My God, were we young. And apparently wearing clothing that fit us when we were even younger.
There we were, my best friend Mike Cassidy and I, setting off to see the world - or at least the United States portion of it, in a deep red Renault Encore packed to the absolute gills with everything two 22-year-old mavericks could fit into it.
It was June 1, 1987 - 30 years ago - and less than 24 hours after graduating from the then-University of Lowell, Mike and I were on our way. (I distinctly remember within the first hour of the trip, driving Route 3 southbound in Billerica, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came on WBCN - it had literally been 20 years earlier that day the album was released.)
By the end of the trip criss-crossing the U.S. of A., we logged 10,000 miles on the Renault, broke its sway bar somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, followed our beloved Boston Celtics from Elvis' homestead to the heart of Laker Nation - a near-death experience - as the Boston Green sought another NBA championship, and strengthened a Blood Brothers bond born years earlier over comic books and baseball at St. Margaret's School. I kept a journal of most of the trip in a reporter's notebook. Pre-blogging journal.
Mind you, 1987, for many of the readers of this blog who WEREN'T EVEN BORN YET - (heavy sigh) was in the days before these wacky inventions called cell phones or the internet or anything resembling social media.
This meant an occasional phone call back home to home base to let my mother know that no, Mike and I hadn't been arrested and committed to a chain gang somewhere in the deep south (a true fear of hers), and that yes, not only were we still alive, we were breathing deep the aroma of this great country of ours. I remember on one Sunday morning, calling home to tell my mother I was in the Painted Desert in Arizona, at a pay phone in a rest stop at the foot of a gorgeous butte. (He said gorgeous butte.) I think it took me 10 minutes to help her understand just where and what that actually meant.
In hindsight, the trip remains one of the single greatest decisions of my misbegotten youth. I somehow managed to finagle four straight weeks of vacation from my working gig as a reporter for the Lowell Sun newspaper. The trip would would run Monday June 1 through Sunday June 28.
Sadly, my greatest regret of the entire experience (not counting Des Moines, more on that later) was the plight of our photographic record of the trip. In all, we lost three full rolls of film that documented the experience for us - one froze inside the 35 mm camera when we awoke to heavy snowfall while camping at Yellowstone National Park. Another was lost by Osco, who did a deplorable job in developing our film. And a third roll was in the camera, when on the night of my 23rd birthday in Des Moines Iowa while we danced up a storm at a nightclub, our car was broken into while it was parked RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE DES MOINES POLICE STATION! They shattered a back window and stole one thing only - the camera and the tripod upon which it was still attached.
The remaining four days of the trip, which included a memorable stop in Chicago, we had the back window covered with a trashbag. That's right - the car was untouched by crime in Chicago, with nothing but a black trashbag covering a window, yet in Des Moines, a city that was henceforth forever damned by Mike and I, we fell victim to the only crime on the 28 days. Maybe they need chain gangs in Iowa, mom.
For the Kerouac fans among us - I'm looking at you Paul Marion - I used this opportunity to read his magnum opus, On The Road during the trip as one of my reads. Needless to say, the trip for Mike and I was pretty much NOTHING WHATSOEVER like the Beat Generation's guiding light experienced. (Other than the eerie coincidence that my wingman's name was Cassidy, albeit spelled differently than the Neal of Kerouac lore.)
Mike and I took the southern route, driving ad nauseam the first day to get as far south as we could reach. We made it to the Great Smoky Mountains. From there were rolled on over to Graceland, and unlike Bruce Springsteen and Little Steven, didn't climb the gates, we went the conventional route and took a tour.
We headed down to Texas where we visited with Scott's college roommate Chuck Berry, and then made a holy pilgrimage to Amarillo Texas, where in the middle of a field we came upon the legendary Cadillac Ranch.
Little did we know all of the cars were tagged with endless graffiti. We MAY have added an E Streeters touch to one of the carcasses. (Statute of limitations has expired over 30 years, yes?)
The trip continued on, through the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and finally to California, where we spent the better part of almost two weeks, from San Diego, with a disgusting detour to Tijuana, up through Los Angeles and then San Francisco. (Nice Spider-Man shirt, bro!)
A Celtics sidebar - we watched their progress across the country - witnessing Magic Johnson's still infuriating game-winning hookshot on a massive screen at Caesar's Palace. The night that follows still remains one of the sickest nights I recall of my life. Let's chalk it up to dehydration and leave it at that. Bought my at-the-time most expensive sunglasses of my life in Vegas, only to have them melt on the dashboard of the Renault.
Back to the Irish - game 6, Mike and I scored tix to actually watch the game at the L.A. Forum. We were both adorned proudly in our Celtics garb. And let's just say Mike was that obnoxious Boston sports fan for the entire first half when the C's were winning. Sadly, they choked it up in the second half and ended up losing both the game and the series. Everyone we pissed off with our Boston zeal then turned the tables. We literally had to run for our lives. I still recall Mike hanging out the window of my car taunting the L.A. celebrants. In hindsight, a near-death experience.
We had dozens of hand-made sandwiches stocked with sandwich meats in our portable cooler, which MAY have had a few beverages in there as well. Most of our trip, we stayed at KOA campgrounds, though every few days, we'd snag a hotel just to freshen things up. Only twice did we sleep in the car itself, with seats, mind you, that didn't even recline.
Coming back via the northern half of the U.S., we hit Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and a few other assorted national landmarks - not to mention a pass through Canada - before calling it a day, rolling back into Lowell on a Sunday afternoon. (Had to work the following morning. What the hell was I thinking?)
I didn't actually begin running until three years later. I wish I had been running at this time, as it would have provided for some historic runs for us.
You may have noticed, there's quite a few details omitted from the trip's details. Let's just leave that up to your imagination. As we're both now proud parents, there are some stories better left untold, or at least better left not reduced to a written document.
By trip's end, we two E Streeters had hit three countries and 26 of the 50 United States.
It remains one of the single greatest trips of my entire life. Mike and I have been friends since 1973 - 44 years now - and this road trip remains a pinnacle in that relationship.
The porn-staches, short shorts, form-fitting sweats, and knee-high basketball socks and other questionable fashion choices have fallen to the passing of time.
Thankfully, our friendship has not.
Mike, here's to you:
I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road