Funny you should ask ... Tim Gamble

What was your first big trip?

Kids grow up fast. The world takes over after about eight years and it’s just a matter of time and circumstance as to when they walk out the door and never look back. For me I’d been widening my circles for a few years, and by circles, I mean my distance from home only to return. When I was ten, I had my first bicycle. I was mobile. I could run around with the other kids with bikes and get into all sorts of new situations. When I was fourteen, I saved up enough money from my paper route to buy a 1963 Honda J110 motorcycle. It was a 5-horsepower 50cc ticket to freedom. Insert many funny stories here. But that’s for another time.

I was exposed to more than I should have been at that age. I became very independent, and some would say very overconfident. By the time I was fifteen my parents had split up. I remember saying, “It’s not Christmas. It’s not my birthday. But wow, I just got the best present a kid could ever have!” I didn’t have any antipathy for my parents but now I had no consequences for my conduct.

It was summertime 1965. A friend of mine, Richard, was living with his grandmother in a small apartment across from the high school. His parents had placed him in her care for several reasons but most of all because they just didn’t want him around. Grandma died and Richard was faced with having to go back with his parents. He asked me if he could stay at my house but there wasn’t enough to go around as it was, so I told him no. He said he might visit his sister and see if she would take him in. Richard’s sister lived in downtown Los Angeles on 11th street. She said she’d love to see him. Richard wasn’t at all sure how to go about doing that. She told him to buy a bus ticket to L.A., call her up when he got there, and she’d meet us at the terminal. Richard was a big kid, heads above anyone else his age, but not as mature as he looked. He was only 14 years old. He asked me to go with him. I said sure. We bought two tickets to L.A., and we were off.

We arrived at the bus terminal and things went bad from the start. We called Richard’s sister and she gave us directions to the house. It was a short walk from the terminal. On the way Richard tried to buy a soda from a street vendor. He couldn’t break a twenty. We went to a nearby bank to make change. The bank teller looked at the bill and said, “This is counterfeit. Do you have another twenty?” Richard handed her another twenty-dollar bill. She said that that one was counterfeit too. That was the last of Richard’s money. He asked for the two 20s back and she refused. I started to get mad and asked for the manager. She said if we didn’t leave right then, she’d have us arrested for trying to pass counterfeit money. Richard turned around and walked out. I should have called her bluff, but it was Richard’s money, so I dropped it. I’m convinced to this day she pulled a fast one on a couple of unsuspecting kids.

We made it to Sis’s house. She said we could stay for a few days. She said she had to go back to work, and we’d see her in the evening. She told us if we were tired, one of us could sack out on the couch in the living room and the other one on her bed. That night when she came home, she suggested that we grab a six-pack and go to a drive-in movie. I don’t drink. I don’t like to drink. I should have stuck with that. She bought a six-pack of Country Club Malt Liquor. They came in little 8 oz. cans. “Here drink this. It won’t kill you,” she said. Two of those did however get me drunk. When we got back to her house, her three roommates were there. This was the fun part. They were sitting in the living room in their baby doll pajamas watching TV. There was no place to sit, and I was getting dizzy and sick. They hustled me outside and gave me a pillow and a blanket and told me to sleep it off on the sidewalk. In the morning I got up and rang the doorbell to get back inside. One of the girls answered the door and said, “Oh my God, we forgot all about you.” There was a big disturbance with police and fire units cruising through the neighborhood all night. Richard’s sister explained that there’d been a lot of nonsense every night with the police and the gangs in the area and it would probably be a good idea if we moved on so we wouldn’t get caught up in it. I told Richard, “My sister was staying with her boyfriend over in Reseda. I’ll call her and tell her we’re going to stop by and say hi.”

