Trying to recall events, circumstances, and impressions from 55 years before is a challenge. In 1960 I drove an Italian motor scooter from Tucson (near the border of Mexico) in Southern Arizona on a zig-zag path across the USA to Boston, Massachusetts on the East Coast. The maps say it can be done in approximately 2,500 road miles (4,000 km). I missed that mark by 4,000 or 5,000 miles (8,000 km). My intent is to tell the tale as truthfully as I can from memory. There was no diary or log, no camera for recording images, and no financial or mileage journal kept. So … that puts the two of us – you, the reader, and me, the storyteller, in a position where we must rely on my memory. And that’s risky. And that’s my disclaimer. And that’s the forward to this tale.
April 1960 –Twenty years old and seeking adventure. I had abandoned New England four months earlier, taken a flight to Southern Arizona based on the deliberate decision to allow the flip of a coin to tell me where to land. All of that is a separate story which I will relate soon… in the next paragraph actually. Suffice it to say, it’s April in Tucson. The winter residents, usually called “snowbirds”, have returned to their more northern homes, my job as a waiter at a resort hotel is ending for the season, my younger sister Phyllis will be married at the end of June back east in Connecticut, and I’m expected to be part of the wedding party.
How did I get to Tucson, Arizona? Raised in Connecticut, floundering around in various colleges, having some monumental encounters with and becoming intimate friends with both Jim Beam and Jack Daniels, I looked out the window of my crummy little apartment in Boston. The semester at Boston University was just beginning and I was supposed to register, but everything outside was gray, nasty, and cold. There was snow, spattered with slush, and a layer of exhaust soot and city dirt lightly blanketed everything. I was sober, and hugely irritated to have to go outside at all. Instead of going to register for any classes, I grumbled my way to a nearby bookstore where I grabbed a map of the United States and paid the pretty young woman at the cash register. Since no one else was in line, I unfolded the map, tore off the upper half (the northern part of the map) and gave it to the cashier. I remember saying “Sell this to somebody else. I don’t want to look at it.” With the southern half, I returned to my room, and looked at cities in the South … Miami, New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Tucson, and San Diego. The last two seemed to pull at me. Carefully considering all the positives and negatives that the two towns offered, I flipped a coin and Tucson came up heads. Within an hour, I had packed my things, paid the little bit of rent due on my hovel, got into my car and started down the road to Connecticut, stopped at the airport north of Hartford, and bought a ticket for the next day’s flight. I asked my friend to drive me to the airport for the early morning flight. “Where’re you going?” Answer: “Tucson, Arizona.” A few more questions and answers and then “When are you coming back?” Answer: “I’m not. I may not stay there, but I’m not coming back.”
In Tucson, in January, I had purchased an almost new 1959 Lambretta 125 motor scooter. It seemed to be a very reliable, well-crafted, and efficient machine … reasonably quiet and rather comfortable. Italian made, the Lambretta is very similar to the better-known Vespa (“wasp” in Italian, probably for it buzzing sound or perhaps because it can dart in and out of traffic). Top speed about 42 miles per hour (67 kmh) with the windshield and probably a bit faster without.
So now I’ve told you a little about the man and a little about the machine and now for the madness of my plan to cross this big nation, the USA. Any decent plan considers quite a number of factors. My plan did not and was largely based on three considerations: (1) generally aim the Lambretta (now named ‘Tony’) north and eastward; (2) try to arrive a day or two prior to June 29th in Connecticut (the date of my sister’s wedding); and (3) invite at least one new thing or adventure each day while experiencing this exotic thing called ‘America.’ While I was ‘going back to New England’ as I had vowed not to do, I knew it was for a very brief period and not a valid vow breaker.
Jack Kerouac was a French-Canadian American ‘Beat Generation’ author. His book ‘On the Road’ (a great read, written on a 120-ft roll with no paragraphs, but with a driven energy) had caused me to think about crossing the US two years before. Here was the chance to do it, to try something different. I’m sure some people have walked and bicycled and maybe even roller skated across the country, so to scooter across was not hugely brave… just a bit unusual, and except for (1) and (2) above, the plan was to go with no plan. Just go. Just Go!