Rick has an upcoming virtual appearance at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville to talk about Journeyman.
Journeyman reviewed in the Fall 2020 Louisville Review: "Journeyman is part of a
grand tradition of travelers-seekers" —Mary Popham
Thursday, November 26
I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my second novel, Hotwalker, by Literary Wanderlust LLC. The book is a Jim Guthrie private eye mystery set in Louisville at the Kentucky Derby. The good news arrived on Thanksgiving morning from Susan Brooks, the editor-in-chief of the royalty paying print and digital press located in Denver, Colorado. The publication date is tba.
Tuesday, October 8, 7:15 p.m.
Rick was featured guest speaker at a Zoom session discussion of Journeyman for Michele Ruby’s Book Club in Louisville. Questions emailed to journeymanpate [at] gmail [dot] com were answered.
Tuesday, September 8
Thursday, August 20, 6:30 p.m.
Rick was featured as a guest reader for the season finale of Spalding at 21c: Voice and Vision, which celebrated newly published and produced authors for its August virtual edition. The annual reading series runs through the summer months in partnership with Spalding University's School of Creative and Professional Writing and 21c Museum Hotel.
Greetings, Fellow Book Lovers. By now, I had hoped to be starting a book tour to promote my debut novel, Journeyman. Sadly, with the world plagued as it is by the corona virus, that is not possible. So, I am safely sheltering at home in Louisville with my wife. But if you have a book club, literature class, or similar group, I would be thrilled to join your Zoom session discussion. I love my readers! Or email me some questions to answer: journeymanpate [at] gmail [dot] com.
Retracing the Westward Peregrinations
of Kerouac And Cassady
In his just-released novel Journeyman, by singer, dramatist, and former teacher Rick Neumayer, PATE MERWIN both uses his head and longs for magic in resolving his questions about how-to-live meaningfully (and simply how to survive). Like Huck Finn, he lights out for the territory—thumbs his way with a faithful friend from mid-America to the prairie, to the mountains, cross the deserts, to the sea, San Francisco & Haight-Ashbury, after its heyday. His and ours is a country scarred by its original sins of both the deep past and the present: the treatment of African Americans, Native Americans, women, children, and all those who would speak peace to unwarranted foreign wars.
And, what’s more: structurally, this book is a two-layer cake of past and present—just like the lives we live, right? Presented to you with a stunning cover of original art (titled Almost Home) by Corie Neumayer, Journeyman could well join the ranks of classic, always-need, must-have literature.
—Sena Jeter Naslund, editor; author of Ahab’s Wife, Four Spirits, Abundance & seven others
Rick was recently featured as a guest reader for the season finale of Spalding at 21c: Voice and Vision, which celebrated newly published and produced authors for its August virtual edition. The annual reading series runs through the summer months in partnership with Spalding University's School of Creative and Professional Writing and 21c Museum Hotel.
Journeyman is currently available in paperback for $16 in store and online at Carmichael’s Bookstores in Louisville, where Rick also has an upcoming virtual appearance to talk about his new book at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 28. His new novel is available in paperback for $16 at: The Louisville Review's website (https://mailchi.mp/a2e74329364a/fleur-de-lis-press-announces-new-release-by-author-rick-neumayer), in store and online at Carmichael’s, and online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookstore.
—FROM THE NEW, INDEPENDENT Fleur-de-Lis Press of The Louisville Review
CONTACT THE AUTHOR
—journeymanpate [at] gmail [dot] com
Rick is a Louisville native and has lived here almost all his life. He’s a Male High graduate and holds degrees from Western Kentucky University (BA), the University of Louisville (MA), and Spalding University (MFA). Although a high school teacher by trade, he has had a variety of experiences, including travel and study abroad. He has been a journalist, social worker, book reviewer, literary magazine editor, adjunct college professor, and singer in a rock’n’roll band. He has publishing short fiction in small literary magazines, co-written hundreds of songs, and had three of his full-length Broadway-style musical collaborations produced. In 1971, Rick hitchhiked across the country with a friend, an experience which inspired Journeyman. While he has never been a private eye, he was inspired to write Hotwalker by the work of Raymond Chandler and his literary heirs. Rick met his wife Corie, a visual artist, in the teacher’s lounge of Shawnee Junior High. Their daughter Carrie is a visual artist and musician. Rick is open to interviews and available to speak with journalists. For a review copy or more about Rick’s writing, art, and travels, please visit his website: RickNeumayer.com.
