instance: Route 2, Route 12, Route 14, Route 20, and Route 36, just to name a few. At times because of construction, the road would jag north for 40 miles, head east 5, and then return 40 miles. This becomes mentally exhausting after a time, even knowing that the point of being there is the road travel not the achievement of distance.
On a long driving trip, it’s not easy to turn around and backtrack. Maybe during the afternoon you suddenly remember that you left your dead father’s sunglasses in the diner where you ate lunch, or you realize that you took the wrong exit an hour ago—the sun is behind you when it should be slanting through the windshield.
It can be discouraging when you discover the mistake. Sometimes you might even stubbornly keep driving before accepting that there is nothing to do but U-turn, compounding frustration. You might pull over and glare at a map, hoping there’s some other choice, a shorter way, anything but the next hours of correcting a carelessness that will achieve so little.
One night after an endless day behind the wheel, I noticed the winking lights of the Starlight outdoor movie theatre fly by for a second time. “That’s odd,” I thought, “how can there be two Starlight theatres within hours of each other? And on opposite sides of the road?” Then I felt like crying.
Life can be like this. No one wants things to get worse or head backwards, but they do. People invest their futures with Madoffs, they crash cars, they’re diagnosed with cancer, houses burn to the ground. We want to say, “No! Please! Reverse this last bit of film; this can’t be happening.” We are captive within not only our own natures but human nature in general. The realization of improvement gives us joy; deprivation and loss generates misery. Doesn’t matter where the mean water level is, or how high the rise or deep the drop.
One morning in the fall of 1974 I stood on a boxcar floor stranded in a freight train a few miles from the Canadian border in Montana. It was so cold that I was forced to jump up and down, my wool blanket wrapped around me like a poncho. I hadn’t eaten for almost a day, and I could see the fluorescent welcome of a diner in the predawn darkness. Chilled, hungry, despairing, I had all but decided to abandon my westward pilgrimage when the freight lurched and began to roll again. 20 minutes later the sky flamed into the most overwhelming sunrise I’ve ever seen. I was inexplicably happy. The day turned into a miracle of experiences that I still cherish.
Is the point of life to remain safe and live as long as possible? To gratify and enjoy oneself? To try to help others? To raise a family and protect them? To become rich and powerful regardless of the cost? To make spiritual gains? To learn about and understand what’s around us?
I haven’t a clue what’s right for others. I only know that if I’m forced to U-turn and backtrack, it serves nothing to become frustrated or bitter though that’s not always possible to manage. But I know that eventually I’ll have to accept what has happened—drive back those many hours to retrieve my father’s sunglasses, deal with the fact that I’ve lost a lot of money, that my ceilings and belongings are ruined, or that someone I love is going to die. And who knows, though I certainly can’t see it at the moment, I might actually be headed in an ideal direction, the day in front of me about to open into a long-awaited miracle.
I visited Kris in Watertown once again. He, however, got mad at me and kicked me out of his room and his side of his parent’s house because I did not agree that the most brilliant statement about art was this: “Art is!” My feeling was that a modifier would make the sentence more meaningful. I also was asked by his father, who owned an AMC dealership, to park my foreign junk a block away so no one could see such trash in his driveway. The 356 was so disliked at that time that I was refused gas in certain stations and was once told to, “Get that Nazi shit off my property before I blow a hole in it!”
Only his mother, Edie, who sat long hours with me at their basement bar area, drinking beer and talking about life, and his brother Greg, seemed to appreciate my presence and company. Greg was even always willing to give my old crate push-starts since the starter motor had long failed. Parking on a hill wasn’t continually possible. When Greg died, I wrote this to be read at his funeral:
“I first met Greg when I was around seven or eight years old. My parents had hired him as my babysitter because our families had been neighbors on West Broadway Avenue. Even at that age I immediately liked Greg. That was one of his gifts, everyone seemed to like him, but as a babysitter I’m not sure my parents approved.
What we ended up doing during the four or five hours my parents were gone, was burn all my carefully assembled plastic model cars. This was one of my first experiences with paradox. On the one hand, I was very proud of my cars, but on the other hand I was apparently also a bit of a pyromaniac, something Greg and I obviously shared. But I still clearly remember the evening in the backyard, Greg and I staring into those smoky flames, the plastic, aided by extra glue, burning feverishly. And Greg must have marvelled at it as well since he consistently reminded me of the moment over the years, laughing in that delightfully self-effacing way he had. “Maybe I wasn’t that great a babysitter, making you burn all your models,” he’d say to me thoughtfully, almost apologetically.
During my teenage years, I played a lot of pool, and Greg was always up for a session. Whenever I hitchhiked or later on drove into Watertown, we met at one of the downtown poolrooms or at the basement pool table in the Broadway house. You learn a great deal about a person’s character while playing pool with him, and Greg was my favorite competitor. Relaxed and calm, Greg played with a sweetness and sense of honor that affected my behavior towards the game. Greg always tried his best, and we were very evenly matched, but he had a graciousness about him, and he always wanted me to play well, and was pleased if I made a particularly difficult shot. This is unusual in good pool players. But Greg was unusual. He had a fragility, a delicateness, his handsome finely boned face so open, as if the world with all its aggressive endless desire and greed might have been a bit overwhelming for him. Greg consistently exhibited true kindness and generosity in our experiences together. Two attributes that I hugely respect and admire.
When I was in California in 1983, I visited Greg. He was amazed that I found him, that I cared enough about him to put in the effort. He seemed unduly pleased, and again, we had a wonderful time. I can’t remember not having a wonderful time with Greg over our forty-five years of intermittent encounters. Whenever we met, we immediately began talking comfortably and laughing together. Something simply clicked, which I know was more due to Greg than myself, since I’m not always easy socially.
One of my novels has finally been published this year. And Greg is in one of the characters. As a matter of fact, it was our meeting in California in 1983 that might have started my trying to write a novel twenty years ago. That one wasn’t much of a novel—pretty awful actually—but the Greg character who I named Kelly Harris is in two of my books. Of course Greg and I won’t play pool again, and I doubt we’d want to burn model cars, but for me and my readers, Greg will quietly live on in that lovely modest way of his. He had a wonderful influence on my life and my work, and I will miss him dearly. Good-bye, my friend.”
Kris was taking a pottery class in Clayton near Thousand Islands. We drove back and forth in his Rambler, smoking pot, and he introduced me to Led Zeppelin as well since I’d never heard them before, being a blues or avant-garde jazz or Jimi Marshall Hendrix listener only. Even at 14 I did a watercolor of Jimi that the school purchased. It was later thrown away when a student broke the glass of the frame. How I would love to see that again. I like Zeppelin okay, better than pot, which just made me feel stupid, which I found tremendously boring.
Then Kris and I set out on our classic road trip through New England. This will be featured in another posting; I leave you with this poem about our trip until then. The first few lines was an attempt to replicate a very famous Chinese poem—the feeling and sound hopefully transitioning from very light to fully weighted.
On light wings we came
Following pretty girls in old cars,
Salt brine reaching our nostrils
Steaming from our pores.
With our youthful energy
Pulled the ripe scent of the country
Into the hanging mouth of the city
Noon sun flooding the windshield.
We found the familiar Poolroom
But all friends had since moved away,
Those times left in the dusty stale air
And on the wide dark stairs.
New addresses, an old Italian barber
giving us directions (a hundred hands)
We found only empty warehouses,
The freight yard with
Its barren ghost noises
Thus hot and bare-chested
We drove past the city blocks
(Dark-skinned girls gleaming on the cement corners)
Listening to the wailing strains of Charlie Parker,
Rolling smokes, gunning up the highway
Under nameless signs, The humid afternoon
Blasting through the windows
Into our hair.
Then the sun settling, spinning itself
Into the dusk-black sands of Cape Cod.
First lights blinking on,
Blushing evening, brush-stroke moon.
Other friends found with lone payphone,
Hot coffee thoughts,
The last easy miles,
Grinning faces at the cambered porch,
The outstretched blue arms of the Atlantic.
Midnight we swam,
Salty, cold, naked, dangling,
We yelling into that huge caldron night,
The moon a perfect scratch in the blackened metal:
Silver, new, curled—and our voices
seasoning the mild ever-retreating air.
The morning opened
Hinged on the horizon of the ocean,
We followed the coastline north, uncomplaining
Hungry for every moment,
The small Porsche our home,
The glove box lid our table,
Eating powdered sugar donuts,
Splashing down sweating cartons
Of cold milk.
Kris, your straight nose in the sun,
Your hairless chest shining,
Your eyes licking the long green hills.
So the miles laid themselves short,
So we tore them off as if the road
Was a long strip of paper,
So we saw all the tanned faces
Followed all the trucks
Smelled the summer night deep
The silver ocean,
Rumbled by all the June days
Like a kick stone down a smooth hill.
That last night at Hal’s cabin,
We three rattled over dusty dirt roads
To the Spring Hill Diner.
And under the flickering neon,
We grumbled out of drunk night
To the bright white counter,
The wall menu, the thick cups of coffee.
Hal went to bed early that night
As he does often now:
His energy burning out early,
His poetry like a long-since-shaved beard,
Life hung across his strong shoulders
Like great flour sacks of earth,
His days hard beside an angry woman.
Yet still his eyes searched out
The fruit of the night
Its juice wetting his lips.
That last night, over the last beers,
Our words grafted us together;
The beer cold in the swooning June air,
Flies aiming for a hole in the sky.
Your eagerness lighting in your smooth face,
Your ego like a draft,
Your lack of attachment supposedly a vision.
We slept on the cabin floor,
Morning the rooster woke us,
Hal rummaging back
Into the pattern of his days:
A clean shirt
His honest good-bye
A poet’s finesse
Still on his eyebrows,
In an angry world.
Poem written in 1975
The photo above was taken by an English girl named Penelope. This was the morning after the night Kris spent hours trying to seduce her in a smoky gay bar in Provincetown, Massachusetts as I hustled pool making enough money for another week of driving around. Oddly, I ended up with Penelope that night. I did a painting of her later in the year when I was living in the Midwest.
