Leaving is Such a Sweet Song

Mexico
April 1979

On the weekend I went to pick up the truck. I thought that we would have to tow it over to Wayne’s, but once we put in a newly charged battery and some fresh gas it started right up. We used Wayne’s 4-wheel drive Ramcharger to tow it the rest of the way out of the snow bank. I actually drove the damn thing home! Tom was right, it was covered in rust and it was ugly a hell.

In the week that followed I called around to junk yards trying to find a camper shell. I was lucky enough to find one. It was under a pile of old car parts. It had split at the four corners, I guessed from the weight, and was flattened out like it was an life-size cardboard cutout of a camper top. I asked the guy what he wanted for it, and he said $25. Wow, I thought now we’re on a role. Once my Dad and I pulled it free we found that remarkably 3 out of the 4 windows were not even broken!

Back at my Dad’s place we put it back together as best we could and then mounted it on the back of the truck. We both said that we felt that it was a good match for the truck. Although I got the feeling that Dad was being more facetious than happy for me. The rust spots were really starting to show now. There were even some pretty good sized holes starting to form. We decided to try to cover them up with nice neat horizontal rows of gray duct tape. We stood back to admire our handy work. It was staring to come along.

My brother is a kind of genius with stereos, and in no time at all he had hooked one up. We built small wooden boxes to house the speakers and bolted them to the inside of the door panels. As an afterthought, we added a piece of metal mesh so that I wouldn’t put my foot through the speakers.

In the prior weeks I had raided every neighbor of their unused, unwanted items. I now had a pretty nice pile of dishes and games and radios and toys and such. In addition, I had the ever growing pile of junk tools that I had been bringing home from Blackhawk Molding. I built a bed in the back of the camper, and one day when I was at work, my Dad built a floor to roof cabinet, complete with shelves and a door.

I spent the last few evenings at Wayne’s making tape recording of any record that he thought I might like. Everything was now complete. My plan was now a reality and I was ready to go. No one really believed it would be possible for me to leave after being back in the states for as little as a month and a half, maybe I didn’t even believe it, but with the help of family and friends this was really going to happen.

Finally the day came and I said my good-byes. I didn’t really begin to be excited until I left the Expressways of Chicago behind and hit the open highway. I pulled over to survey the situation and I saw the huge pile of cassette tapes on the floor. I randomly picked one. Iit was Elton John’s “Good-bye Yellow Brick Road.”

When are you gonna come down?
When are you going to land?
I should have stayed on the farm.
I should have listened to my old man.

The first night I stopped at a road side park in Missouri. As I crawled in the back of the camper shell it started to snow. I got under some old wool army blankets. I was cold as hell, but hell I knew that I had a big grin on my face, but the smile was short lived as the realization of the situation hit me. Here I was in the middle of Bumfuck, USA with so much junk that not even the garbage man would take it. I had no friends, very little money and I’m in a truck that just a few weeks ago was a frozen popsicle! Oh my god, what have I done? Stay focused I thought. If you can make it to Mexico before the truck breaks down you will be all right. Then you can trade stuff for repairs. But what if it breaks down before I get there? Then what am I going to do for money. $360 does not go to far when you have over 1500 miles to go.

That night Elton John lulled me to sleep as I chanted, “Just get me to Mexico! Just get me to Mexico!”

In the morning there was a good inch of snow on the ground. Fortunately the truck started right up, and it had a good heater to boot. I drove south like the dickens all the next day. Every little sound that the truck made sent me into another fit of paranoia. I finally just turned up the stereo real loud just so I wouldn’t have to listen.

Remember that at the border was where my trouble had started. Did you think that I had forgotten? It was with great apprehension that I approached the border patrol. In the end every thing went OK. Oh, I did have a little trouble crossing into Mexico with all this “stuff.” I had tried to hide as much as I could, but there was only so much that I could do. Any fool could see that mix masters, bread pans and toys were not what the average young male tourist carried, and my boarder officer was no exception.
“Para que llavas tantos cosas?” (Why are you carrying so much stuff?) he suspiciously asked me.

“Porque soy puro gringo y me necasitas muchas cosas,” (Because I am a Gringo and I need a lot of stuff.) I said giving him a wink and a hand shake filled with 5 one dollar bills.

