The scene below stands (or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline.
Scene Seven: The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night-Moline Meltdown Madness-An Interlude
Defeat takes many forms, no question, no question at all, but on the hard-scrabble, white-lined hitchhike highway nothing augured defeat like three or four days of hard, hard-driving, hard-bucket, squishing, swirling, streaming, overflowing the drain spouts, rain. But see, at just that minute on just that road we, Angelica and I, did not know though that we faced that sock in the jaw by dear Mother Nature, having only been out there for a couple of hours. The rain, steady, steady as the homeward-bound after a hard day’s work traffic that passed us by, had started about an hour earlier. Not long, but long enough to get ourselves rain-dripped to perdition.
Rain, rain that dripped deep into your bones, and maybe to your soul if you had one handy that could get wet, and added at least five hundred pounds to your load. No, not the soul the rain soak, and more consequentially, dripped down the back of your neck into your collar despite the best efforts of your seaman’s cap to absorb and contain all before the deluge. And pancho-ed Angelica, patient yellow pancho-ed Angelica, hood up covering half her face, and maybe all of her peripheral vision, acted the trouper, as usual. Drawing strength, drawing vital strength, from somewhere deep in that pioneer American Midwest good night stock from whence she came. The road, the far too long road from gentle, restful, lazy farm, joints and music, edenic commune Springfield of an earlier phase of the journey has sapped some of her energy, and, hell, mine as well.
Yah, but take a guess at what human solidarity, or at least what one would hope would rise from the human sink on such an occasion, and would provide as a natural curative in these circumstances. One could guess, and hopefully not too be far off that the sight of two young, not too disheveled, if somewhat “hippie” attired, rain-beaten people standing on the shoulder of a hitchhike 1969 road would cause at least one lonely-hearted car, one battered truck, one moseying hay wagon, one misplaced mule team, or whatever was out there on Route 5 in Moline, where our last ride let us off, Moline, Illinois, the one near the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities one that is, in case there is another Moline that I don’t know about and might curse by mistake. But one would be wrong.
No, these were all fair-weather farm people who had that look on their faces as they passed by, not of fear or menace, but that those young folk on the road, meaning us, on their industrious road, did not work. Not at least at anything respectable, this out here means something to do with the land, the sweet sweat of backbreaking labor on the land, and of endless toil. No these two young vagabonds were not like their Johnnies and Sues already lined up by age fourteen to take over the farm, to marry that nice girl or guy the next few farms over, have their fair share of children, and then…on some 1989 or 1999 rain-soaked, white-lined hitchhike road they will be able to give some young nature-devastated couple that selfsame look, if there are still any such hearty souls left by then to tweak their ire.
But enough of that, by this time things were serious and I could tell by the look of Angelica’s stance, or rather her ballooning yellow poncho-covered half-stance against the hardness of the rain that I had better come with some idea, some idea better than standing on this side road being sneered at, or worst, ignored by the local kulaks. And I did. Look, if I had been out there on that windswept piece of flatland alone I could have found myself some old barn to share with the local farm animals, or if that didn’t work out then some lean-to. A fallback option, although I would have rather not, was to draw a beeline to the railroad yards and seek shelter in an empty freight car. Except every hobo, bum, tramp and faux vagabond within fifty miles of there would have had has the same idea and while I can respect the lore of the comradely road as well as the next man, frankly, that lore is overrated when you get twenty males of various physical and mental conditions communing in a freight. But right then I was a respectable “married” man and I had to seek some more appropriate shelter at least for this night for my better half, or else.
And, of course, we were not in covered-wagon, prairie schooner days but in a heartland city so off we went back up the road a bit to find some kind of cheap, flea-bitten motel to wait out this, hopefully, passing storm. Sure, we were pinching pennies and we certainly did not expect to have had lay over there but such is the such of the road, the “married” road. Needless to say I already knew the motel we would wind up at. No, I had never been in Moline before; at least I did not think so. But I did know the motel. I didn’t know the actual name of the place, although Dew Drop Inn rated pretty high as a quick guess. And I did not know the exact layout of the rooms except that there would be about sixteen to twenty identical units, all on the first floor; park the car, if you had a car, directly in front of your little bungalow. After the formality of payment and registration, that is.
