“Beat of the Street” article–The Idle American Part I

Barb’d Wire.                             

                     The Idle American–Part One      By RJ Wordsmyth.

I want to tell you a story. This is the story of a guy who lost his way, as sometimes people do. He grew up in the suburbs–this guy–and knew very little about the city life. He was an ambitious fellow with big dreams. He started his own business because he always wanted to be his own boss. He worked hard. He paid his taxes. He was, for all extensive purposes, your typical entrepreneurial American.

    At some point the economy took a downturn and his business went bust. This made him very depressed because he was losing all the stuff he worked so hard to build up. He had to sell all his equipment and the lenders foreclosed on his building. Twelve-plus years of hard work and it was all broken into pieces and sold off to the highest bidder. This made him very sad, but not angry, because he did not blame others, but took responsibility for making some poor choices. Still, there was things that were completely out of his control, like the recession, and this too he understood but could not change.

    Then all of a sudden–BOOM!! He got hurt in a car accident. He recovered fairly quickly from the accident, although his lower back would never be the same. In addition to the disability, he also had a new set of problems. Problems he neither understood, nor had any experience with. He became addicted to pain medication. When the physical therapy ended, and the doctors stopped writing scripts, he did something that he swore he would never do. He turned to street drugs. Opiates. Heroin. Dope.

    He never wanted to be an addict. He, like most young people, felt like he was invincible, like the world was there for the taking. He was an American, and everyone knows in America if you “work hard and play by the rules” you can slice off your own big fat piece of that oh-so-sweet American apple pie.

    Yet, there he was, out of money, out of work, no place to call home, and the worse part of it all–he was strung out on dope. He stayed in shelters, sometimes he slept in the park, in an abandoned building, or a burned out car. He didn’t want to stray to far from the city, because he was always within walking distance of a hot meal at one of the soup kitchens, and where he could always try to hustle up enough money to “get right.” Some mornings he woke up cold and dope sick, so he would get up just as the sun rose and try to panhandle a few dollars just so he could function. It was a hard life. Everything he knew about the American dream now–he put in a needle and shot into his arm.

     Then he got arrested. Arrested and sent to jail. This was long before they gave prisoners any type of medication to ease the suffering of a cold turkey heroin detox. They call it “cold turkey” because of the way your skin looks, and they call it “kicking” because you cannot control the way your legs jump around all night. As miserable as he was, and he was truly miserable, he saw others who were coming off large doses of methadone–and they were even worse. Some would not eat a scrap of food for thirty days. Some even attempting to take their own lives, due to the unbearable nature of a methadone detox. It was his first offense so he didn’t get too much time. And he swore on everything he loved–he would never go back.

     But he did. Addiction, you see, is an insidious monster. He knew how bad it could get, he knew what the experts said was all true–it always ends the same–jails, institutions, or death. Even with the clean time, the miserable detox, the lesson of prison, and the promise to himself–even with all those things, and a loving family who wanted him to get better–even with all of that–he still relapsed. He. Still. Relapsed.

This is part one. Read the next edition of “Beat of the Street” to find out more about the adventures and tribulations of “The Idle American.”

 

                                                                               

The Magic Bus–a memoir

I purchased the bus off an old farmer who lived behind the Stop n’ Shop in Vernon. His name was Randall–Randall Farmer: truck mechanic. He customized it for his family to travel around and see the country in. When I discovered her she sat covered in trees, wedged way in the back of his yard, with a for sale sign inconspicuously placed on the windshield where it could barely be seen. A 1957 Ford school bus camper conversion, with a 4ft. by 4ft. porch welded to the back bumper. The perfect cruising party vessel. I had to have it.

    The year was 1984, we were two years out of high school…and I had dreams. We had dreams. Dreams of getting rich, of being someone important, of starting our own businesses–but all of those dreams would wait. The dream I chose to pursue immediately at the time, was my dream of seeing the country, of travelling ‘cross the old U.S. of A. in a rolling house on wheels.

