America is the greatest land of all! For some of us, those words remain meaningful. Dinah Shore, the sweet good-looking blonde, used those lyrics on her weekly television show. Chevrolet was the primary sponsor allowing Dinah to end the show with those never-to-be-forgotten lyrics. ” See the USA in your Chevrolet.” Do you remember those days? Gasoline was dirt cheap. A two dollar bill got you maybe five gallons and you were set for
the evening’s entertainment. A stop at the local drive-in for a Cherry cola, hamburger and fries created the social moment of the week. And sitting right next to you was your girlfriend, and she was all smiles as you cruised once or twice before parking your forty-nine Mercury. Money traveled a very long distance in those days. People made their money last longer by producing a garden in the backyard where tomatoes, green beans, squash and corn grew and produced a summer of fresh vegetables. Families canned their excess and used it as a staple during the cold winter months. You washed your own car or, should I say, your kids washed your car. Today we move through a quick car wash and we do not place any importance to the growing of food. In this country we grow grass. Now what in the hell is grass good for? Scenery at its worst. When was the last time you tried eating and digesting lawn grass? Cows, sheep, goats and horses just love it. What we plant in our front and backyards is not fit for human consumption. How far does your money go today? Have you considered getting rid of your trifles, ending your debt, storing needed items, buying a Recreational Vehicle and see the USA on your SSA?
Remember those economic times? Cars were made and sold in this country, and proudly so. We had a steel industry, a textile industry second to none using cotton grown, picked and processed in this country. We were awash in self-sufficiency; basking in the glow of good economics. Our agricultural industry flourished with California leading the way; the San Joaquin valley the breadbasket of this country. We were the toast of the world! Everyone else on the planet wanted to be like the citizens of the USA!. Now we educate foreigners at Yale, M.I.T., and Harvard. The student bodies of the many junior colleges are awash in a sea of foreign students enrolling for the lowest of fees. Our social system supports an incoming freeway of illegals, legal and all other categories. We provide the immigrants with health care, food stamps, cash assistance, student loans, and a free education for their kids. Remember, in California, a child of an immigrant will receive multi-language teachers! Can you go to Mexico, enroll in a public school without incurring costs? Will the Mexican Public School system offer classes in English? The answer is no. The parity does not exist. And just who is paying for all these wonderful incentives? We are, you and I, the citizenry. We continue to play the role of the FOOL!
Furthermore, adding insult to injury, we cannot get decent and affordable health care for our citizens. However, those well manicured members of Congress, both federal and state, are living high on the hog. Consider this scenario: a recent Vice-President, the one who skipped out on the Viet Nam war due to medical issues, has a problem with his aging heart and needs to see his physician. Do you honestly think he or his aide would be able to sidestep the waiting room process or the delay in getting an actual appointment with his primary care physician? Hell yes! He would be in the Doctor’s office within minutes of arrival and treated as if his presence on this earth had greater significance than yours or mine. And this is the same guy who stated that he had better things to do than fight in the Viet Nam war. Well, the way I see it is, there are seventy thousand names on the Viet Nam War Memorial. They were not to busy to take a stand and show up on the battlefield. At the bottom of the economic page, I will not find his name. Nor will I find the name of Mr. Bush, who was vacationing in Alabama during the war helping a Republican Senator get re-elected. The self-proclaimed upper echelon Americana will look upon this writing as trivial and unimportant. While America suffers, the ones on top eat and sleep comfortably.
Try and find a job if you are over fifty years of age! See what comes your way. You can start out as an in-store greeter for Wal-Mart, or become a Barista in a local coffee house and serve superfluous frapes and ingenious experimentations with the plain old coffee bean. Incidently, all my contacts with Wal-Mart employees have been extra special. I got the feeling that they were happy just to have a job. At the other end of the coffee house spectrum I notice that the barista in Starbucks are in the baby boomer age category. I did not find one Barista in their 70’s as I am. The older you get, the less likely you are going to be hired. That left me with collecting unemployment and my monthly SSA check which allowed a minimal state of existence in Southern California. I discovered that I could support myself in a decent style if I either worked part-time and received SSA, or continued to receive unemployment benefits and SSA. The SSA check would not cover monthly expenses in Southern California. It was time to take the proverbial bull by the horns and flip him on his side. In other words, the playing field needed revision. Ray Charles sang the wonderful lyrics, “Hit the Road Jack,” and that is exactly what I did. Out on the road as if I were Jack Kerouac, searching the highways that carried our founding people to other places where one could exist with dignity. I suggest that you search for that still spot, and travel our country using the National and State Parks, the thousands of RV campgrounds as your new home.
