This nation’s history is richer because a few of our forefathers had the gumption and literacy to put down on paper a day-to-day chronicle of their adventures as they bustled our frontier westward. Such accounts are invaluable. They spank life and breath into the past. We treasure them in family Bibles, in library collections of Americana, and in print. But there has taken place in the last twenty years the most incredible mass traipse from East to West that any country has ever known. It is The Great American Sashay. From Grand Forks to Norfolk, from Showhegan to Shreveport, hordes of New Pioneers have hit the trail in search of whatever they have lost, or what they never found. U-Drive-It trains of superhighway settlers have peopled The Fancy Dress Frontier of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Who will record for the future their vicissitudes and victories? Who will tell this chromium-plated Eastern Western story?
I nominate myself, H. Charleton Cadell, husband and father, yokel and intellectual, late of Old Wycherley, Connecticut, and better late than never.
Call me a Cadillac cowboy if you will. The Grand Central Station Gang, my former fellow-riders on the New York, New Haven & Hartford stage line, insult me, so I hear, with labels similarly choice. “Billy the Button-Down Kid,” they scoff, or “The T.S. Eliot Tenderfoot” or “Wyatt Earp with an Attache Case.” Let them have their jest. Archetype of the dude I may be, but I have gone west now, where men are men and where, when you say such things, stranger, you smile.
It was books, not a six-gun, which sent me packing, which made me a dilettante Don Quixote gone daft from reading. For some time after marriage I pretended industry by commuting now and then from our estate to New York, to the Public Library, and there for several hours doing research for a possible Ph.D. in history. By chance I crossed a Mississippi of the mind and commenced to graze with rising appetite in a territory of Indians and ranchers and cavalry and gunfighters and romance from whence I was never emotionally to return. As a historian I had found my era, as a man my place. Stooped, spindle-shanked, thick-lensed, balding pedant--not! In this bony breast there snorted a bison, there swaggered a roistering mountain man, there was born, a civilization too late, a stripling Teddy Roosevelt hot for deeds of derring-do!
I began to commute daily. I goosefleshed to the works of J. Frank Dobie, Paul Horgan, Walter Prescott Webb, Fred Gipson, Stewart Edward White, Ross Santee, Federic Remington, Charlie Russell; I drank deep of the theories of Frederick Jackson Turner. I took to the lore and literature of the Old West the way a cowpoke takes to hot coffee on a cold morning. And when, after a belt or two of redeye at the Men’s Bar of the Biltmore, I moseyed lean-hipped and Cooperish over to Grand Central, I could feel a Stetson shaping itself to my head.
Then one climatic day I read for the first time in two books by Joseph Wood Krutch, and that afternoon I lingered even longer in the Men’s Bar. I cannot recall the trip to Old Wycherley or Reba waiting at the station, but I remember settling beside her in the Rolls Royce.
“Goodwife,” said I, “share you my discontent?”
“Hallam,” said she, “you’ve been drinking.”
“A man does what he must. It is but symptomatic, my sweet. Let’s face it, we don’t belong in this milieu, and we aren’t poodle people. When young girls, our daughters for example, give up religion for dentistry, it’s time to take stock. When they are more regularly at the orthodontist’s having their braces adjusted, that is, than at church, well. I mean, who gives a damn about overbite in Hell?
“How many did you have?”
I ignored the irrelevancy. For a full ten minutes I argued: (1) role of gentleman-scholar not for me; (2) bored herself; (3) universals; (4) return to national youth, see if any still remained, if so, if some of it might rub off on us; (5) verities and simplicities; (6) where never is heard a discouraging word; (7) get our kicks on Route 66; (8) stars, mountains, skies, deserts, bright eyes, bushy tails; (9) tennis anyone? a lousy creed by which to live; (10) westward, look, the land is bright.
We gazed at one another. Dauntless in her foundation, her hair dyed a buster brown, Reba’s bearing and appearance are purposeful. Let the years strive as they may, she will yield them neither inch nor pound nor molar. The war of slacks and shorts she wages well; a cocktail dress she swells as toothsomely as does a peanut its husk. And yet, and yet. She knew the same ennui I felt, that dissatisfaction which makes sluggish the blood and brittles up the bones. Daughters and appliance were not enough for her. She yearned to hurl herself into anything, which would bring to the spirit’s cheeks achievement’s blush. In midlife she and I were coming more and more to resemble our friends. These it was impossible to visualize as subject to such dire contingencies as loneliness and death. I began to think that they would never die, these well-fixed graying couples, that they would instead book for extended if not eternal cruises, sailing away together on great white liners, all first-class and air-conditioned, passing languorous days in which the men might sit in the bars and talk of investments while their wives went ashore to shop exotic isles, bringing aboard at evening such necessities as do-it-yourself luau kits and rhinestoned hibachis. Was this to be our fate as well? I sought a clincher.
“Moreover,” I said, “Dorene and Suzanne are going absolutely to the devil in such a decadent, exurban environment. Squandering their allowances on trashy records and novels, lounging around malt shops where the boys are.
“Hallam, what is it you want to do?”
“Reba, let us go west.”
“To the last frontier. To Arizona.”
“Dear, intrepid, pioneer woman!” I clasped her to my attaché case. “Fraught with peril the trail may be--trackless wastes, burning sands, torrents to ford, Indian onslaughts--but let’s start thataway at once, my love, sell the old manse, pull up stakes, join the Real Romance Rush!”
“And Reba, one other thing. I can’t see trekking west in a black Rolls. That’s the East. So let’s trade it in.”
“It’s not that I’m diffident, I merely think another means of transport would be more appropriate.”
“A white, my pet, Bentley.”
So the Cadells of Connecticut set out for the New West, joining millions of our contemporaries in the greatest peregrination of this century. Pushing doggedly forward day after arduous day, pitching camp for the night at such rude caravansaries as the Palmer House in Chicago, the Chase in St. Louis, and the Brown Palace in Denver, we came at last to Phoenix, Arizona. There, for the benefit and inspiration of posterity, I began my journal.