I wrote this poem (below) on a typewriter in Montreal, the entire poem in one sitting, one finger, no mistakes. I still have the taped together manuscript. The poem was read on Corfu to two American girls on the beach as the sun set over the Aegean Sea and my nakedness and their nakedness caught the last light, my formidable erection dripping like a faucet. I was about to bed the nasty one with the wonderful breasts when my travel companion threw up all over us and my light cotton sleeping bag. Killed the moment. 15 miles of empty beach and he throws up on us!
Thousandth wielder at the ancient anvil pounding at the cold metal of her heart.
That black night, came out of black hills
Tired headlights eyeing the endless road.
Quiet constant: vision of one slant pole
Curving white line into the damp fog.
Last midnight gas, tired old drunk filling the tank,
Push-started, our heads bouncing with beer.
The old Porsche grinding out the distance,
Hill curves out of Vermont,
Kris your head snapping back in sleep,
Bridge into New York State,
Rose dawn falling in a clouded Lake Champlain,
Earth smell, the last sip
In a broken Thermos of coffee.
That night I entered sweat-slick bare-chested,
A twice-read paperback of Burroughs in hand,
Read the part about words falling like dead birds
Into the street. Sober, I realized your nakedness
under the sheet, your red hair against the pillow,
Black eyes turned to the moon-flecked wall;
Out of the conscious quiet a dog bark.
Stiffening in the pants,
Tried to speak of why I hadn’t
That morning so hot, Wendy,
About wet last night,
Once on the floor hard,
Long, gentle, again on the sofa.
Vomited in the small bathroom,
Brushed my mouth out,
Peppermint soap and my finger,
Vomited the humid smoke-dull pub
Where I drunk stared at your tits taut in black,
Red hair over tight tight black.
Oh again made you,
Sweat in a pool
Slapping against you,
Your hands, fingers
Digging into my ass,
The smell sweet of your sex,
Morning, your sister seeing us together,
Naked, hopeless, sticky.
Again, the after-coffee highway,
That night too, moon hung,
Cold, icy, Wisconsin.
First time made you, Ann, in the blue snow.
Threw down my coat for your ass,
Obsessed, pulling down your frozen pants,
Pussy so hot, your pungent juices
Dripping on the leather of my jacket.
In shivering haste, fast, deep,
We laid in that wind-turned valley,
Wine tripping our brains,
Moon glaring in our eyes,
My hand feverishly gripping
Your small trembling breast.
Inside on the worn blue rug,
Skin tingling, naked
Wine clumsy, savage
Tongues reaching salty lemon.
And at late, your brother patting my ass
And drunkenly turning to his own image in sleep.
I fell to the western sky
Trying hard to create distance.
Motels, broken neon, lone grain elevators,
Dirt-front gas stations, spicy pie, dank mornings,
All-night Cafes, hail storms at horizon, hitchhikers heading,
Curly black hair on the bedsheets, long pipe smokes,
Damp March cold creeping from all cracks,
And you, Lisa, in flannel.
Night of touch tender,
The curve of your back
Lifting my hand fanning over
Cheeks of white flesh, yearning;
Sleep glazed, pressing my hard penis
Into those cheeks hoping you would turn.
Morning kept stretching further,
You reaching in my sleep,
All dreams, all intentions.
And last, you crawling back into bed,
Smelling slightly of toothpaste,
With two steaming Styrofoam cups of black coffee.
Andrea, your lips a final warning,
It was at Grand Central Station,
Your eyes, hating, hopeless,
Left me, numb, walking. At long last
Tears clearing away all pretensions,
Lovely pure naked hurt
Pitifully tearing away inside,
Open sobs weakening like rising mist
Passing into the dark sooty streets.
And you, Andrea, lost in the fluorescent hole
Of the Holland Tunnel; only in memory
You choking on my come, staining brown sheets,
One sunny Sunday morning.
Long night, behind a long photo of Rome,
Espresso wakeful, rolling fat cigarettes,
Romantic broken-hearted gloom on mouth edges,
Eyelids dark, thick, tear lines in dirty face,
Rich coffee odor, white table cloths, red roses,
Old violinist spilling songs–you were there
Suddenly, alone, Louise.
Lost talk drifting into the narrow street,
The taxi draining out cold December limbs,
Glancing eyes, black brows, deserted Park Ave.
I showered in your fancy apartment,
Inspected my face in the clouded mirror,
And then, door ajar, steam and me towel-clothed
Penis bulging, moving toward you on the bed.
Sangria on ice and the post-late-show mounting
Of your craving body.
Dancing in your darkened room,
New York City out the window,
Last lights fading in your hair,
Dancing tensely careful
My penis in your moist center
For the last time.
Rainy December morning,
Down into the subway
I stand gladly alone
Filled with coffee and waffles,
The slapping rain no longer audible
Against the approaching train
Crashing out of the black.
Stef you saved me twice.
Always can hear the voice of your horn
Melting into the gold evening river,
Laying notes over the green ripples,
The ripe scent of late summer,
The garbled talk of the autumn rapids.
Still see you sauntering drunk
Out of the broken end of the big room.
Seen you all seasons–quiet, alive.
Pipes hanging, we molded sanity,
Blew smoke rings, savored toasted corn muffins,
Beans and brown rice. Evenings there was
Jazz, drip-ground coffee, Bass ale,
Slowly coloring meerschaum.
All moments, All visions,
The silent destiny of nothing,
Our own image in the shop windows.
Written in 1975
Eric Green attempts to channel James Dean in 1976, northern Vermont; Marshall Green behind with the grimace. JD died 61 years ago September 30th. I raised a glass at 5:15 California time just as I do every year. Words fail me. Yup. Even me.
In 1951 an unknown Canadian was beaten in a hill climb by a rich Austrian by the name of Max Hoffman. Hoffman would go on to become part of the Porsche legend and amass a great fortune. Marshall S. Green would remain impoverished his entire life, own the first Porsche in Canada, patent 13 inventions for others, drink too much, become national model airplane champion, and raise one son in an unconventional manner. He would die alone in 1982. Two months later his great friend—also Canadian, model airplane champion, heavy drinker, unsung sports hero, brilliant mathematician, and sports car enthusiast—Sam Stallard would also die alone and impoverished, he as well having raised one son in an unconventional manner. This movie is dedicated to these two fathers by their sons. Cheers, dads. You are not forgotten after all!
Below is a photoshop mockup representing the two identical 1955 356 Porsche Continental Carreras that have been envisioned and articulated by Eric Green and will be finished by the legendary QC and DK, then driven across the county as a conceptual art piece documented by Animal Media in honor of our fathers.
The actual car on November 15th 2017 in Ventura, California
The color of the bodies will be quantum green, which is a metalized custom version of the 1954 Porsche color radium green. The cars will have full 911 disk brakes, rack and pinion steering, and be powered by air-cooled 142 h.p. horizontally opposed 4s, similar to the 2-liter Carrera engine, sounding like a racing 1960 718 Porsche Spyder.
Rockport, Maine, probably 1962, maybe 1963. Note I’m doing the James Dean cool wave although I won’t see JD do it for at least 12 years.
1963 (the year the lovely unrivaled Cleopatra VW bug was born) father and son in Middletown, Ohio for just the one year away from the north country:
And in Sackets Harbor, New York where my dad met Sam Stallard. He had loan of a boat called the Cruel Stepmother and my mother and I bailed madly the entire time to keep her floating. A real delight.
And Marshall reading a Road and Track (1958?) on at the Appleton’s Queen Anne in the glassed-in front porch room. I so remember the smell of that room.
Thinking of early Road and Track, Jim Sitz gave me kind permission to post this photo. As an artist, it may well be my favorite racing photo of all time. As a racing fan, it might be my favorite photo of all time. It is of course Fangio in a Ferrari at Sebring in the year I was born. The mind-bender is that Jim was only 17 years old when he took the photo. Phil Hill had convinced him to leave California and take the trip. How cool is that?
The author liked Jim’s photo so much, he copied the sky in his latest drawing titled: Mirrored Landscape for Edward Hopper. This is a detail. For entire image go to Behance.net.
[This is an account of the first time I was in the state of Florida; the second time almost killing me. There will never be a third as far as I can predict.]
The first visit was during the early eighties, driving through the Panhandle in a three-hundred-dollar Chevy Nova he’d bought in Chicago from a large black guy who insisted the rig had a racing transmission. What the car had was an indestructible straight-six, rusted-out floors, tasteful dents, a driver door that would barely open, and a trunk with two spares and five tire irons. Terry Gunked and tuned the engine, cut plywood floor inserts and painted seven large silver-green cascading arrows on the faded red exterior. Of course it was the transmission that finally ended the Nova’s seven-thousand-mile legacy.
The southern trip began the summer after his father had died and during the six-months he was getting divorced from Giselle. He was drinking beer every day from around noon until darkness. His partner riding shotgun was a friend from high school, Eric Murphy, who nervously placed Terry’s beer consumption on a timer, a faint beep from his new digital watch. One beer an hour, which was okay with Terry. He realized he wasn’t at his best in many ways, but Murph had struggled even to keep the Nova centered on a straight section of road, the car requiring a sensitive touch not a controlling one, which was just one of its many challenges and idiosyncrasies, so it was up to Terry to drive, sober or not.
There was a moment on the way to Florida. It became one of the favorite moments of his life although he knew most people wouldn’t understand its appeal. After about a week on the road, Terry and Murph had spent the night in New Orleans, and since they always slept in the car, one in back, one in front, they found a rural spot east of the city once they’d had their fill of crawdads, Dixie beer, and tourists. As they tried to sleep, the intolerable stagnant heat and viral mosquitoes vied for most irritating. They experimented with windows rolled up—fewer bugs more heat, and the inverse—neither worked. At the bluing of dawn, Terry pulled a beer out of the tepid cooler water—he purchased blocks of ice instead of cubes because they lasted much longer—and got the Nova rolling eastward again, Murph still attempting sleep behind him, the breeze through the moving car lovely, sweeping out most of the mosquitos.