We hitchhiked the 30 miles to Reseda and knocked on the door of her boyfriend’s house. It turned out to be her boyfriend’s parents’ house. No room at the inn. I was told that my sister was at work at a café down the street. We walked to the café and Terry was busy waiting tables. She was surprised to see me and asked me and Richard to sit in the entry area and wait until her break. Richard was a big kid. Every time he turned around, he was knocking into something. This was no different. I don’t remember what he broke but the manager went off on him. My sister came to his rescue. The manager fired her on the spot. As the three of us were walking back to her house she explained that it was okay. She didn’t like the job or her boyfriend for that matter and was planning on going back to Phoenix anyway. I don’t know if that was true, but it was nice of her to let us off the hook. Now what are we going to do?

I met three kids, a sister and two brothers, earlier that Spring on a trip to Arcadia for a wedding. My mother had taken in one of Terry’s friends so she could finish her senior year at the high school. It was a 30-mile, straight shot through Pasadena to Arcadia. I didn’t know the address, but I remembered how to get there. It was late afternoon when I knocked on the door and was greeted by one of the kids I’d met earlier. We went into her bedroom, and I told her what we’d been up to. Mom (We’ll just call her mom. I don’t remember her name.) came in and wondered what was going on. “Nothing’s going on mom, Tim and Richard just came to visit.” Mom asked us where we were staying, and I told her we were hoping we could stay here for a few days. She could hardly refuse after my mother took in Gwen for a year. She said we could stay the weekend.

That Saturday we went up to Morris Reservoir in the San Gabriel mountains behind their house to go swimming. There were five of us. Mom dropped us off at the top of the ravine overlooking the San Gabriel River where it empties into the reservoir and said she’d be back at five to pick us up. It’s a short climb down a very steep embankment. We’d been there before during the wedding trip. Right where the river meets the reservoir was what we called “the suck.” It was actually a gray clay mud pit. If you stepped in it, it would grab your foot and not let it go. Of course, we dared each other to jump in. There was a tree branch stuck in the mud for who knows how long that we used to pull ourselves out of the pit. It was fun and exhausting. When it was time to leave, mom honked the car horn from the top of the ravine, and we all started to make the climb out. There was a gray mist coming at us from the other end of the lake. I had no idea what it was, it’s not something I’d seen before. We were about two-thirds of the way up the side of the ravine when the cloud of gas hit us. Everyone immediately started throwing up. It was a struggle to get to the top. When we all made it up and drove back to the house everyone was doing better except for Richard. He was sick. Mom called the doctor to have him checked out. He didn’t know what it was either. He told Mom that Richard should probably stay in bed for a few days.

After about two weeks her parents came into the bunk room and told us the family was leaving on a vacation and asked us what our plans were. I asked Richard if it was time to go home yet and he said no. “Where do you want to go now?” I asked. “Let’s go see Harold,” He replied. Harold was a friend from the neighborhood who spent his summers at his dad’s hotel in Corvallis, Oregon. I said, “Sure, why not, it’s only a thousand miles.” And off we went.

It only took two days to reach our destination. We knew that Harold’s dad owned the Benton Hotel in downtown Corvallis. We walked in and asked the desk clerk if Harold was there. He was. I knew Harold since we were 10 years old playing on the same Little League team and we eventually became classmates at a new grade school built in the neighborhood. He was surprised to see us. He quickly got us a room at the hotel.

When Harold’s dad found out we were staying at his hotel, he wanted to charge us for the room. We didn’t have any money, so he put us to work. In the daytime we worked on the family ranch not far from the town. He put us to work helping to fix fences and other manual labors. The ranch foreman wasn’t too enthusiastic about babysitting a couple of teenagers, so after a week or so it was back to the hotel. This time Richard stayed in Harold’s suite, and I was by myself in a single room. Harold’s dad put us to work in the kitchen scrubbing it down every night after the restaurant closed. We worked for a fellow who was studying at Oregon State University who oversaw the kitchen cleanup. He was Iranian. His name was Borhan Borhan. I asked him why he had the same first name and last name. He said it would be the same as if you were named Thomas Thomas. He was a nice fellow, soft spoken but a firm disciplinarian, good enough was never good enough. I cut my ankle on one of the kitchen cabinets and had to stop and apply a few Band-Aids to my wound. I got a few drops of blood on the floor, and he made me start from scratch disinfecting the whole kitchen again. That was hard work. That effort went to pay for two meals a day in the kitchen. I still had to pay for my room.

