a day in the life: hitchin’ the west, part ii.
2 October 2012 § 2 Comments
Fourteen hours on the road can kill anyone’s good attitude. I could write to anyone, say anything.
This morning, I woke up in a homeless shelter in Grand Junction, Colorado. The sun wasn’t up yet. I heard someone taking chairs down from the plastic tables, listened to the metal hitting tile, and bearded men chatter. Fluorescent lights, one just a meter from my top bunk, switched on, one by one. First in the TV section. Then over the tables, followed by the family space, and our beds.
As I sat up, men tied their boots while still in their bunks. One set out the containers of oatmeal and cereal. The flat screen TV switched on, and Good Morning America showed scenes of violence and destruction and failed economy. Criticized the presidential election. Most of the friendly and respectful, if battered, eyes glared at the screen. I saw the programming first-hand, and felt greedy that while I had food in my backpack, I ate instead a free bowl of Cheerios. No one goes hungry in that shelter, which is aptly named Homeward Bound. Where am I headed?
After waiting in Fruita for three hours, I spent all day in the cab of a man who did not know how to be anything but the man he’d always been. Hesitated all day to tell me about his Landmark Education. After he did, somewhere between the red-leaved valley and the giant wind turbines, he lit up. His eyes watered, after five hours of talking about his truck and the twelve pianos in his trailer, and finally showed some signs of life. “I could finally let go of my past,” he told me, smiling.
“And what else did you learn?” I asked.
Just then we pulled into my jump-out point, a gas station in Orem, Utah. I answered myself. “I invite you to tell people about what you’ve learned,” I said. “Trucks are cool, but growth is better.” He, a doppelgänger of a skipper I once fished for, grinned as wide as the Salt Lake Valley. That’s no exaggeration. I jumped out, wished him an awesome life, and thumbed down the coming sunset.
When the sun set later, an enthusiastic sailor had been telling me a story of miscommunication with his Argentinian wife. He had a deeper point, and I don’t remember it. He brought me to a house where he inquired about a sixty-year-old outboard motor. I tried to call an old friend to no avail. The sailor, once a doper, drove me around Salt Lake City to 7-Elevens and shady, under-construction hostels until I found something that might work. Told me about his adventures in the dope game.
“How’d you get out?” I asked.
“I couldn’t function,” he said. “It got to the point where I was more miserable when I was high than I was when I wasn’t high.” He said that just was we passed the neighborhood of his old favorite dope house.
Today I answered questions from a group of Subway-eating high schoolers. Where was I from? Where was I going? Isn’t it dangerous, hitchhiking? Good questions. You should try it, guys. It’ll change your life.
They asked about the )^( symbol on my sign. I asked them if they’d heard of Burning Man. That’ll change you life even more. Have a good life, everyone.
I have so much gratitude for the people who make my travels worth continuing, who inspire me to question the nature of what I’m doing at every on-ramp, and those who I lie to in order to simplify the conversation. Sometimes I’d rather just listen. I love all of you. Even the women in Orem today who gave me nasty looks when they saw my thumb next to the highway. You’ll see life my way, if you like.