The sun rose with foreboding intensity over the empty four-lane coastal highway, but it was still a quietly crystalline Fourth of July morning without any traffic, a sign for Biloxi, Mississippi visible against the dully lapping water of the gulf on his right.
During this era, Terry cut his hair over a paper bag, and since he couldn’t easily reach the back or see it, he simply left it. Years later he realized he’d been sporting a full-blown mullet, though for him it was a mullet of convenience, certainly not with any intension toward style. He had an Abraham Lincoln type beard, a jut of red on the chin, the sides skinny as a woman’s little finger. His signature outfit was sleeveless or V-neck T-shirts, worn-out jeans, and red flip-flops, never shorts. If he swam, he took off the T-shirt. That morning he felt particularly beat. Not quite as beat as Kerouac might have hoped for, but he had reached that state of final willingness to encounter pretty much anything, a state brought on by a long season of major emotional disappointment, resurfacing as acceptance and a barely submerged amazement and joy in everything living.
Photo by Anne Latchis, Waterbury Center, Vermont, 1983
He took a pull on the warming breakfast beer, a leftover Lone Star, and slowed for a stoplight. The first slanting rays of the morning sun glittered across his sunglasses. He heard a big-throated roar and a bike gang headed in the other direction braked for the same light across from him. Terry counted about twenty bikes and could tell immediately that these guys were the hardcore one-percenters whom everyone feared. Thundering cobbled-together choppers with raked-out front-ends, bizarre handlebars requiring awkward apelike grips, massive beer guts and fully tattooed tree-limb-thick bronzed arms, ragged shoulderless dungaree vests, eternally unshaven, eternally unwashed, each expression as grim as a hangman’s three-legged mongrel.
They stared at Terry, and he sipped his beer and stared at them.
And then his beat moment arrived. The light greened, the Harleys grumbled, barked, roared and, to the man, all twenty outlaw bikers gave Terry the raised-fist salute as they tore past. He held up his bottle in response and eased the Nova forward.
This was a Polaroid taken the same day as the story above as a huge storm built on the horizon although the blackness of the cloud bank didn’t reproduce. The Polaroid was later colored by my wife Amanda and is one of my favorite images ever. This captured moment feels like the road is.
It was in the early 1980s, and the idea was to buy a cheap car in Chicago and drive it through Mexico until it died or the road ended. The car portion went as planned. My high school buddy, Eric Murphy, and I purchased a 1970 two-door Nova from a black guy for $150 each.
The Nova was a battered faded red, had rusted-out floors, a door that wouldn’t open correctly, and came fully trunked with four tire irons and two spares on rims. But it was the engine that was the clincher: Chevrolet’s indestructible straight-six, which honored my faith by calmly puttering 8,000 miles without even a cough.
We fitted plywood floors, Gunked the engine clean so we could perform a tune-up, and, because of my obvious naiveté and arrogance at the time, I painted six gorgeous flowing silver-green arrows on all four visible faces. I even highlighted them in lemon yellow. Though the car was inexpensive, it cost a fortune in tickets. It attracted cops like a naked singing drunk; those arrows sure hadn’t turned it stealth, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first day of travel, Eric and I made it to Tulsa, Oklahoma only to encounter one of the many setbacks against our vision of the ultimate road run. Eric’s mother had died while we were happily clunking south on that flat cement highway past St. Louis. Instead of abandoning the trip entirely, Eric flew off for the funeral, and I got a job scraping and painting a farmhouse in Broken Arrow.
When Eric returned to Tulsa a week later, there wasn’t much left of me. The painting job was 10 hours a day in 100-degree heat for a friend of my mother’s. I had told the friend to pay me what he thought was fair. Turned out he was like weather. His five $20 bills barely covered my lunches and gasoline from Broken Arrow to Tulsa. On top of that, my legs, arms and hands bulged and itched madly with poison ivy (I’d finally identified the strange vines I’d removed from around his shed), my foot was tender where it had been impaled by a huge nail, and some of my fingers were rotting because of hacked off knuckles that wouldn’t heal. Still, I was ready for the road south.
Then Eric decided he couldn’t spare the time for Mexico.
We headed east instead, initially down through Texas where the oil boiled out of the macadam, one couldn’t buy beer, and every second signboard was about saving one’s soul. Then through Louisiana with cold beer again, crawfish and some stunningly delicious breakfasts. I fell asleep on the beach in Biloxi, Mississippi, and added severe sunburn to my already itching, limping body bound in bandages. We nervously passed over the Georgia swamps at night, the bugs sliming the windshield opaque and shrieking at incomprehensible decibels. But it was in South Carolina that I was jailed.
I’ll admit this right now. It wasn’t my best summer for physical or mental state. I was getting divorced, and my father had died unexpectedly. I was drinking beer all day, every day, trying to survive the heat. I hadn’t shaved or had a haircut in a year. Eric and I weren’t getting along that well since he wasn’t big on drinking. He even placed my consumption on a timer; I was allowed one beer an hour. So when the cop pulled me over for ostensibly, “entering a four-lane highway too slowly from a stop sign,” I mouthed off.
Not worth it. Guns came out, handcuffs, knocked to the ground, kicked, driven hours in the back of a cruiser to an all-black jail. Left to die.
The holding tank was cement walls that thickened at the floor to form a crude bench, painted a muck color maybe 50 years before. There was nothing in it except six of the largest black guys anyone had ever seen. I glanced at them. They all six stared at me. I suppose I looked pretty interesting. Besides the limp and the bandages, I had no shoes unless my rag-wrapped foot counted. At least I had on jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt, but the kicker was the splotchy peeling skin on my face and shoulders lending me a bizarre camouflaged look like an exotic forest dweller, like someone found in the wilderness after being raised by badgers.
I was far too angry to be scared. Among all the injustices my mind was shuffling was the lack of breakfast or lunch. At the time of my arrest I was about to clamp onto a delicious catfish sandwich slathered in special barbecue sauce purchased at a roadside stand. It had smelled heavenly—fresh-caught fish, famous family recipe. I craved that sandwich and a beer dredged out of the icy cooler on the Nova’s backseat. I cursed the cop who had stolen my food and freedom.
My rage was interrupted by one of the black guys. He had silently slid in next to me, suddenly leaning darkly against my blistered torso, offering his best terrifying empty glare, close and personal. It was effective. I gave him mine, attempting neutrality. I really didn’t care what happened next.
After a while he said, “What’s you in for, boy?” The “boy” was extra nasty as if carrying the weight of every black man who had been called boy in that cruel condescending manner of the past.
There was a pause as everyone in the silent cell waited for my response.
I took my time, holding his eyes. “Sunburn,” I said dryly.
They couldn’t help it. They all started snickering, then laughing, a couple guys slapping their massive thighs. After that I suppose we had as good a time as seven guys can have in a holding cell in Beaufort, South Carolina on a hot July day.
Around suppertime Eric had finally found me and bailed me out. The inmates seemed disappointed to see me go, but thirst and hunger were my focus. I satisfied both with religious abandon.
During those travels in the South, I had a lot of trouble with white people, particularly cops. In New Orleans, the city of supposed ease and let live, two minutes after exiting the Nova, I was knocked to the ground by undercover police and arrested for drug trafficking until an hour later they admitted I was the wrong fellow. Walking into bars or diners, I seemed consistently to provoke the ire of too many well-dressed clean-cut white males. It was exhausting and unpleasant.
One absolutely amazing thing happened. I still wonder at it. With all my difficulties with Southern whites, I began to ask blacks for directions or recommendations of restaurants. Somewhere in Alabama, in a sleepy town, I pulled up next to a young black guy and asked him if he knew a good place to eat. He told us, and then he reached up onto the roof of the Nova and handed me something. “Figure you might want this,” he said with a smile. It was my wallet. I was stunned; maybe Eric had a point about my drinking after all. I thanked the guy and offered him a couple twenties. “Naw, man, we’re cool,” he said, and walked off. All my money had been in that wallet.
I wanted to make a movie. I thought it was for the memory of my father, for my need to have the world see the truth of who he had been, what he had accomplished in his life. The producer kept asking me the same question: “What is the difference between just going somewhere and a ‘road run.’ ”
I took the question very seriously because I sensed that if I could verbalize what I knew, I’d have a kind of key to the entire project. Would people learn about a passion for the road from the movie? If they did not, the movie would be a waste in my opinion. The question must be answered completely. I have the answer:
The going somewhere ideal is: from the moment of leaving to the moment of arrival, the person or people traveling should remain the same. Sounds so reasonable, right? The person who leaves should be the same exact person who arrives. Great cost and effort is utilized in this cause, from first class tickets to professed ultra-safe vehicles that keep any hint of the outside world they are traveling through to a minimum. Enter chain restaurants and motels and gas stations to make sure no matter where one travels, consistency of experience is guaranteed.
A road run or road trip is basically the opposite. The ideal is that the person leaving is changed, and would not be the same person at the end. If we really understand our universe, it becomes obvious that the only real traveling we can accomplish is within ourselves. So the road run is a form of spiritual quest, a ritual performed to the god of aesthetics, which is consistently the portal to all spiritual growth. If you doubt this:
Imagine Fonda and Hopper in buzz cuts and dull suits, driving a powder blue Prius ( sounds like a cheap condom), staying at Hampton Inns, speaking in nerdy voices, doing their drug deal in Easy Rider. Frankly, not the same movie. Not quite the earth shaker that changed the world in 1969. They might have lived, but so what! And no matter what you want to say about the movie, the core reason for its power and influence is that the choppers and actors looked and sounded COOL.
The 356 is likely the most iconic design for a cool road going vehicle. It becomes a tool willing to drive relentlessly toward the concept of FREEDOM. Thus McQueen, James Dean, Paul Newman, Eddie Murphy, Marshall Green, know—as cool guys—that this is the car. Hell, even freedom from the gas pump. There are other vintage cool cars, but drive one across America three times end to end, then tell me how much of a road-going tool they are. We are not talking poser cars here. Amazingly, a few of the new offerings like the Challenger, have started to look pretty cool. And are they selling? . . .