When I finally entered Mexico it was time for a cervesa, and then another round of singing, and then another cervesa, and then–well, you get the idea, until I had a whole row of cans and bottles lined up along the dashboard. I had begun to sing louder, and drive slower.

Now I was driving so very slowly, weaving from lane to lane, that I turned off the road, I think I bumped a small tree, because I was now stopped. As I laid down on the front seat, thinking about how warm it was in the Mexican sunshine, and how beautiful it was to be alive and well and free again. I thought to myself that now might be a good time to play back that jail house horror movie. In the background I heard voices singing.

So goodbye yellow brick road,
Where the dogs of society howl.
You can’t plant me in your penthouse,
I’m going back to my plough

Before I passed out, I thought that I didn’t really need to repeat that movie, now or ever. The smile on my face was big, and it lasted through the night and on into the many happy months that followed.

I was 32 years old!

Chicago, a Job and a NEW PLAN


Chicago, IL
March 1979

My family was great to me. First I stayed at Mom and Dad’s–later I moved over to my brother Wayne’s house. I was still sleep walking through the days. All my experiences seemed to be coming at me out of a fog that I just couldn’t seem to shake out off.

It was all gone! I now had no more the $10 from the $100 that had I left Guatemala with. If I was to ever get out of here I needed to make some money. I needed a new PLAN, and fast.

Blackhawk Molding made plastic milk handles. Lot’s and lot’s of them!

My job opportunities at that point were limited. It was the middle of winter, I had no car, and no job prospects. Who would hire an ol’ hippie architect who had been out of the job market for over 6 years? At this point Wayne offered to try to get me a job with him down at the machine shop. I would be able to drive with him until I got my own car. It sounded like just what I needed, only I thought to myself, what do I know about machines? I needn’t have worried though, because Blackhawk Molding turned out to be run so inefficiently that everyone said it must just be a write off for the wealthy owner. He really didn’t seem care how many plastic milk carton handles we turned out.

We had great fun workin” and laughin’ in the Blackhawk Molding toolroom.

The job turned out to be kind of fun. It was nice hanging around with Wayne, and although the pay was not much, I had, by the end of a few weeks begun to accumulate a few – bucks. Now I started to hatch my PLAN. I would buy a truck, fill it with all kinds of junk, and take it all back to Mexico, sell it and live happily ever after on the proceeds. As luck would have it, as soon as I told Wayne about it he told me about this guy name Jim the Welder. Apparently he had a pickup for sale. “It runs great,” Wayne added. “But, ” I protested, “I don’t have very much money saved.” Wayne said that it didn’t hurt to look at it. “Besides,” he countered, “I know the guy real well and maybe he will accept payments?”
The next day after work we drove the short distance to Tom’s shop. “Sure, Tom said, “I’ve got a great truck for sale. It was running super. That is until the snow plow came along.”

“It hit it?” I asked.

“Hell, no. They had the back alley posted with a sign telling everyone to move their vehicles. I guess so that the snow plow could come through. I was working and hadn’t bothered. Hell, comon’ I’ll show you. It’s right out back.”

We three walked out back. “Where is it? I don’t see nothing but piles of snow.”

“That’s it over there. That really big pile. It’s in there. I guess the plow guy got pissed or somethin’ at me ’cause he must have worked real hard to put that much snow on my truck. Just when I think I can get it out, it’ll snow again and this guy plows this here alley again and he gives it another good dump.”

When we reached the largest pile he said that this was it a 1971 Ford F100 pickup. I lamely asked, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else to say, what color it was. “Here,” he said, “I’ll show you,” He started to dig straight through the packed snow. When he hit something solid he said, “Here! Look through here”

I peered through the 8 inch diameter hole he had made, and saw a lime green fender and a part of what I guessed was a side mirror. “It’s got real nice side mirrors,” he added as if reading my thoughts, “On both sides.”
“Do you think it will run? I mean come on guys. Do you really think it will run after I dig it out?”

“Oh you can’t dig it out. It’d take you a month of Sundays the way that snows packed in there. Besides we’ve had a couple of thaws and then freezes. It’s a solid block of ice.”
“Well then, if I do buy the truck, how do I get it out?”

