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Posts Tagged ‘New Zion Army’

[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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[This is the 3rd installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first  post to read from the beginning]

Volunteers for the New Zion Army

 A man going to work took me to Cedar City, a town in southern Utah. I could see I was going to spend a lot of time trying to hitch out of there. A car would go by no more than once every five minutes traveling north on the near empty interstate which lead to Salt Lake City. Since it’s illegal to stand on the interstate, police will give you a ticket and remove you, I had to stay on the on ramp. There, a car would only pass every half hour.

I decided that, since it was warm and I’d be there for a while, it would be a good time to sno-seal my leather hiking boots. I’d been planning to do this for a while but never found the time. I took everything out of my pack—the boots were on the bottom. With my belongings spread out on the grass, I opened up my can of sno-seal, a very slimy substance, and smeared it all over the leather, working it into all the pores and seams. After that I set the slimy, glistening boots in the warm sun so the leather could soak up as much as possible. I intended to repeat this process until the boots could take no more.

After I’d applied the second coat, I sat on my sleeping bag and thought about cracking open a book. It looked like I was having a yard sale. I wasn’t afraid it would hurt my chances to get a ride since there were so few cars anyway. Oddly enough, the very next car pulled over, a Toyota Celica.

“Where ya going?” said the smiling passenger on the driver’s right, a handsome man about 25.

Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

“Really, that’s where we’re going. You want a ride?”

I was thrilled, how lucky could I get. I thought it would be all day before I got a ride even as far as Salt Lake, “Yeah, that’s great!”

It was then I noticed their car was packed to the ceiling with clothes, boxes, shoes, stereo equipment and other flotsam of the human condition—there was no room.

“Where we gonna put my stuff?” The back seat was jammed to the ceiling. Where will I even sit, I thought? I felt my enthusiasm waning. These guys, who were both big to begin with, sure were generous to make this offer, but there just wasn’t room.

“Don’t worry,” the driver said, we’ll fit you in.” He was a stocky ruddy guy with scars on his face left over from adolescence, yet he had an attractive air about him due to his enormous self-confidence. “We can put some in the trunk and some in the back seat.”

They took individual pieces of my gear and clothes and stowed them in nooks and crannies between all their belongings. There were a few pieces that wouldn’t fit so they opened up the trunk. That’s when I saw the rifles.

“We’re hunters, you don’t have to worry, we’ll protect your stuff,” said the driver with a dry laugh.

I took my foam sleeping pad and folded it up to make a seat for myself on the console, the only place left to jam myself between these two six footers. If I was big like they were, I would never have fit.

“Boy, thanks a lot, you guys. This is really great of you to go to all this trouble. My name’s Larry, by the way.” I reached my hand towards the driver.

“Charlie,” he shook my hand.

“”I’m Ken,” said the handsome passenger, he shook my hand too.

We chitchatted a half an hour in the afterglow of finding a joint purpose. More than just a coincidence, I thought, this all came together too perfectly to be just a coincidence—all of us going to Minneapolis. Must be part of some higher plan.

“Where’d you stay last night,” I asked.

Charlie stopped smiling, “Vegas, the fucking assholes, I’d like to go back and blow up the whole damn town.”

He turned and looked at me for a moment to emphasize the weight of what he was saying, “We were trying to get up some money. We quit our jobs and are starting over in Minneapolis. My mom lives there.”

“We shoulda stopped when we were ahead,” said Ken. They both looked at me at the same time.

“Sure is beautiful out here,” I said trying to change the subject, “Ever do any camping?”

“Did all the camping I wanted to in Nam. But, what the hell,” Charlie’s eyes narrowed and his mouth contorted from a grimace into a half-smile, “You want to do some camping along the way? We could stop when we’re up in the mountains for a day or two.”

“That’d be great,” I said, not getting the picture.

We had left Cedar City on I-15 heading up toward Salt Lake City. We stopped in a bar a couple towns up for a beer; there were lots of jackalopes on the wall. The jackalope is a jack rabbit with antelope antlers. I wasn’t sure it was a real animal. I asked the bartender and he said, “Yeah, but they’re pretty rare, aren’t they, Dale?” winking at one of the patrons.

Charlie turned around on his stool and addressed the two ranchers behind him, “I thought you Mormons didn’t drink.”

“Well, if you’re a Jack Mormon, you can drink,” he laughed.

The countryside we were driving through was broad and flat with mountains on the eastern and western horizon. The monotony of the unchanging landscape hour after hour gave me plenty of time to worry. Little things started to occur to me like why were they so eager to share their tiny car, especially since they had to move all their stuff around? Also, when we got to talking about the Vietnam War, which hadn’t been over that long, the driver said something noteworthy in relation to Nixon, “Yeah, I’d like to kill him.”

I had brought the subject up and enjoyed how they immediately got onboard about what a jerk he was, but became concerned with the vehemence Charlie lent to the subject, “I’d like to kill the fucking bastard. And I wouldn’t kill him fast; I’d kill him slow, by the death of a 1,000 cuts like the Vietnamese do.”

He’d been to “Nam” for two hitches—four years. “Yeah, I went over there and so many of my buddies got killed, I was pissed, real pissed, so I signed up to go back and kill some more.”

I got real quiet. Up to that point, Charlie had been confident, funny, and friendly. He was still confident, but confident like a crocodile sizing up his prey. He’d done a lot of killing in Vietnam.

The further we drove, the angrier they got about things. I was very careful to be nice. They told me about losing $300 in Las Vegas, about Vietnam, about being best friends, about their jobs delivering Silver Springs water in Watts, about how Ken was running away from his wife, “Maybe I should call her.”

“Naw, don’t do that. Don’t give the bitch the satisfaction.”

“She might be worried,” Ken was worried. He wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing. His wife didn’t know he was leaving.

The more tired all of us got, the darker their moods became and the more paranoid I became. They obsessed about the money they’d lost in Vegas while trying to develop some cash for their new life. Their eyes were narrow black apertures peering down the road in the twilight. They both looked at me squeezed between them in the middle, sitting on the console, as if I were part of the solution to their problems.

“You hear about the war that’s comin’?”

“What war?” I asked.

“We heard all about it in Watts. We know all about it. The word on the street is the Red Chinese are going to attack in the spring. They’re going to pour over the border from Canada,” said Charlie.

“Yeah,” agreed Ken, “We’re going to go and join the New Zion Army up in the Colorado Rockies.”

“We’ll be a million men strong and we’ll fight the Red Chinese. You want to join us?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, “I’m going to a friend’s wedding and then to Michigan to see my family.”

“Well, then you could come after that.”

“Maybe.”

Next Week:

After the Prairie Dogs

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