[I wrote the section below 8 years ago in a published column (The Penobscot Falcon) titled: PERSONALITIES, COOL, AND THE AMERICAN UNDERDOG HERO]
There’s an American cool that stands alone as far as I’m concerned. For me it’s the true cool, the cool to aspire towards. It embraces individualism first. As Nicholas Cage said in the movie Wild at Heart,“This is a snakeskin jacket, and for me it’s a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” It was pretty cool when he said that. Of course he backed it up by knocking senseless the guy who had insulted his jacket.
Then there are the components of straightforwardness, honesty and fairness, the willingness to suffer without whining, the holding in of turbulent emotion because one must feel to be cool. It’s never about being merely cold; a complete lack of emotion under the coolness is usually nothing but cruelty and arrogance. There are patience and calm no matter what the situation; each calamity is met with level thinking and action. There’s the friendliness in an open but cautious and understated way, the occasional lightheartedness, the steadfastness and unwavering faithfulness to ideals, and a careless cheerfulness in the headwind of unconquerable odds.
American cool is tough, but without bragging or drawing attention to itself. It always avoids a fight but usually finishes it. Of course there’s the handsomeness, the tender eyes and strong jaw, unruly hair and sideburns. In the female it’s a bright easy smile, optimism, languid assured walk, and again, the willingness to have ideals and not complain when these are challenged or threatened.
If you’re cool you don’t put on airs or condescend. American cool must be classless and loyal only to beliefs that, in the purest sense, are Christian. In a bizarre way it’s almost constitutional in its heart.
Leaving the house at the end of April 2018. Funny how you never know what is ahead, no clue whatever. Part of the charm and delight of the open road. As Garrett says: “Bring it!”
Derek McNeil, the cameraman, proves his solidarity. Celts prefer actions over words. Words are too easy, too easily forgotten.
April 29th 2018, a Sunday
The road run begins in Ventura with a sad good-bye to QC, the gentle Visigoth. I know I was holding back the tears as best I could. Of course barely made it two blocks before I realized I’d not finished lowering the other three tires for pressure. Did not realize it was the off-the-computer-red-flashing severe alignment toe-in that was creating the jumpy handling problems. In 3k miles the outside half of the two expensive Dutch front tires were completely bald. Try getting two new tires to fit a 356 in Michigan on the fly. It cannot be done!
Will always remember our wonderful breakfasts as we were waited on by gorgeous green-eyed Mexican cousins—about ten or twelve different ones, each as raven-haired and round-ass lovely as the other. My breakfast: grilled chicken breast, hot sauce, one scrambled egg, fresh fruit, and 50/50 orange/apple juice. QC’s breakfast: a mountain of French toast, a golfball of butter, syrup slathered, hash browns, double side of crispy bacon, and a waterfall of coffee. Of course he is 70 and as healthy as a young Viking.
The cross winds across the Mojave were so severe—red signs flashing huge warnings—that the highway was closed about an hour after my passing. Not knowing what I was getting into, I had left the top down. Mistake. No hat would stay on my head, so a sunburn was inevitable. Way too windy to pull up top. What a god-forsaken section of America, but an improvement over Interstate 5 into Los Angeles which is simply ten lanes of rutted bumpy living HELL, with traffic beyond evil, everyone in a black tanks, texting. Delighted to see Lone Pine!
Had the first of many wonderful meals at the Mt. Whitney Diner served by my favorite waitress ever—Kristie. (Hope I spelled it correctly.) A sweet sexy angel that happens to serve delicious food by coincidence.
Bought Aloe Vera gel and finally got to slather something. The hotel was full of crazy aged women who were parked there until the casket. I enjoyed them greatly—Mary was the standout! Then after two days of much needed rest, car repairs, I headed to Death Valley to meet Erik and Amanda who were flying into Las Vegas that evening.
My photo from 1984 of the Death Valley Highway sign
In my eagerness, I left probably 6 hours too early. All was good until I almost murdered two geriatrics at two different times at gas stations. It was the loudness of my compressor-powered Maserati twin-bell airhorn that all but killed them. The horn began raging whenever, simply possessed. A priest? I rebuild the damn thing the next day. Has the world of supposed mechanics forgotten the concept of lubricants? Lubricants allow the next guy to remove things without undue force. They work well, trust me!
It was raining and reasonably cool in Death Valley where it is usually about 105 degrees during the day. But it was lovely and I was driving like a fiend from another planet, front wheels fighting each other or not. The Devil’s Golf Course was just as I remembered it.
But heading back to the junction, the rear of my seat collapsed completely. Out came the tool kit again. Two hours in now hot afternoon sun and the seat worked again. It would fail often until I got up at 4;30 a.m. in Pocatello, Idaho and spent three more hours truly fixing it this time. Until then, my old hobo pack held up the seat back to varying degrees of success.
Same spot in 1983 above.
Heading into the Valley in 1984:
In 1983, Death Valley, over 100 degrees
Had an amazing supper of fresh-caught striped bass under the bamboo awning at The Oasis as the rain fell through the cracks and dried on my overly hot skin. I called out to doves in their voice, or my attempt at their voice, and they filled the rafters as no humans were on the veranda. How blessed I felt!
As I waited at the Zabriskie Point parking lot way to0 early for my baby as evening drew down night’s blind, I met two guys who were photographing my 356, a common occurrence. “You’re not Germans, are you?” “No! We are Portuguese!” I had had enough Germans and Porsche idiots telling me my 356 should be in a museum or climate controlled garage. Fuck them for a few days. “Then you must know Miguel Olivera, I said.” “Why?” They were stunned. “Because I bet he will win the Moto2 World Championship.” Instant friends now, they met myself and Amanda at the Dow Villa in Lone Pine the next day. At the end of a lovely time, Amanda already speaking Portuguese, I casually asked: “What do you guys do for a living?” “Oh, kind of acting.” I googled. WOW! World famous! And very handsome. Both!
Drew my father’s signature with a Sharpie until the rising sun in Lone Pine made it far too hot for a New Englander to concentrate.
Variations of signature. Top right is actual. The bottom right is how it was presented to me in California after much argument over the telephone. Why do people always “know” when they don’t know? Left is is my two day fix in the hot sun, working 600 sandpaper bent around a Pink Pearl dipped in water to remove the overly thick lines that, of course, had to be applied with unremovable Porsche enamel paint. I was told the signature could not be removed no matter what. I have long stopped listening to “experts.”
Erik and Amanda arrived in total darkness in the Zabriskie Point empty parking lot at about 10 p.m. in a rented new Dodge Challenger Hemi; Erik, of course, doing burnout donuts. He hit a hoe at over 100 mph in the rain on our run back to Lone Pine, which blew a hole in the bottom of the rental. Maine urchin divers? What are you gonna do? He took a photo of the speedometer at 149 mph.
Next day just before Erik went on a massive bender (even for him!) and missed being in the movie. In the morning he fled back to Maine with only one speeding ticket. I had bet two.
Ben Taylor arrives in rental. Garrett Randolph, my novice-to-Porsches but certainly not the road or wilderness wingman, arrives in his new-to-him immaculate 1998 Boxter, German silver over sienna red leather.
My buddy Ben who I met in Lewiston, Maine mid-1980s. He was going to Bates; I was a townie. I’ve always worried I ruined his life, but God, She is the only one to determine such things.
We hit the road north with a film crew following after shooting amazing scene with Rod from Lloyd’s of Lone Pine. He tells the cameraman Derek how Slim Pickens got his name. They (Rod and Slim) were rodeo clowns together for many years. Lone Pine and Rod, a good friend of Ridley Scott is Rod, are simply the best! Ben and I bought matching hats from Rod. I found out in talking to Rod yesterday (June12th) that he got himself one as well, so we three have matching hats. Love mine! I ended up buying a bunch more of these great hats—one for Sam Ladd, one for Ben’s daughter, and another for myself since I thought I’d lost mine. Our Maine Coon found it under the porch, pushing it out with his nose. I knew once I bought the second, the first would appear, which is now kept pristine in the library of our house.
The movie crew only asked me to do this six times I think!
I love this photograph: Three amazing beauties in one rectangle!:
Ben and I, although exhausted, filming street shots in Reno at 11 p.m. Then we were kept up until 3:30 a.m. expected to tell brilliant stories about the road. People who run movies basically want to kill their protagonists. I suppose that makes for gritty footage.
Here is the wonderful letter I received from James, manager at the equally wonderful Reno Hotel where we filmed in the lobby:
May 10th 2018
356 plugs cleared in the morning. Ran great! Wheel vibration is about half what it was. Exhaust pipe color slightly rich but brownish. I am beginning to get that feeling of the engine oil and my blood running together as one fluid. Feel and hear every nuance of the car continually. When Patches is delighted, so am I. Only a 356 does this to me.
Speedometer is dead accurate! Hit an actual 100 mph a few times yesterday, but insane cross winds prevent anything more. The wind blows ALL the time out here. Hit 85 in third gear easily. Beginning to use 5k rpm at 2500 miles on odometer as engine breaks in more fully.
CRAZY day yesterday. Mad guerrilla filming in a lava pit. Great fun! Driving exactly ten feet from camera mounted BMW driven by “The Kid” was a blast. We picked up this ex-addict tech wizard and drone operator at Denio in the most BEAT late-model BMW racer like something out of Mad Max. Hilarious stuff. The camera man Derek (a Celt) is beside himself saying the footage is the most amazing he has ever seen. Had to climb rocks inside a dripping cave attempting to ignore my rampant claustrophobia made worst by an average of 4.5 hours of sleep a night. Then MASSIVE rain and sand storms. (5 a.m. now as I write this.) Nothing like the “real” road, my true element. Jackson, Wyoming today. Cowboy bar with saddles as stools that I last sat on in 1974 when I washed dishes in Moran.
