Author: Karsemeyer, John

Guitars and Guns

Grover had two choices, north or south. He flipped a coin. South it was. December on the west coast is not the cruelest of months, but Grover was singing, “Cold on the shoulder and you know you get a little older every day.” He was on his way, but he didn’t know where he was going. A lifetime of work had now opened the door for his escape. Escape from the obligation to be at a certain place at a certain time, for a certain length of time; a prison, of sorts.

Heading south on Interstate Highway 5, the view of Ashland, Oregon was slowly fading in his rear view mirror, and the distant landscape of California was looming closer through the windshield. Behind the wheel of his restored 1980 Chevy van he felt at home as the sound of the tires on the pavement seemed to be creating a musical tune that was familiar, even though not readily identifiable. His van was indeed a home-on-wheels. It contained a stove, refrigerator, fold-down bed, and all the space and other items needed for survival and creature comfort.

Grover A. Getalong had no ties. He didn’t wear one, and at this particular junction of time and space he had no binding ties to his spouse, parents, children, grandchildren, relatives, or animals of any species that stopped him from doing what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. It’s not that he, personally, had severed all ties with the aforementioned. It’s just that everyone in his life had chosen to go their own way, leaving Grover with no responsibility for any of them (except in the back of his mind). He suspected that there was an autism family gene floating around somewhere in his family tree, but he wasn’t sure about which branch. In any case he didn’t worry about it on a conscious level.

In the last couple of months Mr. Getalong had mulled over his newly found freedom, basking in the accompanying euphoria that seemed to have no end. Years ago he had somehow acquired the belief that total freedom is the absence of vanity, and even though he had not yet attained that personal goal, he was working on it. In the meantime, what he was pursing, even though he didn’t know exactly what it was, would have to do. Intuitively he felt that this road trip might bring him a few steps closer to it. Abandoning any further introspection, he inserted a compact disc into the van’s stereo system, and focused on the sounds of Iron Horse’s, “Tribute To Metallica,” with guitar, banjo, mandolin, and bass, converting heavy metal sounds into surreal bluegrass music. While glancing at his gas gauge, the first cut of the CD, “Fuel,” bombarded his auditory senses.

I have to pause here and let you know that Grover was a well informed guy. He religiously listened to the news and talk shows on the radio, read newspapers and magazines, and watched television shows with socially redeeming and educationally inspired content. He knew he didn’t know everything, but he knew that what he knew was often helpful to him as he was swept along on by life’s journey.

Take (for example) the fact that he was now traveling on four large rubber discs down Interstate 5, heading south. Grover had been informed, by more than one source, that this particular interstate passage was not always the blacktop of hospitality. In fact it was a corridor for drug traffic via the evolution of what was Henry Ford’s initial invention of the automobile, occasional invasion of privacy by bad guys at some designated rest stops, pranks from passing automobiles with drivers and passengers who had spent time in correctional facilities, unhelpful “help” to stranded drivers on the roadside, and who knows what else that had never been reported to the authorities.

Armed with this insight and knowledge, Grover’s two main traveling companions were a 1939 D-18 Martin guitar, and a high powered rifle that he just recently purchased. Grover preferred rifles (especially lever action models) to hand guns, since that’s what he was trained in. But even better than that, it helped fuel his fantasy of going back in time and being in the days of the wild west. Given his cognitive state regarding what he thought could potentially happen to him while traveling, no explanation is needed regarding the “fire stick,” so we can move on to the reason for the guitar.

In the back of his mind he thought that if worse came to worse, and there was no other option, he could use the guitar as a weapon for self defense (like if he was in a precarious situation and he ran out of ammunition). That would be, of course, the last straw, especially considering the sentimental and actual value of his wood and wire treasure. The real reason he brought the guitar is because he loved playing and singing, especially if he got the chance to jam with others.

But in a way, Grover thought of his guitar as weapon-like. After he had inherited it from his father, he found a note in the case that was buried down underneath three packs of strings, two capos, one cleaning cloth, a picture of Clarence White, and a bill of sale in the amount of $500.00. The note read, “Use this guitar to make friends, break down barriers, and disarm violence. –dad.”

Six months had now passed since Grover left Ashland, Oregon, and he had spent most of his time in California. He stopped and camped at many places along the way, met hundreds of people while singing and playing his guitar, made some friends, and began to get a hint of what he thought was the real reason he went on this trip. He played and learned a lot about his guitar and himself, but he never had to use his rifle.

It was now June, and after exiting Highway 5 and moving east, he ended up in Las Vegas, Nevada. While he was there he visited a pawn shop that had been made famous by a television series. Inside of the shop he saw a 1939 Gibson J-35 guitar that he just had to have. In Grover’s words, “It found me, I didn’t find it.” Low on money, he traded his rifle for that spruce topped, mahogany back and sides guitar. As he walked out of the pawn shop with his newly acquired prized possession in its hard case and headed towards his van, he thought to himself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in the world traded in all of their guns for guitars? After all, if everyone had guitars instead of guns, the world would be a better place.”

In the pawn shop he had seen a flyer that advertised a bluegrass festival in Grass Valley, California that was going to happen in middle of June on Father’s Day weekend. Grover said to himself, out loud, “Why not?”

As he climbed into his van, got behind the steering wheel, started the engine, put it in drive, and pulled out of the parking lot, he had the gut feeling that he was headed for an experience of a new dimension. This time he was on his way, and he knew where he was going.

Posted:  4/14/2012

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