Rick Neumayer is a Louisville native and has lived here all his life, except for four years in California as a child. Although a teacher by trade, Rick has had a variety of experiences, including traveling abroad in thirty countries and studying in Scotland, Spain, and Ireland. In college he worked as a journalist, summer interning at the Courier-Journal & Louisville Times and then for two years was a part-time reporter for The Park City Daily News in Bowling Green. In 1971, he hitchhiked across the country with a friend, an experience which inspired Journeyman. Later that year, Rick married his wife Corie, whom he had met in the teacher’s lounge of Shawnee Junior High.
After a year as a food stamp social worker, he went back to grad school and later took a job at Jeffersonville High, where he spent the next three decades until retiring from teaching in 2004. He also taught writing part-time at both the University of Louisville and Jefferson Community College, co-edited River City Review literary magazine, reviewed books for The Louisville Courier-Journal, and began winning a few contests and publishing short fiction in small literary magazines.
Somehow, Rick found time to indulge interests in classic private eye mystery fiction (creating a series of his own still in progress), scuba diving, mini-marathoning, and weightlifting. He also loves music and sang in the Glee Club at Male High. In the 1980s, he became lead singer and front man for a local cover band. For the next fifteen years he spent weekends and some nights singing classic rock and blues at bars and weddings. That exhilarating experience led to co-writing hundreds of original songs and eventually full-length Broadway-style musicals, three of which have been produced. Others are in the works.
Journeyman is a coming of age novel about an idealistic, alienated young teacher looking for answers and experience during the turbulent aftermath of the 1960s. Pate Merwin begins his teaching career as a permanent substitute with troubled inner-city middle school students. He also falls in love with Deborah Johnson, an African American bank teller and single parent. When his relationship with Deborah and his teaching career founder, Pate agrees to hitchhike across the country with his friend Stan Hicks, a Navy vet who is now against the Vietnam War.
In Denver, the two stay with Pate’s old school mate Matthew Duncan, an acting student, and his wife Rebecca, who is putting him through grad school. Domestic discord ends Pate’s visit with his friends. He and Stan resume hitchhiking on a southwest course to see cliff dwellings and sample magic mushrooms. During a fierce mountain storm, they are picked up by an older couple with a psychedelic camper. They are stunned to find Matthew is a fellow passenger.
Pate and Matthew rescue Stan, who has foolishly risked his life out on The Great Sand Dunes. Then at Mesa Verde, Pate is smitten by a young Ute woman named Johona, who believes in the spirit world. The couple sleep together in the desert following a deeply spiritual and hallucinatory experience produced by taking psilocybin. Stan severely injures his ankle trying to climb a cliff face in the dark. In the morning, Matthew reveals that he has been using Stan and Pate to model for a hippie role in a soap opera and departs on his own for Hollywood. Stan, upon hearing that Johona’s cousin is a shaman, agrees to have him perform a healing ceremony. Johona and Pate take Stan on horseback to an isolated cliff dwelling ruin in the desert, where Stan is healed.
Pate is broken-hearted when his brief love affair with Johona ends. He presses onward with Stan to San Francisco. In Haight-Ashbury, they meet Willow, a free-spirited macramé artist, who invites them to stay in her commune. As time passes, Pate and Willow become an item. Pate becomes disenchanted with free love, however, and wants a monogamous relationship. When he finds out that Stan has bedded Willow, Pate beats up his friend. Stan says he did it to save Pate from loving someone who would never love him back.
Unable to fit into the civilian world, even in the counterculture, Stan re-enlists in the Navy. Pate, at loose ends, begins painting the big Victorian communal house’s trim for beer money. When Stan is killed while hitchhiking, his dying words are that he loved Pate like a brother and hoped for his forgiveness. Pate is crushed by the news and plans to leave the commune. But first he decides to finish the paint job and, in so doing, comes to acknowledge human selfishness, blindness, and uncertainty in himself and others. He realizes that Stan has taught him a precious lesson—that human beings are all imperfect and in need of forgiveness.