Garrett in Boxter simply amazing wingman. Could not find anyone better ever. Cheers to such a humorous calm road partner. Does these drive-bys at nearly 120 mph. Such joy! Amanda, of course, is a dream in the passenger seat. Only dislikes high-speed corners with huge drop-offs and no guard rails on her side.
Dawn at Denio Junction, Nevada, May 8th 2018, Amanda’s birthday
I call the photo MAINER OUT WEST
I was in a 90 degree hot mineral spring stream that runs through the desert. The morning air temperature was about 40 degrees or less. I surprised Amanda with the stream on her birthday. And NO, I will tell no one where it is since it has still not been discovered. I first found it in 1991, tipped off by two delightful lesbians in a jumble shop in Oregon. One of the truly divine places on the planet.
And NO! No one sees the naked photos of Amanda. I do not want any complaints of heart failure.
Patina from driving dirt roads at over 60 mph to pick up A before sun warms desert too much. I want her to feel the hot mineral water and the cool night air together.
And then the movie part. Endless takes of the same fucking thing in 100 degree heat=Celtic Hell. And the 356 air-cooler engine hates it, but again, compassion or understanding is not the forte of those who answer to the movie money gods. (Small cap intentional.)
Amazing to see the same view of the mountains as I saw it in 1974 while washing dishes in Moran for a couple weeks before the Inn closed for the season. I had just spent a couple months on the freights and was ready for some comfort. I worked for room and free breakfast—a steak and 6 eggs. I was 17 and really hungry after nearly starving to death on the freights. How could I tell? My pee was a deep sienna brown.
Amanda’s last day was a lot of rain and passing even more cars through Yellowstone. Finally I think I passed all the traffic and the road was clear all the way to Shoshone. One of the favorite drives of my life. Leaving Cody at dusk the winds were crazy, the rain fierce, and the hydroplaning pretty terrifying—1680 pounds might work for acceleration but sucks for downforce. [I realize now much of the trouble was the severe toe-in plus bald tires.] Although plum exhausted, Amanda hung in there. The road tests you every day. She will be deeply missed. It will be odd without her beside me!
Today it’s just my trusty wingman Garrett and northern Montana and North Dakota. (Yesterday on camera, I was asked to tell a joke to a evergreen branch. Not so easy!)
The ancient road guy says goodbye to The Kid. He will also be hugely missed. The Kid has major style, balls, guts, knowledge and that enthusiastic can-do-anything American attitude that most modern kids lack. Cheers to him and his future!
And the 356 beautifully rain-washed in the Shoshone Valley beside a wild spring snow feed river:
Blistering pace with too many issues—windshield cracked in Pocatello, Idaho by a vandal although 356 was under its cover. Horrible town besides Linda who did a wonderful ABC interview about my father, car, etc. She LOVED our little ride. Gave her my last copy of HOLED UP.
Then while passing a giant BLADE RUNNER field plow outside Devils Lake, North Dakota, a stone hit the passenger window at 80 miles per hour as I angled by. Glass EVERYWHERE! Thought I’d been shot at. Luckily Amanda had abandoned that seat that morning after airport drop off in Billings. Next day amazing glass repair place about 1/2 miles from motel fitted new plastic window and repaired crack although everyone said it could not be done. A nod to my lads and Tammi at Alken’s Glass in Devis Lake, N.D. God does exist!
Always been obsessed with these water towers. Painting from 1981:
Jan Nelson double photo credit above
In Minot, N.D. rail yard where I almost froze to death in 1974
From HOLED UP:
The old hobo calls himself Bill. I tell him my name is Cody. Everyone on the road probably uses a made-up name. We’re sitting in a rail yard in Minot, North Dakota, trying to cook some green tomatoes over a fire we made.
“Amazing the things people’ll leave lying around,” Bill says.
“Well, these tomatoes for instance. Perfectly good.”
There was a pile of them in the gravel as we walked up the stopped freight. (When a train blows its air, you know it’s not going anywhere for a while.) Bill immediately gathered them up, which I never would have thought of since I’ve never eaten them. We’re frying them in bacon grease on a piece of metal we found. Bill had a peanut butter jar of it in his suitcase.
“Cold!” he says, rubbing his hands near the flames. “You got anymore fixings?” Bill calls my tobacco that.
“You keep smoking it, there’s not going to be any.” Still I toss him the pouch.
“Watch that one!” Bill points at a tomato slice that’s getting burned. I flip it over with my knife. He watches the food intently, even telling me how thick to slice the tomatoes. “Little thinner,” he kept saying. “They crisp better that way.” He had a few stale crackers we crushed up, or I crushed up based on his instructions, and I pressed the slices in them. After Bill rolls one up, he loosens a stick from the fire and lights the cigarette with it. I’ve never seen a guy enjoy a smoke more. Seems he loves pipe tobacco, but he’ll probably smoke anything as long as it has nicotine in it. I only smoke a few bowls a day, and if I’m honest with myself, I know part of doing it is just for the idea of it, the style of it, and I don’t inhale. But Bill just wants to be a chimney like my stepfather, though my stepfather never seemed to enjoy anything.
“I’m givin’ her up.” He gives a big exhale of smoke. He smokes cigarettes like a pothead.
“Giving what up?”
“What’re you gonna do?”
“I’m goin’ home, son, back to Billings, find a fleabag, see if I can get on the dole.”
“Too old. Winter comin’. This cold just kills my bones, she gets right in me, and I never could stan’ the heat. Tried it down south, but it weren’t for me. I just sweat like a pig. Hey!” He points at another burning slice. The food is cooked and I slide some on a tin plate I carry in my gear. I pass it to Bill. My half I slide onto a flat board I rubbed clean. Bill uses a stick and I use my knife. I’m not going to let him use my knife.
“Hey, these are good.”
“Told ya,” he says, though he hadn’t.
The tomatoes are so good we slice up the rest of them though we’re out of crackers, and I get my last can of beans out of my pack. I hate to use them up. B&M baked beans from Maine. Bill’s eyes light right up when he sees the can. After the beans bubble I serve them with more fried tomatoes.
“Damn, son, this here is one fine meal. Wish we had some whiskey or wine to wash her down.”
We finish and Bill licks my plate clean which sickens me. Fuck, I figure I might as well give him the damn plate now. But he seems so happy I don’t say nothing. I know he wants tobacco and though I’m almost out, I fill my pipe and toss him the pouch again. We light up from the fire and I toss on some more scraps of wood.
“If it wasn’t so cold, she’d be perfect,” he says. “Son, I been thinkin’. You’ve been mighty nice to me these last two days. I know yer pissed I smoked up all your fixings. Way I am now, I take what I can get. Never know when she’s gonna end. You get as old as me, you might think the same way. But I’m gonna give you something in return. Bill always pays his way. Just the way I am.” He has another big toke. “I’m gonna give ya something I’ve carried with me for many years waitin’ for the right time. I was hopin’ to use her myself, but now I see I ain’t goin’ to make her. Maybe you will. That’s why I’m given et to ya.”
Just as the harvest moon rode into the eastern sky and iced the barren yard out on the plain with an eerie greenish light. Just as the haunting stillness wrapped around them both, touched only by an occasional snap from their fire, Bill’s face now excited in the glow of the flames—
There was a loud noise.
It vaporized everything.
Doris was banging her dinner gong.
“God damn it,” muttered Jimmy. The ringing rose through the house like a fire alarm. Time to face another Callahan culinary horror show. He jumped for the fridge and downed a B pounder. Since the arm-binding night, Doris was adamant against alcohol. But sober, her food was an impossibility. He had to get the cast off—soon, no matter how his arm suffered.
Into the second half of the map:
Mackinaw Bridge. Crossed Blue Water bridge into Sarnia, Ontario as well. I like bridges. Lovely lunch with the greatest model railroader of all time, Lee Turner yesterday in Port Huron. Lee gave a very rare and special book! Photos on return.
Then engine began to run horribly and front tire wear became so severe the outside of the passenger tire was bald nearly to the cloth. Turned out the toe-in was so severe it would not read on the alignment chart. Both engine and alignment issues were corrected by Trevor and Joe, Jerry at Skip’s Auto in Munising, Michigan. Again, wonderful and honest!
By contrast, yesterday Java the Fuck in Simcoe, Ontario over-charged me for new Michelins for the nose ($700 for two tires, no balance just mount). Made the garage in Canada by 10 minutes before close. 356 was revolutionized even without tire balancing, and I realized I’d been driving a virtually uncontrollable bronco of a 356 for 4,400 miles. Thank you, Dad for teaching me how to truly drive. Now it is FINALLY a 356 not a brain-worm-tormented bear.
Meeting with Danby and Roger at the auto club my father and Jack Luck started in 1951! Excited. Danby will even weld my broken exhaust joint. 356 has been a mechanical NIGHTMARE considering what I paid for it, but that is part of the road. Does anyone ever really DRIVE these cars anymore? I felt like Stirling at Monaco, last few laps in a dying BRM, on that terrible day. Garrett and I did a 7 hour trip in 5, which means we passed everything on the road. Garrett is beyond a great wingman! Every time I thought he couldn’t possibly catch me now, the silver nose of the Boxter popped up as if by a miracle. I am fully delighted and a bit pissed in the same instant. That competitive race driver nature.
Was beyond delighted to be honored by my father’s old club that he started. And look at my honorary number! 356. How cool is that? Thanks, guys.
And thank you Stephan for the original 356A manual. Our father’s knew each other and I bet got along famously. Stefan’s father was a mechanic at Campbell’s in Kingston where my father bought his 1961 fjord green coupe. Also, too cool. And Stefan got me running again. One idle jet did not match the others. Have it in hand finally and will install once this very inclement weather clears. Cheers, guys! Prints will be mailed soon.
401 near Toronto must have the most obnoxious unskilled drivers on earth. Garret becomes so annoyed—the National wrestling champion in him—that he straddles the middle line of 401 and will not allow anyone to pass. If a vehicle tries, he darts toward them, then covers the middle again. I am laughing so hard I almost piss myself. The man has it!
May 18th 2018
Driving over the 1000 Island bridge. SO many memories of my father.
