Click on “The ’60s,” above, to see preceding posts on the ’60s.
(Or maybe, more accurately, “Cassady Calling.”) I read On the Road by Jack Kerouac in 1959 while still in the Air Force, and boy, did it resonate. Here I was stuck on a military base, chafing at the whole military milieu, and reading about these two free spirits —Kerouac and Neal Cassady — stoned and careening across America in pursuit of adventure (and enlightenment).
My best friend on the base was Mike Phillips, a military police lieutenant. Mike was an intelligent, elegant guy and we hit it off somehow. But when I loaned him On the Road, he gave it back in a hurry, like it was the work of the devil. Hey, come to think of it, that might be just about right.
I managed to get myself declared as surplus (a category where the USAF had too many officers), and got out a year early. We chalked up the days remaining in Roman numerals on our window, erasing one each day. I was sick of the Air Force and homesick for San Francisco.
Free at Last
I was discharged after 2 years of service. I shipped our VW bug to New York. After I was processed at a base in New Jersey, we picked up my brother Bob, who was getting out of the Army at that time, and with Sarah and me in the front, Bob in the back seat, and 8-month-old Hans Peter Kahn behind Bob in the window well, we drove 3000 miles across a snowy America for less than $50 in gas. Cross-country for less than $15 a person travel expenses!
I remember an incident early in that trip that made me feel as if I were finally home: As we pulled onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, heading west, I stopped at the toll station and asked, “How much?” The toll guy handed me a ticket, smiled, and said, “Pay my brother at the other end.”
After two years in Europe, especially Germany with its formality and rigidity, there was something so American and friendly about the ”my brother” phrase… Home at last.
We arrived in San Francisco in January, 1960. Home sweet home. Totally.