Based on a true but wholly fictionalized experience, this novel will appeal to anyone who has ever wanted to hitchhike across the country or has had an interest in the 1960s. It adds a missing piece to the literary portrait of the U.S. during the Vietnam War viewed from half a century later. Its protagonist probes the original American sin of white cruelty and injustice to African Americans and Native Americans. The natural world, the highway, and San Francisco as the promised place all figure in Pate’s quest for authenticity and connection.
Paperback / $16 / 258 pages
Publisher: The Louisville Review Corp. and Fleur-de-Lis Press (September 8,2020)
Available in paperback for $16 at: The Louisville Review's website (https://mailchi.mp/a2e74329364a/fleur-de-lis-press-announces-new-release-by-author-rick-neumayer), in store and online at Carmichael’s, and online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookstore.
Rick Neumayer's Journeyman tells a timeless tale of youth striving to define not only itself but the world it inhabits. Who lives and who dies and why? What new and old values to reject or embrace--and at what point in the journey? A journeyman in earlier lingo was a tradesman who was no longer an apprentice but not yet a master of his trade. This honest, funny, and heartbreaking novel
delivers everything a reader could wish for in the way of action, characters who are convincing and engaging, and ideas worth pondering.
—Sena Jeter Naslund, Author of Ahab's Wife, Sherlock in Love, Four Spirits & seven other titles
Two intrepid young men set out from Kentucky to retrace the westward peregrinations of Kerouac and Cassady, twenty years after the fact, with tragic results for one and life-changing consequences for the other. Journeyman is the survivor’s stirring, multi-layered account of their travels and travails, interwoven with recollections of the life he left behind. Rick Neumayer’s writing is direct and purposeful, and it propels us through these misadventures as though we were along for the ride.
—Ed McClanahan, author of The Natural Man, Famous People I Have Known, and other books
Journeyman is an affecting and well-wrought story told against the backdrop of a war that shaped a generation of Americans. Rick Neumayer’s good-natured narrator hitchhikes with his friend across the United States during the sixties, and the friendship between these two young men is a lively, steady stream running throughout the book. Both are complex, vulnerable, imperfect human beings who make you ache with their youthful desire to find a meaningful direction in their lives and to create a better, more just world. If you lived through the Vietnam War era, you will recognize the deep truth of this novel; if you were not alive then, you will fathom the chaos and hope and heartbreak of those years and how they laid the foundation for the world we’re living now. This is a timely, generous book that deftly captures a powerful, heady, mind-bending time.
—Eleanor Morse, author of White Dog Fell From The Sky
Rick Neumayer's Journeyman immerses the reader viscerally in the America of 1970-71, with a quixotic hitchhiking pilgrimage from Louisville to a San Francisco commune at its narrative center. It's a moving and provocative story of initiation during a time, not unlike our own, when the energy and possibilities of youth rub up against the complicated realities of a country divided by racial mistrust, generational misunderstanding, political fractiousness, and domestic and international instability.
—K. L. Cook, author of The Art of Disobedience and Marrying Kind
What do these young bearded men have in common, and why do they burn bridges in Louisville to travel 2,000 miles? Pate Merwin has worked as a teacher of predominately black students in the West End and recently as a church janitor. Stan Hicks has been in the Navy, but is now against the war, and quits a monotonous job in a cigarette factory. Author Rick Neumayer deftly reveals both of their personalities, backgrounds, worries, and dreams in this story of learning about the self, as Pate and Stan meet various types of people throughout their journey. By writing alternating chapters that begin in present-tense as the story opens, then switch to past-tense with an account of eight months earlier, the back stories catch up to the present when the guys reach San Francisco.
The two men are acquaintances in Louisville, and though they don’t know each other well, they share an apartment. Soon Pate has a live-in girlfriend, but they have difficulties as a couple. He hasn’t sufficient income to start family life, and he isn’t ready to be a father to her son. The stress of teaching in a school system that cannot meet the needs of difficult to control students, who can barely read, contributes to his desire to join his friend and leave it all behind. While Pate has recently avoided being drafted into the senseless war, Stan, equally adrift, has done his time in the service, but he flounders from job to job and wanders from one casual sex partner to another. He searches for reasons to live.