My oldest friend Kris Marsala and myself at the Crystal in Watertown, New York on his birthday. My only true road partner except Amanda now.
Filming interviews at the Crystal the next morning. Then I give a stranger a ride:
May 22, 2018
The boys are back in town. HOME! 5,600 miles.
Open Road warriors still at the real shite after so many years. We will not quit because it is simply our way of living life fully:
And some random road photographs from the camera of Amanda Green:
On her birthday in Nevada at the Denio Junction Motel. A GREAT place to stay and eat. Worth going out of your way! They even have puppies to pet.
And the best Mexican food in Alturas, California and much of the surrounding region is Nacho’s. Super friendly and a gorgeous waitress. Highly recommended by all three of us—Garrett, Amanda, and myself. The Mexican mineral water is really good as well. Cheers!
And I will end with three more Jan Nelson Masterpieces. This man takes a great still photo:
Update: Rebuilt Weber carbs, so much WRONG it was a miracle the car ran. Received fresh REAL 356 wheels from the Zen Crow with new Michelins mounted and finally balanced. Did valve adjust today. Tomorrow fresh Valvoline Racing oil, filter, etc. Then—Maritime run! There is always another run. Remember that.
Dalvay by the Sea. I’ve only wanted to stay there for over 40 years; it was worth the wait!
His name? Marshall Green. Note the rhyme. He even placed a Nurburgring badge on the rear grill of his 1952 356 three years before Jimmy Dean made it famous to do so. Frankly, I don’t think my father ever had a clue who J.D. even was, although my parents were watching Giant at the movie house in Gorham, New Hampshire when my mother knew the young lad wanted out.
My parents. Not sure of the 356 year. Looks like an 356A
In the mid-1940s, from the age of 15 to 17, Marshall Green was three times Canadian National model airplane champion, setting some amazing records as shown in these vintage newspaper articles.
In 1946, he, together with Jack Luck, the famous Canadian industrial designer, fabricated a working radio control sender and receiver in 1946. Likely one of the first if not the first RC unit that successfully controlled a model airplane. It worked wonderfully, controlling the rudder, stab, and engine revs of a large model plane named “The Big Yellow Job.”
My father in the gorgeous 356 coupe at the top of Mount Equinox, Vermont in 1952. I’ve tried to channel that color as much as possible in my build.
I am searching for ANY information on this car. The vin number was very likely to have been 11560. It was the first 356 Porsche in Canada and the 8th 356 in N. America. It was NOT purchased through Hoffman but directly from Ferry Porsche. It was a specially prepared racer with 1500 racing engine and aluminum doors, hood, and engine lid. Gray leather and royal blue corduroy interior.
The reverse side of the above photographic enlargement. Of course this was generated after the slide was shot and exposed.
Marshall Smith Green, 1925-1982, Scots Irish Maritime Canadian
I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.
My father above with self-made bow, my mother behind, my godmother, Ellie Appleton, right. Gorham, NH, 1950s.
My dad standing next the the machine he built and designed—The Vertiformer, which could make newsprint at three times the speed of a normal machine. They are still used in Viking countries and Japan. Gee, I wonder why?
And below is a patent, one of many that revolutionized the way all paper is made across the world. As my dad said: “They never even gave me my dollar.”
This is basically what Marshall Green invented: An Ultrasonic foil is part of the drainage table section of paper machines. A series of hydrofoil blades (called foils) create pressure/vacuum pulses that dewater the fibre/water slurry (called stock) on a moving conveyor belt (the wire). Flexible ceramic foils have been used for years, but ultrasonic foils produce paper of higher quality. High power ultrasonics create millions of pressure pulses from imploding cavitation bubbles which keep the fibres apart, giving them a more uniform distribution. This results in better fibre formation, stronger paper and smoother paper surfaces.
My dad looking like the lost Fonda brother. He was captaining his 14-foot Norwegian pram with a 5 hp British Seagull in P.E.I.
Odd, but Porsche USA seriously attempted multiple times to talk me out of this COA. Porsche even sent the COA to a wrong address and asked: “You don’t still want it, do you? It was pretty much ruined in the mail and has nothing on it.” It arrived after a 4 month wait in flawless condition!
And from the 356 Resigtry forum. Geary Miller is one of the few true pre-A experts.
Who can tell me about this photo? Hints: It’s in New England. My father, Marshall Green, is standing nervously behind the crowd with the cap on. What a moment in time! More rare photos of VERY early racing Porsches coming soon, so stay tuned.
Please click image for larger viewing.
The above photo: The man in the white coat is Pennante, the Italian mechanic who my father sponsored when he raced for MG. Pennante made the first Ferrari V-12 engine by hand with Enzo in 1946. Look! He’s wearing a black tie and the classic white Ferrari overalls. I didn’t recognize him because he ALWAYS wore a pulled-back beret in every other photo. I realize now that he wore the beret to cover his baldness, which must’ve embarrassed him. I looked him up in Montreal with my dad in 1979. Very cool guy who still made his own wine and drove a mint 1965 Mustang through Montreal winters. I asked why the car didn’t rust. Because he sprayed his used engine oil in every body panel and crevice.
And this photograph just because I love it. I’m the little tike standing on his toes, and that’s my mother, and Francis Appleton known to all as App, a northern New Hampshire legend. An entire novel and hero onto himself.
My cousin is (was) a bit of a prig. He basically drove me nuts: “No, Eric, I am NEVER wrong.”
And my mother in probably 1954 after my father painted the 356 black. Have never understood why.
This is App about to charge up Mount Washington. My godmother Ellie is to the left of the Jaguar fender mirror looking oddly calm since App usually crashed. But of course this was 1953, so maybe it was his first try.
And who can tell me about this photo? (Please know that these photos cannot be reproduced without my permission. They were taken by my father and if I find them stolen, please glance at the movie page for picture of my lawyer. The Horn will be sent!)
Obviously Marshall Green, but where and what is the car? Around 1950.
[From Olivier Brun: It could be 0060, a 166 MM converted 195 by factory. At Watkins Glen Seneca cup, owner Briggs Cunningham, driver John Fitch. This car start at Le Mans in 1950, N°25 Sommer/Serafini, dnf.]
I know Briggs took the photo because otherwise my father’s hand would NEVER have been on the car. My father was far too respectful of machines to ever touch one without permission. Aa a cool aside, the car was blue. The first Ferrari Phil Hill raced was also blue. Oddly, now it looks blue to me in the B&W photo although before it had appeared to be red. The mind!
My father’s favorite car. Scroll way down to see an original brochure.
Can you spot my father?
Bill Spear’s Ferrari 166 Touring Barchetta, driven by Steve Lansing. One of the three Cunningham C2-Rs. Elkhart Lake 1951. Huge thanks to M. Lynch for this caption!
This is very likely Briggs Cunningham’s blue 356 from 1951. My man Geary has worked on it a bunch and realized its importance to me. It was Briggs who got my father interested in 356s, and told him to order directly to Ferry, to not go through Hoffmann. With Briggs to introduce them, what else was needed? A bunch of money!
Photo by Jim Sitz. The others by Marshall Green. Love this composition. And below, Jim photographing in color for the first time:
And a bunch more pictures of Marshall Green’s completion MG TD.
It all started before I was born when my father was racing cars for the MG factory during the late 1940s. He had a highly modified and tuned MG-TD, which had been sorted by an Italian mechanic called Pennante who had actually machined engines for Enzo Ferrari. My father sponsored Pennante’s entrance into Canada after the war, and Pennante did his part by turning my father’s car into one of the fastest in the under 1,500cc category. “He polished the inlet ports until they shone like a mirror.”
Pennante and Marshall after a win in the rain. I like that my dad has Pennante holding the cup. I know from my past that he always orchestrated photos so he would look his best, and he succeeded.
And all was well until a hill climb race at Mount Equinox in Vermont. I still have photos from that rainy dark day in 1951, and I found an online magazine article verifying my father’s story—all of his stories, it has turned out, were not necessarily true.
The “Climb to the Clouds” article reads: “The most outstanding performance was put in by Max Hoffman, driving a Porsche. Max took the 1½ Ltr. Convertible to the finish line in 4 minutes and 38 seconds, 18 ½ seconds faster than the MG-TD driven by Marshall Green.”
This really irked my dad. As he explained it, “Hoffmann was this middle-aged fat guy in a fur coat with a nose like an anteater who couldn’t drive worth a tinker’s dam. I knew the car must be vastly superior.” And being my dad, and getting advice from his friend Briggs Cunningham who also was not enamored with Hoffmann after having bought a 356 from him in 1951, my dad contacted Ferry Porsche in Germany. And the Porsche factory built him a specially prepared racer that turned out to be faster than even a Jaguar in a ¼ mile drag. It was the first 356 GT car, having aluminum doors, hood, and trunk lid; was sprayed “silver-blue graw” (actually fish-silver grey /505, but my dad must not have liked the name) metallic; fitted with royal blue corduroy and gray leather seats, and had a 1,500 racing engine with a unique one-off camshaft. But it had one major flaw.
“It was simply too beautiful to race. I couldn’t do it. The idea of denting such a machine was unthinkable.” My father loving good machines much more than people. He never really understood people at all since unlike a good machine they did not always give you back the care and love you put into them.
My father in the gorgeous coupe at the top of Mount Equinox, as if to say, I’m king of the mountain now, the photographer probably having had a stopwatch and timing the run up. And he never liked Hoffman or his idea of a Porsche—the Speedster, which, of course, has become the most valuable and coveted of all 356s.
As an aside, Porsche also offered my father the dealership for Canada, but when he tried to raise the needed money, the German millionaire he approached nicked the soon-to-be-prized dealership away from him. I have one remaining copy of the business card my dad must have had printed, a sad reminder of a failed dream.*
The car was eventually painted black, Dad insisting it was 17 coats of hand-rubbed lacquer specially formulated by a friend, but some years later when the riveted timing gear stripped off the camshaft, he learned there weren’t any of the needed replaceable parts for his unique engine, and was talked out of ownership by trading for a new VW bug. “I had a kid and a wife to take care of.” Apparently the beautiful coupe eventually ended up in northern Quebec as an ice racer. If only I could find the grave.
