The International Writers Magazine:
CHAPTERS- Writers with novels in progress
going west. But you dont know where exactly, right?
had caught a long ride
through eastern Connecticut and
was dropped off of I-95 at a Bronx exit. From the side of
the highway he walked to a busy street full of stores and markets, one
after the other. He saw dark skinned men, with jet-black hair and mustaches,
standing outside the stores, talking rapidly, concerned with business,
language he didnt know.
Carson wasnt interested in
what was being said as he passed by with his small shopping bag full
It was hot out and he was sweating again. He wanted a cold quart of
drink in some shady place near the highway.
And he found both within half an hour, sitting beneath some scrawny
trees, amidst a bunch of strewn litter on a weed-covered slope, watching
the rapid, steady traffic. Well, he had gotten away from home, finally,
There was something to say for this day.
Carson had put his departure date off for weeks, earning as much money
he could working in his brothers law office. It was by no means
a difficult job
(answering the phone, filing information on the computer) yet it lacked
excitement. Carson stuck with it
through the winter, but once the warm weather came he thought of the
His family didnt want him to leave of course (he had done it a
number of times in the past) but a feeling too strong to resist urged
him on. He respected their concern, but Carson knew better than to let
it get him down. There was some fun and adventure to be had along with
the risk he took in getting it. He wanted to shed, like a dead skin,
whatever gloominess still hung on him from the long winter. Later that
day, a truck driver opened his passenger door and yelled for him to
get in. The truck had been at a stop anyway in the bumper-to-bumper
traffic leaving the city. Carson had been walking with the slowly moving
traffic for a mile or so, his thumb out, smiling with a drink glow on
his face. He made a point of not staring at anybody in particular, so
close was he to the passing windows. He laughed as he imagined what
people were saying about him: this skinny little character hustling
along a busy highway, with apparent good cheer, in t-shirt and shorts,
and carrying a plastic covered bundle under arm.
Damn, man, what are you doing out here? the driver asked,
head and looking in his side mirror. He was a lean looking guy in a
shirt, with closely cropped hair and a face that looked to be stretched
over his angular cheekbones (a small scar visible on one side). His
wide, unblinking brown eyes regarded
Carson seriously, and
Carson turned his away, letting most
of the smile go. He had to pull himself together now that he was in
Just heading west, he said, with a shrug of his
Man, I couldnt go by you. I saw you walking and I thought:
no, youve been there yourself. This guy could be out here for
I was thinking that myself, Carson said, smiling again in
way that looked carefree, he hoped.
And youre going west. But you dont know where exactly,
driver smiled a little for the first time.
Carson liked his first impression of
those eyes - namely, that they werent mean looking.
Houston? Whats in Houston?
A girlfriend of mine. She hasnt been feeling too good, so
I thought Id pay her a visit. The driver nodded his head.
The truck - a delivery vehicle of some kind - was moving slowly but
surely, Carson noticed.
You plan on staying there?
For a little while anyway. Maybe get some work.
What kind of work do you do? Carson expected that; it was
what he considered one of the standard questions put to him when he
hitchhiked. The subject of employment was always something, uncontroversial
and non-threatening, that he could touch on when he was too tired to
be more imaginative. It suggested a positive attitude on his part, one
that suggested to the driver (he hoped) that Carson wasnt just
a deadbeat drifting aimlessly about the country (something that Carson
had indeed felt about himself from time to time).
Whatever I can pick up quick. Day labor. Kitchen work.Yard work.
So youre not interested in steady work?
Well, it depends what comes along. Im not looking for a
You know, Im not trying to pry, but .. Another glance
in the side mirror. The guys lean build and constant nervous gestures
(glances everywhere, fingers drumming on the wheel, scratching his head)
had Carson wondering if the guy was a speed user. How long you
been doing this?
Oh, off and on for a few years now. Carson had long ago
given up on the fresh faced college kid out for summer kicks act he
years ago had down pat - a role that required few explanations on his
Yeah, I could tell, the driver said. I used to do
a lot of thumbing myself in my younger days. Carson guessed that
the man was in his mid-forties. He wondered just how long ago the guy
had retired that thumb. If the guy wasnt driving a truck then,
Carson would not have been surprised to have encountered him on the
roadside; he looked hard and tough enough for it.
I used to be into drinking and drugging and fucking around.
at Carson and laughed a little.
Carson nodded his head and smiled back, expecting more. I didnt
give a shit, man. Life was a party. And when I didnt like it in
one place, I moved on. Simple as that. You know what Im talking
about, I know you do.
Im not unfamiliar with that lifestyle, Carson said,
and they both laughed.
At least youre honest about it, the driver said. How
old are you,
guy? Mid thirties? Carson told him.
I thought so. Just a few years younger than me. Like I said, it
wasnt that long ago I was out here doing the same thing. But then
it just didnt do it for me anymore. I needed something spiritual
in my life, something to fill that emptiness.
These last words tipped Carson off as to what direction the talk (it
wouldnt be much of a conversation, he thought) was going in. He
had heard similar words many times before, and the driver must have
known that. I really did, the driver said. Im
not gonna preach to you, believe me. I just wanted to tell you what
happened with me. Straight up. I was able to change my life. I started
reading the Bible. Well .. He placed a hand on a thick book sitting
on the dashboard. I still am. I read it every day. He looked
at Carson seriously, and Carson returned that look. One thing Carson
had learned hitchhiking was how to look attentive when a driver was
serious about something - particularly when the talk took on a religious
Have you ever read any of the Bible? the driver asked, gently,
as if under the impression that, at best, Carson may have opened the
cover of a Good Book here and there; perhaps at some church
feed or in a mission shelter.
A little. But I couldnt quote you anything.
Well, Im not gonna quote you anything either. Youve
probably had enough of that all over the place. I know I used to get
my share of rides from preachers. He laughed. Im just
sayin its tough out there on that road, I know. And it doesnt
get any easier, does it?
No. Id have to agree with you there. Carson had to
admit that the enthusiasm of those first couple of cross-country trips
wasnt there now, and that didnt make things easier.
Sure. It gets old after a while. I needed to focus on something
else. Not just the same old shit that had been getting me by. But something
to hold onto. Man, things got bad for me; I was a wreck. Carson
knew that feeling, yet he didnt want to think about it then. He
wanted another drink in fact, and was relieved to see that the traffic
had sped up. He was now hoping that he wouldnt be with this guy
He wasnt. The man was apparently on a job and had to get the truck
somewhere. It made all the difference to me, man, the driver
continued. I started praying every day, reading the Bible. Hanging
out with people who do the same. It changed my life. Made me a better
He sounded like AA members Carson had heard speak at meetings, people
who had been saved by the program and prayed to a Higher Power. Carson
had been in detox and rehab programs, and attended many AA meetings,
but he had never been able to bring himself to pray. He listened to
all the stories, and tried to open up in the groups, but
had difficulty giving of himself in that open forum. He couldnt
give himself over to the group, a higher power, or the Lord.
You gotta get on a different course, man, the driver said,
as if he
wanted to impart as much of his message as he could in the short time
Ten years down the road you dont want to be out here, do
you? You can change
it. A little faith will go a long way, believe me, brother. Ive
never been more
content in my whole life. It really works.
The man shook Carsons hand
before he let the hitchhiker out.
Carson again returned the serious
look and thanked the man for what he said. He even accepted a small
that had the word God on the cover along with a picture of a
That night, he slept under a bridge in New
Jersey. He sat on his cardboard bed, nursed a bottle,
and reflected on things, while observing the traffic below him. It was
comfortably warm out and he ended up sleeping pretty
© M. Blake May 2004
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