Harold’s dad put me to work running the elevator at night and on the weekends. The hotel was a seven-story building, a little old and rundown. It had an antique elevator that had to be manually operated which took some training to master. I was working nights and weekends while Harold and Richard were off goofing around somewhere. It was getting old fast. I needed to make some money so I could get out of there. I was out of everything. I was doing laundry in the sink. I asked Jim, the night manager at the hotel if he knew where I could make some money during the day. He said that every morning at six o’clock a group of high school students meet in front of the social security office and catch a bus to a local farm to pick strawberries. I asked what it paid. He said more than I’m making now.

I got up early and went to the social security office. There were about a dozen or so kids waiting for the bus. I acted like I was supposed to be there and when the bus showed up, I got on it. We drove about an hour through a wooded area and turned into a farm. There were other kids already there working in the field. I just did what the other kids were doing, picked up a berry flat and started down a row of strawberries, picking only the large ripe ones filling each basket. It seemed like easy work. I asked one of the girls how much it paid. She told me you get 50 cents a flat but you’re not getting anything. I asked her, “Why not?” She said, “You’re not doing it right and if you don’t do it right you won’t get paid. You’re supposed to pick all the berries even the small pink ones and leave the top leaves on the stem.” About then a farm worker came over and dumped my flat and told me to start over and do it right. By noon I still hadn’t gotten an entire 6-quart flat filled. Some of the kids were already on their fourth flat. I was getting frustrated and said screw this and decided just to chat up the girls. The farmhand came over and told me if I didn’t get back to work, I’d have to walk home. I didn’t know where home was, so I went back to work. I’d made a whole dollar by the end of the day. That night when I saw Jim, he asked me how it went. He cracked up laughing as I recounted the day.

I told Richard it was time for me to go home. I called my mother, and she was very surprised and delighted to hear from me and wished me a happy birthday. I told her what I’d been up to and that I needed some money to get home. I told her that Richard was also here and to let his mother know where he was. My mother said she’d take care of it and send me a bus ticket. My bus ticket came in the mail on the same day as a note from Richard’s mother. She implored him to come home and sent him enough money for a plane ticket back to Phoenix. Richard said he didn’t want to go home yet. I asked him, “What do you want to do? I can’t stay here anymore.” He suggested we cash his check and return my ticket and head back to California before heading home.

I settled with Harold’s dad, and we headed south towards Eugene. Just south of town we were let off at an entrance to a Girl Scout camp. Richard wanted to go in and use the restroom. I waited at the gate. After 2 hours Richard came back. I asked, “What took you so long?” He said, “Don’t ask, but we need to get out of here.” To this day I don’t know what happened at the Girl Scout camp. We continued south and caught a ride heading through the mountains to the coast Highway. We were dropped off in Coos Bay. Richard wanted to try and stowaway on a freighter heading for The Orient. We managed to get into the dock area but there was no way to get on the ship. He wanted to try and climb up the mooring ropes, but they were obstructed about halfway up. “Wow, that’s tough luck Richard. I guess we’ll have to keep going south.” I didn’t want to sneak onto the ship. I don’t know what I would have done if he’d have made it up the gangway, but I was glad he didn’t.

We made it to Gold Beach by late afternoon. A patrol car pulled over where we were thumbing for a ride. The officer asked to see our identification. When he saw how young we were, he put us in the back of his car and headed into Gold Beach to the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff put us in a holding cell while he tried to figure out who we were and what we were doing. I know I should have taken this situation a little more seriously than I did, but I couldn’t help myself. I started rattling the bars and saying we were hungry. The Sheriff told us to knock it off. We persisted. He finally relented and had a nearby café bring us dinner, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes. The teletype came back with no wants or warrants. He said he couldn’t in good conscience just let us go. He called my mother in Phoenix to ask what he should do with us. My mother asked if we had broken any laws. The Sheriff told her our only violation was hitchhiking within city limits. She said, “Well then let him go.” I spoke to my mother briefly and explained that I cashed in the bus ticket and that I’d be home in a few days and could she vouch for Richard too. She did. The sheriff, Sheriff Johnson, pulled out a piece of official Gold Beach Oregon Sheriff’s Department stationary and typed a note detailing that his station had checked us out and that we had permission to continue our trip until the end of July. He signed it, stapled his card to it and folded it up and put it in my shirt pocket. “There, that’ll keep you out of trouble for a couple of weeks.” I asked him if he could give us a ride past the city limits. He said, “Don’t push it. And don’t let me catch you hitchhiking. You’ll have to walk.” That was a couple of miles so when we were out of sight of the police station, we caught a ride south.