If you are a little like me and are wondering just what in the hell you are going to do with what remains of your life, you might find yourself attracted to a new way of living. Consider an ongoing vacation from the stress of trying to cope with financial issues that seem to be unwinnable. What is the economic forecast in your part of the country? If you are tired of just barely hanging on financially, spiritually and emotionally to the American Dream which has now become an American Nightmare, consider my proposition. I speak to all of you now living in the depths of instability. You are living in cities like Maywood-Bell, California, Texarkana, Arkansas, Hutchinson, Kansas, Spokane, Washington, North Long Beach, California et al. Certainly you are not living in the great urban or suburban master plans of all time? Consider this visualization. You wake up each morning in the grand beauty of Yellowstone Park, or Yosemite or the Grand Teton in Wyoming. As you stand there gulping in the fresh and pure air and brace yourself to receive the clarity of the moment. Go make a pot of coffee, head off to the toilets where you can shave and shower and brush the teeth. Now, pour yourself a cup of steaming coffee and view your natural surroundings. Now that is how you start your day!
Remember how it is waking up in the same old bedroom, wearing the same old pajamas you wore last year, turning on the television to get the weather report, and then heading into your unremarkable kitchen to make some unremarkable coffee. How dull is that? You find yourself going through the motions of life. Everything remains the same; dull, prosaic and mundane. Your life lacks the essential oils that speak to a viable environment that thrives on joy, peace and accomplishments even at the most minute of levels. Succumbing to the inevitable diagnosis of failure. We, you and I , are not well of financially, our stock portfolio is non-existent, our humble abode is crammed full of memorabilia that simply collects dust. What a gloomy forecast for the day. When did you last experience the thrill of the road? I remember Route 66 with those small and comfortable motels where you slept on a bed that allowed you to sink into it, down pillows, the Diners that had dozens of old calendars on their walls and those adorable Burma Shave signs you kept passing on the road to somewhere. Lets go somewhere. Lets go where the monthly bills are cut in half, maybe more. Now that’s how you save money! The Chinese save twenty to thirty percent of their gross monthly income and dump it into their banking system. We can do the same because you can live on the road for less, which automatically presumes a higher quality of living. I am suggesting a lifestyle change in which you thrive by making decisions that empower you. The institutions or society has many plans for you. What plans do you have for yourself?
For me, I ended this state of staleness when I decided to buy a camper vehicle, stock it with necessary items like proper garments to fit the environments that I was going to experience. The camper would have a stove, refrigerator, bedding, water and food preparation items. I would also have my laptop computer with DVD and CD player, good shoes and a bicycle. Researching the network for National and State Parks and Campgrounds, I discovered that my Golden Age passport would get me into National Parks free and a reduced camping charge. There are fifty-eight National Parks in the contiguous United States and a plethora of State Parks scattered across this country. Looking at Yellowstone National Park, I discovered that not only would I gain entrance free, I would also get a reduced price for campsites. Now what more does one need for starters? By spending the maximum amount of time allowed for a reduced rate, the camper van would be parked and not using gasoline. The bicycle would get me around cheaply and allow for a brisk workout. Most campsites offer a picnic table and a place to store food items that would keep those nasty bears away along with the raccoons and other assorted animals looking for a free meal at my expense. I could use the BBQ pit or utilize my propane for cooking. With the laptop available and an internet source, I would be able to make reservations as I proceeded across the country. The laptop and internet access would allow me the ability to stay in touch with my family and friends, some of whom will continue to slug it out in the old neighborhood. Imagine, getting up in the old neighborhood and examining your garage or front wall to see if any one practiced their non-art form of graffiti during the night. Now, if you are carefully following my premise, the monthly rent for this excursion would be reduced by about seventy-five percent! While traveling it is wise to consider paying any monthly bills via the auto-debit technique with your banking institution. I am referring to any life insurance premiums, cell phone and vehicle insurance. Take leave of the neighborhood owing nothing-zero. All other bills need to be eliminated so you can concentrate of just pure enjoyment and adventure. With your rent reduced by such an alarming amount, you can plan on spending about three hundred per month on gasoline usage, depending on just how foolish you wish to be while traveling. Food can be purchased twice a week, keeping in mind that healthy foodstuffs will be the answer to a healthy you while traveling. Fruits, high fiber foods, protein inducing foods and little carbohydrates. Cook with olive oil and use the Asian method of Wok preparation. You will be cooking as if you wish to lengthen your life rather than end it prematurely. Exercise will be a daily discipline and you will gain a sharpness in intellect and problem solving such as one has not experienced in a very long time. I surmised that these ideals could be met easily enough by surviving in a regal manner. Frugality will be the goal of each day. Are you starting to get my drift here?
