Born to Be Wild, on Incense and Peppermint–Steppenwolf Live in Louisville

No, not exactly born to be wild.

Well, check the drive from Shively to Louisville, fourth paragraph below–maybe a bit wild. Never much for the spices either. I got started on Mary Jane in Vietnam. That ended with the return to the US–and my very straight-laced first wife, Gloria.

August 1969, Strawberry Alarm Clock opened for Steppenwolf at Freedom Hall, Louisville. The one-hit-wonders must have sung other songs; I recall only “Incense and Peppermint.” I remember many more Steppenwolf hits—ones they did that night, “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Pusher,” and “Born to Be Wild.” My first concert since the Beatles in 1965. See that story here. 

The hall was just a few minutes from our apartment off Dixie Highway in Shively, a suburb of Louisville. Low-ranking married soldiers weren’t eligible for base housing. Even if I were, it would not have made sense to live there because Gloria couldn’t drive and we needed her to get a job to help us make ends meet. She worked as a nurses aide in Louisville.  I repaired radios in the tank park at the Armor Training Center at Fort Knox. While that was just 25 miles away from Shively, I had to be in formation at six am. That meant being on the road at 4:30 to drop her off for work. she got a ride home with a coworker.

I had less than two months left in the US Army when we went to the concert. Despite the sound blasting from the speakers within the arena, Gloria had trouble staying awake. I didn’t have that problem, maybe because it was the weekend. Our usual bedtime was 7:30 pm. We had an early rise on weekdays. It was a dark and dangerous trip every day, taking Gloria to Louisville and driving on to Ft. Knox along Dixie Highway. A 75-mile total trip. The locals nicknamed the road “Dixie Dieway” for all the traffic deaths along its route. I stopped for coffee and a donut at a diner a couple miles south of our apartment every morning, to make sure I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel.

But it wasn’t Dixie Highway that almost got me. It was the interstate near the nursing home. As I sped along in the right lane in the pre-dawn hours one morning, another car suddenly appeared half a car length in front of me. He had entered the road from a ramp beside me, hidden by the darkness and apparently without looking. At 60 miles per hour, there was no time or point in honking. Instinctively, without having had any training in the maneuver, I executed a four-wheel drift—letting off the gas and cutting the wheel sharply to the left, then cutting the wheel back to the right and stepping back on the gas. The car slid to the left lane and kept going forward, saving us from almost certain death. 

The ladies at the diner where I stopped every morning, baked me a cake for my last day. It wasn’t the first close encounter; it wouldn’t be the last. I had more to do in this life. Click on the link  to find out about my path from Vietnam to Enlightenment. Waiting for Westmoreland,  

REMINDER–The Fountain is on sale on Kindle for $.99 starting tomorrow

4 thoughts on “Born to Be Wild, on Incense and Peppermint–Steppenwolf Live in Louisville

  1. I remember being so tired once that I slept through a concert. That sentence about Gloria cracked me up. And I picked up your short stories, John. Next on my reading list. 🙂

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