On the commuter rail line between Dallas and Fort Worth lies an adorable little town called Irving, a sort of middle-class Latino community, lots of single-family homes and brick-lined walkways and good-humored Texans hammering elaborate webs of brightly-colored Christmas lights on their roofs at two in the afternoon, a twinkling chicken-wire doe out front in the dry grass, head nodding up, down, up, pretending to graze. It’s the kind of place where the bank and the public library and city hall and the bus depot all rub elbows with each other downtown, which is perfect if you’re on foot and carry your house on your back like a turtle. There’s a park downtown with a canal or a river running through it, in these dry parts of the world I never can tell which one. Bright fountains humidify the air and joggers lope along in the golden eveningtime dusk. There’s a supermercado as big as a walmart, and a coin laundry on every block, the warm smell of dryer sheets giving the place a homey, glade plug-in sort of feel. It’s the kind of place you’d want to move to, just to move somewhere, but that you wouldn’t, because you’d be afraid to ruin it.
I chose this place via sheer magic as my destination for scumbag travel errands, aka go to the Laundromat get online at the library go to the foodstore figure out what to do with my life/how to get home. I posted a handful of ads on the craigslist rideshare board at the library, fishing for good-natured folks driving roomy vehicles in a general westerly direction who could drop me off somewhere other than Texas. I’d given up on the train at this point, my reasons being
1. Too cold
2. Too little directions
3. I have a bench warrant (for train riding) in Arizona.
Also, I hadn’t bummed rides over long distances in a good amount of time, and even though I secretly hate hitch-hiking, maybe this was just the path of least resistance that would get me home easiest, which was all I really cared about at this point, having been on the road for two months now and really just wanting to be some place already where I could take up space with my stuff and wear a different pair of jeans.
After the library I went to the foodstore and wandered, dazed, among the crazed holiday shoppers. I’d forgotten it was just two days till Thanksgiving, aka Genocide Day, aka Thingstaken, and folks were wheeling metal carts with determination, or else desperation, looking stressed, tired, and unhappy. I found some greens on sale for cheap and some snowpeas in a bag from Chile and an avocado and then found myself, somewhat mysteriously, in the magazine aisle, staring down a four-dollar copy of Twilight, which I’d read the first chapter of outside of Nashville on the second coldest night of my life. My battered Annie Dillard served me well but sometimes, what I needed was escape. I shrugged my shoulders and added the trashy paperback to my basket.
Next was the Laundromat, run by a nice Chinese man who spoke no English and peopled with customers who spoke only Spanish, methodically folding the wash and watching high-volumed telanovelas while tiny pigtailed children (twins!) sailed wire carts across the room like skiffs in a high wind, crashed into the walls, cried. I love Laundromats. Have I ever told you that? Second only to public libraries, or maybe first- because everyone watches TV together and folds their underwear. The mainstream american livingroom I never had.
I put my laundry in the wash and sat on the row of orange plastic wall-chairs to eat my salad and then the bag of snowpeas, (Chile, huh? Think maybe they’re irradiated?) opening my book on the side and trying to concentrate above the noise of the telanovelas and the screaming children slamming into each other with laundry carts and climbing inside of laundry carts and almost jumping out of laundry carts (Little girl! Little girl! Oh no, little girl! It’s the Chinese man, come to save the day). I couldn’t help but smile. After my laundry was done I stayed another hour just to read and soak up the atmosphere (open till ten!) but then it was time to go, on the commuter train back to the airport stop where I’d set up camp in a tangled stretch of woods.
Just then I got a call on my cellphone from a man who’d seen my craigslist ad, he was headed all the way to Sierra Vista, Arizona, early the next morning, to have thanksgiving dinner with his family and I could come along if I wanted, heck I could even stay for dinner if I had no other place to be. He had a thick texas accent and promised me no creepy business, just a good-natured invitation to eat with his family or just the ride, whatever I preferred. He said he’d call me in the morning and we hung up.
Back at camp I spent another few hours in my bivy sack, reading my new book by headlamp, and then finally drifted off, to the sound of small creatures in the tangled brush and a creek, off somewhere.
At four a.m. my phone rang, and it woke me up because my ringtone is a trainwhistle, downloaded for two dollars to pass the time in the St. Paul yard way back when. Confused, I looked at the unfamiliar number. Another craigslist ride?
The man on the phone sounded remarkably awake, for four in the morning. I myself felt a little foggy-headed, having just been pulled from a pleasant dream that I could no longer remember. He was driving from Tuscon to Portland, he said. I’d posted an ad on the Tuscon rideshare and if this was for real, I could maybe meet up with him when the other fellow going to his folks’ for thanksgiving dropped me off in southern AZ.
“When are you leaving?” I asked.
“I can leave whenever.” Said the man. “Whenever you want to leave, I can leave then.”
Hmm. He was talking softly, as if he was in the library or his kids were asleep next door.
