Early in August in 1982 I left my apartment in Salem, Massachusetts and a three-year part-time Sports Editor and high school stringer job with the Newburyport Daily News some 30 miles away and dragged one suitcase and all my dreams onto a Greyhound bus in downtown Boston. I had stored two large trash bags of things in a friend’s basement before leaving, nearly all my material possessions. I was 33 years old. I was still drinking.
The things I recall most about the 96-hour bus ride to the Pacific were the scorched lunar like landscape off the southwest corner of Nebraska, a rainstorm in Laramie, Wyoming, and crossing over the state line into Nevada – into a town called West Wendover – at midnight, the night outside bright with casino neon. I walked awhile through a casino during the scheduled stop. Lastly I remember, vaguely, the bus station in San Francisco and making my way to my friend Bob’s house in the Noe Valley part of the city. I was going to couch surf for a while.
I was also – what with all my high level journalism experience – gonna go grab a job with the San Francisco Chronicle, and its green sports pages, and crash on Bob’s couch until I saved enough for my own place. They never did let me in the front door of the Chronicle, though, and after numerous resumes sent around and about, 30 days or so later I was on a Greyhound again headed to Anaheim and a rendezvous with old high school classmate Nicky D, who at the time was married and lived in graduate student housing at the University of California at Irvine, where he was a graduate student in electrical engineering. He picked me up across from the Big A Angels stadium, took me to UCI, and I proceeded to sleep on a mattress on the floor in a second bedroom for the next four months, while there finding a bag of hidden pot and smoking it, wandering the campus and buying six-packs of Hamms and Olympia from a Lucky across the street, running at a local high school track and through the Irvine hills, and eventually finding a three-month job as a sports stringer for the San Clemente Sun-Times and, for a while, working as a morning cook at a MacDonald’s there. One afternoon, rushing to wash the greasy hamburger feel from my youthful physique, I drove down to the beach, walked across the Amtrak tracks, and swam by myself, the lifeguard in a serious chat with some beach girl, very nearly drowning when a rip tide grabbed me and attempted to haul me out to sea. By the way, I drove from Irvine to San Clemente and around the south coast towns covering football, girls track, and water polo in Nicky’s second car, a beast of a gas-slurping huge Chevy Nick called “the sled”.
On Thanksgiving Day of 1982, Nick and his wife back in Massachusetts with family (I had no money for a flight), I called my mom on Cape Cod from his apartment phone and after conversing for a while my mom asked me what was wrong with me? What was I doing? With my life? An hour later, the sled took me to the bluffs overlooking the Pacific just north of Laguna Beach and I found myself walking the beach thinking “It doesn’t get better than this.” A month later, on New Year ’s Eve day, Nick drove me to the Greyhound station in Laguna Beach, and 96 hours later my friend housing my trash bags in his cellar picked me up at Park Square in Boston and took me home to Medford.
After two days of sleeping in a spare room, in a bed, with all kinds of baby decorations, my friend told me sorry, I had to go, the baby was due. So I asked my younger sister Nancy if I could stay with her for just a while in her small third-floor Somerville apartment while I got it together. I moved into my own place a few blocks away eight months later. While on my sister’s couch I managed to purchase an old English Ford car from a guy in the woods up on the north shore, and find a job a couple of months later with a just opening youth counseling and outreach drug program. Oh, I got sober while there too, in April of 1983. It probably had something to do with me and my own August apartment.
People, most people, are kind. They are generous, want, even, to be generous. I’ve lived on other’s generosity. And kindness. I’d like to think I have shared at least a little of my own along the way.
My best friend, Bob in San Francisco, passed away in 2010. My classmate Nicky, outstanding member of the Wareham High School class of ’67, passed away earlier this year. My mother passed away in 2005. Not a month passes, not a week, without me crystal clear of living on borrowed time. My sister Nancy, I’m happy to say, is living enthusiastically back in our hometown. I reconnected last year, after some 30 years, with my friend who stored my belongings and gave me the ready-any-day baby’s room, another Bob, who’s alive in Massachusetts and has been a big success, especially as a good guy, all these years.
This was a year of couch surfing, a year of many wondrous experiences, some not so hot. Kindness ruled. I was the beneficiary. I was lucky. Given the chance, I try to make the most of my life these days.
I would ask you, follower of this Blog, to comment below. Have you had similar life experiences? Does couch surfing seem foolish? Were you engaged while reading, yawning, could I have told it better, did it work as a story to provide some respite from your otherwise busy day? I would love to hear any of your thoughts, I encourage it, my dream is that this Blog provides space to chat aloud about all things chat-able.
Thank you for showing up. And if you liked this post, and the Couch Surfing at 70 website, please tell one friend about it and encourage her/him/them to subscribe and come along on this ride. Thanks.