You'll wind up in some factory that's full-time filth and nowhere left to go,
Walk home to an empty house and sit around all by yourself,
I know it might sound strange but I believe you'll be coming back before too long ...
R.E.M., 'Don't Go Back to Rockville', 1984
I had started working with a carpenter who built decks and additions over the Summer. I kept this job into the Fall, then switched to working in an auto parts warehouse in nearby Camden as the weather turned cold, riding my motorcycle in each day and loading pallets full of radiators and heater cores to send to auto parts stores up and down the East Coast. I also found part time work with a local hauling company loading and unloading moving trucks, which I also alternated with work as a weekend security guard at a pizza chain that specialized in kids parties where my job was to keep the riff-raff from hanging out at the video games and taking the little kids money. It was an eclectic work year.
With a limited social life I had a lot of time to think about where I had been and where I wanted to go. The travel dream was alive and well, so working and saving toward a journey west that summer was a sustaining factor. Of course I also had to pay my own expenses on the motorcycle and insurance, plus my student loan payments kicked in now that I had left school, so putting away money was not as easy as I'd hoped.
I spent a lot of off time with my brother and his group of friends that winter. They were a fun bunch of guys and I found it easy to hang out with them, and it prevented the whole experience from being lonely and dreary.
I also took occasional trips down The Turnpike to Newark, Delaware to see friends going to school at the University of Delaware, either taking his parents' car (when they wanted me to take him down or pick him up) or else on my motorcycle, which I did on multiple occasions. On one trip it even began to snow on the way home. I thought about getting a motel room until the morning, but I pressed on carefully and made it home riding through about 2" of powder on some streets not a feat I'd like to try again.
Having a motorcycle did give me some amount of freedom and I loved to take long motorcyle rides on my days off, just enjoying the feeling of motion. On one such trip I rode up the New Jersey Turnpike to where the Pennsylvania Turnpike splits off to head west. Riding out to the Neshaminy Rest Area I sat on my bike looking at the Westbound traffic and thinking what it would be like to be going west right then.
I read a number of great books during this time, focused mainly on American Literature. I had thought about following some 'best book list' to focus my reading, but that felt too much like following someone else's curriculum and the whole point was to make my own. I wanted the ability to choose my own path of study, so whenever I finished a book I would go back to the bookstore and see what attracted me.
I had started to grow my hair out while I was at UNH. Long hair felt like a natural expression of my philosophy at the time, and I hadn't cut it since the previous year. Back in New Jersey it was more of a liability than an asset, as long hair had more negative connotations to those around me than positive ones, so I relented and cut it. I didn't mind that too much as one of the ideas that I was contemplating at the time was the relationship between the inner and outer self. I was deeply committed to my philosophy within, which was what mattered. Too much attention to outward appearance struck me as just being a poser and sounded more like 'talking the talk' rather than 'walking the walk'.
The Plan worked out well: I was learning from my reading, gaining real world experience through working, and saving money toward my journey Out West the following summer that promised to bring a host of experiences. As that Winter ended and the weather began to warm up I felt like I was hitting my stride with everything to look forward to.