Take the Road Not Traveled
“By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong.” — Joni Mitchell
In 1969, our high school only had a handful of actual hippies. Just by chance, my locker was near the leader of that small pack, and I spent a lot of time talking to them about music. In May, during the last week of 8th grade, they were all excited as I approached. “Hey, Darryl, we’re all going to load into Gary’s VW bus and drive up to New York this summer. There’s going to be this bitchin’ concert, man, supposed to be a lot of bands. Wanna come?”
I thought about the conversation I would have with my parents and replied, “Nah, man, but thanks for asking. Sounds cool.”
As I look back on 65 years of running around the 3rd rock from the sun, I remember many scenes like this.
Not of the roads I took, but the ones I didn’t take.
I’m not complaining. I’m perfectly happy where I ended up and can’t imagine a different life. Some of the roads I did take were very bumpy, and more than a few were dead ends.
On one or two, I ignored the “Bridge Out” sign and drove straight off the cliff.
But what would have happened if I had taken the other fork? What if I had gone to Woodstock? Would I have come back home, a week older, and continued with my life. Or would I have ended up in a commune in Wyoming?
Soon after high school, back when the drinking age was 18, I walked into a bar shortly after my birthday. I didn’t realize until I got inside that the place was actually closed, and they were remodeling the place. I met the new owner and hung out to lend a hand with the work.
And have a few free beers.
When he opened for business, he hired me to run the kitchen. At the time, you had to sell food in that county, or you couldn’t sell alcohol. I worked there for a couple of years, seven days a week. In for a few hours at lunch, off for four hours, then back in at six until closing, which usually meant 4 am. It was a blast of an experience for a young single guy. Think Cheers, but more and better characters.
After not having (or wanting) a day off in two years, one Saturday night, I decided, screw it. I’m taking a night off.
Turns out, the owner has engaged in several nefarious activities both in and outside the bar that most of us knew nothing about. At any rate, the county police raided the place and arrested all the employees and half the customers.
I never collected my last paycheck.
What would have happened if I had shown up for the approximately 730th consecutive workday? Best case, I’m a guy with a record. Worst case, I’m in prison for something I didn’t do.
By 1977, I was working on a construction job. It was my 5th job in 4 years. I had delivered candy to stores all over Georgia. I had loaded trucks at Kraft foods. (There’s a road best not taken). I had worked in a couple of restaurants. And, of course, I had worked in a bar for a bit.
But I had been at this job for almost a year, and it looked like I might hang with it. A guy I had been working with for a while was about to head for California. “There’s a lot of work out there and the weather is nice year-round,” he said. I liked the guy, and the opportunity sounded great, but he was leaving the next day.
I agonized over it all night, but in the end, my indecision made the decision.
He left, I stayed.
I can only imagine what my life would have been if I had grabbed my handful of possessions and hopped in the car with him. Would I have become a mogul in Malibu, or homeless in Oxnard?
In 1979, I had just run my second marathon and was at a friend’s house having breakfast. A woman walked in to borrow a vacuum cleaner and was introduced to another friend who had also run. I thought she was beautiful and smart, but she hooked up with my buddy, and they began dating shortly after.
I could have let it go and continued to pursue the life of solitude I had lived for the past few years. I was pretty happy most of the time, came and went as I pleased, and usually had enough money.
But I couldn’t let it go. So I watched and waited.
And when the opportunity presented itself, I pulled a bloodless coup; a blindside so devious it would have left die-hard fans of Survivor reeling with envy.
Then I rode off into the sunset with the woman at my side.
That was 40 years ago, and at no time have I wished I had taken the other route.
But you have to look back and wonder sometimes.
Where would I be if I had taken a left instead of a right?