The last hamburger

The trip to LA took 3 nights and most of 3 days. Somewhere in the California desert I consumed what would be the last animal flesh that would pass my lips for as long as I would spend with Stephen and his followers. I wolfed down a hamburger without ceremony.

Sixty hours on the bus, even with adjoining seats to myself most of the way, had numbed me out in mind and body. I had less and less idea of what I was heading for, though I didn’t yet miss where I’d been. There was no fear, but neither was there excitement or anticipation. I’d flung myself into the unknown and was ready to accept whatever awaited me.

Anita and her bus would be there to pick me up, but whether I’d have a girlfriend on that bus or not, I had no idea. Fact was: she’d left me and I’d refused to leave with her. The affair had, in my mind, been over. Only Stephen’s book and its creative approach to explaining life – not Anita’s phone call – had convinced me to change my mind. Or so I made myself believe.

But was I really like these people? I’d only met four of them. I’d never heard nor laid eyes on Stephen, the driving force behind it all, the teacher, the idea guy. And in moving to California I was going counter to an old, though silly prejudice I’d held against the Golden State for years. All that surfer girl bullshit and Hollywood glitz just went against my grain. The Summer of Love? I’d been in Europe then, and had decided that being there must have been the superior planetary experience.

So, after the interminable traverse of the LA suburbs, I deboarded and found my way to a bench in the lobby. I sat alone amidst the other bus passengers and the oddball vagrants in the Trailways terminal  – my duffle bags snugged up to my feet for security. The best I could hope was that this adventure would all work out for the best. Suburban Maryland, my good old friends and family, they were all behind me and 3,000 miles away. And in their place? I had no idea.

I stared at the floor, wondering how long I’d have to wait.

“Clifford?”

Two large feet in canvas tennies had stepped into my view, next to my duffles. I panned up the long body to a frazzled beard and dreamy eyes.

“Uh yeah, that’s me.”

“Hi. I’m Erik. We’re outside waiting for you.”

And with that, he reached down, snatched up my bags and strode toward the door. I followed him out into the sunlight. The yellow bus I’d watched disappear in Virginia was now wrapped in three broad horizontal stripes of blue – dark on the bottom, medium in the middle and light blue along window level. The roof was pure white. And standing in the doorway was Anita with the two girls.

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