read various chapters of this autobiography by going to the Individual Stories menu to the right.

Thursday, March 1, 1979

I was a runaway. Drove from Arkansas to Connecticut, lived in Waterbury

My route. Little Rock AR to Waterbury CT. 1496 miles.
In the Spring of 1979, during my 11th grade at Little Rock's Mills High School, I ran away to my aunt's home in Connecticut.

While living in Connecticut I attended Wilby High School and worked at the Chess King Men's Clothing Store at Brass Mill Center (Mall).

I met Rachel Hitchock at that mall, and we dated steady through the rest of the time I was there. I left in late summer, returning to my parents home in Little Rock.

I drove from 5916 Lyndell Drive, Little Rock, Arkansas (my parent's home) to 24 Stowe Road, Waterbury, Connecticut (my aunt's home).

That is a quick synopsis. What follows is a far more detailed telling.

The year leading up to my running away had been a period of intellectual discovery. Two books I had found in our school library had a great influence on me: The Naked Ape and Future Shock. The Naked Ape was a big influence, and the only influence at the time, towards believing in evolution.

Future Shock was equally influential. I had chosen it as my focus for a research paper assignment in English class, the writing project spanned most of the school year. Future Shock pointed to a hyper-modern world of disposable goods, information overload and tumultuous change.

I yearned for more of what these books introduced, I wanted more dialog among people comfortable with evolution, and I wanted to be actually in an information overloaded, quick changing, and hyper-modern society.

In essence, I wanted out of the South (and to be fair and even, I would have had more contempt for any tradition bound and backward society in the developing world).

Combine that with troubled relations with my father through all my teens, bullying and general malaise at my high school, and then one nagging procrastination....I was seriously behind on completing my writing project for English class.

Future Shock, I haven't thought of that book in decades. I realize now the seed of so much of my outlook on life -how I love hyper-modernity, information overload, ubiquitous disposable electronic technology, and the social disruptions and new ways introduced by the Internet. I wasn't just out of synch with local culture in Arkansas. Even in Seattle and college in Olympia I've been almost equally out of sync. In the Pacific Northwest its normal to praise every instance of raw nature, and deplore every encroachment of man-made environment. Information overload and hyper-busy-ness are considered things to take a break from. I've really disliked this Pacific Northwest norm, its been every bit as much of a wet blanket on my passions as norms of the Southern Bible Belt.

Getting prepared for my runaway out of Arkansas was fun. I've always loved looking at highway maps and planning. I would go to McDonald's, drink lots of coffee and plan. I wanted to see Washington DC and New York City, so I planned a longer route than the most direct and easiest route. I had a 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle. It was in excellent shape, and my running away was in it.

The morning of the getaway I used the subterfuge of going to school. I had put my bags in the car the night before, while no one was up. I said bye at the usual time to go to school, and drove to Interstate 40 and bolted for Memphis Tennessee. I knew I only had till the afternoon before my mom would suspect, so watched the clock and tried to make as many miles as possible in that time.

My parents figured out what I was doing pretty quick, and put out an APB for me in all the states along the route to Connecticut.

My mom really resented my lying to her, I think she asked me if I was going to run away and I said "no". Then of course there is the drama and emotion my parents went through when they didn't know where I was. I apologize to them now, even if this story seems to glory in the whole escapade.

My car had its original AM radio, with a single speaker in the middle of the dash. It was the 1970's, so AM radio stations were still great and had massively powerful signals (US later outlawed such powerful signals). I was a teenager, I would get very excited when a good song came on. Plus this three day trip was my first time ever to be alone for that long, which made the radio a much stronger tether to humanity.

Later in life I would become master of driving long distances on Interstates. But this first attempt at long distance driving was kind of slow -I took lots of exits and stops. Plus the speed limit was 55 mph. I never drove over 60.

I drove basically till I couldn't stay awake any longer, which is really pathetic since I was extremely tire by Cookeville Tennessee, just 428 miles into the trip. I must have not gotten much sleep the night before I left. I got a hotel room and some sleep.

Then I proceeded to Washington DC. I was unprepared for the local laws: hotels couldn't serve a minor unaccompanied by an adult. I drove around the famous Beltway of DC, deliriously and dangerously exhausted. I was nodding off while driving. Finally I got not-stupid and pulled off the Interstate into a parking lot and slept in my car.