My father’s Herbert and Johnson (Hats for the King of England) helmet. It is the only helmet I ever wore on my motorbikes: BMW R90S and Ducati 900 CR. Helpful in a crash? No. But 30 years at silly speeds, so lucky!
His next Porsche was a 1961 356B, picked up at the factory in Zuffenhaussen. I was about five and still remember the frightening banging of body panels at the Reutter factory. I much preferred the quiet of the upholstery area and engine assembly plant. When it was time for my father to exit in his new 356, the keys were presented by Ferry Porsche himself. A number of white-jacketed mechanics were standing about watching, arms crossed, the fjord green coupe immaculate.
Ferry said, “Mr. Green, we certainly do not need to explain the operation of a Porsche to you!” And everyone smiled brightly. I don’t think my father expected all the fanfare, though who knew what racing stories he’d been telling. Then again, he had been the first buyer of a Porsche in Canada, about the ninth one on our continent.
And my father nervously and mistakenly put the car in reverse and nearly downed two mechanics.
That was the car I grew up with until the day my mother careened into a school bus.
The repaired 356 lost all appeal for my father, who only loved perfect original examples, and he eventually sold it with difficulty. No one wanted it. Porsches were not popular cars during the 1960s and kids always made fun of me because my family drove one, surprising to think of now.
Fast forward to 1973. I’m 16 years old, and although I haven’t finished high school, I’ve been accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design. My father has forked over the year’s $5,200 tuition with a caveat, “This is the last money I will ever give you. Use it wisely!” I can tell this expense is weighty—my family never had any money, the fancy cars soaking up any residuals—and I take my father’s admonition very seriously.
After a week at the school, the only art I’ve done is making a large Styrofoam egg after paying ten dollars out of pocket for the sheets of Styrofoam. I find out it will be two years before I’m allowed to touch a paint brush, so I speak to admissions and ask them if I leave, will my father receive a refund? I explain that I’ve been painting seriously for years and selling work for $200 to $800 dollars—I don’t need to be making Styrofoam eggs to learn about form. (Remember gasoline was 50 cents and a diner meal under $2.)
Admissions is annoyed and wants to see my portfolio and the painting I’ve brought to the college. Big meeting with the Dean and head of the art department—the college offers me a full four-year scholarship to stay. I still want my question answered about the refund.
About a year later, my father locates a dream, uses the refunded money, plus borrows all I have—$1,500 from painting sales—and buys himself a virtually new 1970 911 Porsche Targa for bizarrely, exactly $6,700. We drive it from New Hampshire to the Midwest through northern Canada, both shocked and delighted by how fast and wonderful the car is, and my father seems pretty happy, which is a fine reward for his having quit drinking six months earlier after thirty years of heavy alcoholism.
My dad at the Gorham New Hampshire house the day in 1974 when we were about to drive the 911 across Canada, cruising for hours at near 100 mph. That’s my hand on my father’s shoulder, complete with Italian leather driving glove, my father kind enough to allow me to drive half the time. I removed the rest of me from the photograph because I looked simply too goofy, particularly compared to my dad. (Never understood why Porsche placed the windshield wipers in front of the driver.)
About a week later, I leave to ride freights across the country as a hobo, and when it gets too cold in the Rockies, I end up living above a poolroom with jazz musicians in Providence, R.I. I’m broke, actually close to starving, and beg my dad over a payphone to return my $1,500. He mumbles something and I continue hungry.
On one of my prowls through the many colleges, looking for women or food, I see a handwritten index card: “For Sale, 1956 356A 1600S Porsche $1,400,” and I decide impulsively, illogically, that I must buy that car. It seems predestined although I have no idea why—build date and birth date coincidental? I negotiate sternly with the home front—involving my mother—and finally, just a week after I turn 18, I’m headed by bus to Westerly, R.I. clutching the roll of bills in my jacket pocket since I’ve never touched so much cash before. I’ve already spent a bit on a calabash pipe that I’d been eyeing in an old tobacco shop. I’ll smoke that soon enough.
Knowing little about checking an automobile for condition, I trust the seller, hand over the full amount without negotiating, and in the gathering December dusk, point toward Providence. An Alfa Romeo shoots past me. I downshift to third, stomp the accelerator, and repass at 95 miles an hour. Although no one heard it, that shout of excitement and pure joy must linger in the air somehow.
Within an hour I am motoring past the Ocean Theater and the Greek diner heading to my family for Christmas, heading for the Midwest, approaching one of the coldest drives of my life—26 hours, blizzards in western Mass, ten below zero in Cleveland, lost in Chicago, almost comatose by Wisconsin. It was just as cold inside the car because the heat exchangers had huge rust holes in them, dispelling any warm air that might have reached me from the air-cooled engine.
But what an epic delight that drive was! The first of many. I had my own Porsche and I loved it—the ivory dashboard, the red padded cover, the black leather seats, the sound of the racing pipe called a Bursch Extractor. I had earned the car with my artwork, which seemed even more satisfying. That my father told me it was pretty much a piece of junk only slightly rankled, although I realized soon enough he was at least half correct.
But people see things so differently.
One of the jazz musicians from Providence, Philip, was a bass player who had been friends with Charlie Haden during his junkie years. He told me later that my exit in the Porsche was one of the most stunning things he’d ever encountered. We had talked a lot over the past two months, drinking 15-cent Pickwick drafts together in a dive bar, the floor covered in sawdust, no stools, whores shooting in and out to scream at someone. The loft we slept in had no bathroom, I slept on the floor in an old black raincoat, the jukebox in the poolroom below thumping through the floor—we knew the baseline of “Rock Me Baby” by heart. We lived on 25-cent soup and stale bread at the generous Greek’s diner across the street, perhaps named the Town Chef at the time. I had been making drawings of street views every day in a big notebook that disappeared somewhere during the next year. Eventually I didn’t have enough money to hustle pool with, which had previously supplied at least some sporadic income. Betting on credit is hugely frowned upon in rough poolrooms.
“And then,” he said, “suddenly you show up in the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen and quickly load your hobo rucksack, wave good-bye, and roar down the avenue in a flash of silver-blue, that exhaust note reverberating against the buildings even when you were out of sight. Man, that really got to me for some weeks. I couldn’t get over it.”
*My father lost the dealership when he attempted to borrow the huge amount of money he needed. The millionaire he approached stole it from him. This same family (Stinnis?) hired my mother as a servant and therefore they met—my parents. The son attempted to rape my mom, then planted jewelry in her room so that she would be fired when she attempted to reveal his actions. This man later won Canada’s highest award for humanitarianism. Nice, eh? I begged my mother to write a letter to be published across Canada and the United States to unmask this scoundrel, but my mother refused no matter how I begged.
I painted this at 14 years old for my father. Notice that the driver is turning out of the corner because he is utilizing a 4-wheel drift. But I made an error—the front wheels would not be kicking up that much dirt since the car would’ve been rear-wheel drive. But I was a kid.
Imagine these words becoming worn by the road as if each syllable is bent by the hungry miles and each paragraph twists the binding crooked.
The day before the first day on the road, I brought eight paintings [to become the Forum 8] to Desroches Gallery in Montreal, Canada.Trouble and confusion at the border forced me simply to jump in the Volvo and drive off without any correct papers or authorization, listening for the gun shots—there comes a time when we are no longer willing to go along.
Next day—out on the road, northern Vermont, 1980, the New England July sun, my now-so-familiar leather pack leaning, the triangular form of the highway under foot, the thin clouds following the sound of vehicles passing, my thumb held high.
Leaving Burlington, one of the first memorable rides was in a mint yellow 1957 Chevrolet Belair. It was driven by a cool Long Island guy in shades who looked a bit like Richard Gere. The bizarre thing is, this was Carlo Connors who would three years later come look at my father’s 911 when I was considering selling it after he died; my mother gave the car to me since it was my college money that had purchased the Porsche in the first place. Carlo and I have been friends ever since.
And I could not resist this photo of Carlo’s father Paul, one of the main reasons the world loves the Irish from northern Maine (Millinocket). He was one of the best!
At a crossroads by a gas station and dairy bar in Charlotte, an aged battered Ford driven by a very fat woman picks me up.I squeeze into the backseat crammed between really fat kids with buckets of fried chicken, as an old Mexican in the passenger seat, his face like tree bark, his hands bent knotted strong reaches me back a nearly-empty warm pint of Canadian Club, which I must sip from attempting to hide my disgust.When he finally understands the distance of my intention to reach the West Coast (his English is terrible), he jerks toward me with great joy and mad nodding a freshly opened pint.He has at his feet a paper bag full of these pints, and as I exit, he insists I keep the just opened one with huge unspoken ceremony, which I foolishly keep pulling on as I await my next ride just because I love the man and his indomitable toothless poetry.
In the hot southern Vermont sun, in the overly sweet haze of C.C., images of Club Super Sex in Montreal the night before keep returning—that strange spatial relationship between a dancing naked woman showing (flaunting) her assets and me glued to them.A purely visual experience: the woman being only a body and me only part of a paycheck—though the physical distance is slight, the emotional distance is extreme.
The mechanical condition of the next car is the worst of all my rides ever.It was as if someone were pounding the bottom with a sledge hammer, obviously the U-joint in the driveshaft, which I explain to the driver.“It’ll be fine, man.Been doing that all day.”But after ten more miles, the joint gives.We both sat for a moment, the front seat vibrating in the afternoon sunlight and silence, and the driver seemed little concerned, so I left him with the Mexican’s pint of C.C. and continued walking toward Bennington.
I finally approach Hal Stowell’s at dusk—his place always pivotal of any true road trip during this era—I actually managing to talk my last ride into dropping me right at the driveway, a hitchhiking first considering the many back dirt roads leading to the cabin.At that time, I could usually excite drivers into going way out of their way for me, allowing them to believe they were part of something magical and important. (Buying them beer always helped!)I was always attempting to do this because every moment I was alive seemed like a miracle.Maybe this was from being so very sick and inside most of my childhood?
