Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘dreams’

[This is the 5th  installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first  post to read from the beginning]

Road to Minneapolis

 I awoke. Grey light filtered through the blinds throwing a pattern of slits on the bed beside me where Ken slept. A line of white light shown under the door.   Sounds of a car door shutting, muffled voices, and the jingling of keys made me aware of life beyond our motel room.

I was still alive.  I lay there breathing slowly and deeply.  The frightening thunderheads of black thought that had engulfed me the night before, concerning my imminent demise, were gone.  I laughed.

“What’s so funny,” said Charlie, apparently lying awake.

“Just glad to be alive,” I responded.

“Yeah, well, we’re burning daylight.  Let’s get going.”

We slowly got up and packed.

“Get your ass out of bed, Ken.”  Charlie threw his pillow and hit Ken in the head.

“Hey, watch it,” Ken flung it back at him.  Then he got up and went into the bathroom.

“Hurry up, I gotta take a piss too.”

The drive to Provo was cordial.  Charlie joked and bragged to, through, and past breakfast at Denny’s.  I didn’t want to spend anymore money than I had to.  Yet I wanted to be sociable after being allowed to live and all.  So instead of eating the salami and cheese in my pack, I ate with them at Denny’s.

We drove together past Provo and joined I-80 for the trip over the Rockies.  It was getting cold.  Once we got in the foothills it started to snow.  Ken drove.  He was scared.  “They taught us to turn into the skids when we were on the ice.”

“When?” I asked.

“When I was training to be a State Cop.  They had us drive on ice at an ice rink in San Bernardino.”

“Why?  There’s never any ice in L.A.”.

“Yeah but we were training for high speed chases and U turns.”

Both hands gripped the wheel, he had his driving gloves on so I couldn’t see whether his knuckles were white or not.  His steely jaw did not tremble, but I sensed his tension.

“I’m thinking we should just drive straight through to Minneapolis,” said Charlie, “I don’t feel like camping in this shit.”

No longer excited about camping with my two “buddies”, I was glad when I saw the snow and heard Charlie’s reaction to it.  I didn’t think they still wanted to kill me, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to see any prairie dogs bite the dust either.

The car wasn’t running as well at the higher altitude.  Sometimes it would slow way down and creep up hill.  Sometimes it would cough and sputter , threatening to die.

Finally it did die.  We had driven through the night.  My tailbone was starting to get sore from the hard console that, in spite of the padding, I could not avoid.  I slept in small stretches as Ken and Charlie took turns driving.  I contributed towards the gas but was not asked to drive.

Finally the car sputtered to a stop just as it came up over a rise.

“Well, shit.  This piece of crap.”

“Hey, that’s my car you’re talking about,” said Charlie.

“Now what?”

“Well, one of us has to get a ride into town to get help.”

“I’ll go,” I said.  “I’ll hitch in.”

There was no disagreement about that.  They were glad to have me do something for a change.  Maybe get rid of me; my money was almost gone.  If I had known I’d be paying for a ride, I would’ve taken a bus.  The only thing is, I would have lost all my earthly possessions.

It was morning; the snow was blowing over the pass, down the interstate.  There were not a lot of cars but I felt confident I would get a ride due to our broken-down vehicle.

I walked and hitched.  The next town was a good 10 miles, and I was trying to stay warm.

A Volkswagen Rabbit with skis strapped to the roof pulled over.  There was a young guy driving, his girlfriend was sleeping on top of all their luggage and coats in the back.

“Hey, how ya doing.”  I recognized the couple.  They went to Notre Dame.  Younger than me, they were still in school, living the dream.  I was hitching across the country, nearly broke, at loose ends.  They clearly could afford a car and a ski trip and school too!

“Hi,” said the driver.

“Hi,” said the girl.

“Could you give me a ride to the next town?  The people I’m riding with’s car broke down.  I need to get some help.”

“Sure, climb in.” said the driver.

“Fancy meeting you out here.  Where you going?” I asked.

