Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 27, July 1970
After a good night's sleep, the warm Minnesota sun massaged my body. Insects buzzed, birds squawked and chirped, butterflies tumbled and fluttered, and the scent of pine filled the air. A breeze tempered the heat on a day with few clouds.
I watched a pair of ravens drift overhead. The heels of my boots were hooked around the upper rung of the tall wooden bar stool. A tuft of hair ricocheted off my shoulder and then bounced off my knee before falling to the deck.
Rosie held a mirror up for me to see. Russ had mentioned he cut hair. I was a bit uncertain, but Rosie said he was doing a great job, so my confidence was strengthened. A glance in the mirror confirmed he was a talented barber.
“There. Now you’re less shaggy," he exclaimed.
I grinned. “Not bad at all."
I thought about this beautiful setting and our gracious hosts, “What nice folks. I can see why you wanted to visit them, Rosie.”
“I’d like to stay here for a while. I haven’t seen them for years, and they're like my second family.”
Russ stroked his beard while looking in the mirror. “I can’t hang around,” he said. “Kelly's going to kill me if I get to New York any later then I already am. I have to split in the morning.”
I laughed. “What’s the hurry? You're only, what, four months late now? I still want to see my friend DJ in Ann Arbor. If I come with you, Charlie and I can hitch back. That would give Rosie more time to visit.”
Rosie liked this idea. “That would be groovy.” Then she saw something, grabbed the scissors from Russ, and took a few snips at my hair.
“Not too much now,” I protested.
She giggled. “Not to worry. It'll all come back again.”
Ann Arbor was a long day’s drive, so we started early. Near Chicago, Russ announced, "There’s a famous Rodin sculpture downtown. I’m going to make a loop through the bowels of the windy city and catch a glimpse of it before we move on.” I detested big cities, but I figured a quick loop could be tolerated. I studied the road atlas and directed Russ to the central business district.
After working our way through thick traffic, we drove past the coveted piece. Russ, the proverbial art student, was thrilled to eye the strange Picasso creation as we zipped by—but it was also clear that he had had enough of the crowded multitudes, dirty buildings, traffic jams, and dense energy.
Russ struggled to drive as I worked to navigate him out of the labyrinth. It took forever to find the interstate and then head in the right direction. I felt like the massive metropolis was holding us hostage as we fought to outrun its tentacles.
Finally, on a clogged highway, we moved towards the state line. The traffic started to thin, and we thought things were going smooth when Russ swore, “Shit! The cops!” I looked back to see a revolving red light as Russ moved to the right shoulder.
We were told to step out of the car by two beefy police officers. They peered in the windows intent on finding something to charge us with. Charlie and Arlo, tails wagging, seemed amused by it all.
The cops were way too concerned with a rusted paint can filled with wilted daisies that hung off the top rear corner of the Jeep. After fifteen minutes of interrogation, and a stiff warning to never come back, they let us continue out of their jurisdiction.
As we drove off, I told Russ, “Man, just when I thought we were free of that damn city. You got to be careful with those darn daisies, Russ.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” With a relieved sigh, he focused on the road.
We pulled into Ann Arbor after dark. DJ and her boyfriend opened the door in their pajamas. A black velvet painting of a tiger hung behind them, illuminated by a black light.
“Well, Rich, how the hell are you? This is a surprise. Come on in.”
“This is Russ. He’s on his way to New York, and I tagged along cause I wanted to say hello. Charlie here is my dog, and that's Russ’s dog, Arlo.
DJ fell to one knee and stroked the dogs. “This is my boyfriend, Sid. If you guys want to stay, the couch folds out into a bed. You’ll have to share it though.”
“We can handle that. Thanks for the offer. We’re definitely beat.”
Before we knew it, the bed was assembled, DJ and Sid had retired, and Russ and I crawled into separate sides of the bed.
Russ pointed to the middle of the bed. “See the center,” he said. “You cross it and our friendship is on the line.”
I laughed. “Night, night, honey.”
… Rosie and I were walking down a dirt lane, approaching a rundown country shack. “Wait here, Rosie, and stay out of sight.” Filled with apprehension, I walked to the house and stepped up onto the porch. The rough, unpainted front door was opened at an angle, and I slid through the gap sideways.
The room was dimly light by sunlight entering through a single, grimy window that had half a tattered curtain hanging off to one side. There was no furniture, just some debris scattered around. A few mismatched beams leaned against a wall where part of the ceiling had collapsed. Dust and cobwebs were everywhere and in the shadows stood a scruffy little man. The semi-darkness gave him a surrealistic appearance.
He stood a few feet away, facing me with a desperate look on his face. His arm came up in front of him with a revolver in his palm--a movement that happened in slow motion, leaving the weapon within inches of my chest. I heard a sound somewhere in the distance, saw a flash, but had no sensation of pain or impact … just the feeling of life draining from my body. It was like when the power goes out while listening to a radio—it just faded away.
As I stared into the eyes of my assassin, I felt love and serenity beyond belief. A few words escaped from my lips, “God bless you.”
And then … a rasping sound ... a saw? ... no ... snoring ... loud snoring… and body heat very close. My eyes opened to darkness. What? ... Where? ... Oh yeah ... Russ, DJ’s place.
The feeling of peace persisted.
Whew, that was so real! There was a recognition I had experienced what it felt like to die—and it wasn’t unfamiliar. Had I encountered this before?
The snoring continued. Maybe Russ and I have a history in another lifetime.
The dream remained vivid in my mind. I lay there feeling tranquil, believing that now I had a handle on what it was like to depart from this body—and how profound the evaporation of life from within me had felt.
Maybe kicking the bucket wasn't so bad after all!
To be continued ...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
To receive episodes delivered directly to your email box, sign up HERE.
If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns