Drivin' and Draggin' 

When life didn't work out, I just shrugged it off, loaded up, and hit the road.

It was bad enough that I had to leave Santa Barbara.

I had spent almost six wonderful months there, enjoying the good life in a place where in summer it's 82 degrees and in winter it's 72. I hiked in the hills, walked on the beach, rode my bike to the farmer's market for fresh avocados and garlic, and went home to make guacamole.

My buddy Mark and I had moved under the protective wing of his employer. They told him to go start an office in Santa Barbara, and they paid for the move, the apartment start-up, and half the rent for six months. So, being recent college graduates with no stuff to call our own, we inherited two families' worth of handed-down furniture, filled up a truck, and plopped ourselves into a $900-a-month apartment with a slight view of the ocean. We paid $225 each, which I could handle with my $7-an-hour restaurant job, and commenced our lives as Southern Californians.

Then Mark's employer decided they wanted him back in St. Louis. I looked at the apartment and the paycheck and knew I was in trouble. I found a $400 place, which is cheap in "the American Riviera," but things were tight. Then the restaurant laid me off, along with several others. They cut my last check, which I deposited on my way to San Francisco for the weekend -- sure, I was unemployed, but I had cash and the Grateful Dead was playing -- and when I got back to town I found out that the paycheck had bounced, taking with it several checks I had written as well. One of my now-rubber checks had been for that $400 rent.

I went down to the restaurant to collect and, you guessed it, they were out of business.

So there I was, in one of the most expensive cities in America, with no job in the heart of the offseason, no money, and no place to live. I guess it was a low point, but I seem to recall dealing with it by going out on the pier for some fresh fish and chips and a cold beer, then walking down the beach for a few miles as the sun went down. It's tough to feel down-and-out in Santa Barbara.

Still, I needed out, so I got the special pleasure of calling Dad to tell him A) I need to move back into the house and B) I need you to pay for me to move back into the house. The check was cut, the die was cast, the jig was up, and it was time to drive back east, my tail tucked firmly between my legs.

Like I said, it was bad enough that I had to leave. What I didn't need was to wake up on Travel Day, with my landlord eagerly offering to help me load up, and to have a stomach flu. I also didn't need that day to be the second, in six months, with rain. And I most definitely did not need for the only available rental truck to have no tape deck and no FM radio. It was just gonna be me, my stomach bug, and Rush Limbaugh all the way back to Memphis.

I started out down the coast, which is fine and lovely until you hit L.A. traffic, and that's about 50 miles before you hit L.A. Los Angeles itself is, for my money, nothing but a nightmare, a city where there shouldn't be one in the first place and one that hasn't worked out well anyway. The traffic, which is like Atlanta times seven, could only be worse if every half hour or so your stomach does a full pretzel and you have to pull over. I speak from experience.

The next stop I recall is Albuquerque, which was a lesson in humility because the people I stayed with had just seen me a few months before, proudly going west with a truckload of stuff. My fortunes and direction had reversed.

Other than that, the whole trip is a blur of Limbaugh, rest-area bathrooms, Paul Harvey, "farm weather reports," wondering what people in these small towns do for a living, and trying not to think about how many more miles I had to go. Limbaugh, especially, was and is a mystery to me. There were times when I was fully convinced he is nothing but a showman, and that I can deal with. Then I would think he actually believes his own garbage.

Sometimes all you can do with life is laugh at it. I mean, one minute I was living the high life in Santa Barbara, and the next I was stumbling into Memphis, broke and sick and humbled, and starting to believe that my support of unions was a sign of a mental disorder. At times like that, there's not much to do but hit the road and chuckle -- and turn the dial.

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