“Back to school.”  They looked tired and were not very talkative.  They couldn’t care less about me but they were surprised to see me out of context.  They knew me as a graduating theatre person.  I couldn’t be doing that well if I’m hitchhiking out in the middle of nowhere.  I was forced to compare myself to these people.  The plan, when you graduate from college is, you get a good job, you start a career, you continue climbing up that success ladder.  Everyone expected it of you, everyone is impressed.  I had already gotten off the ladder.

I’m not impressing anybody here, I thought.  I asked them about people they knew and then got real quiet, trying to appear mysterious.  Perhaps they’ll figure there is more to my life than meets the eye.

They didn’t know what to make of me, but they were too tired to wonder why they, of all people, would be helping me, of all persons.

The mechanic from the gas station drove out with me in the tow truck.  “This ain’t nothing.  It sometimes goes down to 40 below with the wind blowing the snow clean through you.”

I thought how there were so many people in the world tougher than I was.  That somehow I was allowed to squeak by unharmed with so many dangers all around me.  Perhaps it was my ability to appear invisible.

“Where are they, son?”

The section of interstate was clear of all cars, not even a moving car in sight.

“I don’t know.  They’re gone.  I’m sorry to drag you out here for nothing.”  I’m never going to see them again.  I started planning on how I would get to Minneapolis without any clothes, food or sleeping bag.  I would hitch as soon as I got back to the rest stop.  Maybe get a bite to eat, but I had to watch my money, I didn’t have much left.

“It’s all right, things are slow at the station now anyway.”

I went into the diner, calculating how much money I could spend.  I was starving.

“Well, look who’s here,” Charlie said.

“How did you get here?  I went back with a tow truck and there was nobody there.”

“The car just started going again, “said Ken, the state cop aspirant, who looked surprised and embarrassed.

“Might as well get something to eat.”  Charlie sipped on a beer.

Cedar City all over again.  I sat on a bar stool and ordered two eggs over easy with home fries and rye toast, $1.75.

“Yep, just started running again.  We kept trying it.  It was getting cold out there.”

“I got picked up by two people I knew.  They’re from Notre Dame.”

“Fancy that,” said Charlie out of the corner of his mouth.

Resigned to finish the journey together, we got back into the car and headed east.  The rest of the way to Minneapolis was uneventful; just a long slow drive at 55 mph.  This was just after 55 mph had been implemented nationally because of the supposed fuel shortage.

The oil companies staged a fake fuel shortage all across the country.  Cars were lined up at the pumps for blocks.  All the while, oil tankers had to sit offshore and wait because fuel storage tanks were filled to capacity.  That was before oil companies became selfless champions of the greater good.

Talk decreased to a bare minimum as the tired cold miles were slowly digested.

It was warm and sunny when we finally hit Minneapolis.  Charlie started making jokes.  “Look at that asshole,” he said, pointing to a bearded, long-haired student standing at a bus stop.  “With all that hair you can’t tell if he’s got shit for brains or brains full of shit.”

Charlie started planning his and Ken’s future.  “We’ll live with my Mom for awhile, get jobs and save a little money.  We could buy a couple motorcycles and ride around together.”

Ken smiled, “Sounds good.”

“Well it’s time to get rid of this asshole,” Charlie laughed.  “I’m just kidding, it’s been nice knowing you,” he winked at Ken while he said this.  “You can catch a bus downtown over at that corner.  Minneapolis has a good bus system; they come every half hour.”

They pulled over and began yanking my stuff out of all the places it had been secreted around the little car.  They put it all in a pile on the sidewalk.

“Take care of yourself.  And listen.”  Charlie’s eyes narrowed, his voice, became serious.  “You watch the news this spring, the Red Chinese are coming, I shit you not.”  He reached his hand out the window and shook my hand.  “Nice knowing you.”

“Yeah, it was a good trip,” said Ken reaching across Charlie to shake my hand too.

“See ya,” Charlie abruptly started the car and gave a slight wave. I waved back, but they didn’t turn to see it. Ken and Charlie were laughing about something as they drove off. It looked as if they’d already forgotten the whole thing.

