About a month later, I stood in the middle of Sal's childhood home. It was about 9:30 in the morning when my Dad’s more joyful younger brother, Uncle Larry, walked out of his study with a 8 inch party pipe packed full of the finest weed he could buy off the black market. My Uncle Larry is a professional at taking huge rips. He has a 6’2” torso with arms, hands and legs sized for a 6’6” monster. His hair is ginger orange and he rocks a mustache that he’s groomed since the 70’s. He lit up and took a huge rip unlike anyone I’d seen, filling his lungs to the max and when I thought he couldn’t fit anymore smoke in he scrunched up his face, took one more good suck until the pressure caused him to squeak like a mouse. Only after he squeaked, with smoke leaking out of his nose did he finally relax and let it all out in one big pillow filling the room.
“You want some?” He said with big enthusiastic eyes, reaching the pipe out towards me as I stood in silent awe of the spectacle I’d just watched.
My Uncle Larry and Aunt Alice volunteered to drive Sal and I to California. It wasn’t a hard sell, they live for a good road trip. There are four kids in their family. Julie, Janis, Sal, and their silver 1987 VW Vanagon, Wolfsburg edition, that they’ve used to travel pridefully around the United States for nearly 30 years. My Aunt Alice is in between jobs working as a consultant in the energy efficiency business so she had time and my Uncle Larry, a special education teacher, used up a couple vacation days. They wouldn’t miss dropping us off for the world. They wish they could go with us.
“Yeah, I want some.” I took the pipe and lit up. It’s going to be a long drive, and then it’s going to be a long walk, might as well be on cloud 9.
My Aunt walked in from the kitchen, “ohhh yeaaah!! I want some of that!” She smiles and I pass her the pipe.
Chet, in more disbelief than me about the ridiculous of our situation, took a long look at the goofiness of his parents and accepted the pipe next.
We’re in Colorado where weed has just been legalized for recreational use so we wouldn't break any laws until we started driving.
Sal and I grabbed the cooler and headed outside behind my Aunt and Uncle to finish packing.
“Oh, Larry!” My Aunt Nancy says, “Maybe we should do something about this peace sign we have on the Van.” She turns to me with her hand raised and finger pointed as stern as a stoner can be, “You know since weed has been legalized Colorado license plates get targeted in other states.” Then she smiled all sweet and explained, "We gave the van a fresh coat of silver and..."
“And that new peace sign is like the bulls-eye for the ol’ weed mobile.” Chet interrupted with a smile.
My Uncle Larry came barreling out of the garage, stoned as any man can be at 9:30 in the morning. “Look!” he exclaimed with a big smile on his face, he was holding a magnet that you’d put on your refrigerator, shaped like police car with print around the top that said “we support the sheriff’s department.”
“Ha, this will be great! We’ll just slap this bad boy right below the peace sign and then when police take a look at our van they’ll know we’re for peace and police!” The magnet wasn’t strong enough so it fell off the side of the van as soon as he slapped it on.
“Oh no, I don’t think it will stay on! Let’s try putting it on the bumper!” Alice bellowed. It fell off again.
They were both huddled over behind the bumper giving it another go.
Chet and I couldn’t help but smile. “Maybe, we’ll have to take our chances without the magnet” Chet said.
Weed is fun because it can lead you down trails of thought that you never thought were possible or relevant. It’s like my brain is dyed a different color for a few hours so that the world is tinted a different way. In that way, it’s taught me a lot about consciousness and the eternal part of my being but it also takes me down trails that make me feel a little bit silly. My Aunt and Uncle realized the trail they were walking was leading down the silly path and they both laughed. My uncle stretched out his long arms, gave us a huge exaggerated smile, shrugged and said “C’mon, It was worth a shot!” and then clamored inside to drop the magnet and lock up.
We all loaded up in the van. My Uncle Larry who had been a career UPS driver took the first shift, and Alice road shotgun. The back of the van had a 3 person bench facing forwards and two cockpit chairs directly behind Larry and Alice facing backwards, with enough space for a fold out table. Chet who’d always sat facing backwards as kid, took his usual chair behind his Dad and I had the bench to myself.