The next morning Hal dropped me off on Route 2 heading west out of Greenfield.Funny how many good-byes Hal and I have had at the side of a highway.It was so sentimental and tender to watch Hal’s faded-blue early VW bug U-turn and head back east to Wendell, that chugging exhaust note disappearing. He was a wonderful friend and mentor, who I owe so much to for opening my mind to written poetry as well as the poetry of being alive.
I shoulderedmy pack, looked up at the dark sky.Rain was held in the humid clouds as myriad black flies collected around my head, the strange caterpillar defoliation giving the hills a terrible burnt pink color.Just as the rain began, an old mail van pulled up and I avoided storm.There is always a moment at the beginning of a cross-country road run where you wonder, “Do I really want to do this?”You’re usually hung over, generally tired, bugs bite, no rides, hungry, wicked thirsty and so on.This might be why so few people have hitchhiked for long distances; the real road breaks the weak and uninspired quickly.
In Albany, I stood at the mouth of the New York State Thruway sipping Bushmills whiskey as a black cloud came off the horizon and drew over, a powerful rain following, the trucks shifting up out of the tolls, all lights now turned on in the storms darkness, last sun raking the booths. I was so overwhelmed by the moment that I painted the memory a year later. I actually had a woman who worked for the state photograph the very same tollbooth for me, but it was so ugly that I invented my own version.
I walked a great long bridge at Niagara Falls at night, down below me the churling river and glowing power houses, the turbines throbbing, the sky a weird orange. On through the night into darker Canada, crossing the border always easy since I’m a Canadian citizen, finally finding Interprovince 401 which is so straight and wide toward the East and Kingstown that I once fell asleep driving a drunk’s car while hitchhhiking (1974 with Kris), waking up doing 80 mph up the grass median. Falling asleep at the wheel one time cures you forever, believe me!
Stranded in London, Ontario at around 3 a.m., I start a drag race in the style of Natalie Wood in Rebel without all the girlish hopping around and handing of dirt. I was simply sitting on a cement berm on the outskirts of town in the middle-of-the-light lull when a souped up Mopar with six guys in it burned rubber a few feet from my feet. I guess they appreciated my cool of not moving because they returned with a hotrod Camaro and I was the signal tree. The six guys won.
In the early morning, a brandnew red Eldorado with white leather interior glides up and then the driver pays for a stop of donuts and coffee. The guy was so excited about his new car he had to share the joy with someone. I slept in a farm field for a couple hours until the dew woke me. Another long walk over the Sarnia Port Huron bridge with its strange feeling of scale because it’s so increbibly large. I remember other hitchhikes when I’d walked the same bridge, never once getting a ride over it.
The Blue Water Bridge which I walked across about half a dozen times.
As a hitchhiker, it can become like watching a series of poorly written TV sitcoms. Each ride is its own bit of drama and humor because people want to talk, tell you their lives, complain about their lovers or kids or drug dealers or bosses. They rant on as they would on a psychiatrist’s couch. This can be okay if it doesn’t go on too long, but since you’re moving forward, which always feels good, you can tune out or pretend to fall asleep. At one point (mid-1970s) I dressed all in white and received rides from people who insisted they had never picked anyone up before. The height of your thumb is critical as it displays attitude, the fact that your luggage is in front of you fully visible, that there is a sensible area for someone to pull over just past where you are standing; sometimes I used a written sign WEST if I wanted to go East. [They stop to tell you you are headed the wrong way.]
Then there are the classic moments that you remember forever and that become stand-alone stories:
Some years ago when hitchhiking west, I was picked up in a cloud of dust by a broken-looking jacked-up Buick pointed north out of Detroit headed up through Pontiac to Flint, Michigan. Now the driver of this rig had a CB and his handle was “The Waterman” and he talked something like this: “Yall dis da Waderman comin’ atcha, yeassur, dis da Waderman, movin’ goood, feelin’ goood; I godcha wader, I godcha juice, I god wadcha need tagit loose.” And the response by the truckers in that area was something like this: “Come agin, good buddy.” They didn’t understand a word. He looks at me: “I’z world-wide, man. Worl-wide!”
Well—I suggested we get some beer. And once it was understood that I’d be paying, the Waterman immediately nosed the Watermobile, or the Black Medallion as he called it, to a package store. I bought us a couple racks of Stroh’s—the fire-brewed beer and a few pouches of beer nuts. Back on route, I snapped one open and proceeded to drink it. The Waterman, however, just went nuts: “Aww, man, whadchu doin’ man. Keep dat ting low, man. Keep dat beer low!” The low sounding like a long moan. Then the Waterman gave me a lesson in Drinking Beer on a Highway. First his head swiveled madly on his neck, his eyes searching insanely—backwards, front, to the sides, above for helicopters—then he slumped way down on the bench seat, impossible now for him to see the road, I ready to grab the wheel, then he yells, “Alright man, gimme da beer. Keep it low!” I slipped him the Stroh’s bumping the thing along the floor mats. Crouching even lower he tipped the beer back and took a swallow. He came up for air then and hopefully to see if the Buick was still on the road and he handed me back the bottle, real low. The fucker was empty! Some sip.
Thus we piloted up the road, I trying to imitate his drinking technique, he muttering crazily every so often on the CB. After our third beer, the Waterman suddenly fought the Buick to a lurching stop in the breakdown lane. He hops out and wrenches up the hood—damn, the Watermobile has died, I figure. I get out my side to assist, being a bit of a mechanic especially on 60s GM. “Right man, right, preten’ you workin’ on da wires, preten’ you workin’ on da motor like.” But the Buick isn’t wounded, the Waterman is just having a pee.
I still use this pee-stop technique today, though I don’t keep my beers quite as low as he did.
These are the gems of rides that you pray for when on the road. I’ve had lovely young women take me home and cook me a huge breakfast—nothing else. Her young husband was in the military. I’ve had lovely young women pick me up with other interests as well. The thing is, you never know what might happen. I’ve turned down only about three rides in 22k miles and correctly so each time. That’s just pure instinct. I’ve even been in a car that was in an accident, which is very strange: “Well, thanks for the lift. Hope you’re okay. Sorry about the car . . . ” as you walk away from the disaster.
After the Waterman reluctantly turned off—beer was gone—I got a ride with a junkie in a van who couldn’t believe I wasn’t holding. “Things been tight. I hear you, man. I dig you, man. Really tight. But you got NOTHING?”
Then the back of an open gravel truck in with a couple wheelbarrows, the wind at 50 mph feeling wonderful over the beer buzz. And then just as suddenly—no rides. Dusk is settling in, bugs are beyond horrendous, I’m in the middle of a Michigan swampland, so I’m forced to hitchhike both directions—a rarity. Finally at dark, a hopped up Nova takes me to a crossroad store and gas station so I can at least get a sandwich. I watch the store close and am left in darkness. Besides some rednecks trying to pelt me with beer cans, not much happens until dawn when the same Nova picks me up again, big lockup of brakes, heading to work in the other direction. “Oh, man, I couldn’t believe it when I saw you still standing there—I had to stop!” It had been a 10-hour wait. My record was 17 hours in Sudbury, Canada in 1973. It’s a gleeful challenge among real road hitchhikers to tell their longest wait, but this wins: “This guy I knew got stuck way up on Canada 17 by a cafe. He couldn’t even get a bus, nothing, just had to keep hiking. He eats at the cafe twice a day, right? Runs out of money, right? Starts washing dishes at the cafe, right? Eventually marries the waitress! Now that, my friends, is the record.” [Told to me in the Sault Ste. Marie bus terminal.]
Near the Ludington ferry dock, I eat at a classic lunch counter, a wonderful dollar breakfast, talk pool with owner Steve and then wait on the beach for a bit until the smell of dead fish is too pungent. A dumpy girl in an ill-fitting bikini keeps eyeing me. It all seems so sad. The boat leaves at evening as heat lightning drums the lake. Trying to find a guaranteed ride exiting from the ferry, I talk with too many people and finally connect with a madman. This guy will not stop talking in his paranoid-hyper way. He’s obsessed with magnet motors, Jesus, North Dakota farmers fighting among themselves, and shifts between subjects mid-sentence. I don’t care. I just don’t want to be marooned all night again. In my exhaustion, I feel as if the country is beginning to come apart, and I wonder now if this was the start of the loss of American, when the wealthy took our country away from us.
Leaving Green Bay, another guy tells me about his wife and kids being murdered, and I feel certain he has killed them. This kind of anxiety is another challenge of the road. You pass through so many lives in a day, it can overwhelm. You don’t eat much, you drink too much (I always had Bushmills in my pack), you rarely sleep except fitfully. All part of it. But I’m in Wisconsin and headed through the night to the Verbrick’s which is a second home to me and where I’m always welcome. Reaching the outskirts of Neenah, I walk the last miles past foundries and across huge farm fields, the flatness amazing, the smell of the wet summer earth amazing, the lightning still cracking, then a fierce pounding downpour, and at dawn the three red blinking radio transmitters that I know so well from my high school years.
I sneak silently and damply into the Verbrick’s house by Lake Winnebago just as the sun breaks the horizon. Curl up in the corner on the living room carpet under the painting I gave Paul and Barbara so long ago, and I sleep. When I wake towards noon, Mrs. V has the signature perfect breakfast ready for me. She has also taken my pack and washed and folded all my clothes. She was the most Christian woman I have ever known, and I loved her like a second mother. I so miss you, Barbara! I’m crying as I write this.
The author with Barbara and Paul Verbrick, Seattle, Washington, 1991, the last time I would see either of them although Barbara and I talked every Christmas until she died. My hat, purchased in Lone Pine, California was brand-new that day and the palomino jacket was still pretty fresh even if purchased in Burlington, Vermont, 1983, but that’s a whole other story.
Chapter One [Excerpt from A Repair Manual for New England Melancholiacs