The Glimpse Traveler

The Glimpse Traveler

by Marianne Boruch

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Overview

When she joins a pair of hitchhikers on a trip to California, a young Midwestern woman embarks on a journey about memory and knowledge, beauty and realization. This true story, set in 1971, recounts a fateful, nine-day trip into the American counterculture that begins on a whim and quickly becomes a mission to unravel a tragic mystery. The narrator's path leads her to Berkeley, San Francisco, Mill Valley, Big Sur, and finally to an abandoned resort motel, now become a down-on-its-luck commune in the desert of southern Colorado. Neither a memoir about private misery, nor a shocking exposé of life in a turbulent era, The Glimpse Traveler describes with wry humor and deep feeling what it was like to witness a peculiar and impossibly rich time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253223449
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 08/19/2011
Series: Break Away Books
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 5.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Marianne Boruch, a poet, is Professor of English at Purdue University. She has published several poetry collections and two books of essays, and her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Nation, and elsewhere. She has won two Pushcart Prizes, the Parnassus Terrence DePres Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Read an Excerpt

The Glimpse Traveler


By Marianne Boruch

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2011 Marianne Boruch
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22344-9


CHAPTER 1

No plan that Thursday but a big breakfast—eggs, toast. The classic college boyfriend's apartment: milling about and underfoot, one or two other boys and their maybe girls. A straggly neighbor born Harold, called Chug, forever turning up to make a point then stopping mid-sentence. Someone's cousin crashed there for week. Someone's half-sister from Cincinnati figuring out her life. Not to mention the dog, the cat, and nothing picked up off the floor, no sink or toilet cleaned in how long. Books read and loved and passed on, dope smoked or on a windowsill, nesting in a small plastic bag. Jokes bad and repeated, nice talking to ya, we'd say to end any blowhard's rant, laughing.

Then my boyfriend Jack, at the stove, frying potatoes, onions for omelets: meet Frances, she's the one—I told you—hitchhiking west. Day after tomorrow. Early Saturday, right Frances? For a week or so. Then coming back.

She turned to me, this stranger: hey, want to go?

What? Was it a thought before I said it? No, my yes. Which—in the parlance of the day—was a shrug and a sure.

Almost spring, 1971. I couldn't look her in the eye.

CHAPTER 2

What I took:

Ten bucks.

Two blank checks, folded down to razorblade dimensions. I had a whopping $200 or so, saved in the bank.

Two shirts, plus the black turtleneck I had on.

An extra pair of jeans, extra underwear, extra socks.

A toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, tampons, aspirin, band-aids, a half roll of toilet paper, pushed down flat.

The skinniest towel in the world, soap, a comb, a brush.

One coat, which I wore. And shoes, thick canvas, just sneakers really.

The beret on my head.

A small notebook, a pencil.

One blue sweater with wooden buttons and they closed or they opened.

A metal canteen, its cap kept by a tiny silver chain, a drop of solder on either end, its canvas darkened in places, damp, or about to be.

Two apples, an orange, peanut butter, a pocket knife, a half loaf of bread.

My good luck charm, a holy card, also folded unto its razorblade: St. Christopher, patron saint of travel, who held the Christ child high on one shoulder, crossing a rather dangerous ribbon of water. He looked burdened in the picture, resolved but awkward with that globe of his in the other hand, that walking stick. Way too much to carry.

My University of Illinois ID, my driver's permit. The address and phone number of my mother, faraway elsewhere, peacefully oblivious, her usual state regarding my antics since she dropped me at my freshman dorm saying: you're going to do things I never would—just don't tell me. As for Jack—should I write down his number too? Did I really want him called by some cop, some hospital clerk? After all, this was for emergencies, a phone number they'd find on me.

A second good luck holy card, St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, sweet dead-on finder of whatever—if you do your part, and look.

Gloves, one in each pocket.

A backpack, of course—army surplus, clearly a former life there, torn, the open places sewn into scars with black thread by somebody.

A book, though mainly in cars I'd be sleeping or staring or talking. Was it Day of the Locust or My Antonia or something by Knut Hamsun?—all Jack's picks; he said they were good, they were great.

And sunglasses, the cheapest kind, marked down, on sale: 39 cents. Because the light, Frances said. California light being famous, and fierce.

CHAPTER 3

Jack had told me about her, about Frances. Just a year older than I was but at 21, married three years, a widow for eight months now, since the car crash in Colorado. She never even tried college—are you nuts? Study that shit? she'd said. She had a job somewhere. He wasn't sure exactly, something with children. Maybe a teacher's aide in a classroom. Or maybe some place for kids too young for school, but their parents worked all day. Jack knew her because he knew Ned.

