Hitchhiking Long Distances and Other Gauzy Memories

My office on the third floor above Hawks and Reed in Greenfield MA.
My office on the third floor above Hawks and Reed in Greenfield MA.

The Memories that Never Leave Me

I have a lot of vague memories that have become an important part of who I am.  I have these gauzy memories, things I did as a kid, and places I saw and even specific quotes, verbatim pieces of conversations, that I never forgot.  On a daily basis, I think back on these moments as if they had just happened.

I’ve been thinking recently about a memory of going to visit my father Nathaniel at his office. He worked at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, on a sprawling, leafy, green campus with long winding driveways and many maintenance guys driving around with rakes and tractors.

One time I remember he was with his colleague Hervey, and they were taking a break, relaxing on comfortable couches reading the NY Times, drinking coffee.  At that moment I thought, what a comfortable office and what a way to live.  A nine-to-five gig, in a comfy office but doing boring work.  That was the price that he had to pay.

ETS, where Dad worked for 30 years in Princeton New Jersey, I have memories of visiting him there.
ETS, where Dad worked for 30 years in Princeton New Jersey.

I often reflect on how happy I am working in my own comfortable office, on the third floor above Hawks and Reed in Greenfield. I’m right in the center of it all, and I love looking out those big windows to the common and the corner.  The difference is that I am not working for the man, and I don’t have to write speeches for other people and boring reports about educational testing.

I don’t take those breaks, I can’t remember the last time as a solo worker that I took a break.  I mean I squeeze stuff in and peruse the newspaper on line, but I don’t set aside time for a proper break like dad did. I like that.  He knew how to make his workday life a pleasure, with routines that never varied throughout his long life.

The other memory is gauzier still, of a time when I first learned how much I enjoy traveling. I was visiting my buddy Ben Rockefeller who went to Phillips Andover School, north of Boston. I would visit on the weekend and then hitchhike back home 2.5 hours to Northfield Mount Hermon, where I was in boarding school. This would be a November afternoon, and I was on the off-ramp that headed down to 128. The light glinted off the trees, it made it hard to see. It was a Sunday afternoon.

Hitchhikers in a 1936 Walker Evans photo brings back memories of my hitchhiking days.
Hitchhikers in a 1936 Walker Evans photo.

I would hitchhike and someone would stop, and the adventure would begin. I would go as far as they could take me, often ending up in the city, or at the beginning of another highway.  Then it would begin again, the tension, the fear that no one would stop, then someone would stop, and I’d run to catch up as they pulled over and waited for me.

It was usually a male, sometimes a couple, I remember riding fast in those cars.  I have memories of a late-night ride up Interstate 91 northbound, and hearing this guy talk on his CB.  “I’m heading north, north on 91 to that Brattleboro Town!”  Always stuck with me, Brattleboro Town.

I remember drivers who passed me joints, delighting me and ones who talked and talked, endlessly, as if I were the only person left on Earth to share their stories.  Hitchhiking was the proverbial ‘life is like a chocolate box’ because I never knew who would stop–or if anyone would stop.  But they always did and I always made it back to my dorm in time for bed check.

Life seemed simpler in the 1970s, of course, it did, we didn’t have cellphones in our pockets and we didn’t have any Facebook that tied us so closely together.  I remember the first time my friend Kent told me he was going to be able to get all of his emails on his phone. I thought, why would you ever want that much mail on a tiny screen?

Fast forward to the Annis Horribilis of 2020, and voila, here we are.