“Uh, ok,” I said, rubbing my face to wake myself up. “I can’t afford to pay for all your gas, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“That’s fine,” said the man. “I was wondering if you’d be intogivingalittlehead.”
“What?” I asked, not sure if I’d heard right.
“I mean, are you 420 friendly?” said the man, quickly.
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” I said. “I don’t smoke, but I don’t care if you do.” Wait a minute…
“So…” said the man- “I was thinking of taking two days to get there, I was thinking of driving along the coast, and stopping to camp for the night.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” I said again. “I don’t care what you do. We can camp. I don’t care.”
“And I thought you might be into havingalittlefun when we camp.”
“What?! What did you just say?”
“When we camp. H a v i n g a l i t t le f u n .”
“Are you asking me to have sex with you?”
“What, you don’t like a little cock?”
“WHAT?! WHAT DID YOU JUST ASK ME?!” I shrieked into the phone, laughing. “Look dude, I AM NOT A PROSTITUTE.”
“I wasn’t saying that you’re a prostitute,” said the man, calm. “I just thought you might like to have a little fun.”
“PEOPLE ON THE RIDESHARE BOARD ARE NOT PROSTITUTES.” I shrieked at him, sitting up in my bivy sack, not caring if any stray commuters in the airport parkinglot above heard me. “There’s a WHOLE OTHER board for that.” I added. “It’s called EROTIC SERVICES. WHY WOULD I HAVE SEX WITH YOU?” I was laughing, a little hysterically. Who the fuck did this guy think he was? Why would I have sex with someone just because they gave me a ride in their car? What sort of delusional world did he live in?
“WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? WHY WOULD I HAVE SEX WITH YOU JUST BECAUSE YOU GAVE ME A RIDE IN YOUR CAR?” I yelled. “AND EVEN IF I WAS A PROSTITUTE, I WOULD CHARGE A LOT MORE THAN THE COST OF A TANK OF GAS! WHY CAN’T YOU JUST HIRE A BONAFIDE PROSTITUTE LIKE AN HONEST MAN? OR IS AN HONEST TRANSACTION WITH A WOMAN BENEATH YOU? WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE A CREEP? THIS DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE! WHY ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SEX ON THE RIDESHARE BOARD? IT’S LIKE CALLING SOMEONE LOOKING FOR A NANNY JOB AND ASKING THEM TO PAINT YOUR HOUSE!”
On the other end, he was silent.
“So you’re not into having fun?” He asked, incredibly.
“No.” I said. “I don’t want to have sex with you. And I don’t want to ride with you.”
Click. He hung up the phone. I tossed down my cellphone and shook my head in amazement, our conversation bouncing around in my skull like a bad horror movie that you can’t un-watch. What? Seriously? Did that just happen? Really? Now that I’d hung up, new feelings rose up inside me, anger and confusion and frustration, mostly with myself, for not saying more, for saying too much, for picking up the phone at all. Why hadn’t I just let my voicemail pick up? Why did I answer the phone at 4 am, anyway? Groan. Eventually the anger subsided and I was able to relax again, and finally I lay back down in my sleeping bag and drifted off, tossing and turning as my subconscious tried to make right what felt, intangibly, like the most horrible of offenses.
In the morning I was still angry. Non-creepy craigslist man called promptly at eight, and agreed to pick me up at the train station in Dallas. I took the commuter train into the city, turning the previous night over in my head, surreptitiously spreading almond butter on some crumbly GF bread in my lap. What I needed was revenge. But what kind of revenge? I thought about posting an ad on the craigslist rideshare giving all of the potential creeps a piece of my mind. People who use the rideshare board are not prostitutes, it would say. Try Erotic Services for that. Good… but not good enough. I needed something more, something more specific, something that targeted him in particular.
Andy picked me up in a nondescript SUV outside of union station. There was another rider in the car already, a young hippie man with long jesus hair and a fringed leather backpack. The young hippie man was coming from a natural building workshop somewhere in the Texas desert where he’d learned to build a sauna from cob and eaten lots of raw food. He was headed back to his mom’s land in western Colorado by way of his dad’s land in Arizona for thanksgiving. Andy, our driver, was sort of thirtyish and hard to describe, except that he looked like your average straight white Texas dude, with a friendly face and the most wonderful Texas accent. Andy was married and worked as a construction manager, lived in Texas his whole life but had always, always, ALWAYS wanted to ride a freight train. And for a good chunk of the first part of the trip, that is what we talked about. Riding freight trains. It’s sort of a trick of mine, when I’m riding with strangers and I don’t want to talk about myself, or god, or where I sleep at night. I just bring up freight train riding, and suddenly we’re occupied for a good couple hours. I can tell all sorts of stories, they can ask all sorts of questions, and it’s safe territory for everyone.