Pate and Stan are great readers. Pate, the teacher, likes Kurt Vonnegut. Stan also enjoys deep discussions, favoring the spiritual nature of the recluse of Walden Pond. He notes, “Thoreau believed we can’t begin to understand ourselves until we’re lost.” He seems to aim toward dangerous paths, perhaps his way to gain self-awareness.
Less daring of the two, Pate worries that Stan’s behavior is too risky. More selective of the drivers who stop for them, Pate ruminates, “There are rules for hitchhiking, perhaps not written down, but rules just the same, and only fools ignore them.” As a pair, however, each has an underlying know-how and compassion which serve them well. They abandon a sleepy truck driver, are threatened by rednecks in a Kansas diner, and put up with a traveling salesman whose advice is good even though he is a bore. “You’ve got to like people,” the talkative man says. Stan tells him they are Communists and they are immediately dumped. But sometimes the need to rest their feet or get out of the rain prevails over common sense safety rules. With outstretched thumbs and the hubris that only the young can employ, they continue their travels.
Rick Neumayer is a skillful teacher and writer, a man interested in details that others might miss. He creates his characters with flaws and weaknesses along with their intelligence, abilities, charm, and kindness. His men appreciate the side trips: “As the sharp-edged mountains slowly fade and the purple velvet sky turns gray, we stroll through the sagebrush.” Memories sometimes sweeten the present: one of them remembers the smell of a woman’s clean hair; the other, the hint of coconut-scented suntan lotion that women smear on each other. Smoking a joint, Pate notices the enhanced beauty. “The light has changed. Now the desert’s warm browns, golden corals, and muted reds appear even more vivid. Whatever the cause—an aesthetically minded God or a jubilant and random Nature—it’s stunningly magnificent.”
A trek on foot, by plane, train, or automobile is always a journey of self-discovery. Neumayer’s Journeyman is part of a grand tradition of travelers-seekers: Odysseus wanders throughout the world, seemingly unable to return home to his wife and son. Is it a longing for adventure that keeps him away? Chaucer invents a mixed set of travelers: The Knight who fights only religious wars; The Squire who considers himself a ladies’ man; The Prioress whose emphasis is on her appearance; The Monk who prefers the outdoor life to the monastery; The Friar who knows the taverns better than his parish; The Wife of Bath who has been on five pilgrimages and also has been married five times.
Our Journeymen admire Ken Kesey, a writer and counterculture hero. He and his followers, the Merry Pranksters, are noted for the lengthy, cross-country road trip they took in the summer of 1964. Pate and Stan have romanticized the group, as they like the idea of being hippies and look forward to communal living with the sharing of food and love. They draw comfort from the notion of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out, but their dreams take on a different life than they expect and bring results they could not have foreseen.
Pate and Stan share the restlessness of many wanderers/seekers. Perhaps the young men of Neumayer’s creation are most like Steinbeck’s Joad family, betrayed, however, not so much by the forces of nature—an unrelenting dust bowl—but by a culture that embraces war all too readily and ignores the needs of many of its citizens. Perhaps Journeyman suggests, ultimately, that salvation lies in the redemptive creativity of our own hands.
From the United States
Reviewed in the United States on October 7, 2020
I went to high school with Rick, and when I
learned of him publishing a novel, I jumped at the chance to buy a copy and
read it. I'm very glad I did.
The book takes place along a westbound journey from Louisville, Kentucky, to San Francisco, while flashing back to the protagonist's earlier life in Louisville. Pate and Stan are college friends who work at various jobs in the Louisville area while rooming together in the Old Louisville neighborhood. When their lives take a turn for the "not so great", they opt to abandon their local aspirations, and journey to San Francisco for a post-1968 Hippie love fest. They hitchhike, meeting a number of colorful characters, camping and living off the barest of means.
