How The Choices We Make When We're Young Influence Our Futures

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It's the first day of Spring, March 21, 1970. I've packed up everything I own into a green Army duffle bag, thrown it into the trunk of my 1964 Pontiac Tempest and I'm hitting the road. I'm going to drive up and down America like it's one big map.

I have $850 in travelers checks in my wallet, the entire amount in my bank account, most of which has been saved from the Bar Mitzvah I never wanted to have.

The last one hundred dollars of which I will desperately need to bail me out of jail six months later in Deadwood, South Dakota, from one of Wild Bill Hickok's notorious jail cells. But that's quite a ways “down the road…"

But first... why would a 68-year-old college professor in the year 2016 be recalling such a story? From such a long time ago? To a Millennial online audience?

Because that is the question: How do decisions when we're young influence the rest of our lives?

When we choose a direction — a road particularly “less travelled” — then that road may very well lead one, the traveler, to unknown and unpredictable destinations. Outcomes. Lives. As my unique and less-traveled road led me to where I am today.

But how did I get here? What happened to “my son the doctah”? Why wasn't I willing to follow the traditional road that all my parents' hopes had mapped out for me?

The one that all my closest high school and college friends would soon take: the road to med school, or, if they didn't have the grades, to law school.

No, I knew that wasn't going to be my path. I wanted nothing to do with conventional values like money, career, materialism, security, marriage, family. No, I was 22 years old, and I wanted to — I needed to — find myself.

No, I was 22 years old, and I wanted to — I needed to — find myself.

Childhood had started off well enough. It was the happy, buttoned-down 1950s. I was a lucky kid, playing stick ball out behind the newly-built Salisbury Elementary School in Westbury, New York.

It was one of the typical, newly-sprouting suburban neighborhoods of post WW2 America.

Ike Eisenhower was President, and we learned to “duck and cover” under our school desks because our new enemies were the Russians — the “Commie” Soviets — and they had an “atomic bomb,” like we did, and they could “nuke” our whole country into oblivion, just like we could theirs.

Me? I was elected president of most of my elementary school classes, walked to school and came home for lunch to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Life was never harder than losing a kickball game, trying to get a full deck of 80 Davey Crockett cards and doing a little homework.

But then, in the sixth grade, I was tested out of the general school population and put into the dreaded “E program,” with all the “smart” kids. I think “E” was supposed to stand for “accelerated,” but no one seemed to care about the spelling.

But after that, everything changed. All of my friends and buddies in the sixth grade stopped talking to me in the hallways of the seventh grade.

They stopped playing sports with me, and I became isolated in all my “advanced” English, history, math and language classes with all the “brainiac” kids.

I learned what anti-Semitism was when the some of the Irish and Italian kids from “the other side of tracks” stole my bicycle and taunted me after school, “Where's your bike, Kike?” I never dated, never had a girlfriend and never went to the school proms.

College didn't get much better. I went to the “best state school,” SUNY at Buffalo, because it was the most “affordable”.

I joined a local Catholic fraternity, which further isolated me from all the Jewish kids from Long Island (where I was from) and I skipped my college graduation ceremony, much to the disappointment of my family.

I got bitten by Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, The Beatles, The Stones, sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. I grew my Jew-fro like Jimi Hendrix, saw Janis Joplin six times before she died at the haunted age of 27 and me and my generation wanted to change the world and “give peace a chance".

So, my hitting the road at age 22, half a year after escaping college and not going to my own graduation, was an act of defiance, independence, risk and (most important to me) self-discovery.

I knew many things that I wasn't, and who I didn't want to be... but I didn't know who or what I was.

I knew many things that I wasn't, and who I didn't want to be... but I didn't know who or what I was.

That would take time.

A six-month adventure across the open roads of America, pulling into every town I ever heard of at dusk after 500 miles of driving a day, opening the window of my Pontiac and asking the first friendly-looking stranger I saw, “Where's the long hair part of town?”

And they, if I was lucky, would look at my long, curly locks, my young, hungry face and quite reliably send me to the Greenwich Village-esque/bohemian coffee shop part of town in Richmond, Virginia, Charlotte, North Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee, up and down America.

Like I said, it was one big map.

I'd walk into a coffee shop, introduce myself to a garrulous-looking group and say, “Hey, my name's Trules. I'm on the road and I'm looking for a place to crash.”

And more times than not, I'd have myself a nice cozy bed to sleep in, a new group of friends and always a surprise or two.

It was a different time, I know. The fabric of society — particularly of the youth culture, the counter culture — was entirely different than it is today.

It was more communal then. We are on the same team, against everyone else (well, at least those over 30 or those with “straight” hair).

These bohemian, counter-cultural coffee shop “strangers” instantly became my brothers and sisters, my friends. They were instantly willing to share their homes, their beds, their food, their smiles, their humanity with me.

Looking back, it was beautiful.

But today, it's March 21, 1970, the first day of Spring. Me and the Pontiac are heading south.

From New York City to Washington, DC, life is all in front of us, an open road.

We don't know where we'll park or where we'll sleep, but we have enough money for gas, and we have “the urge for goin'”.

I'll let you know where we end up.