November 6th, 2011
I’ve been working on Balance of the Planet, balancing out the energy supply system. The energy supply system is central to everything in Balance of the Planet, as it is in the real world. It is imperative that I get it just right, so I’ve been struggling pretty hard with it.
Anyway, whilst working on all this, the Beatle’s classic tune “Hey Jude” came on iTunes, and for a few moments I was transported back to 1969. I was living on Concord, California with friends and a job helping a gardener. But I was going to school at American River Junior College in Sacramento. There’s a story about why I was attending that particular school, but I won’t delve into it just now. I had managed to talk my way into a special arrangement under which I came to school on Mondays, and worked Tuesday through Friday. I could get away with this because I was a very good student. I was taking a course on logic, another on computer programming, an English course, and I forget what else. I had no problems with these courses; I believed I aced all of them.
But getting from Concord to Sacramento was a bit of a problem. The only transportation I had was a Yamaha 80cc single-cylinder two-stroke motorcycle. With about 10 HP, this thing was not allowed on the freeway, so I had to take country roads to get to Sacramento; because of the roundabout route I had to take, this took over 2 hours to cover the 80 miles. My first appointment on Monday morning was at 9:00 AM, so every Monday morning I got up at 6:00 AM, wolfed down some cereal, then got dressed for the ride. Being student-poor, I didn’t have proper motorcycle clothing; instead, I just piled coats on top of sweaters on top of shirts. I wore two layers of pajamas under my jeans. And I wore galoshes over my shoes to keep my feet warm. It was winter, with air temperatures in the high 30s or low 40s at that time of morning. Sometimes it rained, adding to the misery of the ride: none of my clothing was completely waterproof. But I was young and tough, and I gutted my way through.
To divert my attention from how cold I was, I’d sometimes sing quietly to myself, and for some reason “Hey Jude” became the anthem for that journey. I can still recall the slick roads, the difficulty of shifting gears and operating the footbrake in the heavy galoshes, the squirrelly behavior of the bike on bridges with steel grating for road surface, and the bone-deep cold.
One day I had to drive to Davis to submit my application at the University of California there; I still couldn’t go on the freeway, and the only way from Davis to Sacramento was via the freeway. There was another route: the river road, but it crossed the Sacramento bypass, a huge waterway parallel to the Sacramento River that was flooded every winter to accommodate the vast flood of water coming down the Sacramento River in winter. The only alternative was a long detour north to a bridge over the Sacramento River -- perhaps 60 miles. So I decided to try my luck with the river road. I drove to the levee where the road dived into the bypass; I could see the river road emerging on the other side about a mile away. So I plunged in, tracking the yellow stripe as the water deepened. But about a hundred yards in I realized that the water was getting deeper and I’d soon lose sight of the yellow stripe. So I executed a U-turn without leaving the road and without putting my foot down to steady the bike. That’s how good I was back then. I drove out and took the detour.
Not long after that I had earned enough money to buy myself a Honda 160, which as just barely big enough to be legal on the freeway. I still have that bike.