September 18, 1996: This was the fiftieth day of a fifty-day business trip to the San Jose area of California, working on a Lockheed Martin proposal bid to construct and operate a facility in Russia for decommissioning ICBM solid rocket motors under the START Treaty.
During this time I considered myself a “migrant firm worker.” I also felt that I was leading something of a triple life. One life was as the corporate-car-renting, expense-reporting, per-diem-laboring environmental schmo working among a pack of preprogrammed marketing geeks, anally retentive systems engineers, and real--no kidding--rocket scientists. Another life was as the absentee family man trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with his wife and three children in the Cats in the Cradle mode: “When you comin' home Dad, I don't know when..." And, finally as the loner, the stranger, the oddball who spends much of his lunch and before-dark dinner-time hours in the break-down lanes on the freeway web of the Greater Silicon Valley–gathering information on the real superhighway with the search terms being "hitchhiker" + "graffiti." In this latter role, I was just another roadside distraction to passers-by; one who may be committing some kind of roadside infraction, only we're just not exactly sure what it is.
But, on this particular day, with my time in corporate purgatory mercifully at an end, I surfed the “asphalt internet” one last time before catching one last flight home from San Jose. On California Route 17--the freeway which connects bay-side San Jose to coastal Santa Cruz--is the town of Los Gatos. Cradled in the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, it seemed to me like an upscale sort of place that had benefited from the computer revolution in the siliceous valley below.
After checking for hitchhiker messages at the Camden Avenue on ramp, I decided to stop at the nearby Mirassou Champagne Cellars, whose existence I was made aware of by a roadside billboard–what some might say is another, socially legitimized and legally codified form of highway graffiti. My intent was to get a bottle of champagne for Maureen and me to help us celebrate the end of this cruddy little "distance-learning" chapter of our lives. The fact that there was a wine-tasting room at the vineyard was an added attraction, I must admit. And while admitting to this, I must also admit that when I left the winery, I carried I had a little of its product in, as well as with, me.
Working my way back up Route 17 north to the town of Campbell, at the Hamilton Avenue on ramp, I promised myself that this would be the very last stop before heading to the airport and home. As I pull onto the shoulder of this particularly busy entrance, I noticed a CHP cruiser pull off about ten yards up the ramp from me on the left, opposite, shoulder of the road. Instead of getting out of the car and going about my typical research routine, this time I stayed seated. Pretending not to notice the officer exiting his vehicle and walking, hands on hips, parallel and down toward me, I pulled out a map and began looking at it. This was the first–so far only–time since I started the highway hunt for hitchhiker graffiti, that I felt even marginally vulnerable to legitimate police intervention. So, because I had a slight Mirassou buzz, I felt that adding on that layer of suspicion, I would be courting the probability of getting an on-site analysis of my blood-alcohol content for which I was not sure I could pass. I much preferred at that moment to being categorized by the cop as just another dumb, lost tourist in a rental car pathetically trying to find his way to the airport--which I likely would have been after this stop, anyway.
Across three loud lanes of continually flowing traffic the cop yelled, "Why’d you stop?"
"To check my map," I responded through the veil of exhaust and din of engine noise in my best dumbshit, "I'm-not-from-these-here-parts" expression.
"You can't stop there," he growled back to me in his best “getta-fuckin-move-on-asshole” tone.
"OK. This the way to the airport?" I pointed, map in hand, in a partially aware manner.
He nodded either to my question or to just get me the hell along, which he proceeded to emphasize with a quick and jerky counterclockwise rotation of his arm. Directional signal on, I thanked him with an equally quick and jerky wave and with a look in the mirror and turn of the head-- poof--I was off to my appointment with my flight and my family and a return to some semblance of normalcy.
How ironic, I thought, being summarily chased from the last pole on the last day of a fifty-day sojourn. But, that was all right, I thought. It was different end to my Bay Area roller coaster ride than I had planned, but I was weary of it all, anyway. And it sure beat having to beat a .08 blood alcohol reading.
