Growing up in the 60’s, I spent Saturday afternoons watching ‘Lost in Space’, The Jetson’s, Speed Racer and Thunderbirds. I watched Craig Breedlove set the land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats and had full color front page newspaper cutouts of astronauts on my bedroom walls. I was fascinated and obsessed with speed and the images influenced by the car culture, the art of Big Daddy Ed Roth and the Space and Atomic Age industrial architecture of the day. The reality and excitement of space travel shaped the motels, coffee houses, bowling alleys, car washes; drive in theaters and gas stations with futuristic features that included boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabolas. It was a time of great hope and optimism. My dad had a 1960 Pontiac Catalina. He would walk in the door on a hot Saturday afternoon with a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in his T shirt sleeve while Booker T and the MG’s ‘Green Onions’ played on the transistor in the kitchen. The Lucky’s took my father, but not me, not yet, and I swore I would live each day to its fullest.
It was the summer of 1978 and Springsteen had just released ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’. I pulled my bike up to the curb at Weirs Beach, looked out of the corner of my eye, and there she was, sitting on the wall with her friends. They giggled, she didn’t. ‘Nice bike ya got there cowboy, all black and chrome’ as she kicked off the wall. I smiled and was surprised when she accepted my offer for a ride. She saluted her friend’s goodbye, eased onto my seat and molded her arms around me as if they had always been there. We rode the lake and mountains all day. For the first few hours, she looked around at everything, then eased her head onto my shoulders and went quiet for the rest of the time. I wanted to think it was me, I knew it was something else.
We stopped at a remote place on the lake, sat by some rocks at the water’s edge and talked about everything with the innocence that reflected our age, the quiet only interrupted by an occasional loon call. We talked about riding the highways and what it would be like to just leave, and find America. Her eyes grew wide and asked if we could, and just as fast as it came, the excitement ran from her face. It was something she had to do, somewhere she had to be, or someone she had to be with. Either way I never asked. Her face told me I couldn’t.
We spent the next three days together. On Sunday she grabbed my arm, spun me around and said ‘Let’s do it Johnny! Let’s go!’ and I was more than ready. I was crazy about this girl. Practicality and reason went out the window. I couldn’t believe I was no longer in control of my emotions. I knew we wouldn’t have a lifetime together, maybe a week, most likely days, but I didn’t care. I wanted any and every moment with her before it was over, and I knew I would regret missing this opportunity for the rest of my life if I didn’t. We left Sunday afternoon.
We rode the back roads from the White Mountains of NH to Nebraska. Our love grew strong along the way, talking for hours at night in neon lit motels, eating gas station hot dogs and slow danced in the rain when we couldn’t ride. We experienced places and imagery of a more optimistic time. A time of innocence and a simple promise of greater things to come.
We got as far as Omaha and stopped for lunch. Nothing was said. I knew it was time. We stepped outside. I lit her a cigarette and she began to cry so hopelessly. I held her in my arms and wanted to make her stay, beg her not to take her love from me, not to end our story but I knew nothing could change what was already in place. We rode to the bus station and bought a one way ticket east. We waited in silence for the last bus of the day. I started to say something like ‘but we could’ and she just gently placed her fingers on my lips. Looking into my eyes, she walked up the steps of the bus as her fingers slipped from mine for the last time. Our lips tried to form smiles as we shook our heads in affirmation knowing that we had lived and loved like no other, if only for a moment and then, she was gone.
I rode north till sunrise, came to a crossroad and pulled over to clear my head. A farmer stopped and asked me if I knew where I was. I said ‘no’. He said ‘are ya lost? I hesitated, looked at him, shook my head and said ‘no’.
Now there’s wrinkle’s in the corners of my eyes and I crisscross the back roads, stopping at every honky-tonk and bar I can find to dance with strangers that look like her. I will find her, just to hold her and see her face one more time in the morning light. Till then, I’ll tell everyone I meet about her. I’ll be leaving on Sunday…