Thereafter, open the plywood-thick “security” door, cheaply painted, to gain the first view of your “suite” and inhale the ammonia, bleach, smoke-stained smells that are guaranteed with the room key. And as a bonus whatever odors the previous tenants had left. These cheap, flea-bitten places frown upon pre-inspection, and those who find themselves, like us, in reduced circumstances, would rather not “inspect” the room anyway. Take my word for this, please. Go on then to view your slightly sagging twin bed, with almost matching pillows and sheets, usually lime and pink. Your deluxe color television (guaranteed to run, the colors that is). Your complimentary tray, your Salvation Army-found bureau and night table (complete with Gideon’s Bible) and your bathroom (shower, no bath) with about seventeen sets of laundry over-bleached towels for every possible usage from face to figure. Set off by a genuine reproduction of a reproduction of some seascape on the wall to add a homey touch by an artist whose name will just escape your remembrance. But I have now given it all away, even before we found our cozy cottage. Not to worry there it is. No, not Dew Drop Inn this time, E-Z Rest. All for sixteen dollars a night, plus tax (and two dollar deposit on the television, returnable on departure, returnable presumably if you didn’t decide in a frenzied moment to “steal” the damn thing). Oh yah, I was off on the picture on the wall, it was a farm scene. Silly me.
I will say this for Angelica, for the several weeks that we had been on the road, through all the hassles we have faced up until then; she has been remarkably good-natured about things. Remarkable, as well, I might add for the first time out on the road. Remarkable, moreover, for an Ivory soap naïve Midwestern gal who a few months before had hardly ever left Muncie, as she related parts of her life to me while we, sometimes seemingly endlessly, waited for rides. Remarkable, above all, for her innate ability to face adversity without having a nervous breakdown about it every five minutes. Flame, Boston flame that I had just run away from, Joyell would have been a pretty high up number in her one thousand frustrations wearing on my nerves by now.
The reason I mention this is that out back there on the Route 5 no-ride road, the rain-swept road that drove us inside I had a feeling for just a minute, but a feeling just the same, that the wilds of the road, the “freedom” of the road, the adventure now not when we are too old to do anything about it, was starting to weight down on her, and on her dreams. Not a good sign, especially not a good sign as the rain kept tap-tapping relentlessly down the spout outside and on top of the creaky rooftop that made you think that it was going to come in the room in about five minutes. And as if she too caught a glimpse of that notion that I felt she sidled up to me and said to me that we needed to take a “nap” to get the chill off from the road. I was only following doctor’s on that command, okay, well the future radiologist’s orders, if that‘s how things worked out. It’s kind of the same, right?
“Married” or not. Remarkable or not. After what turned out to be three days of steady rain and three days of a foul, cumbersome room with nothing but drippy-runny colored television and some light (meaning non-political for me, romance novels for her) reading material bought up the road at a very strange bookstore that ran the gamut in light reading from 17th century novels to soft-core porn (smut, okay) to while away the hours we both were getting severe cases of cabin fever. Remind me to tell you about the bookstore, and another one out in the middle of the desert in California some time but right then I could sense, and more importantly, fair Angelica could sense, that something was wrong. Wrong, right now. And so wrong that it needs to be fixed, right then. It boiled down to this (I will give her version but it will do for my sense of the thing as well). Why were two seemingly sane young people sitting in some dusty, broken down, rain-splattered, motel room in god-forsaken yes, god-forsaken, Moline, Illinois waiting for the rain to stop, or to let up enough so that we could move on to the “bright lights” of Davenport, Iowa or points west.
I will not detail all the talk back and forth that ensued except to say that that momentary glance I had noted back on the road a few days ago when we hit town had some meaning behind it. Angelica was road-weary. Hell, I was a little myself. But, I was not ready to go off the road, not ready to go back to the same old. And here is the truth. Just at that minute my delights in Angelica were running just about three to two in her favor, and dropping. This called for drastic measures. I had to unwind the story of the search for the blue-pink great American West night that I had been holding back on. You already know the story, but old Angelica didn’t. Seemed clueless about what I meant when I even mentioned the words. Before this it just seemed too complicated to run by someone who was just traveling on the road to travel on the road. Not someone looking for some ancient, unnamed, unnamable quest that spoke more to the stuff of dreams than anything else.
