Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 22, March 1970
My truck was running crummy. She lacked power and was sounding rough. Mr. Wizard took a look and fiddled around with various tools. His diagnosis: "Compression is low. You need to rebuild the engine.”
I let out an audible groan. “I don’t know, Albert. I’m no mechanic. I have terrible luck working on cars.”
“Ah, don’t sweat it. I’ll guide you all the way through. It’s just a matter of taking things apart one step at a time. Then you have someone grind the valves and work on the pistons. And after that, you put it back together.”
“No way. You make it sound easy, but this will be tough.”
“You can do it, man. It’s just a process. And like I say, I’ll be there if you need help along the way.”
I decided to rebuild Evergreen's engine right there in the front yard. Quite an undertaking. Actually, I hoped I wouldn’t need an undertaker before the task was done! Of all the places on the planet that I could spend my time, lying under a motor vehicle would rank far below the bottom of the list.
So there I was, lying in the dirt in the unnatural world of iron and grease. I’d been twisting my body, frying my brains, testing my strength, and straining my vocal cords with words that could make a sailor wince—for hours and days. So much bending and straining in uncomfortable positions made me feel like an arthritic contortionist.
I despised that claustrophobic hole!
My muscles protested every cruel angle, trying to force bolts and screws that hadn’t budged in a decade and a half—parts secured by factory gorillas with power tools. It was torture!
Sometimes I couldn’t see what I was working on because it was hidden or my face was turned into the dirt. And then the stupid fucking wrench would slip off the stupid fucking bolt, causing my knuckles to crash and scrape against some other stupid fucking thing. This was where the swearing became consistent.
As if that’s wasn’t enough, the wrench sometimes slipped off the bolt and out of my hand and ricocheted off something onto my forehead—or better still, dinged my ear. This painful sensation would cause me to jerk my head into some dirty, greasy, unforgiving engine part that would shower my eyes, nose, and mouth with grit and rust—causing the volume and intensity of the profanity to rise.
This scenario repeated itself daily. And the real bummer was I had to start over again and again until the last stupid bolt saw things my way. Like childbirth, there was no turning back! Until I finished this self-created, mechanical nightmare, I’d be without wheels.
At the end of each day, I emerged from my undercarriage hell in filth. I felt like an old-time, bare-fisted prizefighter who had just lost another bout. And the next day, I’d have to climb back in the ring with my two-ton opponent and do it all over again.
How did I ever agree to do this? When will it end?
Albert was right. It was just a process. And every step offered another challenge: things that wouldn't budge or would break, parts that wouldn’t fit, knuckles battered, scraped, and cut, grease and more grease.
As for Albert’s help—it was verbal. He told me how to remedy a problem, but he wasn’t about to crawl under and do the work. And there was no reason he should. But it was frustrating knowing that he could do something in minutes that often took me hours.
I cursed my truck. I cursed Albert. I cursed myself. And I cursed many a stubborn bolt and screw and gasket and things I couldn’t even name. It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my voice in the process.
I cursed for five miserable days.
* * * * *
When my engine spent three days in the shop, I needed to get away. I decided to hitch over to Gina's. She landed a job as a hospital lab technician and had moved to the hills outside Napa with her new beau. Finally, I accepted the fact that we made better friends than lovers. Besides, Rosie was primary in my thoughts, once again.
As I stood by the road with my thumb ready, good luck shined on me. Three women, my first ride of the day, stopped to pick me up and were heading all the way to Napa. The middle-aged driver sat next to an older lady, whom she introduced as her mother. Next to me and Charlie in the back seat was a well-weathered woman, the driver’s grandma. God only knew how old she was.
We snaked up the canyon along Putah Creek, passing the dam that contained Lake Berryessa. Grandma chimed up in a strong, gravelly voice, “Did you know there's a town under all that water?”
“I had heard that. A friend told me he’d skin-dived in the lake—he and his friends played hide-and-seek in the old town.”
She smiled, her hands folded neatly in her lap. “It was called Monticello. Pretty little town. I rode through it in a horse-drawn wagon a long time ago.
“Oh yes. There wasn’t much of a trail in those days. We had to follow signs like Eagle Rock or Indian Rock, which looked the same as they were named.”
“That’s neat. I never thought about how people found their way back then.”
As we drove along, Grandma pointed out the rock formations.
After four more grueling days putting Evergreen back together, I had a smooth-running vehicle and more knowledge about my truck than I ever thought possible. There were times I was angry with Albert, but I was grateful he’d forced me to endure his God-awful, sadistic school of hellish mechanics.
Would I ever sign up for something like that again? No way, Jose!
* * * * *
Falling asleep was taking longer each night. Working on the truck was finally off my mind but missing Rosie was becoming more of a problem. I couldn’t help thinking about her smile and her comical, snide comments—not to mention, her soft, warm body next to mine.
Part of the reason I broke up with her was her youth. She was almost six years younger than me, sometimes more of a girl than a woman, except when it came to sharing a bed. Even though I was her first serious squeeze, she had a natural knack when it came to lovemaking—something not easy to forget.
I remembered the pull I felt when I was in Alaska and sensed that attraction growing again— an impulse impossible to ignore. I was definitely wanting her, but I was also fond of my freedom. Seemed to be the story of my life—choosing between two loves.
I woke up when Albert burst naked from his room in the middle of the night, heading for the back porch.
“The house is on fire!”
“What the shit!” I jumped out of bed and followed him out the door. Sure enough, the porch roof was smoldering around the stovepipe. Albert grabbed the hose and extinguished it in a couple of minutes.
“That’s a bummer,” he said
“For sure. Not much harm at least.”
“Yeah. I’ll have to put insulation around the chimney-pipe tomorrow. With the stovepipe running 20 feet horizontally through my room, I never thought it would get that hot this far from the stove.”
Albert stalked into his room, sat on the floor, and threw the I Ching for guidance. I was surprised to see this response to the fire. It goes to prove that you can always learn new things about folks.
To be continued ...
Watch for the next installment of my true-life adventures from the ’60s. To receive chapters delivered directly to your email box, sign up here. All released episodes of Trippin’ are available here.
If you haven’t already 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.
“If you enjoy what you read, please share it with your friends!”
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