Sometimes you feel like your pants-cuffs are full of rocks. And then you check your pants-cuffs, and they are full of rocks. And you shake the rocks out, and then you feel better.
And you spend a whole day and night under an oak tree next to the train yard, sleeping and reading and lying back, watching the sky. And the clouds roll over and away again, and stack up like playing card houses and then tumble. And at night a creature makes its home in the thistles around you, and spiders crawl into your sleeping bag, realize they are lost, and crawl out again. And you cough some but you also sleep twelve hours, and you start to feel a little better. And for dinner you eat a sturdy red cabbage (new favorite train vegetable! ! !) from the co-op in Minnesota with over-salted kidney beans on it, and afterwards you look into the can and contemplate the deep scars your can-opener has made in the teflon lining. Am I eating teflon?
At night the trains come and go, slow pounding road power with lights reaching into your home, and engineers leaning out the small window, looking. Engineers love hobos. If you are ever out of water, just as an engineer. They will throw you a whole case, cold from the tiny mini-fridge. It is good luck, for them, to have you on their train.
You don’t get on the train. Because pneumonia is bad, and you have found a craigslist ride. He’s in Illinois, and so in the morning, you hitch-hike there. It’s easy, after a period of waiting. There are two kinds of people on the road- people who pick up hitchhikers, and people who don’t. It’s all a matter of standing there, being brave, until one of the people who picks up hitchhikers
happens to drive by, headed this way or that. In my experience these people are either-
-people who used to hitchhike in the seventies
-people from other countries, where hitchhiking is not such a big goddam deal, and everyone is not so afraid of each other.
In the case of the former, the ride is almost always an aging hippie, or Dude In A Pickup Truck (the Patron Saint of hitchhikers- and the most frequent ride of all), who maybe used to be a hippie or at least traveled on a motorcycle/did drugs/lived in mexico for a few years, before trading in his traveling pants for a steady blue-collar job and health insurance for his bad back. On my hitch yesterday I got one of both kinds of rides, and then met up with my craigslist ride, who turned out to be, in fact, a very typical craigslist ride- although I have had very few craigslist rides compared to the number of hitch-hiking rides I have had (10,000 miles or so in the last six years) and so my data is, of yet, inconclusive.
First, he was into computers. Not only that but he was a veritable surfer of the craigslist sea, stuffing notes in bottles and throwing them out into that constant, churning ocean, asking for anything and everything he might want. He practically handed himself over to the site, letting it shape him like play-doh, and he was forever chasing pots of gold across these lower 48 states in a mud-smeared ford pickup, running the universe’s errands for it.
Second, he was scattered and a little over-eager, painfully genuine and likeable, and you were sometimes blinded by the plain nakedness of his humanity, there for the world to see, a fisher of craigslist riders. Why does he need my validation? You might wonder. Who is this soul, and what is he looking for?
The ride to Ohio was great. He was a good conversationalist, I had hardly talked to anyone in two weeks. We talked about gender, homophobia, where to find good cowboy boots. (He had $400 boots, nice black boots. “Get a real sole,” he said. “don’t get the slick leather sole.”) We stopped at gastations and ate ridiculous, inflammatory foods. (Gas stations nachos anyone? With “chili” and extra cheese sauce? Diet 7-up? Sick!) At five in the morning and a time-zone change we were finally in Ohio, in my friend Sam’s town. The night before had been his little brother’s 18th birthday. They’d played cards and drank Old Crow till late, but not this late. Sam had fallen asleep on the couch waiting for me, but woke met me in the driveway.
I said goodbye to Chuck, my craiglist ride, and stumbled into Sam’s parent’s dreamy, sprawling Victorian, with hot and cold running water, warm soft beds lace curtains and all sorts of anemities. I fell asleep under smooth pink blankets and slept till noon, waking to find the house empty and light coming through from the tree-lined street. My dreams had been full of death and heterosexual sex, weeping and men.
Ohio. The air seems nice here. This part of the world is wonderful. In a few days Sam and I are going to attempt to Crack The Code, aka find out how to ride the train to North Carolina from here. Oh, to have a travel buddy! ! !
F U C K I N G N O R T H C A R O L I N A ! ! ! ! ! ! !! I C A N ‘ T F U C K I N G W A I T !! ! ! !