 

Next Week:

Tail Ends

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

[This is the First Installment of a memorable hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties]

The Hitchhiker

I sat in the back of the speeding pickup surveying the desert in the direction the other hitchhiker was pointing. “There’s water in those mountains,” he said.

I wasn’t so sure. There wasn’t anything green as far as I could see. The truck was approaching a gas station where the guy wanted to be left off.

“You see this green part on the map? That means there’s water out there.”

I looked at the green areas that said National Forest on them and thought the guy would be lucky to find even a single plant in those mountains, let alone water. Those green spaces only meant it was national land.

“Are you sure?” I said.

“Yeah. I’ll be all right.” He waved to the driver to pull over.

I’d been weighing whether I should go with him. I had always wanted to learn to live off the land. That’s what the guy planned to do. He said he’d learned how to do it from a book by Chief Eagle Feather or somebody. I had read several of those types of books, but never expected the advice to actually work.

This was my first long trip where I was completely on my own. I’d done a lot of hitchhiking, like the summer I sold dictionaries in Oklahoma, but those were all short trips, I never had to sleep en route.

For those reasons this felt like a lot bigger adventure than when I left home in Michigan.

I’d traveled to California the fall after graduating from Notre Dame. I’d worked a few summer jobs, cracked up my dad’s car, then made the trip with my brother, Bern, and a couple of his friends.

My dad had a long talk with me while we were driving down to Lansing to get the substitute car the insurance company had found to replace the one that I’d smashed.

“I know you want to go to California, but I’d rather you stayed here. There’s nothing special about California.”

I disagreed. There’s the mountains and the ocean, but he said I’d rarely see them since I had to make a living and the mountains were at least four hours away from the city, I didn’t have a car, and besides, Michigan had plenty of nice places to go.

I was unconvinced and undaunted until—”Larry, couldn’t you just stay for a while longer, just a year or two. Your mother and I need your help to support the family right now. I hate to ask you, but it won’t be for long.”

I felt my heart sink; I couldn’t say no if they needed me.

“All right.”

I said goodbye to my father, who was continuing on to Ohio for work. I returned to Spring Lake. I was the oldest son of 11 children, with five brothers and five sisters. I had an older sister, who was long gone from home. I was tired of the responsibility and weight of so many expectations. I wanted to be free, on my own.

The next day while speaking to my mother—a kind, round, long-enduring woman—I was depressed and angry that I was not going.

“How much of your stuff are you going to take? I’m not sure you’ll have room in John’s car.”

“I’m not going. I have to stay.”

“You’re not going? Why not, you’ve been planning this all year?”

“Dad said you need my help. I need to stay and help make money to support the family.”

“He said that?” she asked incredulously.

“He said he needs me to help make money for a while, that I can go later.” I had a tone of angry, yet hopeless, resignation in my voice as if I were used to having my dreams  grounded right before they were about to take off.

“You go,” she said. “He shouldn’t have asked you to stay. We’ll make it somehow. He had no business doing that. You go, Larry. We’ll be all right.”

“Really, you mean it?” I was so happy I could’ve kissed her, should have. I couldn’t believe my mother would take my side against my father. I couldn’t believe she would put my concerns above her own.

The pickup pulled to a stop next to the gas station. In the still, silent air I felt the hundred degree heat baking me and everything else. The scrawny hitchhiker got out and said goodbye. I waved to him as he fixed his pack. I looked in the direction he said he was going to go, across the flat, light-drenched sand towards the gray mountains at least five miles distant, carrying neither a water bottle, nor a sleeping bag.

Earlier, I had pulled out my salami, cheese, and bread. He looked starved.

“Want some?”

“No thanks, you go ahead.”

I cut a slice of salami with my army surplus jackknife and stuck it in my mouth even though I wasn’t hungry, “Are you sure?”

“I don’t want to eat up all your food.”

“I have plenty.”

