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The Weekly Blague

In the Name of Kerouac

A Google Maps impression of the 565-mile route from Milton, Pennsylvania, to Schoolcraft, Michigan. The straight blue line just south of Akron, Ohio, is where the scene I describe below takes place.


Last week, in my post about the Volkswagen ID.Buzz, the 2023 electric incarnation of the Volkswagen Microbus, I wrote about all the VW vans that picked me up when I hitchhiked cross-country with my girlfriend in the summer of 1974. One of the rides I referenced took us more than 500 miles, from Milton, Pennsylvania, to Schoolcraft, Michigan. Below is a short excerpt from an as-yet-untitled book about the 1970s that I'm currently working on. It's from a chapter called "In the Name of Kerouac," and it goes into detail about that ride—an iconic moment in an iconic van at a time when the very notion of hitchhiking cross-country would soon pass into the realm of things sane people no longer did.


To set the scene: My girlfriend, whom I call "Naomi," and I had been on the road for three-and-a-half hours, and we'd come 160 miles. We were hitching on Interstate 80, when a VW van with Michigan plates stopped. The driver, David Legalli ("Accent on the gal. So please don't call me legally."), was heading for Grand Rapids. As we cruised along at 70—15 miles per hour above the new gas-shortage-mandated national speed limit—Legalli told us that he'd just turned 27, he was a wounded Vietnam vet, and he'd eaten speed for breakfast so he could drive all day without stopping.


In the late afternoon as we sped through the Ohio cornfields on U.S. 30, a straight line of geometric perfection, Legalli asked, "Anybody play guitar?"


"She does," I said, pointing over my shoulder to Naomi.


"Well then why don't you grab my guitar and play something, sweetheart."


She seemed hesitant. Though I thought she was a talented singer, she was a rudimentary guitarist, shy about performing in front of strangers. But she picked up the guitar in the back of the van and began tuning it.


"Do you know 'Country Roads'?" Legalli asked.


Naomi nodded.


"That's one of my favorites."


She strummed the guitar, began singing softly, and on a country road taking David Legalli home, we all joined in on the chorus, attempting what a generous person might call harmony. And I think Naomi understood that this was why I loved hitchhiking, that this was the kind of thing I'd hoped would happen, and it was happening on day one. Her voice growing stronger and her guitar playing more confident with each song, we sang everything she knew by heart, including "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (we did well on the "na, na, na"s), "City of New Orleans," and "America"—a paean to the road, a song that was one with the moment. Paul Simon sang that it took him four days to hitchhike 370 miles, from Saginaw, Michigan, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We'd be in Michigan by the end of the day.


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Catch a Buzz

Tbe 2023 Volkswagen ID.Buzz. The ID stands for "intelligent design," the Buzz for the sound of electricity. You may have other ideas.

"It was July 27, my 22nd birthday, our 15th day on the road, and we snagged a ride within minutes. The rear door of a VW bus slid open and a hippie woman beckoned us inside. We joined her in the back seat and I said we were going to Salt Lake City." —From a book in progress about the 1970s


In the summer of 1974, my girlfriend and I hitchhiked from New York City to San Francisco, taking a meandering route through the Rocky Mountains. The morning the VW bus—officially known as a Transporter or Microbus—stopped for us, we were fleeing a mosquito-infested campground in Montpelier Canyon, Idaho. In the book I describe the hippie woman as "a dead ringer for Patty Hearst" and the driver as bearing a strong resemblance to Phineas Freakears, the Afro-topped Freak Brother in the Gilbert Shelton cartoon. They happened to be carrying a pound of "primo dope" and we caught a buzz off a giant spliff they passed around as we cruised down Highway 89 in air-conditioned comfort through the craggy, pristine hinterlands with Crosby, Stills & Nash playing on the sound system. It was a good and memorable ride in one of five Volkswagen vans, similar to the one below, that picked us up along the way, one of them taking us more than 500 miles, from Milton, Pennsylvania to Schoolcraft, Michigan.


The 1970 Volkswagen Microbus, a good car to catch a buzz in.


Many years after my cross-country odyssey, I edited a car-buyers guide for a time, and consequently I'm still invited to the New York International Auto Show. This year, among the exotic, super-luxury, and futuristic cars on display, the one that caught my eye was the latest incarnation of what was once the ultimate hippie mode of transportation. The 2023 VW Microbus is now called the Volkswagen ID.Buzz. It's electric (like Kool-Aid); it will be available in the US in 2024; and in keeping with its flower-child heritage, in addition to a name that could be construed as cannabis-themed, it's also carbon neutral.


As I admired its retro design, I imagined what it would be like to drive the ID.Buzz down some of those roads I traversed by thumb 49 summers ago, and fill it up with 21st-century hippie hitchhikers, assuming such creatures still exist. It would be a great deal of fun. And these days the buzz is legal.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.


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