Looking west to a smear of dusty crimson sunlight, a young man of twenty stood on the shoulder of Highway 66 waiting to hitch a ride. A powder blue Cadillac pulled up and the lad was caught in a puff of loose gravel. When the dust settled, a woman dressed in a two piece matching suit leaned over from the driver’s seat. “Say fella, can you drive one of my cars to California? I’ll pay the expenses,” she yelled out the window. Another Cadillac pulled up next to hers with a jerk stop. The lad stared into the shine of the car. It looked like wet paint and he was tempted to touch it. “Sure will, yep I’ll do that. Should I get in now?” The young man answered. “I need to see your driver’s license.” She added. The man hastily drew out his license from a dusty plastic cover inside his billfold. She looked it over, and smiled. “All right Maurice, keep in close to us on the road, don’t get lost. We’re going far as Needles.” Maurice held tight to the steering wheel, ‘Geez, ain’t this great, what a car. I’m going all the way from Nebraska to California in a Cadillac.’ He’d forgotten about the sharp pains of hunger, and bloody sores on his feet. Now he was sitting on warm leather seats, with the cold night air off his back, and ten dollars in his pocket.
Sixty five years later, I’m walking down the street where Maurice lives. We haven’t met yet. I don’t meet my neighbors. I move before I have a chance to care about them. It comes easy to me, being a loner. Then I met Maurice.
It was a day like today, just after the rain soaked every blade of grass, and the world looked squeaky clean as if it had been mopped with God’s soap. I was sleeping in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar berth on a ferryboat that swayed like a rubber raft. I was awakened by a knock at the door. “Ma’am. We’re here.” I looked at the young man questionably.“Ireland,” he added and shut the door. “We’re here?” I twisted myself round in the blanket and raised my chin to the porthole.Oh my God– It exists. Look at that tiny little village and the little harbor and the colors.
I landed at the Port of Rosshaven from London where I’d spent two nights in a room the size of a cigarette holder. I loved London as much as I could in two short days; carrying thirty-five pounds of clothes. Part of one day I spent packaging up half my wardrobe to ship back. The plan was to spend one month in Ireland. Other than that, my itinerary was unplanned. In those days, I leveraged myself to the outskirts of foolery.I gathered my Northface garment duffle, shoulder bag, and departed the ferry. It was Sept. 5, 1987, and I was thirty-something, recently separated from a career in commercial real estate and my pad in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego. Everything went into storage so I would be free to conquer whatever it was I thought I was conquering.
That first day I made my way to the picturesque village of Kinsale. The tourist office made the reservation for me and suggested that I rent a car. No need, I thought. I’d get around on my own for a while. She slapped a map of Ireland on the desk and pointed to several towns and then counted the miles between each town. “The buses stop running in September because all the tourists have gone home. You be wee on your own.” “ Well, I’ll look into it tomorrow. I’ll just get a cab to the Bed and Breakfast tonight.”
That night ended faster than any in my life. I woke up and decided to stay another. I could not part with the warmth of the Innkeeper’s country kitchen and the canary yellow bedroom, or the county road, the red barn and the miles and miles of rollercoaster hills cushioned in that indescribable Irish green. Her house was a quintessential B & B, blushing with the right bedding, Irish linen, French and English antiques and contemporary restaurant-grade kitchen.
I remember the Innkeeper drove a BMW, and her house sparkled as if it had been photographed earlier. That first day I walked into dreamland, and I did not come out until I left Ireland. This was my first solo trip to Europe. I began with Ireland because my friend, Kenny, insisted I go find the Casey in me. That’s my mother’s maiden name. Everyone thought I should be institutionalized for taking off like I did; mid-career on the rise and all of that.
That first evening I walked into town and ate at the restaurant the Innkeeper recommended. I wish I could remember the name of the place. It’s written in my journal, but the journal is in Taos, NM. Anyway, that dinner still rates in the top ten of all dinners, including all those four-star French Michelin Chateau feasts I found my way to later on in the trip. I hit a dozen villages between Clare, Kerry and Limerick. I took a seaweed bath at the seashore of Ballybunion, stayed in a folk singers
luxury hotel for a week because he wanted me to bring his tape back to America, attended an Irish wedding and the racetrack in Dublin. I watched the Farmers Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna and climbed the hill to the Cliffs of Mohr. On my hike up to the cliffs, I passed a man gardening in his front yard. He stopped and began to chat. His house was so beautifully Irish, handcrafted in brick and stone with acres of fertile land as his back yard. I told him it was the most beautiful home I had ever seen. He turned around in his rubber boots, leaned against his pitchfork, and said, “America, that’s where I want to go.” He said he would give me his house if I would take him with me. We talked for a long time about what matters, and as we parted I remember what he said, “Send me a postcard from America.”