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The 21st Century

Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
Lifestyles 1
Lifestyles 2

The International Writers Magazine
FIRST CHAPTERS- Writers with novels in progress

Going West
M. Blake’re going west. But you don’t know where exactly, right?

Carson 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 right after the other. He saw dark skinned men, with jet-black hair and mustaches, standing outside the stores, talking rapidly, concerned with business, in a language he didn’t know.
Carson wasn’t interested in what was being said as he passed by with his small shopping bag full of clothes. It was hot out and he was sweating again. He wanted a cold quart of beer to 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, he thought.

There was something to say for this day. Carson had put his departure date off for weeks, earning as much money as he could working in his brother’s 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 road.
His family didn’t 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, shaking his head and looking in his side mirror. He was a lean looking guy in a muscle shirt, with closely cropped hair and a face that looked to be stretched tight 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 a vehicle.
“Just heading west,” he said, with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Man, I couldn’t go by you. I saw you walking and I thought: no, you’ve been there yourself. This guy could be out here for hours.”
“I was thinking that myself,” Carson said, smiling again in way that looked carefree, he hoped.
“And you’re going west. But you don’t know where exactly, right?” The driver smiled a little for the first time.
Carson liked his first impression of those eyes - namely, that they weren’t mean looking.
“Houston? What’s in Houston?”
“A girlfriend of mine. She hasn’t been feeling too good, so I thought I’d 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 wasn’t 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 you’re not interested in steady work?”
“Well, it depends what comes along. I’m not looking for a career though.”
“You know, I’m not trying to pry, but ..” Another glance in the side mirror. The guy’s 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 part.
“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 wasn’t 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.” He looked at Carson and laughed a little.
Carson nodded his head and smiled back, expecting more. “I didn’t give a shit, man. Life was a party. And when I didn’t like it in one place, I moved on. Simple as that. You know what I’m talking about, I know you do.”
“I’m not unfamiliar with that lifestyle,” Carson said, and they both laughed.
“At least you’re 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 wasn’t that long ago I was out here doing the same thing. But then it just didn’t 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 wouldn’t 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. “I’m 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 slant.
“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 couldn’t quote you anything.”
“Well, I’m not gonna quote you anything either. You’ve probably had enough of that all over the place. I know I used to get my share of rides from preachers.” He laughed. “I’m just sayin it’s tough out there on that road, I know. And it doesn’t get any easier, does it?”
“No. I’d have to agree with you there.” Carson had to admit that the enthusiasm of those first couple of cross-country trips wasn’t there now, and that didn’t 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t be with this guy too long.

He wasn’t. 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 person.”
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 couldn’t 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 he had. “Ten years down the road you don’t want to be out here, do you? You can change it. A little faith will go a long way, believe me, brother. I’ve never been more content in my whole life. It really works.” The man shook Carson’s 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 pamphlet that had the word God on the cover along with a picture of a cross.
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 well.

© M. Blake May 2004

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