All the while the westward journey takes place, Rick takes us back to Louisville to fill in the backgrounds of Stan and Pate. Being a native of Louisville, the places to which I'm taken are all familiar, and the locations were well known when I was raised and lived there. That local knowledge really enhanced my enjoyment, and brought back many fond, and not-so-fond memories.
If you enjoyed Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Mark Twain, and others, you'll find that Rick has woven a wonderful story of missed opportunities, redemption, hope, and loss.
Reviewed in the United States on September 19, 2020
Rick Neumayer’s Journeyman is an On the Road
set in 1971. With friendship, adventure, and quest for love, this fast-paced
book is eminently readable.
Just a few years too late for the summer of love, Pate and Stan nevertheless make the journey by hitchhiking to San Francisco. The friends arrive at both physical and emotion destinations.
Tenderly told, the story uses authentic, compelling details of time and place. For anyone who has ever wanted to take a trip back to the summer of love in San Francisco or early adulthood, or for anyone who’s ever been curious about what living in a commune for a time is like, this is the book for you.
Reviewed in the United States on October 4, 2020
Journeyman is an excellent, deeply felt and experienced story of the journey of two friends in the Vietnam War era. I felt I was right there with them, feeling and seeing the same things they did, and I couldn’t stop reading it. The similarities between then and now really stood out for me. Excellent book. Definitely a keeper, and I can’t wait until the next one! AND, the artwork on the cover was spectacular!!!!
Reviewed in the United States on September 28, 2020
This story is about a road trip to San Francisco for the Summer of Love - four years late. But the narrator still feeds the need to go, and thumbs his way from Kentucky, with his friend Stan. Journeys can be actual, or they can be the searching in our minds. This trip is about both, and readers learn from the journey, too. An enlightening read.
TIPSHEET DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Questions About Journeyman
Where do you get your ideas? What was the inspiration for this story?
What is the significance of the title? How do you come up with your titles?
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
What do you think makes a good story?
Is there lots to do before you drive in and start writing the story? What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? Where do you get your information or ideas for your books? Do you have a library membership?
How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing? Your story is set in both Kentucky and the West. Why did you choose this as the setting?
What comes first, the plot or characters? How do you develop them? How do you select the names of your characters?
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
What period of your life do you find you write about most often (child, teenager, young adult)? Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
How important is autobiography in your books? What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters? What are the ethics of writing about historical figures? What did you edit out of this book?
What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? What was your hardest scene to write?
Can you give us some insight into what makes the main characters tick? If you had to describe one of them in three words, what would those three words be?
If Journeyman became a movie, who would you cast to star in it?
How was the writing process different from other projects you have faced? What was the highlight of writing Journeyman? What were the key challenges you faced when writing this novel?
What is the key theme and/or message in your novel? What do you hope your readers take away from reading it?
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel? Do you currently have a work-in-progress? How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one? Any new series planned?
Where can readers find out more about you and your books? Are you on social media and can your readers interact with you? Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say? Where can readers purchase your books?
What is your writing process like? Is writing your full-time career? Or would you like it to be? How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one? If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
What are the tools of the trade? Describe your writing space. How many bookshelves are in your house?
Where do you get your inspiration? Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
When you are writing an emotionally draining scene, how do you get in the mood? Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied this current book? How do you deal with the stress or other emotional impact of a book (on yourself) as you are writing the story?
On a typical day, how many hours do you spend writing? What time of the day do you usually write? What is your work schedule like when you are writing? What is the best part of your day?
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? Does writing energize or exhaust you?
You have written both a “literary” novel and mysteries. Do you have a preference? Is one easier to write than the other?
Do you find it more challenging to write the first book in a series or to write the subsequent novels? How do you keep a series fresh, for both your readers and you?
Questions About Being A Writer
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? When did you start writing?
What are the most important books to read?
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
What is your definition of success? How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
How many books have you written? How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? Which of your books is your favorite? When did you write your first published book and at what age? Which of your books were the most enjoyable to write?
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a Better writer?
What is the most surprising discovery you made while writing your novels?
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? How do you handle writer’s block?
Do you Google yourself?
Who is your favorite author and why? Favorite book/story you have read as an adult?
