In Skater's Time

by Rick Beck

Chapter 2

Moving On

Looking at where we'd been, was how I'd seen the world since I was nine, after Dad bought his first new car. The first thing I discovered and the thing I liked best, about our Buick Station wagon, the rear seat faced the opposite direction from the other two seats. It was immediately my spot.

It had a window I would put down, during the summer, but never during the winter. I kept books under the rear facing seat, and when I got tired of seeing where we'd been, I reached under the seat for a book I wanted to read.

Seeing my friends, waving goodbye, had the bottom dropping out of my stomach. It was then, I realized, I'd never see the boys I grew up with again.

I was heading for a place I knew nothing about. I'd go to a school where no one knew me. In my rush to get to California, would my dreams come true, or was I headed for disaster.

We drove out of our apartments, out of our town, and before I adjusted to what was being left behind, we were leaving Massachusetts.

The scenery was surprisingly rural, and I liked being among the trees and forests consistent in this part of the country. There would be a lot of country, before we parked in front of our new house.

I decided to focus on the scenery, and put thoughts of Massachusetts behind me. We were going to cover a lot of ground in the next few days. I'd studied the country in geography class, and I knew the most important events that made U.S. History worth learning. I'd look for the names of places I knew something about. We were driving from the upper northwestern part of the country, and we'd end up in the far southwest. We had a long way to go, and I'd get to see it all.

Well, we wouldn't exactly get to see it all. There was night time to consider, but the days were longer this time of year. When I got bored of the scenery, I'd reach under the seat for one of the books I brought along to read.

We didn't do anything but drive. Dad liked to stop to stretch every few hours, and some times we stopped for food, just to stop moving for a while. We had a cooler with the kind of food that you take on a trip. I had my own private bag of Doritos, and there were sodas, milk, and things I liked. I kept an eye on the ice, and we'd get a bag, when we stopped for gas, when I said, "We need ice."

After the second day, my parents fussed about where we were, where we were going, and the best way to get there. It's why I liked facing to the rear, when we drove. I didn't have anything to say about what they argued about, but it was June, the sun was hot, and the days were long. Fussing took up a little time, when no one thought about being hungry, hot, or tired. Who knew how much riding three thousand miles could take out of a fellow.

I hadn't done a lot of traveling. We had relatives in Boston. We visited them once in a while, and my father and I would take in a Red Sox game. They were my mother's parents, and Dad liked giving Mom plenty of time with them.

We took a trip to Cape Cod on vacation one year. When you live in Massachusetts, you're obligated to take one trip to Cape Cod. It was cool. I got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. I really liked that part of it. Everyone I knew went to Cape Cod at least once.

We drove to New York City once, and the Sox were playing the Yankees, so we saw a ballgame there. The Sox lost. They lost a lot to the Yankees. My parents took in a Broadway Show, but I was too young to go along, and the tickets were too expensive, if I hadn't been too young, but I stayed in the hotel room, and fortunately for my parents, they loved the show. Mom sang the songs from the show for about a week, but fortunately for me, she stopped singing after a while.

Heading west, meant going through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and we got through those states on the first day, but when we hit Pennsylvania, it took forever. There weren't that many cities, and the rural areas, between the cities, were vast. Pennsylvania took forever to get from one end to the other. Dad needed to stop for a nap, which made the state seem even longer.

Once we hit Interstate 80, we headed straight west. As we left Massachusetts, heading southwest, the states clicked off fairly fast. Once we hit I-80, we drove and drove and drove, before we finally hit Ohio. The trees were gone, and there were more hills, and I could see forever, once we hit flat land.

We passed signs pointing the way to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Mr. Bowen, my U.S. history teacher, said, "The battle at Gettysburg was the deciding battle of the Civil War, although the war went on for years, after that battle. Lee had it in mind, that's Gen. Robert E. Lee, that if he could smash through the Federal's lines at Gettysburg, he could beat the Federals and march on Washington.

Lee didn't break through the Federal's lines, and there were over 50,000 casualties in his two day effort to do so. Lee's tattered army retreated back into Virginia, but the war was won at Gettysburg. The fighting went on for over a year.

I remembered Lincoln went to Gettysburg a few months later. He gave the Gettysburg Address, which became one of the most significant speeches in American history. Lincoln said, "Little will be remembered what we say here today, but it will never be forgotten what these men did here. He summed it up with, telling us, that the fight was over something more than a disagreement. The battle was fought and won by the Federals, so that the government "of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not parish from the earth."

