Some stories from the past, and my ongoing series, "Aunt Clara's Wheelchair"
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
At age 18 I began hitchhiking all around this country and I kept it up untill I was 24, when I landed in Nashville. Granted, it wasn't always fun, but for the most part, the adventure and constant change outweighed the underlying sense of fear. It was worth the risk, I guess.
Anyway, as I said before, a few years later I drifted into Guitar Town with the notion of settling down and writing songs for awhile. I worked real jobs during the day such as washing dishes and bussing tables. I was also a construction laborer for a couple of years. At night I played my songs in the cafes and bars of the city I'd developed a great love for. I had never lived in any one place longer than I had been in Nashville.
I should've quit while I was ahead, but for some dumb reason, when I turned 30, I got the itch to travel again and began making plans to thumb my way to the oldest city in the country, St. Augustine. I had been there, but only in passing through. This time I thought I'd see it for real.
In the old days of my rambling I would'nt have even considered carrying a backpack, but this time I decided to travel in style and went out and bought a nice one. I boldly and happily told my friends about my new plans. They were not impressed. "Duffy", they said, "it's dangerous out there. Why don't you just stay here and write songs about hitchhiking instead of actually doing it?"
Well, a hundred miles or so and a day later, I knew in my heart that they were right. This time, right off the bat, the fear outweighed the adventure, but I couldn't turn back now, could I?
Several short rides later I decided to get off the interstate and take the backroads. The "rural route" as the great Hank Williams would say. Pretty soon I was standing beside a scenic blue highway, like a drowning rat, cursing the pouring rain and every single vehicle that passed my by.
It was probably around midnight when I finally got a ride. A nice man and his wife pulled over in an old pick-up truck and I put my backpack and my guitar in the back and crawled up in there myself and settled in for a nice, if wet, nap. Not to be, Twenty miles and thirty minutes later the nice man pulled over to the side of the road and said, "Well, son, we're goin' west here...so...uh...good luck. Here, let me help ya with that." He lifted the backpack out the truck and set it down beside me. He wished me good luck again, got back in the driver's seat and they took off, leaving me standing there wondering what the hell I was doing. Why was I not back in Nashville in my favorite bar, singing one of my original songs? No, not me. Instead, I was stumbling around in the dark, making my way to a railroad bridge in the distance, sitting under it, eating a can of sardines and mumbling, like a crazy person, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".
Next morning I walked the short way back to the main road and stuck my thumb out. I was feeling a little better because the rain had stopped and the glorious sun was shining down again on me. Seven hours later I was burning up and cursing that glorious sun and, again, every car, or truck, that passed me by. Sometimes they waved. Those were the ones I used the foulest language on.
I was never so glad to see a cop in my life. I was kind of hoping that he would haul me off to jail, but no such luck. He gave me a lift to the county line where he got on his radio and, before I knew it, another cop took me to the next county line and so on and so on. The police took me, in turn, all the way across the state of North Carolina! It's true, but they didn't do it just because they were being nice. A hitchhiker had been killed in a hit and run a few nights before and they were bound and determined not to let that happen again.
Anyway, I finally made it to St. Augustine. I stayed in a small campground, in my tent, not far from town. I played music in a couple of different bars, hung out on the beach and had a pretty good time for about a month. Then, one morning, I walked a long ways to the Greyhound Bus station and bought myself a one-way ticket and hightailed it back to Nashville. Back to work. Back to play. Back to my friends. They were glad to see me and I was glad, and grateful, to see them.
I could still be wild and free. I just didn't need to be worn out and cold and lonesome to do it. I could be a Gypsy and a rover in my mind and not go around worrying everybody. I'm still a Gypsy and a hobo. A rambler and a gambler...and a writer.