Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dharma Bums

I decided to re-read Kerouac's *Dharma Bums* again, one of my two favorites of his, but I couldn't. I guess my head has changed too much since those days.

Cracks me up the first page, though. I did that journey in a similar fashion at 16, before I read the book. I hitchhiked up the coast from LA to Santa Barbara, where there were so many stranded hitchhikers on the on ramp that no one would stop for fear of being swarmed. I was there a day, a night, and most of the next day. Cops would kick you in the ribs if you were sleeping. Finally someone got the bright idea that there was a train yard near and walked down there.

A hobo told him that there would be an evening highball train all the way to San Francisco, and that it would be hauling new automobiles on freight cars. On each freight car would be one unlocked auto with the keys for the other autos in the glove box. So about ten of us wandered down there and waited through a mission sermon for a bowl of really bad potato soup.

Sure enough, just like the old bum said, the train arrived on time and stopped at the yard. We got on, located the keys quickly, and got the bunch of us into two new autos for the ride. Off we went, along the tracks that often ran close to the beach. Great nighttime views. But when we were rolling through the yard in San Luis Obispo, some idiot in the other auto blew the horn. A few miles later, at a crossing, the train stopped and cops got on, quickly finding us, of course. They held us at gunpoint while interrogating us, and one deputy sheriff's pistol was visibly shaking in his hand. Until I noticed that, I'd have said he was more nervous than me. They gave us a lecture about how much the local people hated hippies and how more than a couple were buried and forgotten out in the fields.

Then they left, leaving the bunch of us standing on the crossing in the middle of nowhere, for a hitchhiker, never mind eight or ten of us. Needless to say, we were a longer time reaching San Francisco than we'd thought.