We got a ride from an older fellow on his way to Crescent City. He had a bright red pick-up truck. Richard hopped in the cab, and I jumped in the back. As we got to the California border there was a line of about a dozen cars backed up due to a police checkpoint. There was a sandbag barrier on the right side of the road with a soldier manning a 30-caliber machine gun. The police were checking each car and trunk. The fellow we were riding with decided he didn’t want to wait any longer and just drove around the line of cars. I started banging on the window from the truck bed asking the driver to stop. The soldier with the machine gun swung the weapon towards us and I dove for the bottom of the truck bed. The driver just waved at him and kept going. When he pulled over to let us out in Crescent City, the driver explained that he’d been through that checkpoint several other times that day and that they knew he wasn’t the guy they were looking for. I said, “They may have known who you were, but they sure as hell didn’t know me!”

It was getting late. The sun was going down so Richard and I decided to hike down to the beach. It was littered with giant trees all piled and tangled together. There was an earthquake in Alaska about 8 months earlier that sent a tsunami down the coast and had taken down several bridges and generally made a mess of things. It was starting to get cold. Richard didn’t have a jacket. He wanted mine. I said, “Fine, I’ll build a fire.” It got really cold. I sat with my face toward the fire and when my backside would freeze, I’d turn around and roast the other side. I finally got the idea to cover myself with the sand that was heated up so I could get some sleep. I woke up to an out-of-control blaze on the beach. Some of the logs had caught fire. I yelled at Richard to wake up and we started dumping wet sand on the logs and smacking down the flames with our shirts. It was morning before we got the fire out. I think the fog helped a little bit.

Exhausted and tired, we made our way back up to the highway. We weren’t even hitchhiking but I guess we were a sight. A young woman stopped her car and asked us if we needed any help. She took one look at us and told us to get in the car. She had just gotten off work. We told her what had happened, and she took pity on us and took us to her house. Richard was filthy from dumping sand and mud on the fire. I was covered in red blotches and smelled like smoke. My eyes were almost swollen shut. She told us to get undressed, take a shower and hand her our dirty clothes so she could wash them. She also tended to my red blotches. It turns out I was bitten from head to toe by fleas down on the beach when I covered myself up with the sand. I was now covered in Calamine lotion. After getting cleaned up and dressed she made us breakfast and suggested that we may want to rethink our notion of bumming around. It was the first time I heard Richard say he was ready to go home.

That afternoon we were halfway to San Francisco, and we stopped at a roadside café. There was a newspaper vending box on the porch as we entered. The headline was about a police capture. That piqued my interest, so I bought a paper. It was a story about a fellow who had gotten out of the penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington and had been on a crime spree from Oregon to California and was finally captured in Nevada. I think that’s why the police had a blockade at the border. Good news, the suspect didn’t look anything like me.

After one more miserable night in the cold near San Francisco we finally caught a ride to Los Angeles and then home. My mother was glad to see me but was afraid to ask me about the past two months. She very timidly asked if I planned to go to school this fall, nervous about how I would respond. I said I was. Our relationship changed after that. My mother never looked at me quite the same again. She knew she had lost all control. From my point of view that was a good thing.

Every summer after my first big trip in 1965, I spent on the road. The next two summers I spent in Denver and the two after that on the east coast, each time returning for school. There are so many stories left to tell.

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