Still Truckin’

Courtesy Bob & Cindy Martin

By Bob Martin ·

The Grateful Dead included “Truckin’” on American Beauty, released in November 1970. It remains a favorite song for more than a few members of our class, bringing back memories of tunes played from windows in college courtyards.

For me, the song had an added dimension because I spent considerable time literally trucking in my 1967 Ford 150 pickup truck. With the help of my father, I purchased the beast for $1200 in the fall of my junior year. Someone had given it a good hand paint job in forest green. It had a straight-six engine producing 150 horsepower with three-on-the-tree manual transmission. It took a strong left leg to depress the clutch. Gas cost around $0.40 a gallon compared with a minimum wage of $1.60. For air conditioning I could roll down one or both windows.

I outfitted the truck as my own recreational vehicle. First, I bought an aluminum cap to cover the bed of the truck. For sleeping, the bottom of the bed was carpeted with foam rubber. I installed a chest of drawers for storage. Cookware featured a Coleman stove and a cooler for beer. The truck came with an AM radio, so I added a small boombox to play favorite cassettes like the Dead’s Europe 72.

After fall semester 1973, I moved from a double at Silliman to an off-campus apartment at 607 Elm St. with three other guys including Robin Lee and Peter Arkell, a young Englishman who worked for the Yale Art Gallery taking care of the American furniture collection. Elm Street had plenty of on-street parking for the truck.

I used the truck for regular trips to Northampton to visit Cindy Britten (who has been Cindy Martin for 49 years now) at Smith. Cindy and I first met in seventh grade in Madison, NJ when my family arrived from West Virginia. We both graduated from Madison High School, but we are not high school sweethearts; we started dating in our sophomore year of college. Given the sometimes strange and strained dynamics of dating at Yale in the early 70’s, I was fortunate beyond words to have found my true love at age 19.

When I left home for college, my father asked that I take one accounting course in the hope that I might learn something useful.

Like many of my classmates, I was completely oblivious to the need to map a career or build a resumé. I had taken a couple of courses in theater administration at the Yale Drama School and participated in undergraduate theater productions. Perhaps theater was my future. I spent June after junior year working as the business manager of Chestnut Hill Concerts in Killingworth, CT. I knew where “Wall Street”was — right outside my window in Silliman, where Naples Pizza sat. (I subsequently worked on NYC’s Wall Street for 40 years.)

At the end of July, I put my hair in a ponytail (not a look approved by my parents), pulled on my overalls, filled up the truck and hit the road. It was time to “get out of the door and light out and look all around.” My destination was Boulder, Colorado, where I would rendezvous with apartment-mate Peter Arkell one week later. I had a few stops planned but it was 2000 miles of open roads with a Rand McNally road atlas as my only guide.

That summer of 1973 was a fine time to be on the road. I had no responsibilities and few worries. Uncle Sam was not going to try to send me to Vietnam. The fury surrounding the War had passed with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. The bipartisan Watergate hearings had begun in May. John Dean’s testimony in late June confirmed our worst suspicions about Tricky Dick’s abuse of Presidential power.

I wasn’t yet conscious of it, cruising toward Boulder, but Yale had opened me to a world of possibilities without in any way clouding my future with practical concerns. When I left home for college, my father asked that I take one accounting course in the hope that I might learn something useful. I showed up for  the introductory lecture of the only  course at Yale — and immediately switched to Ancient Near Eastern Literature in Translation. That course greatly expanded my understanding of the scope of human history. In his first lecture, Professor William Simpson proclaimed that he “hoped to drive in certain pegs on which we might hang as we fall down the cliff of life.” Sign me up. (I later made it up to my father by attending NYU business school and briefly becoming a CPA.)

While my truck expedition opened exciting new vistas to me along the highway, Yale provided glorious moments of unstructured discovery. I studied the collection of cuneiforms at Sterling. I admired Paul Strand’s Mexican Portfolio of photographs in Beinecke. I set letterpress type at the student print shop in Silliman. Wandering the stacks of Sterling researching term papers gave me a chance to explore many corners of academic study. So many courses; so many fields of inquiry, so many paths. I chose American Studies as a major because it gave me so many courses  to choose from.

This trip to the Rockies was my first extended travel adventure. Peter and I enjoyed our own Mountain Jam and all the great outdoors had to offer. Outside of Aspen, we hiked to the Conundrum Hot Springs, known for several reasons as the highest hot springs in America. We drove the truck over dirt roads making use of low gear and the truck’s high clearance, visiting spots where no rental car should ever venture. No schedule; no reservations. We traveled west from Colorado to Wyoming to see the majesty of the Grand Tetons. At the entrance to Grand Teton National Park we decided there were too many people, so we drove two hours more to the backside and visited Targhee National Park. Making use of a topographical map, we hiked above the tree line and camped in the meadows, drinking from mountain streams. On August 23 I went for a brief swim in a glacial stream, keeping intact my now decades-long ritual of swimming on my birthday.

A few days later we pointed the truck east and began the drive home. We were carrying highly valuable contraband goods: four cases of Coors beer, not available in Connecticut. We had planned to pass through Canada to see Niagara Falls on our return trip. However, Canada limited us to one case of beer per person, and since we had our priorities, we took another route. We saw a lot of farmlands along the national highways. We drove nonstop for more than 24 hours covering 1600 miles before stopping for sleep somewhere past Buffalo. We got back to our apartment on Elm Street in time for my senior year classes to start on September 2, 1973.

That summer was my introduction to the delights of adventure travel, the first of several defining road trips. Cindy and I have now been to over 50 countries on all seven continents. Like the Dead sang, “it takes time to pick a place to go.” But my Yale liberal arts education gave me a map for intellectual exploration that has taken me far beyond the pages of any road atlas.

Bob Martin [SM], former Wall Street banker, now lives in Mystic CT and enjoys spending time outside with family and friends.