There comes a point in every journey where the conscious person realizes it is not about the destination. As we left Las Vegas bound to drop Barb-from-Santa-Barbara off in Barstow I felt like Alice Through the Looking Glass. Penny had shotgun and I tried to sleep. I had not slept since before my last final, four hours before our departure. The trip could no longer be counted in hours but in images and flashing across my memory like slides shown in the backyard.
Slides were after film and before digital. Dad was an avid recorder of our family adventures. He gave me a Kodak camera when I was eight and his Rolex when I went off to college. For some reason I left it back at the dorm as if this forbidden escape should not be recorded except in my mind. It it was. Each image recorded like a power point presentation with a caption.
"Why Barstow?", I asked Barb as we got her bags out of the trunk at the railroad station there. "Because we moved here."
So Barb was more like me than I wanted to admit. We were the homeless of college. Our parents lived in towns where we knew no one, but our parents expected us to visit. The college listed the strange town on our records.
"You going to see any of your friends in Santa Barbara?" I asked.
"Probably not," she said with a sadness I felt deeply. "It is over three hours from here."
My school friends were in the same town as the university but once I had moved into the dorm I no longer seemed to fit with them, the townies. I definitely did not fit in Denver. I resisted my father's efforts to switch to University of Colorado in Boulder. At that moment it seemed home was in the car with Charley. Penny at shotgun navigated us to Union Station in Los Angeles. Bunny, Penny and I waved as our chariot and driver took off to San Francisco with Penny's instructions.
"Damn," Penny said as we walked into the grand and cavernous space. "The train isn't due for two hours."
Penny's lie to her mother was that we had taken the train from Kingman. She was picking us up. Bunny was catching a commuter train to a town I forget. The timing was right for her. There was only time for a wave.
"Let's clean up," Penny said, as if she had done this a thousand times. But then a summer in Europe probably was like that. She was the first person I knew who was not in the military and carried a duffel bag. I had a Samsonite. But at least it was not pink. Mother always picked pink for me. "If we go to Europe this summer and do Vespas you will have to ditch that suitcase."
When I had returned to college after the summer I had started talking about never going home again. Penny, my roommate, had hatched the plan of touring Europe on Vespas. It sounded wonderful but since I was under 21 would require my parents sign off on it. A four day escape from their control was one thing. An entire summer quite another. I wanted to do it but did not know if I had the guts. Till that moment in the municipal public restroom at Grand Central Station.
Dressed in clothes I had not been in for what seemed weeks I felt more presentable even if they quite suddenly did not seem like mine. New suitcase and obviously new clothes. Madras was in at college. Wrinkled Madras. Buttoned shirts and wrap around skirts. I had sewed up a couple of those and made mother buy me Lady Arrow shirts over the summer. She put her foot down at Madras. My hair needed washed but I could not see myself doing that in a public restroom. But I did take a scissors out of my makeup case and whack away at my perfect pageboy. Penny stared at me as she washed her air.
Done with our petite toilette we wondered off to the gift shop across the empty marble lobby to kill time.
I was immediately drawn to the carousel of paperback books. Right in front of me was Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. I started to laugh, and elbowed Penney. The clerk looked at us rudely and suspiciously as if we were going to steal it. I picked it up and put it on the check out counter, adding a blank journal and Double Mint chewing gum to the pile. I pulled out a fifty to pay for it. It was hard to surprise Penny. I enjoyed it when I did.
"Let's say I won at slots. No worries about our trip back to college."
"You going back," she asked.
"For now. You?"
As good a place as any to quit.
Note: Things and me were never quite the same. And immediately after finishing Travels With Charley I got a list of all of Steinbeck's books and started with his first. And that journal, called a blank diary then, was the first of a whole series of diaries which continued steadily till on line journals became popular. We call them blogs.
Penny and her Republican boyfriend hitched to Kingman at spring break to pick up the repaired Buick, and never returned to college. I called her mother, and my hostess for that trip to Laguna Beach but she had not heard from her either. They had her listed as a missing person.
I did get a post card from Charley. He went to work at the Van Yves plant in California.
I did go home the next summer but home by then was Dallas, Texas. And the last summer with family. You do not have to burn bridges to leave.