The Red River flows north between the cities of Fargo and Moorhead. The Greyhound station was in Fargo and my destination was Milwaukee. I had a change of clothes in a small soft duffle, and some art supplies in an old Smith Corona typewriter case. With my jacket slung over my shoulder Hussar-style, I was the picture of a non-conformist artistic type. Too young to be a hobo or Beatnik, and long before the age of Hippies.
My parents were allowing me to take the bus to my mother’s brother for a few days visit, I had another plan brewing. I had a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” in my back pocket, carefully placed with the title showing above the edge of the pocket. I had the habit of rotating three books in that back pocket. “On the Road”, “the Way of Zen”, and “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman. Only “The Leaves of Grass” was uncomfortable by about 200 pages. Tight fit!
I suppose I felt that my oncoming physical look was somewhat confusing. My levi’s and t-shirt was not specific, my sandals were undercut by my white socks, and my slung jacket had a fake sheep’s skin collar. At least as I was walking away my back pocket would be making a statement. If only the cover could somehow be neon.
Periodically I found myself waiting for something, and I would retrieve the back pocket book to read a chapter of two. I was profoundly affected by all three books, with Kerouac slightly in the lead. Going on the road to search for America became more than just a book title.
Even at that early age I knew that this was potentially dangerous. Hitch-hiking between Eastern cities posed a far greater risk than the Northern road between Fargo and Milwaukee, at least I thought so. Taking the bus for a few miles then getting off to cash the ticket seemed like a safe plan. I could be in Milwaukee a day or two later, gain some much needed “gravitas” and be back in Fargo without anyone the wiser.
This one aspect of the dangerous mix of “pompous and nativity”.
The plan worked fairly well, except that I couldn’t cash the ticket. No matter, I still thecashforthereturn ticket plus a little spending money. It was early in the morning and I figured that sometime tomorrow evening I would be rolling into Milwaukee. Of course that would require at least two rides in sports cars doing the speed limit. The Geyhound was slower but in drove 24/7.
The first day hitch-hiking was uneventful until the last ride of the early evening. As the sun was setting a young woman in a convertible stopped. She was wearing a blue top, and blue pedal pushers. She was a recreational director at a summer camp near Detroit Lakes. It had taken ten hours to travel 43 miles. I could have walked.
Hitch-hiking was far more complicated than I imagined. Not only was the road an issue, but my presence on the road needed work. At least the last ride was more successful. The young woman asked questions and was very friendly. She volunteered an empty cabin at the camp, and offered a part-time job teaching sailing to the campers. I had dinghy sailing experience in San Francisco Bay. That was nearly the equivalent of a PhD.
That night I pondered the possibility of spending my 1966 summer at a camp in Detroit Lakes with a nineteen year old potential girl friend. It was a lovely fantasy and I left before breakfast in the morning. In Detroit lakes I got on board the next bus to Milwaukee. But the seed was planted for future trips.