“Why, you’ll have to wait until it thaws out. That should be, the way the winters about ending, in about another month or so.”

Again I asked the $64 question, “Do you think it will run. And if it does, then why are you willing to sell it so cheap for $400?”

So ugly only I could love the freedom that it would soon bring to me.

“Oh, that’s easy. “Cause that truck will be so rusted and ugly ’bout time we get it out of there. There won’t be any one crazy enough to buy it.”

I thought to myself, “Except me,” but instead I said, “I think we got a deal.” And we shook on it. As Wayne had suggested, Tom the Welder was willing to accept payments, seeing as I was a relative of a friend and all.
In the month that followed I continued to save as much money as I could. I also started to collect a pretty good stash a goods that I hoped to take with me for sale in Mexico and Guatemala. Every week or so we would go back over to Tom’s to see how the truck was defrosting. By about the third week it was starting to get real exciting. We could almost see one half of it.

“Know something, Peter. Your a dreamer!”

Oh Boy it’s Snowing

Chicago, Illinois
Christmas 1978

Shortly two customs agents came over and asked me to step aside and wait. They then proceeded to search my bag really well. It didn’t take too long because it was just a single small red daypack and it didn’t have much in it. Tropical clothes, which was all I had, don’t take up too much room. Then they searched me. No one told me what was happening until another agent came in and said that there was a 3 1/2 year old warrant out for my arrest for auto theft. He said it was probably nothing.

“Usually these things are taken off the computer every year, but yours seems to still be on.” he kept a straight calm almost nice expression on his face as he continued, “It’s probably an error, but we need to check it out.”

For the next few hours they tried unsuccessfully to find out some more information on it. The same nice man later told me that they could not find out anything, so they were going to have to turn me over to the Dade County Police. The handcuffs, he assured me, were just a requirement.

Everyone was very nice to me, but none the less I began to feel very foolish in my outfit. I asked if maybe they would let me change. They wouldn’t. I think he said it was some stupid rule. The Dade County Police were also very nice. We had a pleasant conversation while they transported me from the airport to the jail. I had to be locked in the back, they said, because of regulations you know.

Once there, I pleaded again with them to let me change into some more suitable jail clothes, but to no avail. I was taken into a room by two nice detectives who then carefully explained the situation to me.


“You see, we don’t want you. It’s Illinois where the warrant was issued. But we have to hold you for them. Right now you have two choices according to law. Either you can decide that you will go back voluntarily. In which case we can only hold you for 20 days. Or,” he added, “you can say you won’t go voluntarily in which case by law we can only hold you for a maximum of 60 days.”

My first view of TV in many years was in the Dade County Jail

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was numb. I was in shock. “20 days! 60 days!,” I shouted. “Who is this? What’s is this all about?”

The two agents kept their composure and further explained that they didn’t know any more than that, but that they would have to hold me until Illinois responded.”

“Meanwhile,” he added with a pleasant smile, “We will have to process you.”

Which is just what they did. They escorted me to a holding cell filled with many other gentlemen. At first no one seemed to pay the least little notice of me. I laid down on one of the empty metal benches and tried to watch television. You see it was my first look at it for quite some time. It even managed to take my mind off of my problems until some big burly guy walked over and stood between me and the screen. He didn’t say anything to me but just kept on talking to his friends.

“Boy, I can’t wait till lights out,” he said using an accentuated pleasant, almost sweet tone. “That’s when all kind of things can happen to new meat. “Hey, Joe it’s almost lights out time already isn’t it?” I was no fool. I instantly knew he was talking about me. The conversation went back and forth across the room. I stared straight ahead at he screen, even though it was still blocked by Convict No. 1. After a while he took notice of this fact and leaned down and said in that same pretend kind of gentle voice, “Oh, excuse me am I blocking the TV?”

Anyway. I won’t bore you anymore with the particulars They are not pretty, but then not devastating either.. The next morning they released me. I was in such a state of shock that I spent the next 2 weeks just laying on the beach in the Florida Keys before making finally making my way to my family and the snowy north–Chicago.

I was certainly not in the tropics anymore!

Merry F**kin’ Christmas to Me!