Her husband, Ned. I remember seeing him around that small town, DeKalb, Illinois. Thick red hair grown out haywire. Certain guys could manage that, the curly-headed ones who refused haircuts, months into years. As was habit then. I guess you'd call him a hippie, capital H. If you saw him, you'd think that, hippie, no question, Ned at the far edge of that grid. More than the usual drugs. That was rumor. Yet here he was—a husband. Some retro moment in the-life-so-far had flooded his future. Dramatic, exotic in a twisted, Ward Cleaver sort of way: to be married, at our age. I couldn't imagine. Thus Frances, a wife at 17. But suddenly, thus not. After the crash, I mean. Ned-the-no-longer, Ned never-more-to-be. And Frances, a young woman abruptly older by way of a story and a shadow, its weight each morning when she came to again from whatever she had dreamt, whoever she was in that place of dreams. Not that I could absorb any of it. Not that it was even my business.

It's weird that she asked you, Jack said early that evening.

I lived in Champaign, about three hours south, where I was in school. But I'd gotten a lift off the ride-board to Jack's, his town, his college, the place I'd transferred from a year or so earlier. My spring break had pretty much started. And now, of course, this sudden new idea, this journey, for that delicious blank slate of how many days. I'd never been anywhere west unless you counted a camp counselor job two summers before, one state over and up, in the Minnesota woods.

It got dark later, being March. Jack sat by the window, still visible in the day's thin light, trying to pick out one of those first Leo Kottke tunes on his old guitar. Then he had statistics to do, The Great Gatsby to read. His break was later.

This might be one of those blow-it-all-to-hell trips for her. You really want to sign on to that? I guess I'll find out, I said.

CHAPTER 4

So I had one day to get ready. You saw how I packed. But I told Frances: I know this guy.

And the guy was Woodrow Joseph Brookston, ex-boyfriend of my high school friend Alexandra—Crazy Alex for short—who was a student at the U of I too, her apartment three blocks from me. Back now, Woody had been in Champaign a couple of days, just released at last and for good, out of Vietnam. Not a soldier, I assured Frances. He was a CO, really. But they made him go anyway, as a medic for two years. From DeKalb I had called other friends near where I lived on Green Street. Woody was crashing on the couch at their place, sort of a refugee from the army and now, from Alex. He answered the phone so I told him about the trip.

A medic in 'Nam? Frances said with interest, even reverence. I could see the movie she started to run in her head: Woody hauling the wounded into trucks and helicopters, holding high the blood bottles; Woody with a big red cross on his arm, the soundtrack full of gunshot and moody cello with an occasional lightning hit of violin; Woody, some tall beefy thoughtful guy, the real hero over there, all the broken, bleeding, stoned-out soldiers grateful and weeping and getting him to write down their last words to mail home to their girlfriends, or maybe even deliver by hand, walking up the little steps to their houses, knocking fatefully on each door. And those guys would trust him absolutely not to put the moves on their girls, even after a properly pious interval of a week or two.

In fact, Woody was skinny, not much taller than I was. He had that cool name, and seemed good-natured. I mean he was pleasant enough. Pleasant. Maybe that was code.

Dullsville, Alex had told me. I mean it. You'd think he'd have something to say about this goddamn war at least, wouldn't you? Something intelligent?

Technically, it's not a war, I said.

Okay. That. But will you listen? Woody's gotten a hundred times worse. Hanging out with him? Like spending the day with a pile of drifting snow. No, really! There's zero zero zero life on that planet, she said, tapping the side of her head. Nada! She said it again, coming down with a hammer on both syllables: Na -da.

Dull is underrated, I said. There are too many smarty-pants, cool and groovy know-it-alls in the world as it is. They're all over the place. Maybe it just takes him a while. Anyway, Woody's a big reader, isn't he? He loves books.

Yawn, she said, nice try.

So I wasn't surprised when Crazy Alex dumped him. But he hadn't believed it, had hitchhiked to Champaign from the east coast somewhere after his discharge, just to find out for sure. For sure now he was stricken. Quiet-stricken. Woody wasn't into fireworks or self-pity. That was Alex's job. But he was an optimist. She still likes me, he kept saying. She said so.

We all like you, Woody, I said. That's not the point in these matters.

But Woody's parents had moved to Oregon the previous year. He was headed west too, now that the Alex thing appeared to be over. So he definitely came to when I mentioned the trip. Could he go with us? He would hitch up to DeKalb in a shot, no big deal.