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Who is the author you most admire in your genre? What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?
If you could ask one successful author three questions about their writing, writing process, or books, what would they be?
Favorite quote (doesn’t matter the source)?
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Share something your readers would not know about you.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
If you were a tour guide, what would you like a visitor to see and what impression would you want them to take away with them when they leave? What Is your favorite spot to visit in the world / your own country? And what makes it so special?
If you could only have one season, what would it be?
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? What’s your favorite food?
Have you ever been on any sports teams? If so, what sport?
Favorite artist and favorite song?
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook? If you could choose celebrity parents, who would they be?
If you could cure a disease, what would it be?
What did you do for Valentine’s Day? Is Valentine’s something to like to celebrate?
Questions About Advice for Writers
What advice do you have for writers? Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
What advice would you tell your younger writing self? If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
What one item would you give up in order to become a better writer?
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
Do you think someone could be a writer if they do not feel emotions strongly?
What is your writing Kryptonite?
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
How do books get published? What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?
Tell us about the process for coming up with the cover.
What’s the best way to market your books?
What did you do with your first advance? What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Have any of your books been made into audiobooks? If so, what are the challenges in producing an audio book?
How do you handle literary criticism? Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
An Excerpt from JOURNEYMAN
1: Our Own Private Walden Pond
June 1971. King and both Kennedys are dead, Nixon's in the White House, and the Beatles have broken up, anything and nothing seems possible. I’m leaving my old Kentucky home with my friend Stan, waiting beside the already warm blacktopped edge of I-64 with our thumbs pointing westward.
"Hitchhiking is illegal in Kentucky, Stan. Did you know that?"
"Only if you’re standing in the road. Standing on the side of the road is okay.”
“And you know this how?” I say, over the highway noise.
“Have faith, my brother.”
A half hour goes by with us still gazing at Louisville’s familiar skyline, and my faith tank is sitting close to empty. I ask myself why I let Stan talk me into this. The answer comes almost immediately in the form of a faded green Dodge van with Missouri plates. As it pulls over, I grab the rucksack containing my worldly possessions and rush toward the flashing tail lights.
The driver, a bearded young guy like us with hair down to his shoulders, leans over to the passenger window. “Where you headed, man?”
“Haight-Ashbury,” I tell him.
“Far fucking out. I can take you as far as St. Louis. Jump in.”
The big heavy side door, which slides instead of opening on hinges, is stuck. I manage to screech it open, but I do not heedlessly climb aboard. There are rules for hitchhiking, perhaps not written down, but rules just the same, and only fools ignore them. Rule number one is never set foot inside a strange vehicle without first checking out the driver and any passengers.
Stan apparently never has learned this rule because he immediately yells, “Shotgun,” and jumps into the front seat.
The van’s driver is alone, fortunately, which keeps the odds in our favor, and he looks okay, garbed like us in jeans and a tie-dye. Also, I can smell dope clinging to the carpeted floor. I pitch in my gear, duck down, and clamber aboard. There’s no back seat, so I just flop in an empty space between the bulging trash bags and cardboard boxes overflowing with clothing.
“Looks like you’re moving,” I say.
“I just flunked out of UNC Greensboro,” he says. “My deferment’s gone. I’m going home to find a job until I get drafted. What’s your name, man?”
“Pate Merwin,” I say.
“Stan Hicks,” says my pal.
“Thanks for picking us up, Norm.”
“Wish I was going with you guys.”
“What’s stopping you?” Stan asks.
“My lottery number is seventy-one, so I’m pretty sure my ass is gone. What about you?”
“I was in the Navy,” Stan says. “But I’m against the war.”
“Cool. What about you, Pate?” Norm peers at me in his rear-view mirror.
“No shit. How do you do that?”
“I have my ways,” I say, cagey since I just met this guy.
Norm surprises me by pulling out a joint. He lights it, passes it around, saying, “It’s a little harsh, but it’ll get you off.”
Indeed it does, as the rich sweet scent of burning pot fills the van. We’re already away from the city. The low wooded hills and farmlands of southern Indiana have never looked so green to me. I’m fascinated by how the road cuts through shelves of limestone, where rivulets of spring water drip from exposed ledges. Everything is so interesting.
