I'm a sucker for a road book, and "Attempted Hippie," David Noonan's rollicking story about his days crisscrossing the country as a college drop-out, was a fun read.
It's the early 1970s, Woodstock and Summer of Love are but a memory. Even the Vietnam War is winding down, but Noonan longs to be a hippie, or at least, some kind of free spirit.
Tired of his suburban New Jersey town and living at home and working crummy jobs at a gas station and in a cemetery, he takes to the road in search of his freedom.
Noonan is funny describing these jobs and the people here and the life he longs to escape.
His destination is Arizona where his footloose brother is living. Other than that, his plans are vague.
He thinks he's eventually going to return to Syracuse University to resume his studies in journalism, but that's a long way off.
And so, with just a little money in his pocket, Noonan heads to the highway one fine spring day, sticks out his thumb and goes out in search of his country.
He has little problem finding rides. It is, after all, the '70s, when people had less qualms about picking up hitchhikers.
Other than being propositioned for sex a few times, he runs into few, if any problems while on the road.
He encounters some oddballs, to be sure. The guy who picks at the calluses on his feet as he snacks on fruit is among the stranger people with whom he hitches rides. But all prove to be friendly enough and more than willing to give a guy with hair that's not too long a ride.
Noonan, once an Eagle Scout, is far from a choirboy. When not smoking dope with strangers, he sleeps along roadsides in a tent, sometimes taking up offers from strangers to crash in motel rooms.
In Arizona, he meets up with his younger brother, John, and some of his laidback, eager to party friends.
In a few days, his brother, disappears - to San Francisco.
Noonan is fascinated by John, a true free spirit, who is known to follow whims. And so, Noonan is soon back on the road, hitchhiking farther westward.
Soon, he has one of his more memorable hitchhiking experiences. What he describes as the "biggest, most beautiful car I had ever seen rolled to a stop beside me. It was a Rolls-Royce, dark blue, with a long hood topped by a silvery winged goddess leaning into the wind. The man wore a white tuxedo shirt with a ruffled front, purple velvet pants, lots of rings, and a pair of antique sunglasses, tiny ovals of smoked glass rimmed with gold."
Noonan is understandably curious about this mysterious man, but learns little about him during the long ride across the Southern California desert to Palm Springs, other than his magnificent car was once owned by an Indian raja.
"Three hours after that, I was in a white Mercedes convertible on Sunset Boulevard, and a guy in a Hawaiian shirt was asking me if I wanted to be in a movie. 'What kind of movie?' I said, though I knew exactly what kind."
In San Francisco, the city by the bay legendary for Haight-Asbury and beat poets and free love, Noonan catches up with John. It's the perfect place for Noonan to take some time away from the road.
Noonan loves it here, and he spends his days basically goofing off and grooving off the city - smoking marijuana, throwing frisbees, exploring the landscape. There's a funny scene where Noonan and his brother and friends try to escape from paying the toll at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Eventually, it's time to head east, but misadventures await. Noonan's brother's car is hardly up for the trip, and by the time they reach the Rocky Mountains, the vehicle has seen its last days.
Encountering a steep incline the car can't climb, they offer it up to a backpacker along the road.
"Our car, it won't go uphill, but it runs great downhill. You can have it if you want it." John pointed up the mountain. "We're heading east."
The backpacker declines their offer.
Eventually, they make it to a carpenter friend's home in rural Colorado where they crash for a few days, and the three of them are smitten with the man's wife. At the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado, they take advantage of the free beer given to visitors upon completion of a tour, sneaking back for a second journey through the brewery to soak up even more suds.
Finally, it's on to Chicago, the home of Noonan's responsible older brother, a law student no less. The older sibling is accommodating and hospitable enough, but doesn't understand their freewheeling ways.
By then, it's clear Noonan's long journey on the road has reached its conclusion.
The book, of course, is about youthful longing and confusion and some of the goofy escapades and whimsical notions in that interlude between boyhood and manhood - a time so many of us fondly look back upon. It's surely not Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." It lacks Kerouac's idyllic prose and mystical lure, and it's more somber tone.
But the book is not without its pleasures, and Noonan's story had me shaking my head and laughing and thinking: I wish I could be 21 again.