After I got out of high school there was nothing I wanted to do less than start college right away. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in learning, in getting my degree and in getting an education, I had just had too much of people, too much of the incestuousness of the town I grew up in. In short, I needed to get out and be by myself before I filed myself into a dorm room at Columbia in New York City.
I was lucky in a way in that when I graduated from high school I was just 17, the youngest in my class by a good half a year. My relative youth made it so I could bum around a year before college and still enter as just an 18 year old. I deferred my admission, took $1,500 I had saved from various jobs and chores I did out of the bank and against the imprecations of my parents hit the road.
My idea was to walk across the country, from New York to San Francisco and to see what trouble I could get into along the way. The way I figured it all out was pretty simple. I could walk 30 miles a day without too much strain—that’s 10 hours of walking at a moderate pace of three miles an hour. I reckoned I’d have to walk 150 days to make it out west. 4,500 miles of meandering to cover what would be 2,700 miles on a straight line. I was very analytical about everything.
I loaded a big hiker’s backpack with a tent, some blue jeans and other sundry stuff and set out to become a hobo. I was a big kid, just about two-inches higher than six-feet and pushing 200-pounds so I didn’t worry much about being mugged or gang-raped, but to be on the safe side I carried a fairly assertive knife in my pocket and had a 9-inch serrated scuba knife strapped onto my right shin.
The day I started out it rained. My parents urged me to wait a day until the weather cleared but I was too itchy to get going—to get away from them, from where I had lived, away from my friends. To get away from everything. To that end, the rain was enriching. I welcomed it like presents on a Christmas morning. It soaked me and cleansed me. It washed the crap of suburban New York off me, off of my clothes. It washed away the pettiness of grade-school gossip. It washed away fear and conformity. The rarefied dust of private school life squeezed out of my canvas sneakers with wat’ry every step. I didn't know where I was going but I knew I was well on my way.