If you know this old saga, although I did touch it up a little here, then you can kind of skip this part and proceed to find out what Angelica though of the whole thing. Or, maybe, you can re-read it to rekindle that old time wanderlust that drove your dreams, you name the color, you name the place, and you name the pursuit of them:
“I, once was asked, in earnest (by an old flame), what I meant by the blue-pink western skies. Or rather the way I would prefer to formulate it, and have always taken some pains to emphasize it this way, the search for the blue-pink great American West night. Well, of course, there was a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my back (sometimes right at my back) New England homestead meant unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that the hitchhike road meant heading west.
So that night was clearly not in the vicinity of the local Blues Hills or of the Berkshires back in ocean-fronted Massachusetts, those are too confined and short-distanced to even produce blues skies much less that west-glanced sweet shade just before heaven, if there was a heaven shade, blue-pink. And certainly not hog-butcher-to-the-world, sinewy Midwest Chicago night, Christ no, nor rarefied, deep-breathed, rockymountainhigh Denver night, although jaded sojourner-writer not known for breathe-taking, awe-bewilderment could have stopped there for choice of great western night. Second place, okay.
But no, onward, beyond, beyond pioneer, genetically-embedded pioneer America, past false god neon blue-pink glitter Las Vegas in the Nevada desert night to the place where, about fifty miles away from sanctified west coast, near some now nameless abandoned ghost town, nameless here for it is a mere speck on the map you would not know the name, you begin, ocean man that you are, if you are, and organically ocean-bred says you are, to smell the dank, incense-like, seaweed-driven, ocean-seized air as it comes in from the Japanese stream, or out there somewhere in the unknown, some Hawaii or Guam or Tahiti of the mind, before the gates of holy city, city of a thousand, thousand land’s end dreams, San Francisco. That is where the blue-pink sky devours the sun just before the be-bop, the bop-bop, the do wang-doodle night, the great American Western star-spangled (small case) night I keep reaching for, like it was some physical thing and not the stuff of dreams.”
See, though Angelica got all confused by this way of telling about the night, hell, I started to get a little balled up on it myself. She was getting fidgety toward the end and I could tell by her facial expressions that, rain beating down outside, I had not made the right “adjustment” this time. Okay, off came the gloves, here is the” real” story, and as the rain started beating harder I got into a trance-like state telling Angelica of the following:
“Okay, let me tell this thing straight through without questions even though I know that it will sound off-kilter to you anyway I say it, hell it will sound half off-kilter to me and I lived through the thing. But let’s get to it anyway; we can gab about it later. See, back a few years ago, yah, it was a few years back when I was nothing but a summer-sweltered sixteen year old high school kid, a city boy high school kid, with no dough, no way to get dough, and nobody I knew who had dough to put a touch on, I went off the deep end. Plus, plus I had about thirty-six beefs with Ma, around par for the course for a whole summer but way too many for a couple of weeks in, and not even Fourth of July yet. Worst, worst, if you can believe this, I had a few, two maybe, beefs with the old man, and having a beef with him with Ma the official flak-catcher meant things were tough, too tough to stay around.
Sure, I know, how tough can it be at sixteen to stay put waiting for the summer heat to break and maybe have some clean clear wind bring in a change of fortune? But don’t forget, don’t ever forget when I’m telling you this story that we are talking about a sixteen year old guy, with no dough and plenty of dreams, always plenty of dreams, whatever color they turned out to be. So I threw a few things together in an old green beaten up knapsack, you know enough to get by until things break, that stuff and about three dollars, and I headed out the door like a lot of guys headed out that same kind of door before me in search of fame and fortune, Looking back on it I’ll take the fortune, if I have a choice.
I hit the main street with a swagger and immediately start thumbing as if my life depended on it, or at least that I had to act that way to click the dust of the old town off my heels pronto. And right away a car, although I hadn’t seen where it had come from before it came into my view, a late model car, looked like a 1961 Ford, came up on me, slowed down, the driver rolled down his passenger side window and asked where was I heading. I said “west, I guess,” he says “I’m heading up to Maine, Portland, Maine to work. Too bad I can’t help you.” As he readied to make tracks I say, “Hey, wait a minute, I‘ll take that ride, North or West it’s all the same to me.” Whoever said that my fortune could not be made in Maine just as easily as in California.