My uncle started up the van and we rolled down the driveway. I sat there lost in my mind. I was stoned and stoic and had been that way since I graduated University two years earlier. I didn’t really know how to make sense of the world anymore. I was lost in something painful that I didn't understand. That had become my normal. I smoked because I didn’t have to really feel it fully. The weed tint provided relief and kept my behavior barely inside the lines of convention.
We made it about 5 minutes down the road when my Uncle announced we had to stop for Gas. We pulled off into a 76 station and my Uncle got out to fill the van up. My Aunt Alice unpacked a joint from a plastic baggy and attached it to a roach clip.When my Uncle re-started the Van my Aunt lit the Joint and they started passing it back and forth.
The whole thing made me pretty confused because we’d just smoked at the house and I was still higher than a kite and I’d never seen anyone use a roach clip before. Sal, looked at me and shook his head when he noticed the smell.
My Aunt passed the Joint back to me and started rambling. “Yeah, we’ve been able to travel a lot more than most people, with this van and all. We’ve been able to go down to New Mexico, the Grand Canyon, up north to the Badlands and Montana, Wyoming. We’ve made it to Oregon and Washington and into California. Remember when we drove out to California? Oh that was such a disaster when the Van broke down and we had to stay at your brothers an extra week!...”
I took a Puff while I listened. My aunt reminded me of myself, she was carrying pain too. She carried on...
“But the worst time was when we were on the way back and it broke down again outside of Sacramento. Oh man I forgot what I was talking about...
“Oh, yeah people just don’t travel like we do. When I was kid, growing up. We didn’t have a lot of money and I had to work in order to help take care of my brothers and sisters. I wanted to be a part of the boy scouts so bad! I think what you guys are doing is so cool. And I started organizing a girl scouts troop when I was a little older in high school but it all got squashed by my step mother! She was just awful! My Dad bless his heart really did try, but after my mom died he ended marrying this absolute witch! Ugh, it was such a nightmare! Did I tell you she used to make us do Hail Mary’s for hours on the old hill just past pine ridge?"
Wrapped up in the stories of the past. Replaying and re-believing them. Unlike her, I never talked, I didn't know where to begin but she did and she would go on for hours about her evil step mother if we’d let her. Sal couldn’t take it. He looked at me with a smile and eyes that said, ‘are you paying attention to this too?’ “Mom, Matt’s heard the story before.”
“Oh, ok.” She took the joint back from Sal and took another long drag and my mind began to wonder closer to my problem.
Weed - a veil over the pain. It numbs u from actually feeling and I defend myself with pre-planned attacks. Weed doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s not like alcohol. It’s medicine, how dare you criticize me of being a junkie. Weed never killed anyone. It doesn’t make me stupid. In fact I’d argue it’s made me more intelligent. How clearly do you watch your thoughts? What level of self awareness do you possess? Weed has been the only experience that’s really taught me how to step out of my mind and find relief from things that don’t make sense. It’s not a gateway drug, it’s a gateway to peace and self-awareness. Have you tried it lately? Have you done it with someone that can explain the benefits of it to you? No, we’re not junkies and we’re not criminals we’re just humans trying to figure out how to create peace of mind. For me, weed slows the bleeding. It makes it bearable without having to break down. It’s a patch over the problem. And if you don’t have a solution, might as well use a patch.
And so, I sit quietly in the back of the van, smiling at my cousin, realizing the ridiculous of the trail of thoughts I’d just followed. Sometimes the tint wasn’t positive and I wasn't sure how to change something I didn't feel I had any control over.
These thoughts just appear out of no-where. Where are they coming from? Something else has to be going on.
Aunt Alice was using it as a patch too. It wasn't long before she started talking about her evil step-mother again, replaying the misery in her mind, making it more real each time. Chet and I locked eyes and shared the same thought, “why is it so hard to let things go?”
And then I took a breath.
Maybe 2600 miles and 5 months in the wilderness will help.