Now, should you decide as I did, to prepare for this journey seemed prudent. How in the hell to do this? That became the gnawing question. I was about to commit to a new way of living; out there on the road looking for the best qualities of frugality. I sensed there was absolutely no security and no promises nor pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But, I had seen some mighty lovely and poignant rainbows when I lived in the city of Wailuku on the green island of Maui. It didn’t matter about the gold. It mattered about the experience of just seeing the rainbow for what it really was and it was ongoing. So ask yourself, when was the last time you lived like that? Insecure yet confident, frightened but no bewildered, smiling and not knowing why? Come out here and free yourself and work at your very best level, your optimum best and only you can judge if you’re successful. Society would label me a dropout. Shades of Timothy Leary. Problem with him was simple-to many mind blowing drugs and not enough direct and individual experiences with the universe. Spiritual freedom comes when one recognizes the eternal truth of freedom simply to be and let be. Essentially, the truth lie before me and I had to demonstrate my truth before I could advise you to have a look at what I found, where I found it and how. I moved and the way opened. Time now for finding the best possible traveling machine that would allow me to live inside while I motored around the USA.
My initial dream camper showed up in my mind as a VW Camper. Having lived with my wife, son and daughter in a converted bakery van while traveling Western Europe in 1974, I was naturally drawn to that kind of vehicle. I found them in all assorted styles and condition priced around $4500.00. I smiled as I luxuriated in the anticipation of reasonably good gas mileage, a pop-top with sleeping cot, stove, small refrigerator, table, chairs and a decent bed. I took my VW enthusiasm to a VW repair shop in Long Beach for another viewpoint. The proprietor was a thin blonde haired woman with an enormous quantity of colorful tattoos on her arms, legs, neck et al. She quickly gave me the benefit of her hands-on experience. ” Shit, you won’t get very far in a VW camper and to replace an engine, well you would be looking at about six thousand give or take a few nickels. They don’t have the power of freeway needs or hill climbing and they require constant servicing when used in a travel manner.” She concluded her informational presentation tome by advising me to look at other options and she stated that quick camping trips to the mountains or the deserts are great for VW campers, but the long road is definitely a risk. I exited her shop with a downward look and began focusing on other campers.
I am not without experience in the art of traveling on the cheap. As I stated earlier, my wife, I and the two kids bought a one way ticket to Luxembourg via New York City and Reykjavik, Iceland. When we landed in Luxembourg and made our way out into the parking lot, a young man and his girlfriend were advertising their 1968 VW camper van. It had been converted from a Munich based bakery van into a camper. They had added a drop down table, a bench for sitting, an area for a bed and a storage area. It was a four speed transmission, green in color and without side windows for viewing. Later, as the trip progressed, the kids would inform me that they couldn’t see the scenery and began jockeying for riding in the front seat. The owners failed to tell me that they vehicle was registered as an export vehicle with German plates and this would come back to haunt us when I found it necessary to sell the van. They also didn’t tell me that a VW engine, air-cooled as it is, needs an oil change and a valve adjustment every three thousand miles. When we finished up the trip in England, the oil had never been changed nor the valves adjusted during the entire journey and the engine was leaking oil much like the Exon Valdez. I was just able to sell it to two young school teachers heading for France, and I made sure I got myself in a cab immediately after receiving the payment money, whew. Those seven months were amongst the best memories of my life as a parent and a wanderer. My son once told me, “Dad, that was the best time.” It was all about the experience and the never ending memory of living by one’s wits. If one fails to continue the wanderlust, then one gets out of practice, gets stale and becomes a dreary and dull stay-at-home kind of guy. The ancient Rabbi, Hilel once remarked-if I am not for myself then who will be, and if I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now when.”