So, to the San Jose Airport I went. I did know my way out of San Jose. If I ever go back, it's hard to say.
The following are the messages I got that last day of my business travel, all on Route 17 between Campbell and Los Gatos.
California Route17-South, Campbell, on Hamilton Avenue on ramp:
Winnie + Scooter 1/21/85
Mark Mueller Sept 3/86
Dolfie 5-8-83 to Santa Cruz to see my post mistress and my mistress's posterior
The Jazzman 8-13-91 Tahoe to the Cruz
Jim West was here 82 July 29 Buzzed out of my brain
Hopie Farfan 4/5/81
Cop done good 8/14/91
Here I stand in need of a ride My backpack by my side Wishing I had one to roast Cause I'm bound for the east coast Drew 2/24/8(8?)
[Drawn what looks like AAB in a circle]
Muleskinner was here in the RAW 11/12/81
5 years of being a road rat and some punk just flipped me off
Silvette + Jennys gone with the wind
Pat loves you Sandy Boyd
Help! Did you feel invisible. Then wait here
III times the continent Boom `87
Somebody + others wuz here
[Drawn peace sign and circle A]
South to beach
I love Mary Passamika Love Ben Pleske Maple Valley, Washington 98038 [drawn heart with BP + MP inside]
California Route17 South, between Campbell and Los Gatos, on Camden Avenue on ramp:
Twice removed from yesterday Lee + Chuckles Hayward to Tucson
Paul Smith May every path you travel be righteous
Flinders Santa Cruz
I'm wet and I'm cold but thank God I'm not old [Ed. Note: quote from Sea and Sand, Quadrophenia, The Who, 1973]
Robert Hand and Scott Staves to Santa Cruz I bet this pole has been everywhere [referring to the fact that it has been written on so extensively]
Darrick Williams + Chuck Benesh 7/21/76 Going to Santa Cruz Hope we make it
Charlotte Songer Helene Huston Bill Songer
Private Date Box Layman 2-2-74 2-9-74 2-11-74
Nickel 2-2-74 2-9-742-11-74
Barbara Anderson, Veronica McHerney (McNerney?)
Danny Codingham (Cedingham?) to Santa Cruz 7/25/73
The Rollen Stones stood here 6/18/73
John Flynn, Doug West & Todd Muir wherever he is
Ray Exter 1973
Arvana Georgette Williams Mt View to Santa Cruz 3/15/73
California Route17-South, Los Gatos, at Monte Serra-Downtown (westbound) on ramp:
Don't change dicks in the middle of a screw Vote for Nixon in 72 Pat Nixon
I must be too dirty for the seat covers
Big Sur Road Trip 91
Rabbitt Christy & Dave
The No Nos No rides No nukes No cutbacks
Pig Nixon you're better off dead You get no peace of mind You're bound to fall `Cause you'll never get us all And lord we're gonna hang you high
Capitol itself is not evil When used wisely it can serve as a catalyst for better things However capitol is the outward___________ [metal strap in the way] and freezes the _______ and numbs the soul
California Route 17-North, Los Gatos, on Monte Serra/Downtown (westbound) on ramp:
Jean Letellier de Montreal is going back to Santa Cruz. There's no place like it.
Visit "The Farm" at Drakes Lane in Summertown Tennessee U.S.A.
Hoo Bible by Art Kleps. [a series of letters and symbols - like ranch brands - written as if in a code]
Ed “One's Not Enough But Two Is Too Many” Ford + Gregg “A Chuckles As Good As A Laugh” Ford were here
Doug Malone needs something
Nixon's thru in `72
David Swim 6-11-73
No hope No dope No ride We cried
California Route17-South, Los Gatos, at Monte Serra-Downtown (eastbound) on ramp:
As humus bean does organic matter?
Gay pride day June 25, 1978 All unite
Boz 5-20-70 Howdy Podnah
Numpty 7-24-70 wuz here
California Route 17 north, Los Gatos, at Monte Serra-Downtown (eastbound) on ramp: