At 22, an age when boys have no more brains than a lobster, I left home with $5 in my pocket, a week after being discharged from the Coast Guard in March 1957, hitchhiked from Maine to Texas and then continued on to California.

Much of what we know about the destruction of Pompeii comes from letters written by Pliny the Younger. Much of what we know about the great Lisbon earthquake comes from letters written by the English who were either there or who visited in the months that followed. Centuries from now, perhaps the only thing known about the socioeconomic habits of migrating U.S. citizens in the 1950s will come from the following extracts from my 1957 diary.

By March 20, I had got as far as a friend’s house in Houston and wrote: “I have decided to go to L.A. tomorrow and see my cousin Sonny. … Left around 1830 hrs. Got a ride right off with a truck en route (to) San Antonio. San Antonio is all small buildings, mostly made of plaster or mud, I guess.”

March 21: “0100 hrs: Lackland Air Force base. 0525 hrs: 553 miles from El Paso. 0655 hrs: Uvalde. Ate a jelly sandwich. ’55 Chev. It’s hot & there isn’t much but rocks and small bushes. Helped the driver tie down the mattresses in Pecos Canyon.

“1835 hrs: Saw antelope. Sun set in Marathon. Had a hamburger. Got a ride to Sierra Blanker (sic; now the nation’s largest sewage sludge dump). Got a ride in a ’57 Ford with a drunk named Woody. He stayed drunk all the way to San Diego.”

March 22: “Got into El Paso at 0100 hrs. Woody drives around 80 when he isn’t going 90. Went to Mexico. Woody bought another jug in Mexico, which didn’t help any. Slept while Woody drove for around 30 mi. Filled up at Lordsburg (New Mexico). Drove almost to Benson (Arizona). 0735 hrs: Woody drove 52 miles to Tucson. Saw a cactus. All these deserts are different. I keep seeing different kinds of plants, rocks & trees.

“1130 hrs: Gila Bend. Woody bought dinner and we’re off to Yuma. Woody wants to drive. Doin 80 through dust storm. 1400 hrs: Entered California. 1504 hrs: Arrived in El Centro. Plenty tired. 80 degrees. 1709 hrs: Saw Pacific O. Cash on hand $3.88. Expenditures fm Maine to Calif. $1.48 for post cards. 1800 hrs: Saw Catalina. 2054 hrs: On streetcar, 23 cents. Coke 10. Arrived at Bonnie Brae St. (in Los Angeles) around 2130 hrs.”

March 23. “Got up around 2 slept for 14 or 16 hrs. I was alone & there was nothing to eat in the house – went out and bought two cans of cream of chicken & a quart of milk 57 cents. My few remaining coppers are flowing like water. Called Ma at 1610 hrs. Ma said, ‘What are you doing there? I just got a card from you tonight saying you were in Texas.’ Came home and ate a carrot & glass of water for supper. Feeling mighty weak.”

March 24: “Went down to the store & bought some shredded wheat & milk for breakfast .43 cents. All my money is going for food.”

Sonny, my handsome, stingy cousin, and I were taken to the beach by two girls who called for us in a ’54 Pontiac hardtop. I don’t think they knew he was gay, and they were probably hoping to score by feeding him: “Interesting experience going to the shore in March. Came back via their apartment. It must cost them around $120 a month but there’s 4 of them. All I’ve had to eat here so far I’ve had to buy myself.”

March 25: “Got up around 8:30 with a heck of a sore throat.” (Even at 22, there is a price to be paid for a week of food and sleep deprivation.)

“Cashed in a nickel bottle which gave me enough to buy a pint of milk which I put on my shredded wheat for breakfast. I am currently down to 1 cent. Now I want to go to Connecticut and get a Job in Pratt & Whitney. If I had a job here I would stay for a while but I don’t know how to get one.”

March 26: “My hair is falling out in gobs.”

March 27: “I have to get out of here. Watched ‘Hungry Hill’ on TV. Ma sent $10. Rushed out and got a haircut. (I was starving, and with my first money I got a haircut?) Saw the Academy award. Ingrid Bergman won.”

March 28: “Put on my cousin’s suit, which was several sizes too small, and went to Occidental and applied for a job.”

March 29: “Hitched from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Got up at 0730 hrs & as there wasn’t anything to eat I left without. Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Barbara. Bought apple 12 cents and 6 cents for stamps & 15 cents for cards. Sent them to Ma, Henry & Aunt Grace.

“1432 hrs: Santa Maria. 1932 hrs: In San F. Walked 24 blocks to find (my Swedish cousin Rose Marie) not home. I got so hungry while I was waiting I went out and bought two candy bars & a pepsie .25.”

Nobody ever said that being young is easy.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website: