When I separated from the U.S. Army in Germany during 1971, I opted to stay in Europe to travel. So, together with my buddy, Sergeant Jeff Lucas, I bought a car and headed south. Over the next three months, we traveled to Austria, Yugoslavia and Italy. We toured Salzburg, Vienna, Venice, Florence and Rome.
However, in July, Jeff told me that he had to return home to begin interviewing for teaching jobs in the fall. So, we drove back to Germany and sold our car. Then, Jeff headed home and I boarded a train bound for Barcelona, Spain.
There, I met up with three Australian blokes we had encountered in Italy. They were going to Pamplona, Spain for the running of the bulls, and when they offered a ride, I accepted. Off we went to Pamplona, then to San Sebastian, and ultimately to the party capital of Europe, Tormolinos. We stayed there on the south coast of Spain partying with the European summer tourists for weeks. Then, in September, my money began to run out. I had to return to Germany to get my military hop back to the U.S.A. So, I grabbed my backpack and sleeping bag and headed off.
I took a bus and then a train to the French boarder, then hitch-hiked through France to Belgium, where I met my new friend Guy Muzzi. After staying with Guy about a week, I traveled to Rhine-Main Airbase in Frankfurt Germany where I arranged a military flight back to the states.
I ended up at an Airbase in New Jersey, where I signed my final military document, a form releasing me back to civilian life. At last, I was a free man. From there, I took a bus to Allentown, Pennsylvania to visit my good friend and travel partner, Jeff Lucas.
Unfortunately, Jeff was not at home. However, his kind mother allowed me to stay over and wait for him. That worked out, because Jeff returned home a day later. He was surprised and happy to see his travel buddy. We renewed acquaintances for a few days, then I was off again, this time I headed for Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is right across the river from Windsor, Ontario, where my new girlfriend, Judy Caverzan lived.
I hitched a ride with a trucker, and made it in one day. There, I walked across a bridge to Canada and found Judy’s home. No one answered the door, so I waited on the porch. Soon a car pulled up and Judy jumped out. Like Jeff in Allentown, Judy was flabbergasted to see me. But, I visited her for about a week and we had a great time touring Windsor and Detroit and gallivanting through the Canadian country side. Soon though, I had to get going. Judy offered to buy me a plane ticket home, but I refused. I was on a mission!
So she drove me over to the outskirts of Detroit and dropped me at a rest stop. I put a thumb out again and found a trucker headed for Laramie, Wyoming. We got there in one day, arriving at sunset. That proved a nerve racking experience. I had to spend the night under a freeway over-crossing. It was cold and kind of frightening. The people, who saw me, honked and yelled vulgar insults – this, to a military veteran.
Anyway, the next day, I put my thumb out again and got a ride from yet another trucker. This guy was going to Denver, Colorado. We never made it that far. We came to an interchange in Nebraska that went one way to Denver and the other way to Salt Lake City. I wanted Salt Lake, so I got off right on the freeway: not a good plan. Eventually, a Nebraska state trooper stopped and told me to get off the freeway. So, I hopped a fence and began to walk. Ultimately, I came to a bridge over a stream where I set out my back pack with a sign saying, “California or bust.” Then I waved at all the cars going by. A lot of them went by, but soon a car stopped.
The guy driving the car looked a little strange. He wore a black leather jacket and a cowboy hat. He had hair down to his shoulders and dark sun glasses. Surprisingly, he handed me the keys and said, “You drive.” When I got in his mint green, souped up, Plymouth Roadrunner, he lowered his seat and pulled the cowboy hat over his eyes. I started the car and took off like a rocket.
We arrived at Salt Lake in late afternoon and I pulled off at the edge of town. I disembarked there after thanking the guy for the ride, and took a minute to access my situation. I looked south and saw what looked like an industrial district. I looked north and saw stores, restaurants and motels. I went north. Soon, I found a motel I thought I could afford. So, I went in and booked a room for the night for the reasonable price of $13. Then, I grabbed the key and proceeded to my room which was clean and comfortable. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
After showering and changing my clothes I went out to get something to eat. I quickly found a café that looked inviting. After my cool reception in Wyoming and Nebraska, I wondered out loud, if they would refuse to serve me. No problem, the young waitress said, “Come on in partner, and sit down right over here.”
I will never forget how good that felt. I still hold the people of Utah in high esteem. Next day, I went back to where I stood the day before, and held out my sign. A few minutes later, a Volkswagen van pulled in to the gas station on the corner and stopped. The driver went into the garage to get a part, and the passenger ran into the adjacent mini-mart. When they came back out, they waved me over. I was in luck; they were going to Chico, California.
Off, we went, through Utah, then Nevada and into California. By night time we had arrived in Chico. There, the driver said he would be visiting his parents in Sacramento the next day, and invited me to spend the night.
Next morning, we drove the two hours to Sacramento and I had him drop me off at MacFarlane’s Candy on Alhambra Blvd. Hopefully, my mom would be working that day. Thankfully, I saw her waiting on a customer as I entered the door.
She said, “Hold on sir, I will be with you in a minute.” Then she did a double-take and ran around the counter to hug me saying, “I can’t believe you’re back.” Later, she called dad who came to pick me up. When we arrived home, my younger brother John was waiting. It was like an old fashioned reunion.
I have never forgotten that day. I turned a page then, and began a new, adult life: yet another inspirational Janey Way memory.