Once I woke I started the rest of my trek on Interstate 95, through the most densely populated portions of the East Coast, going through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

During this stretch was the first time I saw unending suburbia, that was impressive. In the south I had seen plenty of large cities such as Memphis, Dallas and Houston. But the southern cities, even with all their sprawl, eventually end and farms and forests take over the view. Not I-95 in this region, the homes and shopping centers never ended.

I always had a special memory of seeing a bridge in Trenton New Jersey with a giant banner declaring "We Build It, The World Buys It". Years later, while a history geek in college, I learned the major industrial districts of the US/Canada were the only ones not bombed into dysfunction by the end of World War II. The late 40's and 50's were not just a period of baseless pride among America's manufacturing sector, they truly were the only game on the planet for making stuff such as cars and washing machines. I always used that memory of the Trenton town slogan to keep the lesson in mind.

A big goal for the route I chose was to see Manhattan. And I did. In the mode of a 17 year old Arkansan, in a car, not at all prepared for how to properly see NYC. By the time I got to the NYC area I was out of enough money for the tolls, which were as surprise to my plans. Plus I was a little lost and kept circling around the same area, so I was hitting the tolls several times. I went through two unmanned/automated tollbooths without paying.

Eventually I took an exit into the actual city, and wound up on some random street in NYC. I was surprised at how navigable and low traffic the streets were. It was a real neighborhood of condos, grocery stores and gas stations. I parked, walked around a little and asked a guy at a service station for directions to I-95 towards Connecticut. He gave easy directions and there were no more issues, I got myself to Connecticut with no more problems.

I rationed my little remaining money, used it all for gas, and didn't eat again.

I got to Waterbury, phoned my Aunt Rosemary and was at their house by around 9:30 that night (for some reason I remember the time). I was manic and happy to be there, telling them all kinds of things, just so happy to have made it into this new nicer world.

My uncle-in-law was John Blazek. He was of Czech heritage, born, raised and settled in Connecticut except for his stint in the military in Amarillo Texas and Little Rock Arkansas area. He drove a silver Volkswagen Beetle in immaculate shape. He kept everything in his home in great shape, did all repairs himself.

My Aunt Rosemary had worked for Bell Telephone her whole life, like all her sisters, and was a manager of the very first Bell Telephone Store (later to be popular in many malls across the country).

They had a son, John, who was seven and they gave him everything a kid could want.

John took me to a school district placement office and got me in high school with no problem.

I finished 11th grade at Wilby High School. It was a big new high school at the time. One of my teachers said the school theater had the equipment and design of a standard Broadway theater.

One very new thing was the racial heritage mix. Everyone was Italian. Even students that didn't look Italian were Italian. A big change from my former school with the standard southern reality of 50% blacks and 50% whites.

Everyone was nice to me. That's an understatement, rather, everyone liked to talk to me. I was popular.
Years later my Aunt Rosemary said she still heard from people all over her town that knew me or knew of me. It was truly extreme.

I got a job at the main men's clothing store at the biggest mall, the chain was called Chess King. Remember what guys wore in Saturday Night Fever? That's the kind of clothes we sold. I know, that makes my head hurt now.

Even at the mall I became popular, kind of part of a family of managers and people that worked there. I remember being liked because I was supportive of the assistant manager's gay lifestyle and cool with his boyfriend (or maybe just friend), a gay manager of another store.

Across the hall from Chess King was a kind of general merchandise store, with a short order restaurant counter. I went over there for lunch sometimes. I met my girlfriend there, she worked behind the counter. I didn't flirt with her in any big way. One time I went there and she made the food and served it and said "no charge".  I kind of knew something then.

We started dating. Her name was Rachel Hitchcock. Her parents, her and her older brother lived in an apartment. Her dad leased his cars. I watched the evening news with them every day at 5:30. I loved doing that. I first theorized about feed-forward media manipulation sitting on the couch with her watching NBC evening news.

Rachel's father was German and her mother was Hungarian.

One of our first dates was as a double date and we went to an actual disco. We weren't served alcohol, we were all dressed up and trying to act adult, for the big adult scene we knew from Saturday Night Fever.

I was happy beyond what most people can understand. I had had a previous several years of meanness and bullying at home with my dad and at school. I go to this new place and experience not just a lessening of pain, but a very strange extreme popularity. The popularity might be a little nice perk to a mature adult, but to most teens that is the ultimate gold of all gold.

