YREKA, Calif. — Football is such a friend to me.
There I was somewhat bereft after dumping Smartacus back at the College of Trees, eating Indian food at a truck stop near Mount Shasta, heading home, as parents do, like teary flocks of migrating geese.
There is no cultier cult than modern American parents. It’s almost a creed.
You can see it in the way they load the carts at Target. There’s a lot of love in a Target cart — the push pins, the pillows, the cheesy snacks. The dads look doomed, hunched over the carts, as their kids pick out $200 comforters for their dorm rooms.
Then there are the goodbye hugs. “Go to class. Be sure to brush. See you at Thanksgiving.”
Moms and dads hold them a moment too long, comb the backs of their heads with their hands — smoothing, holding, smoothing.
Sigh me a river.
Hours after all that, I am at this honky-tonk motel, alone again. Smartacus has been such a sidekick. Good to see him back at the big university, that mansion of the minds. It’s his happy place.
Fortunately, on the motel TV, my oldest friend — football.
The Trojans are playing the Sun Devils, who are giving the Golden Boys of college football a bit of a scare. Out on the tarmac, Caleb Williams, their prima ballerina, is pivoting this way and that, dodging flying tacklers, preparing for takeoff.
A row of shirtless dolts in body paint cheer from the stands.
Football, right? It’s the only sport that makes us shed our clothes.
Listen, I’m not always a thousand percent sure there’s a God, but I know there’s a Satan because he runs a string of budget motels up and down the West Coast where I always land when I’m alone on the road.
I don’t think so much of myself that I need anything fancy. I’m fine with basic Mary-and-Joseph accommodations. Free wi-fi and a molded shower? I’m happy. Cigarette burns in the nightstand? So?
Of course, sometimes I take adventure travel a tad too far. On the way up, Smartacus slept with a 9-iron under his pillow.
I explain that there’s an unpleasant side to American life he seldom sees. I also explain that every penny counts in a world where leadership seems so broken that no one is looking out for anyone. Honestly, if motel soaps and cheeseburgers get any smaller, they will cease to exist.
In a pinch, I always figured I could get work on some sports desk, updating box scores and team standings. Now, that way of life is gone too. Like radiologists and blacksmiths.
Tell me, what isn’t going away? Please advise. I’d like to pass the tip along to Mister Smartacus, my only hope for the future.
Gawd, there I go getting all existential again. Hate when that happens. Really there should be a nose spray or an ointment.
Meanwhile, a few notes from the road:
Portland has the most-creative, most-affordable food in the nation. Eugene’s restaurants serve mostly rubble.
The good news? I got an epic plate of hash browns just north of Redding. Black Bear Diner is a chain that doesn’t feel like a chain. They sling heaping plates of hash that smell faintly of grandma’s kitchen and logging trucks.
Just remember: When prayers and hope fail you, there are always hash browns.
Yep, on the road again — like Kerouac, like Kuralt — weaving along a misty mountain interstate, past forests thick with secrets.
Oh frupp, is that sleet?
Miles to go before I rest. After a week up here, my suitcase smells like a Pittsburgh Steeler. And not in any good sense.
Gotta get home to L.A. before the first frost. Don’t want to lose the farm. Then I’m really screwed.
Keep the faith, White Fang. I’m on my way. Be home by dinner if I don’t get yet another nail in my tire.
Look, the only thing that ever mattered to me was people (and dogs). I’ve paid a high price for that. People are very expensive. Turns out I should’ve been collecting material things — laddering my bonds, investing in slapdash senior housing. That sort of thing. Oh well.
My work with young Smartacus is done for now. Takes a while to build a boy. Far as I’m concerned, he’s a masterpiece, though he could use a little work on ancient Greek history, Cleisthenes to Alexander.
I just hope Smartacus now finds a brown-eyed college girl with a good heart and a solid sense of mischief. Life’s too short for scolds and schoolmarms.
I want him smiles.
So long, kid.
The columnist will discuss and sign his new book on “Bear Whisperer” Steve Searles, at 7 p.m. Oct. 3, at Vroman’s on Colorado in Pasadena. The event is free.
First published Sept. 28-30 in Outlook Newspapers.