"Preface to COLORADO MANDALA'', a novel by Brian Heffron
When I was twelve, I first stuck my thumb out to hitchhike long distance. A yellow Pontiac Bonneville driven by a young Italian girl pulled over onto the dusty shoulder of the Garden State Parkway entrance ramp and I got in. I mention her ethnicity because at that time the Irish and the Italians were like two sides in an ongoing hockey game with lots of checking. I did not really understand this feud other than as two tribes that had not yet merged in the American melting pot engaged in a struggle for resources, jobs, opportunities, and that golden fleece: a solid economic future. Then we hippies came along and rejected all that. Things have never been the same since.
The Citizens in the cars that picked me up were very nice to me all over our country, so I went wherever I wanted. The truth is, I love the hulking cement “Jersey Barriers” that stream alongside the fast lane, just inches from your rear view mirror, and separating all of us from the on-coming traffic! They are not eyesores to me. They are part of my human infrastructure, my transportation psyche. At night, along the highway, I love the dirty-brown light from the cheap sodium vapor lamps cantilevered out over the roadway from giant spindle like aluminum poles.
America’s highways granted me access to our entire country via a long entrance ramp that started right at the edge of my own hometown. Aladdin’s Carpet was waiting at the end of that black macadam ramp: all you had to do was stick out you’re your thumb and you were off. Admit to the world that you needed a ride. Admit you wanted to travel for free. Admit you were going on an adventure. And I’ll tell you, the world responded. Everyone likes to see another person on an adventure. They wish they were so bold so they admire you. Many people stopped to pick me up. I never waited anywhere for very long. Exit 172 on the New Jersey Garden State Parkway was my portal to the innards of America. Within a few years, via hitchhiking, almost every remote mountain range, coastal peninsula or Midwest flatland could quickly become a destination for me.
I took Moonshine with grizzled hillbilly farmers in Georgia who teased me about my hair, but then drove me twenty miles out of his way to get me back on track. I met breathtakingly beautiful girls camping wild in the Florida keys with their kitchen utensils delicately suspended in the crooks and branches of a flamboyantly red Royal Poinciana. I met single Moms fleeing unhappy homes: Alice had started to not want to stay home anymore. Hitchhiking was probably scarier for the drivers giving me rides than it ever was for me. In all the thousands of rides I got I never once felt any true sense of threat, fear or danger. Only a few times, in my naivete I got into cars that I later realized I was lucky to get back out of. But mostly it was safe, cheap and fun.
I should say that, right from the start, I never felt any obligation to tell the truth to anyone who picked me up hitchhiking. Each new ride and new car was a new audience and got a new fable about whom I was and where I was going. I simply thought that telling the truth to someone who had gone to the trouble of pulling off the highway to pick me up, would be a great disservice to that person and really letting them down. These tired and weary drivers wanted and deserved a lively story from me. They were not on an adventure and I was, and it was time to pay for my ticket! So, for each new ride, I invented a fresh, Paul Bunyan size fable about myself and my dire circumstances, troubled past, urgent mission, pursuit by parents (or worse), etc., Stories that would pop their eyes right out of their bourgeoisie heads. I happened to be a very well-trained fibber at the time, and they needed a good story while they drove, so I was really only holding up my end of the bargain.
Out there in the middle of this enormous country of ours soldiers almost always pick you up. When you are stuck in nowhere Ville Indiana on Route 70 it is a lock that when some young man, or now woman, serving our country passes you that they will pull over their (invariably) American Muscle Car to give you a ride…Or a drive, really, because they always immediately slid over into the passenger seat having judged me capable of handling their huge, overblown, over horse-powered, product of Detroit. This was true when I roved America’s national boulevards, and its still true today. American military personnel simply always pick up hitchhikers. Why? Because they have only a few day’s leave and it is a long way between their base and their hometown. And so they always want to cover that distance as quickly as is combustion-enginely-possible and hitchhikers who can drive facilitate this speedy process. After they pick you up, these soldiers almost immediately fall deeply asleep, so it is important to identify their ultimate destination before they are overcome with an un-wakeable slumber.
I once met a Soldier very much like the character Michael Boyd Atman, whom you are about to meet within the pages of this book, when he picked me up hitchhiking on Route 70 in Kansas in the seventies. If this is of any use to you: one might even imagine that Paul, the narrator of this story, actually hitchhiked into our tale by meeting Michael in just this manner, as a hitchhiker thumbing a ride somewhere in the high desert of Route 70 in Kansas or eastern Colorado, heading straight for that bright line of snow dusted mountains that splits our country from top to bottom like a spine: the Rockies. Although that mystical meeting between our characters would have had to occur long before our tale begins, when they have already become blood brothers.
Then each new generation gradually learns how real life involves loyalty and jealousy, sexual loyalty, and the intimacy that can only grow up between two people, and other deeply human traits.
The story is my own. The characters are mine own as well. But, both the plot and the people lived once, in a time of tenderness, rebellious music, and long hair that was quite different from our own. Do not worry, I will not go on and on about how great it was back then. I will simply say that, knowing you as I do, dear reader, that you might very well have enjoyed living back then. Yes. I feel certain that you would have liked it very much."