I thought clearly for maybe ten seconds. A guy along could be a plus. Obviously, it would be safer than two women traveling alone. And in spite of Alex's ideas on the subject, I suspected Woody could be a talker, someone quite happy in the front seat, holding forth on baseball and dumb TV shows with any redneck driver. And the Vietnam business. A little iffy, that one, depending on who picked us up. His stupid army haircut, for instance, could send a message either way; it would take a while to grow out. But his having been a medic, that was good from any angle. And his CO, even better in some quarters. In any case, I imagined Frances and I could make it a habit, scrambling into the back seat to read or sleep, leaving the driver to Woody who would chat him up, mile after mile. Besides, he was a medic, for god's sake. What if one of us closed a hand in a car door? What if we got food poisoning or a rabid dog attacked us? I knew it wasn't up there with gunfire and Agent Orange but I could see him earnestly talking to any ambulance guy after the engine caught fire and blew up, knowing the medical lingo, the exact right way to lift us onto a stretcher.

The only bad thing was three of us. Every extra body decreased your chance of getting picked up on the road. That was a law of physics or something. And females were, in theory, not prone to mass murder the way a guy might be. So with Woody, we'd be scarier out there to the more timid sort of driver, nervous about doing a good deed. Still.

Frances listened to all this rather inscrutably. Actually, I was talking to her on the phone, from Jack's. I heard her take a sip of something, probably a Coke or maybe just water. I pictured her tossing back her long black hair. A curious silence then. I knew she was thinking through all the parts and gluing them together. What the hell, she said. Tell him yes.

CHAPTER 5

There are a boatload of ways to hitchhike. It was a minor art form back then, late '60s, early '70s. With a homemade block-lettered sign—Cedar Rapids or Denver or Anywhere West. Or no sign at all. That was the purist stance, the one I favored. A thumb out in a tentative, subtle way, or the whole arm practically waving if one got desperate. People worked up a method over time; that was inevitable because those trips could take days and days. More flamboyant travelers—depending on how bored they got—would do a little jig, get a leg into it, swinging out over the pavement, something goofy, a Busby Berkeley sort of number to get attention.

The fact is—everyone was on the road. And proof, those long lines of patient hitchhikers on most interstate ramps. The etiquette wasn't elaborate but it was firm: you queued up in order of arrival. You took your turn. Sometimes twenty people long, that line. So you stood at the end of it and watched as stopping cars swallowed your compatriots, those strangers, one by one, until you were up, you were next. It was important to look cheerful and innocent. Meaning: harmless. That was key. Pathetic, never a great choice though I knew it was possible, lying dormant in the mix whether you willed it or not. We decided on no sign.

Better to surprise them with how far we want to go as or even after we get in the car, Frances advised. California written out, up front, might scare them. Maybe they wouldn't want to be stuck that many miles and they'd realize how awkward it would be, kicking us out in the middle of Iowa, pretending hey, they just remembered, this was it, the farthest they'd be going. As she talked, I flashed on the truth of that: some guy slowing down on a whim, his staring, picturing the three of us in his car for so long—oh, god, no!— then speeding up, and past.

Woody thought that was okay, a good idea. Woody thought everything was okay. He was up for the trip. Right, he said, no sign. Bingo. Less to carry.

And those first rides, yet to come—all fairly easy at first though it was start and stop; we had to wait at times, up to an hour or so. There was the fellow selling insurance, right out of DeKalb, going south to LaSalle where we picked up route 80, a test case while Frances and I hunkered down in the backseat. Right off, Woody turned pro just as I predicted, a biz-magnet, an irresistible regular guy. The driver's name: John W. O'Connor Jr. He wore a tie and had three kids; he loved that TV show, Bonanza, Adam clearly the smartest Cartwright brother though he liked Hoss the best because he had a great big heart. A big heart is key, isn't it? he asked Woody in a deliberate kind of voice like he was Socrates, like this line of thinking might lead to a treatise or two.

At that Frances made a face and mouthed Hoss, her cheeks puffed out, Hoss being pretty porky, the largest of those three brothers. She was trying not to laugh.

John W. O'Connor Jr. sold for Allstate, the best company, hands down. I mean, if you're going to shell out for insurance. You do have insurance, don't you? he said to Woody.

