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

Tail Ends

I was finally in Minneapolis. I put my pack back together.  The bright sunlight, the proximity of houses and trees whose shadows they cast, cheered me up. It seemed like home—like Michigan where I grew up—after living in California and this ride through the desert, over the mountains, and across the Great Plains.

I hadn’t had much sleep, but I wasn’t tired, just sore from sitting on the Celica’s console for 1500 miles.  I was excited about seeing my friends.  It felt good to be able to stretch, relax and put my stuff back together.  Stuff I thought I’d never see again, like my red pack and down sleeping bag.

It felt good to stretch my personality a little too and not worry about Charlie and Ken disapproving of it.  I had had to be careful.  They were not open to much of what I had to say or feel.  Now I was able to feel anyway I wanted to. Catching a bus for downtown with Kelley’s address and phone number in my pocket, I wanted to surprise my friends by showing up at the door, unannounced.  I only told them that I would try to come.  They weren’t exactly expecting me all the way from California.

I loved these people.  They literally meant “the life” to me.  When I was in school, two of them saved me, and I would never forget it.  Also they appreciated who I was and what I was capable of with my heart and mind.

“Where you going camping?”  An older, rumpled man addressed me.  His jacket and pants were stained.  He was missing some teeth and had a straggly beard.  This was before people who lived on the streets were called “homeless”.

“I’m here visiting friends,” I replied.

The gentleman started to sing, “With a backpack on my back…”

Everyone else on the bus ignored him, but I, as usual, didn’t want to offend.

“You know how to protect yourself from a pack of wolves?”  Not waiting for a response, he continued, “I learned this when I was in Alaska.  You take a knife and you cut yourself with it so’s you get blood all over the blade.  Then you stick the handle in the snow.  The wolves’ll come up to the knife, bite it and cut themselves; the blood’ll drive them crazy.  They’ll attack each other till there’s none left…” he started singing again.

I got up, pulled the cord to get off downtown, at the terminal.

“You remember what I told you, young feller.”  The doors unfolded on his last words.  I was glad to be off the bus.  It seemed I was always trying to escape one uncomfortable situation or another.  I longed to feel at rest, to put away the anxiety that fermented in my chest. I was sure that it was all caused by things outside of me.

I took a bus to the University and got off in an area that looked artsy. Maybe this is where they live.

I called Kelly.

“Hello?”

“Hi, you doing anything?”

“Larry?”

“Yeah, I thought I’d give you a call.  Is the wedding still on?”

“Yeah, sure.  Are you coming?”

“Yeah, could you pick me up?” I continued speaking very casually.

“In California?”

“No, I’m in Minneapolis.  I’m outside the Riverside Café in an artsy fartsy section somewhere near the University.”

“You’re here?” Kelley registered an appropriate amount of surprise. “The Riverside Café’s on the West Bank, stay there.  I’ll come and pick you up.”  The West Bank wasn’t all that artsy as it turned out.  Fartsy was appropriate, later that year I would have some vegetarian chili at that café.  You paid a donation and you got the meal of the day.

“Here you go, Brother,” the hippie behind the counter said.  It wasn’t very good, a lot of beans and tomato sauce—no seasoning.  It was worth what I paid for it, though.

Across the street was another café. It had the best ice cream sundaes.  They would serve you a bowl heaped with vanilla ice cream and a gravy boat filled with your choice of toppings.

Hot fudge was my favorite, and I would get them on a regular basis in spite of my lactose intolerance.

I hummed with energy.  I was eager to see my old friends, happy to have accomplished my destination, and excited to tell the hysterical story of my trip.

I’ve made it!  No more danger or uncertainty.  Not at least until I had to leave for Michigan.  Next stop was Grand Rapids, a town 30 miles from where I grew up, and where my older sister Cathy lived with her husband and son.

For now, my friends would provide me a place to stay and entertainment.

A beige sedan pulled up near me, “Boy, they’ll let anybody into this town.”

“I know,” I said seemingly astonished. “They let anybody drive too?”

“Fortunately for me.  Put you’re pack in the back.  How you doing?”  He was grinning from ear to ear.

“Well, pretty good, now that I’m here.”

“Tell me about your trip.”  Kelly was a very clever fellow with tight kinkified, red hair and a quick wit. He was at the University working on his Masters. At Notre Dame he had been a good friend and, at times, a mentor. A few years later when I was back in California and he was in New York, he gave my future wife, my address. She wrote to me. We’ve been married over 30 years.

I’d envisioned telling the story of my trip with all my friends in a circle around me, surprised, entertained, and impressed.  If I told it here in the car it would lose some of its impact.  Each telling would steal some of its thunder until it was just a light shower, a passing mist amongst my friends.

“Well, I got this ride across the desert in the back of a pickup truck with a guy who had just spent two years in jail for stealing a Pantera.  He was going to…” I told Kelly the whole story, about the cowboy, the cattle lullaby and the trip from Cedar City to Minneapolis—“I got picked up by a couple of guys who wanted to kill me on their way to joining the two million-man-strong New Zion Army in the Colorado Rockies…”

“Well,” said Kelly, when I finished the blow by blow, “That was a good story.”  He paused and arched his eyebrows, “So, you gonna join up?”

“Join up what?”

“The New Zion Army.”

I thought for a minute and then, with a half smile, said, “I guess I probably should after all that.  What do you think?”

Kelly glanced my way as he drove, “Sounds good to me, but why don’t you wait till after the wedding.”

The End

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