Keeping our speed at a steady sixty-five, Norm says to me, “I don’t want to go to prison. And I can’t get C.O. status because I’m not religious. So what else can I do?”
“Tell them you’re a Quaker,” I say, as the turbulence from an eighteen-wheeler throws us across the lane line.
“Or a fucking Jehovah’s Witness,” Stan adds.
“I’m not sure what I believe in anymore,” Norm says, “except maybe love.”
“All you need is love,” Stan says.
“Thank you, John Lennon,” I say.
“Why’d you go into the Navy, Stan?” Norm asks.
“I was stupid. If I had it to do over again, I’d go to Canada or Sweden.”
“Don’t think I could ever leave the country.”
“Better than being in the military,” Stan says.
A hawk is circling overhead, flapping its enormous wings, gliding smoothly through the air, perhaps hunting for small ground game to kill with its claws and beak. Pointing it out to the others, I say, “Stan and I once were hawks. I was in high school R.O.T.C. He served two years on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Pacific. Now we’re doves.”
“Once the military’s got you,” Stan says, “you’re theirs. If you run, you’re a deserter. That means they can shoot you or throw you in the stockade. You wouldn’t stand a chance in there, Norm, not with those Marine pricks for guards.”
We’re starting down a long, steep hill that offers a sweeping view of farmland and woods. America, the beautiful.
“You could pretend to be crazy,” I say, “or a drug addict.”
“Wouldn’t be much of a stretch in either case,” Norm says grimly. “Wish I’d just passed chemistry and French. How’d you get out of the draft, Pate?”
I’m not sure I want to tell him. After all, we only met fifteen minutes ago. But they can’t put me in jail just for saying what I did. And by telling Norm, I might just keep him from getting killed. “I took speed and stayed awake for three days.”
“Wow.” Norm wants more details, which I provide as the miles roll by and the landscape levels out. Norm listens intently. When I finish, he offers heart-felt thanks. From there on, we mostly listen to music until we reach the Gateway Arch. We expect Norm to drop us off at his exit. Instead, he takes us all the way through town and to the corn fields beyond. Before leaving, he writes down his phone number and lays a fresh doobie on us.
“For the road,” he says.
“Two-hundred and fifty miles,” I say, at the foot of an off ramp. “Not bad for a first ride.”
We only have another half hour or so of daylight, so Stan suggests stopping here for the night. I agree. At a nearby 7-Eleven, we load up on supplies, including beer and snacks. Then we cross the two-lane road into a field thick with chest-high rows of corn. In the middle where we’ll be invisible, we stop and unroll our sleeping bags. Stan pops the top off a newly acquired beer and lights up Norm’s going-away present.
“I thought that dope was for the road,” I say.
“This is the road. What, are you saving up for a rainy day?”
“Forget it.” I’m still a little pissed at him for jumping in the way he did. “But how about the next time we check out our ride before getting in?”
Twitching his droopy moustache, he dips his head in consternation. He always reminds me of bearded Neptune when he does that. Neither of us says anything for a minute. Then he looks back up.
“You worry too much, Pate.”
“Maybe you don’t worry enough.”
But when he offers the joint, I inhale sharply and lie back with my fingers clasped behind my head and watch the cornstalks turn gold.
“How far is it to Denver?” I say.
“I don’t know. Another seven hundred miles?”
“Listen, I know some people there. Maybe they’ll put us up.”
“Sounds good,” Stan says.
As the stalks become dark shapes, I start to wonder what Deborah Johnson, the woman I’d been living with, is doing right now. If she is happy without me. Why things turned out the way they did. She wanted to settle down, but I wasn’t ready. Guess I’m still not. I muse on this until a slice of moon appears.
“What do you want out of life, Stan?”
“A little sleep, maybe. What do you want?”
“Man, I’ve been asleep my whole life. It’s time to wake up. I want to think like I’ve never thought, feel like I’ve never felt, and do what I’ve never done.” As I listen to the crickets’ cries as never before, I imagine the wonders that lie ahead: purple mountains, sagebrush-dotted deserts, and the city by the bay.