It was 1972, the year I turned 25, and inflation was afoot—at least in my small economic world. Though the year or two before, I could manage to live on five-dollars a day, I now had to have a budget of six-dollars a day. So, when I bought the car while traveling in France—a 1960 Citroen, AZ 2 cv (meaning two cylinders) for the equivalent of $100 from a fellow in or around a town called L’Hôtel au Feu (who had purchased the car new in 1960), I was pushing the budget. Fortunately, I had been living rent free for the previous three weeks in my own room in a large flat at 12 Avenue, Franklin Roosevelt in Paris. The gracious people who had put me up, Jean-Pierre Passy and his parents, had made life easy and my budget was allowed to accumulate. JP, as he was called, helped me with the vehicle transaction, including getting a local address so that my insurance was not so expensive (the Passys also owned a 300-year-old French provincial cottage just outside L’Hôtel au Feu). So, it came to pass that I acquired transportation and a French license and address: Monsieur Travis Gibbs, L’Hôtel au Feu, 61-St Mars-de-Reno (though another form had the address as St Mard De Reno). My profession was etudiant, which I certainly was, though my school had no walls. It was May 30, 1972 and I had already been in Europe for better than six weeks.
With a car, curtains to hang at night, and a front seat that came out easily, I not only had transportation, but a room to stay. So began my journey by car around France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, and I had hoped to Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and back to London where I had begun this European adventure. However, after something like 4,500 kilometers (about 2,800 miles) of wandering around, I was hit head-on outside of Rome and that was the end of the car and nearly me. When I recovered, which wasn’t that bad all things considered, I continued on to my destinations by thumb, train, bus, boat or whatever. But my car as room and transportation—including that I could carry a worthy food supply which made eating both easier and cheaper—was over and I was left scrambling. At one point, while trying to get to Northern Italy, I was left to sleeping under an overpass for four nights. I was too tall and gangly and way too ZZ Top-looking to get a ride from prudent folks. And, as traveling sometimes goes, the workers for the public transportation had gone on strike. With afternoon thunderstorms, I needed shelter and that overpass was it. Later, I was running short of cash again before I had even left Italy and wound up sleeping in a grape vineyard for about a week—tricky business that. But the days were good, as I visited a local lake and ate fruit for breakfast and lunch and then dined on a spaghetti dinner, including bread, salad, and a half-liter of wine at night. I don’t remember how much the fruit was, but the dinner was about the equivalent of eighty-five cents. As I recall, I was saving about five-dollars a day. Sometimes a freeway overpass or a grape vineyard is not a sign of losing one’s way. Well, sometimes…
In the summer of 1970 I supposedly lost my way when I bailed out of societal norms and headed out to wherever the road took me. I was not being the good citizen according to “establishment” standards, but I was being a good citizen by the nomadic, seeking-meaningful-existence crowd. Projection is an interesting morality. Certainly I knew I was not able to get that meaning in work or school or what was considered “normal” relationships. But the vagabond or hippie group didn’t much help either—it was still a lot of “us and them,” just as it always was. “New” clothes and hair and ideas do not a wondrous and enlightened people make. But I can say that without the trappings of so much responsibility and without the anchor of possessions, I had the freedom to move and the freedom to think or not, to feel or not. And that was important—with nothing to lose, I lost nothing by losing my projection about what all the talking-heads thought was true and right.
Still, let’s face it, it’s always something. But that’s also the beauty—it’s always something. Somewhere, just beyond our human projections of what constitutes good and bad, is a reality that is not about projection. I’m not saying that projection is wrong, I’m saying it’s properly play, though it often takes the form of an inquisition in which beheadings surely follow so the Great Projectionists can exorcise the contaminants to their righteous views. However, in the peace of a car in the middle of somewhere/nowhere, with curtains drawn and a place to stretch out until another day, or an overpass to keep one dry, or in a grape vineyard to sneak away from the streets, there is a peace, an eye of what seems like a storm. It is not what we have, which we all know by now—even if we don’t practice it—it is how we feel. And though much has changed in the ensuing thirty-seven plus years since I bummed around the U.S. and Western Europe (and Canada and Mexico—but that’s another story), much has not. I remain grateful for those moments when I have sanctuary. That is a blessing and not a projection, as anyone who knows about what’s actually left when one stops thinking and attaching and projecting. In that space between our history and our future and our dogged determination to flavor reality with our despair and/or our righteousness, we can find what matters. Though seeing that “place” on the other side of projection won’t save us from our death, it will stop us from contributing to the deadliness that has become much of human interaction.