This guy, if you are thinking otherwise, turned out to be pretty interesting, he wasn’t any fruit like a lot of guys who stop when they see a young guy with a dour, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders pan like mind, and are ready to pounce on that fact. Seems that Kenny, Kenny of a thousand ships, his name was, worked the boats, the ferries out of Portland and Bar Harbor over to Nova Scotia and filled the time we traveled with stories about different funny things that happened on the trips back and forth. Funny things that happened to landlubbers that is, those who were not used to the open sea and who got seven shades of seasick.
And he told this one story that I didn’t think anything of, just a guy puffing himself up like a million other guys, like I have myself when I’d brag about how I had so many girlfriends that I was going to have invent some extra days in the week and really I’d, usually, just be scratching and crawling on all fours for one date, and praying for that to come through. Like I say, just puffing. He went on a bit about how one time out in the misty mist his uncle, Captain he called him, some old swamp Yankee, whom he served under in some boat saved a bunch of people off an island ferry off of Portland Light, got them to shore, and went back out looking for more.
Well, he is telling his stories, and I am telling mine about this and that, but mainly about my love of the sea, and about going west to see the Pacific when I get tired of the Atlantic but it looks like not today because where we are heading is nothing but cold hard, windy fighting Atlantic. But that dream, as I start talking myself around it, that getting tired of the Atlantic, is only a maybe because today now that I have made my break-out I can see where going to the coast of Maine to start my new life seems just about right. Suddenly, Kenny says out of the blue, “Hey, if you’re gonna bum around I’ll leave you off at Old Orchard Beach, right at the beach, there’s plenty of places to sleep without being bothered. And besides…” But before he can get the words out I say, hey, there is an amusement park there, right?
Hell, this was getting better all the time. I remember one time we, meaning me and my family, went up there and I played Skees, which I love, and I met a girl there who was watching me play and I impressed her by winning a penny whistle for her. I think I was ten or eleven then, okay, so lay off.
See, though this guy, Kenny, was so good, such a good guy, that when we get to the Old Orchard exit he doesn’t just let me off on Route One and so I have to thumb another ride into town like most guys would do but takes me right down to the pier, the amusement park pier. Then he says you know it is probably better to get away from this crowded area, let me take you down Route 9 to the Saco jetty where you can set yourself up in an empty boat. Okay, that sounds right and besides it’s won’t be dark for hours and it’s not dark enough yet for me to make my big teenage city boy, Skeet champion city boy, amusement park moves on the local twists. Nice guy, Kenny, right, a prince of the road. We shook hands as he left, saying see you around.
I can see right away that Kenny was right, this place is quiet and there are many boats just waiting to be used for housekeeping purposes. But, what got my attention was, maybe fifty yards away, the start of the longest jetty in the world, or so I thought. Hey, I had walked a few jetties before and while you have to be careful for the ill-placed boulders when you get to the end you feel like the king of the sea, and old Neptune better step aside. I started walking out, Christ this is tough going I must be a little tired from all the travel. Nah it’s more than that, the granite slabs are placed helter-skelter so you can’t bound from one to another and you practically have to scale them. After about a hundred yards of scraping my hands silly, and raw, I say the heck with this and head back. But put sixteen, hunger for adventure, and hunger to beat old fellaheen king Neptune down together and you know this is not the end. I go around looking at my boat selection just exactly like I am going to rent an apartment. Except before I set up housekeeping I am going to take the old skiff I select out along the jetty to the end. So I push one off the sand, jump in and start rowing.
Now I am an ocean guy, no question. And I know my way around boats, a little, so I don’t think much of anything except that I will go kind of slow as I work my way out. Of course a skiff ain’t nothing but a glorified rowboat, if that. It’s all heavy lifting and no “hi tech” like navigation stuff or stuff that tells you how far the end of jetty is. Or even that there is a heavy afternoon fog starting to roll in on the horizon. Yah, but intrepid that’s me. Hey, I’m not going to England just to the end of the jetty. I said that as the fog, the heavy dark fog as it turned out, enveloped the boat and its new-found captain. I started rowing a little harder and a little more, I ain’t afraid to say it, panic-stricken. See I thought I was rowing back to shore but I know, know deep somewhere in my nautical brain that I am drifting out to sea. I’m still rowing though, as the winds pick up and rain starts slashing away at the boat. Or course, the seas have started swelling, water cresting over the sides. Christ, so this is the way it is going to finish up for me. What seemed like a couple more hours and I just plain stopped rowing, maybe I will drift to shore but I sure as hell am not going to keep pushing out to sea. Tired, yah, tired as hell but with a little giddy feeling that old Neptune is going be seeing me soon so I decide to put my head down and rest.