A hundred and thirty years later, what was done there, like so much of history, has mostly been forgotten, but Lincolns words, his vision of 'all' the people having a say in what the government did, lives on.

I remembered Lincoln's words, because they sounded important. It's not a great speech, because it's short. What made it great was, in two hundred and seventy-two words, Lincoln summed up the Civil War, and while doing that, he reminded us of the aspirations of America's founding fathers.

While we didn't go to the battlefield, we passed the exit that took you there, and I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln's greatness. He helped make American history worth remembering. He'd been dead for over a hundred years. That's pretty impressive, if you ask me.

My mother cheered, once we'd reached Ohio. It seemed like we'd been in Pennsylvania for days. We were in our second day, and we hadn't even put a dent into the miles left to travel. Ohio was hilly, flat, and mostly fields, grass, and farmland. Indiana started out hilly, got flatter, and there was more farmland.

By the time we reached Illinois, it was dark again. Mom got us safely onto I-55, which took us southwest across Illinois to St. Louis Missouri. Dad had to pull over to sleep for a few hours. I woke up to find out why we weren't moving.

St. Louis was the biggest city we'd gone through, and we managed to hit there during morning rush hour. It took forever to get to I-44, on the far side of the city. It ran southwest through Missouri, which would get us to Oklahoma.

Missouri was a beautiful state, once we got past St. Louis, which was the only bottleneck on the entire trip so far. The Interstate highways gave us a clear shot across the country. I figured, that's what made a super highway super. They mostly went around the larger cities.

We left the forested hills of Missouri midday. We were still heading southwest, but the landscape changed as soon as we left Joplin, Missouri, which ended the forested rolling hills. Northeast Oklahoma was hilly grasslands. I looked for cattle but saw none.

Still going southwest, it became flat with some grass visible. It was June and the grass was still green. At Oklahoma City, we turned west on I-80. The further west we went, the flatter and more barren the landscape became.

Dad decided not to let his gas get below a half a tank. This meant more stops, and more stretching.

I dozed off and on. I tried to read, but decided to get my journal out to write everything down. I was in 10th grade, when the teacher told us to get a special notebook to keep our journal. This is what writers did. I got good grades on my writing, so keeping a journal was fine with me, although I hadn't written much in it, until recently, when the talk of moving to California started.

Driving west in the late afternoon, meant Dad was driving into a sun that was setting out ahead of us. From my vantage point, I could watch the sun rise, early in the morning, if I was awake.

The further west we drove, the less there was to see. Watching the boring landscape, even while heading west, was boring, and the sun had Dad straining to see the highway. Even with sunglasses on, the sun visor down, he had trouble seeing as the setting sun took forever to set. There was more Sky in Oklahoma, than anywhere I'd ever been.

Shortly after leaving Oklahoma, and entering Texas, Dad saw what he thought was a 50s diner on the road that was a local road next to I-40. He took the exit marked Shamrock, and we pulled up in front of a silver diner, like in Happy Days. It was a gravel parking lot, and we were the only car in it.

"You want to go in? If we eat dinner now, the sun will have set by the time we come back out," Dad said.

"Sure," Mom said.

Everything in the diner was chrome and red Formica. There were stools at the counter, and there were five booths, each was in front of its own window.

The waitress, chewing her gum like it was a race to get the sugar out of it, came around the counter, once we slid into a booth.

Now, standing next to our table, still chewing forty miles an hour, she said, "That's Route 66 you drove in on. This is old Route 66 today. Up until they built I-40, it was the only road that took you to California from this part of the country."

As she took our order for burgers, fries, and milk shakes, she sang while she wrote, "You get your kicks on Route 66."

This was a stop I thought was worth writing about. It was one of the best hamburgers I'd ever eaten. The fries were crispy, and my milkshake was thick rich chocolate. I couldn't get it through the straw at first. I felt like we just walked onto the set of Happy Days.

Even the music was authentic. Johnny Cash sang Ring of Fire. Jerry Lee Lewis sang Great Balls of fire. Patsy Cline sang Crazy. Elvis sang Hound Dog. As we were getting up to leave, Nat King Cole sang Route 66. We stood at the door, until he'd finished the song that immortalized the road out front of the diner. It was as much fun as we had, during our cross country drive.

My parents loved the visit to the diner. It was a great reminder of what things were like when they were kids. Mom remarked about how less stressful those times were. Every kid was a free ranging kid. It was how kids learned lessons about life. Schools were less crowded, and you couldn't get lost in one.