Early afternoon the train stories finally petered out. We were a good way through Texas now, making great time. Andy asked me if I wanted to drive. Sure, I said. We pulled off into the most wonderfully dusty ghost town, advertising “gas” but having nothing at all. Empty churches, a boarded up diner. The sun warm and dry. A dog chained up, way off somewhere. A single pickup parked down the street.
“This place is amazing.” I said. “I wonder who lives here! One guy! He’s all, Yeah, I live here.”
Andy climbed in the back, whipped out his ‘personal play station’, and pulled the headphones over his ears, disappearing into a parallel universe. I discovered that the SUV had heated seats, and cranked the driver’s side all the way up, my lower back finally relaxing against the leather seat. We pulled back onto the interstate and headed west, the flat Texas desert all around us, not a thing in it but some low, wind-beaten plants, not a cloud in the sky.
Jesus man pulled some peanut butter and a jar of honey from his bag, a loaf of crusty, seeded bread.
“You want a peanut butter sandwich?” He asked me. “Open face?”
I eyed the bread.
“I can’t eat wheat,” I said, “but I have my own GF bread, if you’ll make it on that.” I reached an arm around the seat and grabbed the plastic bag.
“Yeah, that’s fine.” He said. He smeared the weird, shrunken rice bread with peanut butter, spooning big honey dollops all over the top. “This is good honey.” He said. “It’s from my friend’s bees.”
I ate it. It was good honey. Damn. Why didn’t I travel with a jar of honey?
“I was at a meditation retreat before I was at the building workshop,” said jesus man, turning his frosty blue eyes on me, “and this was all I ate. I could live off this stuff.” I watched jealously as he made another sandwich on his big, seeded bread, complete with a real crust and weightless pockets of air.
“That’s cool.” I said. “You like meditation?” He nodded, and I got the impression that he really, really, really liked meditation. Like, meditation was his thing. His uber hippie look was not for show. He was the real deal.
We had some sort of weightless philosophical conversations about intangible, ethereal things after that, but I didn’t take any notes and I’m afraid they’re all lost to my subconscious, which is a shame, because they were incredible. I know we talked about hippie food and western Colorado, which is where I went to high school and where he lived with his mom (You should come see our valley. Our valley is wonderful.) Andy chimed in now and again from the backseat, and suddenly, at some point in New Mexico we were all the best of friends, which is odd but also sort of wonderful, because in other circumstances we might not have given each other the time of day, a young hippie man and a Texas construction manager and a queer feminist train rider (writer).
We’d get into Arizona around midnight, and Andy was going to drop jesus man off at his dad’s place on the way to his mom’s. I looked at a map and decided to skip out on the place to crash and thanksgiving dinner the next day (Even though Andy’s mom called to say that she was keeping some spare ribs warm for us, and that she’d made up the guest bed) because it would put me in the middle of nowhere, even though Andy had half-offered to give me a ride back to the interstate the next day.
“Are there any nice rest areas around there?” I asked. “Where you split off the highway and head south?”
Jesus man’s crystal eyes got big.
“Oh man.” He said. “There is the best rest stop. It’s called Dragoon. There are all these rock formations there, that look like dragons. It’s so cool. Oh man.” He added. “That’ll be so nice for you, to wake up and see where you are. That’ll be so cool.”
Great, I thought. We’d stopped in El Paso at a foodstore and I’d gotten some corn tortillas, beans, another avocado, so I had a little food- in case I got stuck there for a few days, sitting on a concrete bench with my cardboard sign. I wasn’t worried. It sounded amazing there. Heck, if I got bored, I could climb around on the crazy rock formations, see what there was to see.
As we crossed into Arizona, the temperature dropped, and the air pressure did something crazy, too. Lightning flashed across the sky and off in the distance, thunder ripped the air. Oh no, I thought. We pulled into the rest area around midnight, semis idling quietly, holiday commuters overnighting with their seats tipped back as far as they would go. It was concrete bathrooms, concrete tables, and some tall piles of dim red rock, stretching back into darkness. Lightning flashed again. CARACK! As I pulled my pack from the car, fat raindrops hit the sidewalk around me. Shit.
“You sure you don’t want to come crash at my place?” Asked Andy, sleepily. “I told you, you’re more than welcome. Eat dinner with us too.”
“No,” I said, for some crazy reason. Sure, it was raining, but wasn’t this the kind of place where it only rained like two days a year? The rain would proly quit in ten minutes, and I could go crawl off into the rocks to sleep. No prob. “This is fine,” I said, more to myself than to him. “I’ll be fine.”
“You said you had a tent, right?” He asked.
“A bivy sack.” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
“Well ok.” He was too tired to think too much about it. My new friends pulled away, leaving me at the dark rest area. On the other side of a tall fence, the sleeping dragon whispered mysteriously of caves and secret, hidden dry places. The rain fell harder, pounding the shoulders of my wool jacket. Shit.