On that fortuitous journey across Western Europe we wandered about in the true spirit of the adventurer. We drove south from Antwerp through Belgium, Luxembourg, Northern France, Switzerland, Italy, the entire length of Yugoslavia, and all the way to Athens in Greece. What we did not find right away was any degree of sunshine or warmth. After listening to a Brit speak nicely about the warm weather on the island of Crete, I booked us on a freighter for the seventeen hour trip. After driving the Green VW into the immense hold of the freighter, we took a four bunk cabin and slept while the ship steamed to a warmer place. And indeed, it was warmer. My son and I went topside and surveyed the length and breadth of the blue sky and gave each other high fives, for we had arrived in the land of milk and honey. Actually, we arrived on a long and thin island that featured huge sweet tasting oranges, free camping on the Aegean, taking our baths in the tide pools with several sheepherders looking at us through their binoculars, and shopping in the open air mall. We stayed a complete month, explored the island from one end to the other, and we loved every minute of it. Wandering does indeed put you in touch with your emaciated humanity. We left Crete in early spring and headed for Monaco and the Gran Prix. Hows that for grand planning? Now, many years later, I choose to go out into the wilderness and to explore it and myself simultaneously, and to let you the readers know that it can be done and you should not wait to long before you leave the abject emotional poverty of your life and enrich yourself with the fulfillment of dreams. Bon Voyage.
Joseph Campbell said that if you hear the call and refuse that call, you lose your chance at authenticity. For me, this journey will catapult me into the unknown. Armed only with a total passion for the moment and what is coming. I will no refuse this call. The dreams once implanted is now there for actualization. I do not know why I go, but I will go and find out the why later. I wish to be authentic, to see things and see I can peer deeper into the mystery of this existence.
A month before I left Long Beach, a local reporter doing some research on old people wrote, that when 2050 arrives the sixty plus population will have increased to a staggering four billion living in the developed world! Made me wish for the underdeveloped world to present itself. We are growing older! What is occurring is, developed nations consider their sixty-five and older citizens to be non-productive. Now is that a fitting epitaph for those of us who have worked so hard, so diligently for the American Dream? This is not the time to retire from society because society says we are too old to be productive. We must consider ourselves as needed. Our collective experiences reflect great strength. We have survived in spite of all that has happened to us. Age is but a number and what counts is our unflagging spirit of optimism. Our greatest power is our attitude. Wear the button that states that we are alive, and we are viable and we are necessary. What have you not seen in our country, or the world? What new people have we not yet met in our limited travels? I think the USA and the world would love to meet people such as us.
Move and the way will open is a Buddhist postulate, and I did. The reward was, the universe found me a camper vehicle. I bought a 1978 Chevrolet with automatic transmission, power steering,in dire need of a paint job, and an attached camper shell. Inside the camper I discovered a small toilet with shower and a real medicine cabinet. The dining area had a table and could seat four thin people. Cooking would be done on a four burner propane stove, complete with two horizontal five gallon propane tanks. The sink had two basins, and there was a sump pump that, when turned on, would pressure water from the holding tank to the sinks. The refrigerator had a mirror on the front, but proved to be a challenge. How would I use it? It doesn’t work. I don’t know why and I don’t want to know why because to know why is begin preparing for a large cash outlay and I didn’t want to spend any more money. I decided to use the refrigerator interior as a storage space for food. I would be carrying a ton of noodles, ramen snacks, yogurt, fruits, vegetables and bread. The things would fare well inside the refrigerator. The shell had an overhang and one that overhang is the bed which is a double but not quite a double. The shell had windows, and top ventilators. The engine is a big eight banger with 450 cubic inches. Gasoline expenditures would be challenging if I am to make this trip and live on my monthly social security pension. The air conditioning system was shot, but I would be traveling where the weather was late spring and early summer and for sure would stay away from snows, tornadoes, dust storms, and high mountain passes. The interior was blue in blue, a bench front seat, tilting steering wheel, and a radio that also did not work.I felt like I struck a vein of gold! The tires looked big and well tread and the rims were shiny! I would be the third owner of this magnificently constructed American truck. At the time I failed to realize that in order to sound American, address American culture and its people, that I had better not be driving a Toyota or a Hyundai. It had to be American built and Blue Dolphin was decidedly American. Later, as I drove across our country, I could hear myself singing, ” See the USA in your Chevrolet! America is the greatest land of all!” In fact I bored myself completely after about a month of that mind banter Then I think I started singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. My first shock of ownership of Blue Dolphin was a trial trip to the local Arco station where I know that gas is the cheapest. I punched in the medium grade of petrol, inserted the nozzle into a very difficult configuration. Seems as though Blue had different slope to its nozzle due to the age factor. These pumps are really designed for compact cars. I kneeled on the black top and held, no forced the nozzle to remain functional while twenty-five dollars went whisking away from my bank account. I checked the gas gauge and the needle had risen to three-quarters of a tank!