    But the bus needed some work before that could happen. I borrowed the money to purchase it from Rick’s dad. Rick was my best friend, and his father was really wealthy. He took a liking to me…his father, not just because I was his only sons best friend, but because he knew my own dad had died when I was only two years alive. So after I put down the deposit to hold it, I went to him for a loan. I fell in love with this bus the first time ole’ Randall gave me a tour of the inside. I just had to have it. Jack gave me the money…and I paid back every dime.

      Randall Farmer was a very talented truck mechanic, with his very own hands he converted her from an antique school bus into a comfortable motorhome. All the amenities, a stove and sink, bathroom, dinette area that converted into a double bed, and a cozy back room with storage and a large sleeping area. And that porch– the porch Randall welded on the back, had a fence all around with a gate that swung open, and was so sturdy six people could stand on it while cruising down the highway. He had also explained to me about the two-speed electric rear end that was permanently jammed in high for better cruising speed on the highway. The man was a genius. There was one last feature that made this about the coolest custom cruiser I had ever seen, and it was in the drivers area. One bucket seat–a high back from a 1972 Charger, custom shag dashboard, and extended stick shift with a Hurst aluminum handle grip. The whole decor reeked of retro hippie mixed with bad-ass biker. It was just too perfect for a 19 yr.old free spirit dreamer, like myself.  

      Even though parking at my mothers house didn’t make mom all that happy, I still managed to sandblast the entire bus there, and paint it in three sections, giant stripes–one red, one white, and one blue.Very patriotic.Very Grateful Dead.

    After several local test flights, the “Magic” bus was made ready for her maiden voyage. Back in those days I did a lot of ticket scalping as a way to earn extra money, even though the majority of the time the profits were taken in the form of choice tickets for myself and a friend–instead of in cash. When I heard on the radio that “today at 2:00” they would be making “a big announcement” I knew what it had to be, and headed straight to the ticket outlet/ head shop, in downtown Manchester, and waited. LIVE AID tickets went on sale, and I was not only the first person in line, but I was the only person in line. Limit four per customer. With over a thousand dollars in my pocket, a little sign wasn’t going to stop me. I went to work. First person I saw was a man walking his dog.

      “Excuse me sir, would you like to make ten dollars quick?”

      This was the line I would use over and over; even the mailman got me tickets. When it was all said and done, I had scored over a dozen tickets to the biggest live show since Woodstock. For the price of one hundred dollars, a person would get a ticket to the show, and a ride to Philadelphia on the “Magic” red, white, and blue, school bus camper. This trip would be epic. The concert adventure…“of our lifetime.”

    Michael, Patrick (Seaweed), Gerry, Rick, and myself, all heading down the highway, in a bus full of beer, and a healthy stash of assorted mind altering substances specifically designed to enhance the experience. We got there a full day before the concert was scheduled to begin, giving us ample time to explore the area. For this purpose, we had Rick’s brand new “enduro” on/off road dirt bike strapped to the back porch. We all took turns riding the bike, doing wheelies through the crowd as they began to gather, and making cheesesteak and beer runs whenever necessary. We were having a blast and the concert hadn’t even started yet.

      They sang “We are the world…We are the children…” When it was all said and done, many bands reunited, bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, and many others just jammed together for the first and last time. Music history was made and we were there. Our history was also made. Never again would this unlikely group of friends be together like this. Never again would we be part of something that would be considered the music event of a generation…of our generation.

    The year was 1985, on a hot summer night in J.F.K. stadium the world was watching. People came together–in peace, and in music–for a single cause, to raise money for the starving children in Africa. When Phil Collins took the stage and played “Something In the Air Tonight” 90,000 lighters lit up the night sky. At that moment I knew life would never again be that carefree, that reckless, and that serendipitous. I also knew this would go down in our history…as one of our finest hours..so I couldn’t help but find myself lost in a melancholy dreamland…“We are the world….We are the children.”