So it would go. A series of short lifts through Illinois: Cheryl Bauer, the dental assistant who hated teeth, then Mr. Felix, a retired baseball coach and science teacher—the first Afro-American teacher in my district, he told us gravely—turned ping-pong fanatic and thinking about trying his hand at romance novels. Then Rod Ketchem, newly kicked out of his apartment in Peoria, on the move now. He seemed a little dodgy, kind of a greaseball. His girlfriend was still plenty, plenty pissed, he told us. No wonder, Frances and I agreed later. But there in the car, Woody, at least, was all sympathy. In short, the three of us settled in, getting the hang of it easily enough.

But Saturday morning, that kitchen in DeKalb before any of this came to life, Jack was making us cheese sandwiches, cheddar on rye. These bananas too, he said, and this box of Ritz crackers. You guys share these. Woody—here!—put this stuff in your pack.

CHAPTER 6

It was still threatening winter. Snow, and then a thaw. A thaw, then snow. A little or a lot. That was March in the middle west. Coat, gloves, a hat: we kept them close through Illinois on venerable route 80, a road widened and pounded into place all the way to San Francisco, sometimes exactly where the old Lincoln Highway had been, which, in turn, cut through stretches where wagon train wheels had famously sunk into mud or creaked and rattled on. Before that, an old Indian and trapper trail.

Mark twain! the old steamboaters once yelled out—a good news thing, the depth of the water safe. I'd read that, and remembered again as we drove over the Mississippi at Rock Island, toward Davenport. Look! I said, lurching forward to shake Woody's shoulder, then sideways, grabbing Frances's arm. I pointed at the window, the amazing muddy expanse: Guys! Check it out! That's the freaking Mississippi River out there!

Woody was saying something to the driver about Cassius Clay–Muhammad Ali for a few years now. He didn't even look back at me. Frances scowled, annoyed at the interruption. She was trying to sleep.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Glimpse Traveler by Marianne Boruch. Copyright © 2011 Marianne Boruch. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

"Marianne takes off into the unknown with $10, carrying her begging bowl and having the artist's faith that it will be filled with story. She never questions it. She's curious, and she follows that curiosity. The universe doesn't disappoint."

Karen Brennan

The Glimpse Traveler is a wild romp into the wild romp of the 1971, trippy, establishment-hating past, with all the accoutrements: hitchhiking, hippie vans, communes, Esalen, nude sun-bathing, hot-tubbing, bong-hitting—you name it, Marianne Boruch has got it covered. Hilarious satire, tender coming-of-age-making-of-a-poet memoir, bursting with dazzling language and marvelous characters. A stunning book!

Dinty Moore

I have not seen another nonfiction book that offers such a perceptive, engaging, intimate chronicle of the early 1970s, the road-weary hippie hitchhikers, the anti-war sentiment, the dope-induced haze. Boruch . . . captures this very specific, significant time and place with exquisite clarity and lyric detail and description.

Dinty Moore]]>

I have not seen another nonfiction book that offers such a perceptive, engaging, intimate chronicle of the early 1970s, the road-weary hippie hitchhikers, the anti-war sentiment, the dope-induced haze. Boruch . . . captures this very specific, significant time and place with exquisite clarity and lyric detail and description.

Tony Hoagland

"From its first page The Glimpse Traveler launches us on a trajectory—an On The Road-style westward-ho picaresque journey through 1971 American culture—Berkeley, Big Sur, Esalen, communes galore, and even normality, in all its strangeness. Marianne Boruch is a bona-fide story teller, and the episodes are unobtrusively salted with the narator's curious, wry, deeply intelligent and lyrical meditations about love, selves, art, beauty and knowability. The Glimpse Traveler is a wise, vulnerable, perfectly configured piece of literature, and a great read as well." —Tony Hoagland

Susan Neville]]>

Marianne takes off into the unknown with $10, carrying her begging bowl and having the artist's faith that it will be filled with story. She never questions it. She's curious, and she follows that curiosity. The universe doesn't disappoint.

Karen Brennan]]>

The Glimpse Traveler is a wild romp into the wild romp of the 1971, trippy, establishment-hating past, with all the accoutrements: hitchhiking, hippie vans, communes, Esalen, nude sun-bathing, hot-tubbing, bong-hitting—you name it, Marianne Boruch has got it covered. Hilarious satire, tender coming-of-age-making-of-a-poet memoir, bursting with dazzling language and marvelous characters. A stunning book!

Susan Neville

Marianne takes off into the unknown with $10, carrying her begging bowl and having the artist's faith that it will be filled with story. She never questions it. She's curious, and she follows that curiosity. The universe doesn't disappoint.

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