Deb’s Saturday Psychedelia – Chapter 3
Written by Deb Cavanaugh on February 29, 2020
This is a continuation of the story of my awakening and more. Although I was born into a conservative Republican family that was equally oppressive and educational, I was always a rebel at heart, pushing the limits and finding my own voice. This is how I finally broke free. If you want to start at the beginning, read part 1 and part 2 first.
Our friends dropped us off just outside of New York City so that we would (hopefully) not get hassled by the city cops. We stuck out our thumbs and waited for an hour with no luck. Paul started feeling nervous about the amount of time we’d already spent there and decided to put our stash under a bush – just in case. Another hour went by with no one even slowing down to consider us. We were starting to feel very discouraged when a car full of young men stopped and offered to take us to Western Pennsylvania. Wow! This must have been our lucky day to snag such a long ride for the first one. We hopped right in. Once we were well on the way, it suddenly occurred to us that we’d left the stash behind. We were going to be clean and sober for the first time in a long time and were not looking forward to it.
At one point, somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, we stopped for gas at a small out-of-the way service station. As the driver filled the tank, Paul and I went inside to use the bathroom. We immediately noticed the silence inside the building and were very wary. The scene outside did nothing to calm our nerves. The car was already starting to pull away as three men came out of the garage with tire irons in their hands. We raced for the car and hopped in just in time as one of the men threw his tire iron which then hit the back bumper. We were very glad to be out of there.
We arrived in Pittsburgh around 9 pm that night and tried calling one of Paul’s sisters looking for a place to crash for the night. Although they had never really gotten along, I was shocked when she hung up on him. He called a few other friends and finally got ahold of one who said that we could stay one night if we could get there before 11 pm. It was after 10 but Paul agreed, and we started walking. Pittsburgh has lots of hills and many long, steep staircases for pedestrians to get from one street to another. We stood at the bottom of one of these, and I groaned. We had stayed up all night on New Year’s Eve at our goodbye party and had been smoking pot most of the day with our ride. I was exhausted. I started up those stairs and got about halfway when I could not go a step further. I sat down and cried. This was not the adventure I was looking for.
Paul was determined to get us to Elaine’s apartment, so he carried his things up to the top then came back for me and my stuff, half carrying me up the rest of the flight. We arrived at Elaine’s at 11:10 pm. She was furious but let us in anyway. She wanted us settled in before her boyfriend came home. I guess he was not a fan of her old friends and wasn’t the nicest guy anyway. We finally fell asleep, then got up the next morning in search of another place to stay. This time, Paul’s sister agreed to take us in for one night. I was still exhausted and feeling slightly nauseous. I also had skipped my monthly period and was feeling a little anxious. I always used birth control, so I was sure I wasn’t pregnant, but something was not right. That day, I went to the free clinic for a pregnancy test – just in case. It was negative. Whew! What a relief. If I had gotten a positive result, I probably would have gone back home, and that was the last thing I wanted to do.
Before leaving the next day, we met a friend of Paul’s sister at a local coffee shop. He was older than us, probably in his 30s and was a serious radical writer and activist. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name, though I have a very clear picture of him in my head. Paul always remembered everyone’s name, dates, places, etc. but when he died, he took a lot of those details with him. Anyway, this fellow introduced me to Marxism. He even looked like what I thought a Marxist would look like with long dark hair and lots of facial hair. He was fascinating – very passionate about his beliefs and wanting to share those beliefs with whoever would listen. I was always a good listener and loved hearing what anyone had to say. I had grown up immersed in conservative values but had never bought into it and was looking for alternatives, so this was just what I craved. This trip was suddenly looking up.
The next leg of the journey was fairly uneventful. We never did make it to Mardi Gras because the rides kept taking us west instead of south. I don’t remember much about it except for a couple of key things. For one, I learned to sleep in clothing donation boxes to get out of the weather. As long as we moved the harder items like shoes out of the way, they were quite cozy with all of the clothes in there. Paul had lost his address book, a very serious loss for a “road scholar,” when his wallet was stolen by one of the many visitors to our old apartment. This meant that he no longer had all of those contacts he had already made during his 4 years on the road. So, we were both starting fresh in a way and had to find sleeping arrangements as we went along. I also learned that “Grand Openings” of any kind were a bonus. Most of them had free coffee and pastries, sometimes even sandwiches. Banks had free pens and pads of paper. Since both of us were writers, we appreciated those. Whenever we blew into a new town, we’d look for community happenings.
I do remember quite vividly standing on the shoulder of the I-80 with my thumb out and having the big semi-trucks speed up and veer over into the right lane at the last minute, the wind gusts they created throwing our bags – and me – careening down the road. I finally started crouching down or laying right down in the snow when they came by. Back then, I probably weighed about 100 pounds fully dressed, and it was impossible to keep my footing when they zoomed by.
In some small city in Nebraska, we sprung for a night in a sleezy fleabag hotel. It was an old brownstone in the seedier part of town. We went up to the counter, paid our couple of dollars and were handed our linens. We went up to the second floor to make up our bed and take hot showers. Unfortunately, the place was crawling with roaches. Between that and the junkie blues harpist playing in the hallway all night, we didn’t get much sleep. Nonetheless, we left that morning warm, clean and fairly refreshed. Many years later, we watched the demolition of that historic hotel on the evening news while living in Portland, Oregon. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was a regular stop for some of our heroes, most of the beat poets we admired, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy and others.
Eventually, we made it to a truck stop in Big Springs, Nebraska where we could either stay on I-80 and go to Wyoming or head to Colorado on a slightly more southern route. We knew that it was illegal to hitchhike in Colorado, so we decided to try for a ride to Wyoming which was also more direct. We were soon sticking out our thumbs and holding up our sign. Our new flexible goal was San Francisco where Paul’s oldest sister was living.
To be continued …