Bridge Boy


Have you ever known someone who had tons of great ideas, yet they were only great to the one who thought of them? If so, you probably knew me when I was between the ages of 15 and 18.

One of my greatest ideas, some would say my “signature idea”, was my idea to live under a bridge. Keep in mind this was before much attention was given to the “homeless”. Actually, I wasn’t thinking of myself as homeless; my bridge was my home. But more on that later.

I really wasn’t A LOT different than others my age; it’s just that I was missing some sort of filter to keep me from acting on my ideas before they could be thoroughly scrutinized.

“Scrutinized? Hey, there’s plenty of time for that!” At least, that was what I thought. Shucks, when I felt the need or desire to “get away from it all”, I didn’t stop to think twice. I packed my parachute bag with all of my worldly possessions (you know, record albums, favorite jeans and t-shirts, stuff like that), grabbed a piece of cardboard to use as a sign, and wrote the word “WEST” on it. When I arrived at the Interstate entrance ramp, I’d heist a road reflector by breaking it off its pole. I’d then keep it to use when it got dark. I think I got more rides at night using the “reflector method”; people would look and see some long-haired, skinny kid waving a reflector and feel sorry. It was one idea that worked.

I don’t remember how many times I hitchhiked to Colorado. I do know that I never had more than $5 to my name when I did. Poor planning? Nope. NO planning. But, again, why plan? Why scrutinize a plan? Either it will work or it won’t. The way I figured, even if my idea failed, I would be in a better situation than I was in previously. So, I’d pack up the bag, grab the sign, and hit the road; Colorado, here I come!

I met my wife, Phyllis, in Colorado, but I’ll talk about that a little later.

I’ve hitchhiked to Illinois, Missouri, Colorado and school. My reason for hitchhiking to school was a no-brainer, as far as I could tell. I’d save my bus fare by getting a free ride from some friendly driver. Who cared if I was late for school; I’d be skipping at least one class anyway. And my bus fare went a long way toward renting a pool table for a half hour.

Okay, fast forward to March, 1972. Seventeen years old, living in Colorado, and working on a dairy farm. How I ended up moving to Colorado began as another one of my impulsive ideas. But that’s another story.

March, 1972. I had been working on a dairy farm for room and board, plus $25 a week. I fairly enjoyed it, except I was rarely paid. Phyllis and I had met a few months earlier, and planned to get married after she graduated in the Spring, so I was pretty disturbed about not getting paid.

You may have picked up on this by now: I was full of ideas, but very impulsive, and quite unwise. First, how could I even think I could support 2 people on $25 a week? Second, would we live in the same house with the ranch owners? And third, if I didn’t even get the pay owed to me, how could I even think about getting married?

My way of coping with stressful situations was to pick up and run. I had practiced running away from everything stressful (home life, school, individuals) for so long, it had become my immediate response to trouble. So, I quit my job and decided to begin a new career. As for a place to stay, there was a bridge located on Highway 94, east of Colorado Springs about 10 miles. It would be a perfect place for me to live. Under the bridge was plenty of space for me to set up camp, and it was just down the road from Phyllis’ house. (my “home” is pictured above)

I didn’t know what I would do for money, but first things first. 

That’s how my mind worked. Live under a bridge, hitch hike into town each day, find a job, save some money, get married, buy a “bread truck”, travel around the country writing songs and playing concerts…

Dream, dream, dream. Ideas, ideas, ideas.

But my great, impulsive idea of living under the bridge was short lived. Someone told the town “mayor” (chief busy-body, store owner, and bus driver) of my plans. So, as I was unpacking my things and straightening up my new home, the mayor and a deputy sheriff arrived. I was taken to a juvenile detention center, then put on a bus taking me back to Des Moines.

But a week later, ta-da! No bridge, this time, but a city park picnic table, and a “hippy crash pad” in Colorado Springs.

Fast forward 35 years. 

By this time Phyllis and I had been married about 35 years. A lot of things had happened: Born again, 4 years in the Army (3 years in Germany), one son (Jeremy), an ordained minister, and had finally found a filter to use helping me deal with my impulsiveness. 

Phyllis and I flew to Colorado in 2007 to attend her high school reunion, number 35. While we were there, we drove by her old house and my bridge, and also to see an old neighbor of hers (an friend of the family).

We pulled into the neighbor’s drive and saw her preparing for a garage sale. As we stepped out of the car, Phyllis introduced herself (it had been 35 years), and then told the lady my name. She looked at me, grinned real big, and said,

“Oh! You’re Bridge Boy!”

We laughed and laughed! To think she’d remember my “great idea” after all that time.

I believe everyone has a story to tell, and there’s a lesson to be learned within each story. Here are a couple of things to glean from my story:

1. A person may seem like they’ll never change, never become more than a wandering bum, never learn responsibility or how to deal with pressure.  But with God, all things are possible.

2. God can have His hand on your loved ones without you realizing it.

3. Just because a kid has a lot of stupid, impractical ideas doesn’t mean all their ideas are dumb! 

4. People should be given an opportunity and time to grow up. 

5. Sometimes it’s okay to dream dreams bigger than life. God is bigger than life! 

6. The path some folks are on may look fairly dark. But just keep looking to God; He’s just waiting down the road a ways to introduce Himself to the wanderer.

7. Don’t give up on impulsive goofs, dreamers who seem to live in the clouds, or under a bridge. God is still able to change the lives of some of the nuttiest people. 

I know, because I have experienced it!

How about you? Do you have any “Bridge Boy” stories? I’d live to hear them.

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