“Well, maybe just a little bit.” He reached out and took the salami and the knife; he tentatively cut a slice and bit a dainty bite out of its circumference. Then as if something was awakened in his stomach, he popped the whole piece in his mouth, cut a larger piece and quickly devoured that. Then he took some cheese, then some French bread, a swig of water, more cheese, some salami, back to the bread, then a little more water at which time he looked up from this very focused meal.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot more in my pack. Why don’t you finish it, there’s too little to put back.”

He finished off the sausage, cheese, half the loaf and some more water. Then he handed back the knife, “Thanks,” and the bread, “I was pretty hungry. Haven’t eaten since yesterday.”

Earlier yet, that same day, when I had been dropped off in Baker, I found myself a good spot part way up the on ramp to the interstate.

I had a red pack with all my stuff—sleeping bag, jacket, clothes, food, map, a couple books, everything I thought I needed and could fit. I wore hiking boots and should’ve been wearing a hat. The sun was unavoidably bright and everywhere, but I was used to this searing California sun.

When I looked up from fixing my pack I realized I’d made a mistake. I should’ve stayed down near the entrance to the ramp, because now there was someone else standing there. This short skinny fellow in dirty, dark blue, work pants, no shirt, with a small, green, beaten up, army surplus pack at his feet—couldn’t have had much in it.

I was angry. I’d gotten there first! Now the scrawny bum was going to get the first ride. I felt superior and self-righteous about it. Here I was, all equipped and fully dressed, and this miscreant was going to get the ride. Way out here, I thought, it will take forever to wait for one ride, let alone two.

The scrawny guy waved, “Hey, you take the first ride, okay?”

“Okay.”

Not long after that the pickup stopped and told us both to hop in the back.

“Where you going?” I asked my fellow traveler.

That’s when he told me where he planned to live.

“In the desert? Why?”

“When I get so I can’t take living in the city anymore, I go to a place like this. One time it got so bad, I had to get out quick and decided to steal a car. And as long as I was gonna steal a car, it might as well be the best, so I stole a Pantera.”

“What happened?”

“I got caught and spent two years in prison.”

“Oh.”

“It was a big mistake.” He fell silent. I told him a little of my own story, but it paled in comparison. I was going to a friend’s wedding in Minneapolis. I was tired of my old routines, my job, a place that I shared with Bern and John. I needed an adventure; I needed to find out something.

That’s why the idea occurred to me that maybe I should see if I could tag along with him. Maybe this was the person who could help me find that something out.

However, I wasn’t ready to take the chance that this fellow really knew what he was doing. It was too big a leap and besides that, I would miss seeing my friends, my old college friends.

After fixing his pack, the hitchhiker went into the gas station. It was one of those little huts with oil cans, maps, and bathrooms. As the pickup took off under the blazing sun, I watched to see the hitchhiker start across the expanse of sand and rock towards the mountains in the haze on the horizon. But by the time I lost sight of the gas station, the hitchhiker had not yet emerged.

He’s still a question mark to me. Sometimes I picture him at that rundown gas station, sometimes, haggard and dirty, scraping by in those desolate mountains.

My mind shifted to my own trip—to see my old college friends, good friends who had once save me when I was in crisis. Rick was getting married. Both he and Kelly had gone to grad school at the University of Minnesota. It had a good drama school. Kelly was studying history of the drama and Rick was focusing on directing.

There were a few other friends from Notre Dame there too. I wished I could’ve somehow gotten back in school. I had applied to the University of California at Irvine for admittance into the writing program, but had not heard back. I felt like my life was in Limbo. Kelly had written about the wedding, asking if I could come; Theo was going to be there too—the biggest hearted person I had ever met. Perhaps this was the opportunity that would make the difference.

Despite these warm thoughts, there was a certain despair looking out on the desert from the back of the speeding pickup. The barrenness sweeping to the horizon matched the barrenness of my prospects, but I hid that from myself beneath the excitement of the adventure of going somewhere new, on my own, moving at great speed through the middle of nowhere.

NEXT WEEK:

Las Vegas Welcome Wagon and a Ride from a Cowboy

Read Full Post »