I thought about Happy Days. The Fonze came to mind, as we drove back onto I-40, leaving Route 66 behind. I looked back at the shiny diner that looked out of place, or maybe, it looked like something from another time.

I watched Route 66, as it followed along I-40 for a few miles. I lost it after that. The road was there for several miles, and then it was gone again. It had obviously been restored in some places, and left unnoticed in others.

The sun, still setting after dinner, forced Dad into the parking lot of a motel that was also next to a highway that followed I-40. The sign said it was Route 66, as soon as we took the exit.

"I can't drive any more," Dad said. "Let's get a good nights sleep, and I'll be ready to go in the morning. We're over halfway there. I'm taking a night off."

Hearing we were over halfway there, made me feel good. They offered to have a cot put into the motel room, so I could get a good nights sleep too, but the backseat of the Buick was roomy, and I stayed in the Buick.

In no time at all the next morning, we passed through Amarillo, stopping for breakfast there. The flat part of our journey was over, and after leaving Amarillo, we were obviously going down hill for quite a ways. We'd crossed the panhandle of Texas, 175 miles, and it went down hill into new Mexico. The flat barren landscape became hilly, then mountainous, and even more barren, if such a thing was possible. Reds, browns, and blacks, made it more like a moonscape.

In New Mexico, there were signs of Route 66 from time to time. The famous road was hardly a road at all. It looking more like concrete sections left out in the middle of nowhere. It was a sad neglected highway. My history teacher told us the story of The Mother Road, while we discussed the Great Depression.

Mr. Bowen's grandparents were Oklahoma farmers, and one day the winds began to blow, and it blew the soil away. They were left with a fine dust, and when the winds blew, and they blew often, the dust piled up, until it buried their house. With no recourse, they left the farm that was buried in the sand, heading west to work on California farms. They'd herd that California was the land of milk and honey.

His grandparents took Route 66 to California, and they joined other Okies, who'd followed the same road and the same dream. What they found were big agriculture, willing to pay only a few cents a ton to pick the fruit and vegetables. There was no alternative, if they wanted to eat.

With his grandparents, and their children, working every day, they made just enough not to starve to death. The land owners got rich on their labor. I couldn't imagine men so cruel, they would work people to death to make a buck. It wasn't the only time in American history where people were abused, and the Mother Road was concrete slabs that went nowhere, and the Okies that used it for a lifeline to the west, were long gone.

It's odd that in the middle of nowhere, on a three thousand mile journey, I knew the history of a road we encountered.

Every mile in America was filled with someone's history.

I often thought about my U.S. History teacher, Mr. Bowen, because the man told history in a way that was exciting and fascinating at the same time. I read everything in our U.S. history textbook. I was a good student, but Mr. Bowen filled in large gaps that weren't accounted for by reading the textbook. Like when he told us about his grandparents, while we studied the Great Depression.

Mr. Bowen was the only teacher I went to say goodbye to, the last day of school. I told him where I was going, and I thanked him for teaching history in a way that had me thinking about being a history teacher one day.

"I'm an architect by trade. In the early 80s, building and planning had practically stopped, and there were too many architects rooting around for jobs. I had a teaching certificate, and I used it to get a job. One day a U.S. history teacher was out sick, and being a substitute at the time, I took over his history class. Unfortunate for him, his sickness was a heart attack, and he didn't return to teaching. I can't imagine why not. You little devils are so charming," he said.

"Anyway, I started teaching U.S. history, and I couldn't stop. The economy got better, architects were back in demand, but I'd gotten my teeth into something I couldn't let go of. The kids seem to like me, and here I am, almost fifteen years later. I imagine I'll stay with it a while longer."

Mr. Bowen was my parents' age. He talked of growing up in the 50s and 60s. He gave a very complete history of World War II, and the rise of the U.S. to being a world power. This happened because most of Europe, and a lot of Asia, had industrial centers that were bombed out during the war.

The U.S. was hardly touched. It's industrial capacity had gone into high gear. The U.S. supplied much of the arms and munitions that defeated Germany and Japan. The allies, with their industrial centers destroyed, needed to rebuild.

Much of what was needed to do that rebuilding, came from the U.S., and our economy boomed as a result.

This explained why there was a thriving America in the 50s and 60s. When asked about the chaotic 60s, he started talking about the 50s, Beatniks, and something called Gonzo journalism. This was where the headwaters of the 60s rushed out of a pretty checkered past in America.

Mr. Bowen explained the removal of the indigenous peoples in a way that didn't insult our intelligence. He went into detail about the slave trade. We studied the Civil War. We talked about war a lot, because there was a lot of war.

