A little later, I was sitting by myself, still strumming my guitar. The small packs of people were pairing up or going to sleep. Ethan had already made some friends. I was way too shy to talk to anybody after we played, even though there had been congratulations all around. I finally fell asleep listening to Ethan doing his number on a pretty thing who was totally zonked. I don’t think he got very far because she kept nodding off and falling into his lap while they were talking.
The next morning, we packed up our sleeping bags and caught a ride out with a lanky, shaggy haired, good-looking guy named Jake, the owner of an almost new 1967 VW Bus, which he had rocked the night before until the early morning hours with the help of a cute blonde named April.
He wore faded but expensive jeans, lots of beads, and a great suede cowboy hat. By morning, I think I’d already begun to understand that there was a sort of hierarchy of life on the road. If you had a bus or a car, you would always score with girls, if you had good pot, well, that just made it easier.
Even in our “don’t trust anybody over thirty” world, money still meant power, especially among the young suburban kids who had hit the streets that summer looking for some fun before the realities of Autumn would come back to slap them across their blissed out faces. But I knew I was one of them, too. I would be back at school in the fall, in spite of what I may have told Ethan. I was stuck, but I could find no way out. I felt guilty for just about everything. I felt guilty about my parents. I felt guilty that I smoked pot. I felt guilty about leaving my little eight-year-old brother to go off on some crazy adventure with my boyhood friend, Ethan Gold.
“Sallie,” wailed my little brother, tugging at my sleeve, “ I thought you were gonna hang out with me and teach me baseball?” He’d come into my room while I was packing, face flushed, his tears forming a river around his mouth. My heart broke and I almost folded, until I saw my mother standing behind him. She’d set me up.
“Sorry, Bone. Dad taught me; he can teach you.”
“When are you gonna be back?” The little guy looked up at me.
“Before the summer ends, I promise.”
Now I looked over at Ethan and Jake. Ethan’s hands were dug into his front pockets in that cool way that he had. He seemed so confident, so easy in his own skin—maybe even a little cocky. But it was a gleeful cockiness, not a boastful one and I loved him for that. He really was starting a whole new life. Maybe he’ll take me with him. Maybe I won’t go back home. But deep down I knew it wasn’t going to work out that way.
Ethan waved me over and introduced me to Jake.
“You guys sounded great last night,” Jake, smiled, his white teeth dazzled in the sunlight.
He looked around. “Where’d you sleep?”
Ethan pointed to the giant oak tree.
Jake laughed, “Shit if I could play like you do, I’d have gotten some chick to pay for a swanky hotel!”
Ethan smiled, embarrassed. “It was cool man; I was really tired.”
I figured Jake had probably left his cozy suburb at the same time we’d left ours. But somehow, it seemed like he was already a citizen of this new crazy country, while we had just arrived. I guess, It’s like that feeling you get sometimes that everyone knows the score but you. Like when you’ve arrived at a party and it looks as though everyone knows everyone else, and you search for someone you know and come up empty. Then a little later, you realize that most of the group were really just strangers, and they were all as clueless as you were. Just a bunch of people connected in some way or another, someone who knew someone else, who knew the owner of the house—or maybe not even that—and you suddenly realize it’s always all so much in your head.
Jake looked at Ethan.
“I can give you and your buddy a ride as far as Hyannis if you don’t mind stopping in Providence for a few minutes. I need to pick up and deliver some weed.”
Ethan was up for the plan, but when we were alone, I confided that I was worried about driving with a lot of pot in the van.
“No man, bad idea. I don’t want to be riding around with a fucking pound of grass. Shit, if we ever got busted that would be the end! The fucking end, Ethan.”
“The paranoid Sal returns,” said Ethan, “Jake said he was picking the stuff up and selling it in the same town and it would take all of twenty minutes.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“Look man, he said if we wanted a ride, cool—and if we didn’t that was cool too, but I think it would be really dumb not to take him up on it. Anyway, Hyannis Port sounds groovy. We can hang out on the beach for a while.”
“I don’t have much Bread.”
“You’ll be fine Sal.”
I looked at Ethan as solemnly as I could. “Okay man, let’s go.”
We’d gotten in and out of Providence without a hitch. The ride was fantastic. Jake had a great eight-track stereo and we listened to The Jefferson Airplane, Cream and the Mothers of Invention while we smoked lots of really good dope and kept up one long rambling conversation for hours.
It turned out that Jake was a kid from suburban Connecticut and was running away from his wealthy and very demanding family. His mother was dead, and his father was on his—Jake counted out on his fingers—”third wicked step mother, this one only slightly older than my sister.”
Ethan rambled on about wanting to crisscross the country and write like Jack Kerouac. We’d all talked about how cool it was at Newport and how we thought that if the things got any hotter on college campuses around the country something really heavy was bound to happen. We didn’t quite know what, but we could imagine a whole lot of things.
In reality none of us (except perhaps for Jake) had any idea of what it was really like outside our own suburban bubble. But with the wail of a police siren, sudden flashing lights and an angry “Pull Over,” booming from a State Trooper’s Bullhorn, we were about to get our first real lesson.