My job out there on the road is to live on $1200.00 each month. If I cannot do that or at least demonstrate conclusively that it can be done, then this journal goes in the toilet for after hours reading. I have already determined that wherever I stay, National Park, State Park or RV park, I will need to stay for the maximum allowable time. Obviously, by minimizing gas costs I can reduce daily expenditures and deliver money to the hands of my hosts for the night or the week and the local grocery store. I have yet to leave Long Beach and already I can feel certain anxieties in the pit of my stomach. I believe those feelings are all about FEAR. An old friend of mine who resides in Palm Springs, an ex-bartender, defined the real meaning of FEAR. Black Eddie said it was false evidence appearing real! On the day that he delivered into my consciousness that definition, I was able to receive it and store it in the memory box of needed to be remembered stuff. So, when the anxieties or Phantom Fears arise in my sick mind, I go to work with positive self talk and work on convincing myself that I am an intrepid pioneer from the 21st century. Can you the reader, remember any journey that you took which encountered the vast elements of the unknown, and all went according to your plan? I don’t think so. Along the way of any journey the potholes are there waiting for your vehicle to experience a severe shock. I am sure I will hit a few of them along the way. However, Blue Dolphin has extremely sufficient shock absorbers, struts and a heavy-duty suspension system which is intact and ready for any fucking pothole the roads of the USA can throw at me. If I want happiness then I must risk unhappiness!
The next directed step required the services of a master mechanic. Fortunately, I know such a person who is gifted with delightful mechanical curiosity. I drove Blue Dolphin to the city of Hawaiian Gardens and left him in the capable hands of Jeff Smith. I asked Jeff to put Blue in such a condition that Jeff would be unafraid to take his family on a long outing in Blue Dolphin. Jeff gave me his inimitable smile and said, ” that I can do. That I can do.” One week later Jeff informed me that Blue now had new rear brakes, packed front wheel bearings, complete tune-up, fuel system repaired and timing set correctly, two new batteries, radiator flush and coolant added, all hoses replaced and interior wiring brought up to speed. The tires were pronounced as competent to make the trip and front brakes were not needed. It was an expensive layover for Blue amounting to about thirteen hundred dollars and I considered it money well spent. I felt only a small twinge in my checking account and was grateful to have the money to pay the earned bill. The only item not repaired was the air conditioning unit which I chose not to repair or replace.
Once Blue Dolphin was placed in excellent running order, I turned my attention to noticed issues inside the camper shell. Upon attaching a hose to the Camper hook-up and turning on the water. The pressure was to steep and powerful and blew out the intake val;ve underneath the sinks. After cleaning up all the excess water, I found an RV retail outlet in Downey and purchased two plastic inlet valves. Rather than mess with this messy and complex mounting, I ran back to Jeff Smith and he was able to install the valve and insure that as long as I used a water pressure adaptor when hooking up, I would not have any more blow outs. ” Whew, I dodged a bullet.” The propane tanks were turned on and the pilot light worked after several clumsy attempts, and then I had the opportunity of lighting the propane stove for the first time and POOF, it lit and performed its magical blue flame dance for me. I decided to check out the refrigerator when I arrived at my Cousin’s home in Vacaville, California. He owns a thirty foot trailer with all the high-tech gadgets that are known to man, and he will be a good teacher when I check out emptying the grey and black water from the holding tanks. Now, I needed to empty my apartment of trifles.
I held two garage sales and managed to move most of what I owned. The HDF television set will go to my daughter, the antique trunk will be packed to the top and placed in her garage and my son took the Flamingo Neon and placed it in his bedroom; although he later told me it was really bright and somewhat disconcerting. Once my supply of trifles had been diminished drastically, I went to a local Asian market and stocked up on noodles, udon, canned tuna, Hosin sauce, and rice. My cooking utensils included a rice cooker, large Wok, several boiling pots, kitchen gadgets, silverware, canned soup, packaged Ramen for short term meals. Everything else I would be able to purchase as I moved along the road. My morning regimen always consists of a fruit smoothie, yogurt and vitamins. Natural sugars enter the system quickly and stay longer than say, a large Snicker’s bar or half a dozen chocolate chip cookies. For sure, I did not relish the thought of gaining weight on this trip.