I found Mr. Bowen's version didn't quite match the straight line from discovery, settlement, right into a democratic super power. The history book wasn't that bothered with what happened to bring these events into being. Mr. Bowen's version sounded more reasonable, and he knew his facts.

"The 60s didn't suddenly happen out of the blue," Mr. Bowen said. "The protesting and marching grew out of the treatment of the black race in the South, along with what was called the Beat generation. It was a school of liberal thinking, that was necessary in favor of how the country was being run.

This lead to was born the sit-in and the freedom riders. These were mostly college students sitting in at lunch counters in the South, which was against the law. A black man couldn't sit, or eat, where white people sat to eat. The freedom riders leased buses in the North, to take a mixture of black and white people into the deep South, where segregation was the law, and both groups faced beatings, imprisonment, and the most insidious kind of humiliation.

These were the roots of the protest movement. This is where Dr. Martin Luther King cut his teeth on nonviolent actions to confront segregation. The black people weren't the only people being discriminated against. They suffered the worst from institutionalized segregation, and they began to fight back, without the fight being part of how they brought attention to segregation.

The country, indeed the world was watching, and women, gay people, and every minority that was "Shot with words, or cut with a look, as Maya Angelou said. "We rise."

The turmoil of the 60s was the rise of the protest generation. Those were the roots that took hold, once the Vietnam War began."

The marches, the hippies born out of the Beat generation, and the music, became parts of bringing democracy to everyone in America. It was never just about a war.

It was about paying a bill that was owed to our founding fathers. When they created the U.S., they fell short of living up to their words, and the people who had never been given complete civil rights, had come to collect on the promise they'd made.

As much as I loved how Mr. Bowen brought clarity to what seemed like chaos, there was something about history that made me part of it, according to my U.S. history teacher.

While riding across the U.S.A., I was having a lot of thoughts and feelings. When I left Massachusetts, I was sure I was doing the right thing. Because of my feelings, I wanted to break with the past.

While bringing the 60s into focus, Mr. Bowen introduced me to the story of gay men, and the AIDS crisis horrified me. I really had no trouble not acting on feelings that I was having, but I grew up with the AIDS crisis looming out ahead of anyone who might be gay. It was a great incentive to deny being gay, if you were having the feelings I was having. I couldn't be sure, but I knew the truth.

It started with Harvey Tolliver. Harvey and I were best friends, when we were ten. We did everything together for fifth and sixth grades. We were in the same class, and we liked a lot of the same things, but my feelings for him grew stronger as time passed. I didn't know what they meant. I figured that, as I grew older, I'd have a lot of changing feelings. I wasn't going to worry about these.

Harvey was sent to a private school in seventh grade. I went to the public middle school, where I made the friends I had for the past five or six years. I see Harvey now and then, but we no longer know each other. We're approaching adulthood, and we haven't run together for a long time. I don't have any feelings for him any more, because I don't know him.

By the time I was fourteen and fifteen, I accepted the feelings I was having for boys were growing stronger. There was nothing nice said about being gay. There were the jokes, the nasty names, and the universal hatred by everyone.

I think by the time I turned fifteen, hundreds of thousands of gay men had died of AIDS by then. These men made a lot of noise now, demanding help, but the country, in general, was in no mood to pander to anyone confessing to being gay.

No one knew if I was gay or not, and while my feelings had grown stronger, I wasn't saying the words, "I'm gay." I'd never say it to any of my buds. It was too risky to say those words. It's the reason California looked so good to me.

I was starting over, and I would not lie about what I felt any longer. I wasn't going to broadcast anything about these feelings, but if asked, or if put in the position of wanting to tell someone, 'I'm gay,' I was going to be honest. I'd deal with the fallout, but I no longer had much to lose. My life was my own now, and I could do with it what I please.

I had no illusion that I'd embarked on a journey that was easy, but this was the beginning of the rest of my life. As a California boy, I'd be more honest about who I was, and I'd align myself with other skaters who weren't so judgmental. If anyone I met hated me for my feelings, I'd be sure to keep my feelings as far away from him as I could. I would no longer accept the hatred or the shaming that people felt obligated to give gay men.

First I needed to make some friends, and I remembered nothing about how it was done. It was almost like we were just guys, my buds and I, and one day we were doing everything together. I couldn't remember not being their friends, and I couldn't remember a time, when they weren't my friends.

It was an entirely different situation now. I was new, and I knew no one. I was starting over, and I was going to do it my way.

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