|Map of Steinbeck's Travels with Charley|
After my father got out of the military we settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I can remember being really upset when after a couple of years there and we didn't move. Military children are used to moving. As I remember we lived in three different states in the second grade. One was a base in Roswell, New Mexico and my first look at mountains. Then it was Missouri again and El Paso, Texas. Most of my truest friends were dogs and books. And after leaving Roswell I missed the mountains more than my school mates.
So Albuquerque, I thought, would be just another temporary stop and I was quite upset when I was informed by my parents we were staying. I was a freshman in college before they moved again. And they left me behind in the dorm. Dad used to joke, after a couple drinks, that they could not get me to run away from home so they ran away from me. My family are elephants. They never forget what they think is an amusing story. I never found them that funny.
College, especially as an inmate with homey knowledge, was amusing. And it was freedom. The only time I went to visit my folks, then in Denver, was when the dorm closed and kicked us out like at Christmas and term break. Us underclassmen were suppose to go home. It took me only one horrific summer in Denver to know I didn't want to go home again for long. My dorm friend, Penny, a graduate of eastern prep schools was very experienced at ways around dorm hours and sign out rules. And semester break of my sophomore year I signed out to the house of a classmate from high school and hit the road with Penny and four other coeds for California.
Mother would have had kittens if she knew I was on the highway in the middle of the night through the mountains of Arizona in the beginning of winter with only girls, instead of safely with Mrs. Berry and her family in the valley. It was bitching, big word at the time. Bunny, a former Playboy Bunny, taught us how to remove our bras without taking off our sweatshirts or stopping the car. She even did it while taking her turn at the wheel. Barbie, from Santa Barbara, siphoned gas from a car at a dark house, when we ran out of gas in the middle of the night while we stood around shivering watching for the police.
Everyone but me was from big cities and crowded areas and didn't believe they closed filling stations and they were at least 300 miles apart. We laughed and told jokes. Most of us had just been through finals and not had much sleep. And we had packed for California. Always sunny in California. The high deserts of Arizona were freezing cold at night. Six girls in a Buick Special was crowded.
Then Penny's Buick blew up just outside Kingman, Arizona. Middle of the desert in the middle of the biggest General Motor's strike I can remember up till then. Just before dawn. Only thing hot was the engine.
(To be Continued on Sidetracked Charley)