Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Pass'g Kerouac On The Road... or Highway

It was the Spring of Love. It was New Jersey; Brick, New Jersey; the Jersey Shore, just a few dunes away from the beach & I left work, ready to go home &… sit there? I’d been work’g as a forklift operator/truck (un)loader @ a Belmar-based warehouse that sold snack foods to local elementary, middle, & high schools. Sometimes I even got to make deliveries. Sometimes I got to drive the box-trucks down to Jiffy Lube to get their oil chang'd. I even got to shovel snow off the roof of the build’g once (for fear that if it turn’d to ice, the roof might collapse).

Heck, it paid more than my previous job: teach’g English & Art to middle schoolers @ a private school.

I arriv’d home & check’d my email. To my surprise, there was one from Dr. Helen Dunn, director of graduate studies at Sonoma State University. I think it read: “Good News from SSU.”

Yep, I was in! I yelled, “Woohoo!” (There was no one else there, so I felt I could get away w/ that one.) I print’d out the email & went to go tell someone--but no one was around. So I sat there & read it over & over. I was going to get an MA in English and become a Creative Writer!!! Finally, I start’d tell’g people: family, friends, girlfriend, anyone who wd listen. & I don’t think anyone was genuinely very excited. Everyone, for the most part, was like “You’re leaving?” (Sniff.)

I think the only person who was as genuinely thrill’d as I was was my friend Me. (At this time I’d like to give a shout out to Me, for being there @ this exciting time.)

So, a few days later, the big “official” envelope arriv’d in the mail. (A few not-big envelopes had already arriv’d. Not-big envelopes = “not-so-great.”) Inside the big envelope was an application to work as a tutor @ the SSU Writing Center.

“Writing Center?” I thought. “I wonder what that’s like?” My undergrad university had a Learning Center, which was mainly a computer lab everyone avoid’d b/c of the folks who work’d there. Not social, not fun—and most certainly, it was not the on-campus pub. (Yep, that’s where I work’d part-time. I was Mr. Boston.)

So, in just a few weeks, I pack’d the backseat & trunk of my brown ’82 Honda Accord (The Brown Hornet), pick’d up my old roommate Joey B (who was collect’g unemployment), & we were head’d to California. Only we had to pack his things, too, into the Hornet. He was most excited @ the fact that he had plann’d ahead by bring’g an extra roll of toilet paper just in case.

Yeah, in case Texas had a TP shortage, I suppose. Or, if we got stuck in the desert.

We got everything in, includ'g his case of Gatorade (for those all-day jogs we’d be going on while driving) & set out on the NJ Turnpike. First stop, North Carolina.

My dad had decid’d to buy me a new car as a reward for get’g out of NJ. The only thing: it was @ his house in NC. So… Joey B & I head’d South before West. We got there & saw my new Dream Mobile: a blue ’89 Ford Bronco II with two hole-creating rust spots on the driver door, a fad’d paint job on the hood (quickly rust’g, too), two ripp’d seats (around the shoulder areas) & only one work’g seatbelt up front—driver’s side. Cost: $1000.

My dad beam’d proudly while stand’g in his driveway w/ Joey B & me. “This is a great deal, boys,” he chirped.

Yep. A great deal. Watch out California!

Caveat: it was a stick shift. And, yep, good ole Capt. Cross-Country Driver did not know how to drive a stick shift. The Brown Hornet was automatic. But Joey B cd do it! Joey B saved the day!

The next day, Joey B & I spent a few hours stop’g, stall’g, shift’g, pull’g, prod’g, push’g & scream’g, step’g, stop’g, stall’g, shift’g, etc. in a school park’g lot down the road from my Dad’s. I cdn’t do it… yet. We went out for dinner that evening & everything was pleasant.

The follow’g morn’g, Joey B & I pack’d the truck, hopp’d in, waved goodbye & were off on Route 40—a straight highway from NC to CA. Four hours later, around lunch time, we drove through Knoxville, TN… & the truck broke down.

So, a tow truck came & pick’d us up & brought us to a small, independent mechanic’s shop where we encountered our first group of Tennesseans. “So, where are the two of you head’d?” the owner asked.

“California,” I replied. The group of men around him laughed.

“California!? What!?! Nuttin’ out there but fruits an’ nuts! Why’re you goin’ there? Place’s is just gonna fall off into the ocean any day now!”

(Sigh.)

My first reaction was to (unfortunately) stereotype this group, but I realiz’d something: people in Jersey said the same things to me. (Double Sigh.) These dudes were quality people, though, I learn’d, because they understood my situation & had my truck ready the next morn’g: and it only cost $450. So, the truck was now worth $1450. Great deal getting not-so-great. I call’d my dad just to let him know.

“Okay,” he said, “well, this is only one thing. Everything else is fine, though, right?”

“Well, no, the stereo and cassette player don’t work.” He didn’t know that. Great deal even less-so-great. (please, be assur’d though, that I did—and still do—appreciate his generosity regard’g the truck. I just think it’s comedy.)

Joey B & I drove right along Route 40 for the next few days: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. I learn’d to drive a stick-shift in Oklahoma & we even made it to the Canyon. Everything was grand.

Until the desert. We broke down for the 2nd time in a matter of 4 days in Needles, CA. If you are not familiar w/ Needles, CA in early July, well, … it’s hot. Very hot. Not the kind of hot that warrants TP as your savior, either. But the TP was there in the back seat, crush’d under a bag of food. Phew!

All was not awful, though. Our destination was Santa Barbara, where my good friend, Boo 409, work’d & lived @ UCSB. We were only a few hours way from there—and our Knoxville buddies had told us a secret about the truck’s “problem.” If the CV shaft broke again, we cd drive the truck in 4-wheel drive—but not for too long, especially on a highway.

So, we drove in 4-wheel drive on the highway for the next 5 hours, inch’g along @ 55 mph. It was Friday, July 2nd, I believe. Joey B’s plane from SF to NJ was Wednesday, July 7th. We got into SB @ 5pm—the Ford dealership was closed—until Tuesday because of the holiday wknd. So, we brought the truck in Tuesday morn’g & it was fix’d by Wednesday morn’g: $770.

Great deal! (Truck now @ $2220 w/ no radio. It would also cost an extra $330 to get it through CA’s “smog inspection,” money I eventually got back for some reason.)

Joey B & I drove up Highway 101 Wednesday morn’g, got to my new “house” in Petaluma late in the afternoon & got him on a bus back down to SFO by 7pm for a red-eye back to Newark. I was now living w/ two people I’d never met. I answer’d their online advertisement that read “roommate need’d, Petaluma area, close to SSU.” They wd turn out to be a nightmare—a story for another day.

The next week, my 1st full week in CA, I stop’d by the SSU Writing Center (after stall’g a few times on Petaluma Hill Road). I met Scott Miller, the director, briefly, fill’d out a new application & went back a few days later for an interview w/ Scott & Drea Moore, his assistant director. I never felt so at-home on a job interview. I was hired (of course) & wd quickly b/c best friends w/ Drea—who is currently try’g to b/c Sonoma County’s premier female jazz drummer. I had also taken a job @ a natural foods store as a cashier. But I was really exict’d about the prospect of tutor’g. That’s what I really want’d to do @ that time. And I did. And I've enjoy'd writing center work ever since.

So, I guess, Route 40 is my road to the Writing Center. Or maybe the Jersey Turnpike. Or Highway 101. I don’t know. Maybe it’s all three. That’s a great deal.

-kd

3 Comments:

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