Suddenly I am awoken by the distinct sound of a diesel engine, no, sounds about six diesels, and a big, flashing light coming around my bow. I yell out, “over here.” A voice answers, “I know.” Next thing I know an old geezer, a real old geezer decked out in his captain’s gear is putting a rope around the bow of my boat and telling me to get ready to come aboard. Ay, ay, Captain. After getting me a blanket, some water and asking if I wanted a nip of something (I said yes) he, old Captain Cob his name was, said I was lucky, lucky as hell that he came by. Then he asked what I was doing out here in the open sea with such a rig, and wasn’t I some kind of fool boy. Well, I told my story, although he seemed to know it already like he made a daily habit of saving sixteen year old city boys from the sea, or themselves. So we swapped stories for a while as we headed in, and I had a nip or two more. As we got close to Saco pier though he blurted out that he had to let me off in my boat before the dock because he had some other business on the Biddeford side.
Here is where it gets really weird though. He asked me, as we parted, did I know the name of his boat (a trawler, really). I said I couldn’t see it in all the fog and swirling sea. He told me she was the “Blue-Pink Night”. I blurted out, “Strange name for a boat, what is it a symbol or something?” Then he told me about how he started out long ago on land, as a kid just like me, a little older maybe, heading to California, and the warm weather and the strange blue-pink night skies and the dreams that come with them. I said how come you’re still here but he said he was pressed for time and left. Here is the thing that really threw me off. He gave me a small dried sea shell, a clam shell really, that was painted on its inner surface and what was painted was a very intricate, subliminally beautiful scene of what could only be that blue-pink California sky. I said, “Thanks; I’ll always remember you for this and the rescue." He said, “Hell lad that ain’t nothing but an old clam shell. When you get over to that Saco café at the dock just show it to them and you can get a meal on it. That meal is what you’ll remember me by.”
Hungry, no famished, I stumbled into the Saco café, although that was not its name but some sea name, and it was nothing but a diner if you thought about it, a diner that served liquor to boot so there were plenty of guys, sea guys, nursing beers until the storm blew over, or whatever guys spend half the day in a gin mill waiting to blow over. I stepped to the counter and told the waitress, no, I asked politely just in case this was a joke, whether this old clam shell from the captain of the “Blue-Pink Night” got me a meal, or just a call to take the air.
All of a sudden the whole place, small as it was, went quiet as guys put their heads down and pretended that they didn’t hear or else though the joint doubled up as a church. I asked my question again and the waitress said, “What’ll you have?” I called my order and she called it to the short order cook. The she said did I know anything about this captain, and how did he look, and where did he meet me, and a whole bunch of questions like this was some mystery, and I guess maybe there was at that.
Then the waitress told me this (and I think every other guy in the room by the loudness of her voice), “ A few years back, yes, about six or seven years ago, there was a big storm that came through Portland Light, some say a perfect storm, I don’t know, but it was a howler. Well, one of the small ferries capsized out there and somehow someone radioed that there were survivors clinging to the boat. Well, the old captain and his nephew, I think, started up the old “Blue-Pink Night” and headed out, headed out hard, headed out full of whiskey nips, and one way or another, got to the capsized boat and brought the survivors into shore and then headed out again. And we never saw them again.
And here is the funny part; when he was unloading his passengers he kept talking, talking up a perfect storm about seeing the blue-pink night when he was out there before and maybe it was still there. I guess the booze got the best of him. But hear me son, old captain was square with everyone in this place, he used to own it then, and some of his kin are sitting right here now. He was square with them too. So, eat up kid, eat up on the house, ‘cause I want you to save that old clam shell and any time you are on your uppers you can always get a meal here. Just remember how you got it.” “Thanks, ma’am,” I said. Then I slowly, like my soul depended on it, asked, “Oh, by the way, what was that old captain’s nephew's name?” and I said it in such a way that she knew, knew just as well as I did, that I knew the answer. “Kenny, Kenny Cob, bless his soul.”
And that story my friends, got me a week’s reprieve from being abandoned by Angelica on the road. Not bad, right? Yah, but she didn’t believe the story really, just like you, but tell me what is this now faded, scratched and worn out painted blue-pink great American West night clam shell that I am looking at right now anyhow.