I had escaped Auschwitz and entered a free stay with free food at Disneyland. There, that's exactly how happy I was.

I entered Connecticut liking music artists like ELO, Boston and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird. I left Connecticut crazy about The Cars, The Police, The B-52's and Cheap Trick. I also was into a band largely unknown now: Flash and the Pan. Their song "Walking in the Rain" was played on FM radio there (Connecticut, not in Arkansas) and I bought their debut album.

I mention the music stuff because it was a big deal to me at that age. Just like in the TV series "Freaks and Geeks" - my identity was expressed by what kind of music I liked.

I even remember one night driving back from Rachel's and "Walking in the Rain" was played on my AM radio (AM stations are usually more pop/conservative than FM). That meant a lot to me.

Eventually this all came to an end. My mom and dad wanted me back home, and to be honest my aunt and uncle shouldn't have been burdened with raising and feeding me.

There was some major argument between my Aunt Rosemary and my mom. Rosemary wanted me to leave my car and just fly back to home, and my mom wanted the car driven back so I'd have transportation when I got back. My mom and dad were doing the right thing, I definitely needed that car so I could work, and my mom was worried about me driving alone so she flew to Connecticut to help me drive back. My mom and Rosemary were so mad at each other they weren't speaking to each other. I was supposed to pick my mother up at the airport, and we'd drive in my car back to Arkansas.

I didn't like them not being on speaking terms. So I left all my packed bags at Rosemary's house when I went to pick up my mom. That way we had to go back to Rosemary's to pick them up. I had my mom and Rosemary talking and over their hostilities within hours.

My mom stayed at Rosemary's that night and the next day we set out for the big roadtrip back to Arkansas.

On the trip back, while my mom was taking a turn at driving, I acted like I was dozing once, and cried.

Sometime after getting back to Arkansas, Rachel Hitchcock flew to Arkansas to stay at our home for a week. She met a few of my friends, and we climbed Pinnacle Mountain. My uncle Michael commented she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was rather striking -blonde, petite, a model's face. For some reason I stopped writing her sometime after that visit. That was wrong, and I kind of loathe myself for doing that.

Something turned dark inside me after that. I hated being back in Arkansas. I came up with a rule I stuck with most of my adult life -never date someone born in the South (later to be amended with can they climb Pinnacle Mountain without a break). I also was done with "running away", I became extremely accommodating to adults around me (all except my dad). I joined the religion of my grandmother's -the Christadelphians- and when one Christadelphian family offered to let me move in with them in Monroe Louisiana I accepted.

...all while maintaining my oath to never date or marry a southern girl and having all my desires set on either New England cities or mountain climbing, two of the most opposite and impossible things one could want while living in Louisiana.

While some of you reading this may be insulted by my anti-south statements, please take it in the spirit of everyone has their preferences, their likes and dislikes, and their life goals.

I am guilty is of something more hideous than not liking the South. I was 17 as all this was beginning to emerge in my personality. The next year I was 18 and able to move and work anywhere I wanted. I didn't, and that is pathetically lame. I could have fought my way back to Connecticut and back to Rachel Hitchcock after graduating from high school. "Fighting my way back" is overly dramatic, I could have just saved up for a trip on a Greyhound bus and gotten myself there. It's not that complicated or hard.

I chose the small person's strategy, I stayed, I complied with ideas and goals far from what fit me, and I sabotaged myself for most of my 20's.

Postscript reflection: after writing this my friend Greg reminded me of our trips to southern Louisiana and working on oil rigs (that story here). This reminded me...Waterbury was really boring, and I wasn't doing anything special or cool there. Whereas working on the oil rigs and living in New Orleans definitely was an adventure that taught me lots of stuff and exposed me to the world. And by 1990 I didn't even like places like Connecticut -New York City being the only place on the East Coast I still really like a lot. Maybe I should turn the whining and self-loathing down a notch. Still sorry to Rachel for ceasing to correspond without giving any reason. 

The author of this blog also has two books available on Amazon. Athena Techne uses some of the autobiographical content of this blog and adds a philosophical perspective utilizing the ancient Greek god Athena.

Athena Techne :: Page

Autistic Crow Computer is a fiction set in Seattle, about an autistic boy and two crows. The book was written for young autistic readers, although reviews by non-autistics have been positive.

Autistic Crow Computer :: Page